Most Portlanders remember well the Brasserie Montmartre, a French restaurant on Park Avenue downtown where the walls were decorated with customers’ crayon drawings and jazz musicians played into the night. My first year living in Portland back in 1997, I went there for my birthday. The restaurant is now closed, or I'd have recommend the lamb rack I had that night. But both the Brasserie and the building are poised for a comeback.
The building, originally known as the Calumet Hotel, was built in 1907, part of a boom of building here in the years following the Lewis & Clark Exposition.
It was designed by noted Portland architect Joseph Jacobberger, a German French immigrant who got his start in the prominent firm Whidden & Lewis. He also designed Portland buildings like the 1920 Knights of Columbus Building, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and parts of St. Vincent Hospital.
The Calumet, which Jacobberger designed with a blend of French Renaissance and Edwardian style, rented rooms for $1 per day and offered new luxuries like private baths in every room. The hotel’s heyday continued into the 1930s.
The ground-floor Brasserie came in the 1970s and continued into the 1990s, but seemed perhaps a bit outdated as the farm-to-table movement rose here with restaurants like Wildwood, Paley’s Place and Higgins.
The building is being developed by Carl Coffman, who previously headed an excavation company (it’s now digging the Park Avenue West tower’s parking garage). He described renovating the Calumet, which is being re-branded as Esquire on Park Avenue, as a labor of love, but Coffman is also being sensible about the project: It is poised to earn at least a Gold LEED rating.
The renovation, overseen by Vallaster & Corl Architects of Portland and completing this spring, will create five stories of apartments from 625-950 square feet, as well as a 1500 square foot penthouse. When I visited, Coffman showed me an irresistible added feature to the penthouse: a rooftop deck with plenty of room for parties and a stellar skyline view.
Vallaster & Corl, by the way, has quietly done a very nice combination of new architecture and historic renovation over the years.
The building also includes a four-story open-air atrium in the middle of the building (with large skylights into the banquet facility), and the original steel stairs wrapping around a new elevator (it uses a fraction of the energy a normal elevator uses). There are also original Douglas fir floors that have been refinished.
Thanks in large part to an innovative heat recovery system, Coffman says energy consumption in the building will be reduced by 42% compared to traditional technologies. There is also a rainwater-recovery system which collects rain from the roof, channels it to four 1000-gallon tanks in the basement, and filters it for use in the commercial restrooms.
Coffman purchased the Brasserie Montmartre restaurant name with the building, but is exploring several restaurant opportunities. That said, when I visited, he was leaning toward bringing back the restaurant under its original name and focusing on affordable French bistro fare. (One idea I had: move Pascal Sauton’s excellent but off-the-beaten path downtown restaurant Carafe here.) Coffman expects a restaurant to open in July of 2009. More information can be found at www.esquireapartmentsportland.com.