Today the Portland Beavers will play their final minor-league baseball game at PGE Park. After playing in our city for the better part of the last century, the franchise by tomorrow will have played its last ballgame here.
But if you read so-called experts like John Canzano of The Oregonian, trying to blame Memorial Coliseum and the efforts of a supposedly few "sentimental architects" for the Beavers' demise, don't be fooled.
It is indeed too bad for the Portland Beavers that they were forced out of their longtime home by the effort to make PGE Park a soccer-only facility without being given a proper home of their own. (Although I say this in full support of the Portland Timbers and their journey to MLS.) As a native Oregonian, I've been watching the Portland Beavers all my life. I saw my first live Beavers game back in 1980. I don't want them to leave.
It's also too bad that owner Merritt Paulson and his close ally at city hall, Commissioner Randy Leonard, attempted to make this issue a Beavers versus Coliseum choice. It never had to be that way. In fact, it never was that way.
Nearly 18 months ago Paulson, Leonard and Mayor Adams floated the proposal to demolish Memorial Coliseum for a minor league baseball stadium. The response was abundantly clear from the public: Don't do it. This was not simply the will of a few architects. No matter how many times Leonard, Canzano or anyone else try to pin that untruth to the wall, it won't stick. A broad spectrum of Portlanders made themselves loudly heard in support of a historic building that was built as a tribute to our veterans, and which is a one-of-a-kind building in the world.
There was never any organized action from the Portland Beavers fan base. No Beavers fans came to City Hall to make their opinions heard. No Beavers fans showed up last year when the Rose Quarter stadium plan was introduced to cheer for the idea.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that even by the Portland Beavers' own estimates, attendance would have gone down a few years after building and moving into the new stadium. [The Oregonian argued the opposite in an editorial this morning, but evidently they forgot to look at the team's own numbers.]
Merritt Paulson tried to find a home for the Beavers anywhere else in the entire Portland metropolitan area, and to his credit. But nobody wanted them. Beaverton backed out. Clackamas backed out. Lents backed out. Vancouver backed out. The story here isn't just that the Beavers couldn't convince Portland to tear down the Coliseum. It's that they couldn't convince even any of its suburbs.
If the Portland area really wants the Portland Beavers back, there will be a genuine effort to build them a stadium on a site that makes sense for everyone, or a least a site that doesn't draw such ire.
The saddest irony of historic preservation is that societies often want to save the 100-year-old building but then act like it's crazy to worry about the 50-year-old one. Memorial Coliseum exemplifies a whole generation of buildings constructed in the 1950s and '60s that are becoming historic and qualifying for historic-preservation protection under the law but for which society hasn't come to see their status as historic. Most early post-World War II buildings will be torn down, and that's alright. But the very best buildings should be preserved, especially if they still retain a very viable function. That's abundantly true with Memorial Coliseum, for it is a design unmatched anywhere: a masterpiece of midcentury modern architecture, one offering a 360-degree glass view of the city that does not exist in any other building in the world. Cities at their best are collections of great buildings from every era, and the Coliseum is mid-20th century architecture at its finest.
It's too bad that The Oregonian has devoted page after page after page, be it in editorial or column or regular reporting, to the loss of the Beavers and to the Rose Quarter process itself without ever talking to readers about what's great about Memorial Coliseum and why its preservation matters. The Oregonian has utterly failed this story, and John Canzano is only the latest.
Go ahead, mourn the Portland Beavers' departure. I do. But don't be fooled by those telling you we'd have been better off tearing down a Coliseum that belongs to and represents us all just so several hundred baseball fans can sit in a half-empty ballpark built on the ashes of the best of us.