Stuart Emmons has long been one of my favorite local architects. He often gets involved in forwarding the cause of design in city politics, op-ed articles, and his involvement with the local visual arts community. He's a real crusader, at least rhetorically speaking, for making design a greater priority in city projects, with more architects sitting on commissions and task forces throughout the City. Where was the building community's presence in Mayor Potter's recent city-wide visioning project, for example? Practically non-existent.
Stuart's firm, Emmons Architects, also does some great design work, including master planning for South Waterfront and Waterfront Park/Naito Parkway as well as here and there some fine buildings. The firm's latest work is modest in scale but impressive: new offices for Guardian Management. The key here seems to be simplicity and transparency. Nothing flashy save for maybe some of the preserved columns. Oh, and I love the background wall display in the second picture - it appears to be a collection of Monopoly houses. So, is Guardian the wheelbarrow, the dog, or what?
Many of Emmons' potentially best work has gone unbuilt. One was a boldly colorful modern design for a PDC project at MLK Boulevard and Fremont that lost out to a traditionally styled building by LRS Architects; it was selected with input from neighbors but (no disrespect to the firm) I'm yet to hear a single person call it anything but some variation of 'ugly'. (Incidentally, though, an excellent chef named Stu Stein runs the ground-floor restaurant there, Terroir. I once ate the most delicious wild boar dish by him at a cooking competition - he didn't win, but his dish was absolutely my favorite. He was at the Peerless Hotel in Ashland then. But I digress...) I've also heard Emmons has been close on a couple condo jobs.
And then there's the disastrous Fire Station 1 design competition held by the city. Emmons, partnering with the quietly very solid Hennebery Eddy Architects, was one of three finalists along with Allied Works and Thomas Hacker, the latter of whom won the competition. It was some very good company regardless. In the end, we all lost, when the city pulled the plug on the project - quite mistakenly, in my opinion. Ankeny Plaza had the chance to be a really special place, and now I'm not so sure that'll be the case. And then there's the invigoration of Old Town the station would have brought, especially with a cool fire bureau museum - which would have been the best possible version of an authentic 9/11 tribute, too.
Speaking of Fire Stations, though, Emmons has previously designed and seen built a couple of attractive-looking fire stations, including station #27. Top design writer Karrie Jacobs, formerly of Dwell and now writing a column for Metropolis and blog for House and Garden (she also spoke here last fall), opined about Emmons' Fire 27 building recently:
The city's criteria is all about improving response times, better accommodating female firefighters, and upgrading earthquake resistance. Emmons' designs tackle all that practical stuff, and do so with an unusual amount of architectural sophistication. Fire 27, for example, is an homage to Oregon's metal farm buildings, a nod to the firehouse's semi-rural setting.
Which brings me to the lunch meeting I had with Stuart last week. I was running late for our rendez-vous at the Side Door Cafe. I pulled my car into a lot there that said 'Parking for Burns Bros Only'. I meant to run in and tell Stuart I was here but had to move my car. But somehow I let myself get distracted and just sort of forgot. When I came out 45 minutes later, my car was gone. It'd been towed by Retriever Towing, which has contracts with countless private parking lots around town.
From the get-go, I decided to admit I had screwed up and just pay the fine to get my car back. But I was thinking it'd be something like $25 or $50. It sucks but it's my fault, right? Boy was I being naive. The fee to get my car back was just a few bucks under $200. I was livid. But of course Retriever Towing, whose lot is underneath the I-405 overpass between the Pearl District and Northwest's 'Slabtown' and consists of a cheap trailer surrounded by chain-link fencing, is used to angry people.
A half-second after I climbed the wood-planked stairs into the trailer office to say, "I'm here to pay the ransom note on my car," they quickly informed me that these were 'city approved rates'. They had a big poster with City of Portland certifications and stipulations for what tow-truck fees should be. So I'm not sure who to be angry at. The blame naturally starts with myself, but the fee to get my car back seems so outrageously high that it's actually a far-worse offense than parking in somebody else's lot for three quarters of an hour. (And that lot was more than half empty.)
Retriever Towing is clearly the pack of vermin in this story, stalking the city's lots looking for fresh meat. But ultimately they're just responding to a business opportunity that's apparently been explicitly signed off on by the city. So is it Burns Brothers I should be angry with, or the city itself? If so, I'd like to see towing fee regulation changed so people aren't so taken advantage of. I'm not the only one who's parked illegally before. What about the next person?
For those of you thinking there's a lesson I should be learning about not driving my first place to that meeting with Stuart last week, I'm way ahead of you. Believe me, I've already berated myself countless times for not biking, walking or busing to lunch. After a big hero sandwich, I needed to work off some calories anyway. Instead, I get robbed, and more or less by my own city. Thanks Portland!