Earlier this week I toured the cluster of three buildings in Old Town at the edge of the Burnside Bridge being renovated into a new home for the University of Oregon's Portland Center, the White Stag block, under the design supervision of Fletcher Farr Ayotte.
Comprised of the White Stag Building (1907), the Skidmore Block (1889) and the Bickel Block (1883), the new UO home is in its late stages of construction now, with a move-in planned for February. Inside there will be numerous classrooms, offices, and meeting spaces, all connected with lots of wide-open public spaces that double as introducer of natural light.
But that's only the start of the green features (appropriate for UO, by the way). Rainwater harvesting will allow gray-water to be used for all toilets and urinals, reducing water usage by 86 percent. The building will also be 30 percent more energy-efficient than ASHRAE code standards. That is very, very impressive for an old cluster of buildings on the National Register with lots of restrictions for reconstruction. Photovoltaic solar panels will also be installed on the roof, presumably beside the 'Made In Oregon' sign.
And speaking of the sign, I'm told that could change slightly. The deer is restricted, and even the typeface and size. However, 'Made' could possibly changed to 'University of'', which seems a fair move since the 'Made in Oregon' text isn't original. Actually, neither is the White Stag brand that most people remember. Originally it was a sign for White Satin sugar. Apparently somewhere there is an old photo of Roy Rogers riding his horse Trigger across the Burnside Bridge during the Rose Parade with the White Satin sign in the background.
Although it's hard to tell with the hard hats, dust and hammering still going on, it clearly seemed like the middle portion between the buildings with nicely preserved brick cladding a kind of mini-winter garden, and a ceiling atrium flooding the space with illumination, will be an extra special place to be. I also liked the studio space reserved for architecture classes on the southeast corner of the White Stag building, where big look out onto the eternally under construction Burnside bridge.
Of the three buildings, the White Stag one seems the least interesting, with a very simple brick palette that seems like it could have come from any time in the 20th Century, but both the Bickel and Skidmore buildings are wonderful examples of classic late 19th century Portland architecture with handsome detailing and color. That the mostly front Naito Parkway and Waterfront Park gives the project the chance not only to re-invigorate Old Town, but the waterfront as well.
As such, I was disappointed to hear that the main entrance to the Portland Center will be on Couch Street, not on Naito Parkway as the architecture seems to indicate. However, it sounds like a future renovation could easily restore the entrance at the front of the building where it belongs. And even if it doesn't, it's clear that this project will be a real catalyst for this area, achieving laudable historic preservation in prime downtown real estate while setting up the most downtrodden area in the central city for a real renaissance.
It's all so nice, I can almost make myself forget that the UO's football team has arguably suffered its most tragic season in its entire 113-year history.