Hallock-McMillen building (photo by Fred Leeson)
BY FRED LEESON
Interior detective work and old photographs are revealing the architectural secrets of Portland’s oldest surviving commercial building.
Developer John Russell bought the Hallock-McMillen building at 237 S.W. Naito Parkway late last year after a 30-year quest to acquire what can only be described as a well-hidden landmark. Major exterior changes in the 1940s and 1950s stripped the skinny, two-story building of all but shreds of its original 1857 appearance.
That’s about to change. Russell, working with Emerick Architects, is working on plans to restore the Hallock-McMillen to its original appearance as the city’s first masonry and cast-iron structure. A preliminary set of plans has been submitted to the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, which must approve exterior renovation plans.
Emerick says interior demolition has established the original location of windows and doors on the south side of the building which were were stuccoed over many years ago. He also said the northern pilaster on the Naito façade has been discovered, which gives designers an exact understanding of brick dimensions on the two pilasters that originally framed the east façade.
Blow-ups from old photographs also give a general view of the cast iron details used in the original three cast-iron arches on the east façade. William J. Hawkins III, Portland’s expert on cast iron architecture and author of Classic Houses of Portland: 1850-1950, is using the photographic history to replicate designs of the cast-iron arches and their decorations. He also has drawn an elevation study showing the original east façade.
Emerick says the building was erected in 1857 by Absalom Hallock, Portland’s first professional architect, who had arrived in Portland in 1850. Hallock also represented Phoenix Cast Iron Works of San Francisco, where the original cast iron no doubt originated. Emerick said Hallock lived and worked in the building for approximately 20 years, before it devolved into many subsequent manufacturing and commercial uses. Russell intends to remodel the interior into office space.
A small single-story addition was erected many years later at the rear of the building. Russell hopes to add a recessed, second story to that addition which would allow room for an elevator. Emerick said the original south façade was painted brick, later covered by at least an inch of concrete stucco. “We’re trying to explore ways to remove that,” he told the landmarks commission.
The more ornate east face was composed of brick, cast iron and smooth cement plaster, Emerick said. The entry doors and upstairs windows were deeply recessed to allow opening and closure of iron bi-fold shutters intended to protect the building in case of fire. Emerick said he’d like to recreate the shutters, but they would not be operable.
Russell’s acquisition gives him ownership of five contiguous buildings, including the full frontage on S.W. Oak between Naito and First Avenue, as well as the building immediately north of the Hallock-McMillen. Russell started those acquisitions in the early 1970s, when he bought and renovated the Dielschneider Building at 71 S.W. Oak.
It is likely that the final design will include internal passageways connecting some of the buildings and some sharing of mechanical systems. “The key to making all five of them work successfully is the Hallock-McMillen Building,” Russell said.
The renovation is expected to get started later this year and take less than a year to complete.
Fred Leeson is a Portland journalist and president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, which operates the Architectural Heritage Center.