When one hears the name “Wells Fargo Building” in Portland, thoughts usually go to the downtown’s tallest structure, sitting just south of City Hall and clad with white granite in a minimalist style.
But there’s another work in town that shares the name Wells Fargo Building. In fact, it’s called Portland’s first skyscraper, and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Situated at 309 SW Sixth Avenue, the building was commissioned by the bank and designed by architect Benjamin Wistar Morris III, a native Oregonian working in New York City. The 12-story building was jointly occupied by Wells Fargo, Southern Pacific Railroad and Oregon Railway & Navigation. Here’s some more info about the building from the press release:
“The building was designed to evoke the Second Renaissance Revival style. Terracotta was the favored material for most large, commercial structures built during Portland’s era of rapid growth, as it was fireproof, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. Decorative terra-cotta blocks adorn the crown of the building—artisans created these blocks by pressing fine clay into plaster molds and then glazing, drying and firing them. Along with glazed terra-cotta exterior sheathing, gray granite plinths were used on the ground-floor level and limestone sheathing was used on the second and third floors; buff-colored brick was laid in decorative diamond-and-cross patterns; the roof was lined with a prominent copper cornice, a terra-cotta parapet and dentils.”
“Combining elements of Victorian and classical Italian architecture, the Wells Fargo façades stand out with unique compositional elements, colors and materials. The windows and door frames of the two-story street level arches are trimmed with cast iron; the upper floors have sets of double-hung wood sash windows.”
I’ve always loved the combination of early 20th Century buildings and modern ones from a few decades later. In this case, the name Wells Fargo represents both. I’m not nearly as negative towards the tall modern Wells Fargo building, which to many represents the epitome of behemoth Brutalism that supplanted itself in countless downtowns without concern for local architectural contexts. To me it’s a big minimalist granite sculpture that anchors the downtown with its height and simple palette. But it’s also true that the smaller-scaled buildings like the circa-1907 Wells Fargo Building, along with structures here by A.E. Doyle and other early 20th century architects, are an unqualified local treasure.