As reported in today's Oregonian by Ryan Frank and Brent Hunsberger, the Trail Blazers have decided to revisit the idea of redeveloping the Rose Quarter area. That, the report says, could include retrofitting or demolishing the Coliseum.
It's true that the Rose Quarter is a dismal place unless there's a Blazer game happening, and even then it's only because of the game. At the same time, one of the city's biggest transit centers is here, so it would be good for the city for this area to be used more efficiently and smartly.
The successful recent Davis Cup match at the Coliseum not withstanding, it seems like overkill both in terms of function and in terms of architectural scale to have two large arenas sitting next to each other. But for virtually any architectural enthusiast, the Coliseum is a far more elegant, attractive and historic building than the larger, newer Rose Garden. It was designed in 1960 by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at the height of their mid-20th Century prowess, and the glass enclosure gives the Coliseum a wonderful transparency that few other arenas can even come close to.
The above photograph was taken by the legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman and is from the book Modernism Rediscovered. Inside, Pierluigi Serraino writes of how the building's roof system of steel trusses on four concrete columns produces a 270x240-foot clear span of glass. As a result, the structurally independent arena is "completely contained within a glass box patterened with 78-foot high wooden mullions". This is easily the most impressive glass structure in the city.
And speaking of history, remember that Memorial Coliseum is where the Trail Blazers won the 1977 NBA championship. It's also where The Beatles played their only Portland concert. We're talking sacred ground here.
I was disappointed to read in Frank and Hunsberger's article that Commissioner Randy Leonard has gone on record saying "he could support razing the Coliseum as long as another appropriate veterans' memorial was erected on the site." Even though veterans should indeed be honored, the memorial at Memorial Coliseum is the least special and unique thing about the place. We could easily replace that memorial. We can't replace the exquisite architecture of the arena.
There have in past years been ideas about how to renovate and renew the Coliseum, from the awful, very un-Portland idea of making it a big-box retailer to the very fine idea to make it an amateur sports Mecca. The latter plan, though, depended on a huge grant from McDonald's billionaire Roy Kroc's widow that was up for grabs at the time. That money is long gone, but why not revisit that idea with a new revenue stream?
There also could, and arguably should, be a housing and office presence somewhere within the Rose Quarter. That's the only way it will have life beyond a few events at the Rose Garden.
How about a design competition to generate new ideas for the facility? It could be an 'ideas competition' and non binding in terms of building. But between tearing down one of the most loved structures in Portland and turning it into a Home Depot, there has to be a third way that we can get behind - something that's a slam dunk.