BY BRIAN LIBBY
Continuing our look at Portland Monthly magazine's list of the top 10 local houses of all time (begun in Monday's post), compiled for the April issue, we find what may be the largest house of the group.
The 6th-ranked M. Lloyd Frank Estate was completed in 1924 and is located on the Lewis & Clark campus, which took over the property in 1942 (it now houses the president's administrative offices). The house was designed by Herman Brookman for the heir to the Meier & Frank department store fortune and, as Randy Gragg writes, it is a "merging of graceful period architecture and breathtaking landscape design," as well as a "classic pre-Depression mash-up of opulence and stylistic eclecticism."
Among the highlights of the M. Lloyd Frank are its hanging stairwell and its brickwork, the latter of which was composed to make the house appear to have been built over multiple eras. Yet it may be the landscaping that truly makes the property stand out. "The Frank Estate," Gragg adds, "is ultimately about the experience of space, drawing you through a compression of intimate rooms and expansive grand halls to the crescendo of an eight-acre formal garden framing a view of Mt. Hood."
Still, the faux-rustic brick work? That to me is architecture trying to be something it's not. If the house was built in one swift stroke, there's nothing that ought to compel a builder or architect to try and indicate otherwise. Why build all that opulence and grandness and then, in effect, apologize for it?
Another grand mansion, the Cobb House from 1917, makes the list at #7. As a jury, we felt that a building by A.E. Doyle practically had to be included. It's not to say the Cobb was chosen because Doyle was the designer, but given his role in building early-20th Century Portland, it was a pleasure to find one of his houses worthy of inclusion.
"Arguably no Portland architect shaped early Portland so widely as Albert E. Doyle, who designed much of the city's emerging financial district; our trademark white terra-cotta buildings such as the Meier & Frank Building and Lipman's (now Hotel Monaco); the earliest buildings of Reed College; and our most-visited civic building, the Multnomah County Central Library."
The Cobb House earns accolades for how it unites indoor and outdoor spaces on a steep site, especially the rounded breakfast room overlooking the gardens. It's in the Jacobethan style, which, as juror William Hawkins notes in his book Classic Houses of Portland: 1850-1950, was popular a the time around the country for lavish estates and summer homes.
"In Portland, Doyle's Cobbs mansion incorporated the best of select details within a masterfully balanced framework of gable-ended forms," Hawkins writes. "The lavishly appointed house is of masonry construction (mostly brick with dressed-stone trim) and incorporates appropriate Classical details, which define it as Jacobethan. Tudor elements are also found in the house, with half-timbering in the garden room extension and rough-cast stocco work on the engaged tower and kitchen/garage wing." Jacobethan style died a quick death in America with the oncoming of the Great Depression - perhaps not unlike what the Great Recession did to local condo towers.
"The entire ensemble," Hawkins concludes, "including the circular drive at the entrance court, the gabled entry with its oriel windows, and the balustrated gardens, make the Cobbs House one of Portland's most exceptionally designed homes." Needless to say, this was one that Hawkins the juror strongly advocated.
The #8 entry on Portland Monthly's houses list is one I had the good fortune to spend some time in: architect Saul Zaik's own home on NW Saint Helens Avenue. In talking with Zaik for a 2009 profile, he described the way he he and early Portland modernists like Belluschi, Yeon, Van Evera Bailey and Walter Gordon "were into a lot of big roofs and adaptation to site. William Fletcher, by comparison was always trying to do international architecture and build it out of wood," Zaik explained. "But Square boxes with cedar siding and no overhangs require a lot of maintenance."
Belluschi and Yeon helped show Zaik's generation that followed what the Northwest modern style could and maybe should be. "The work we liked to do came right out of our time at University of Oregon: that sheltering aspect. It was done around Eugene by Jim Morton, Bruce Chase, Denorval Unthank. But how many times would I drive clients around the Watzek house? There was also the Sutor house across the street, and the other one up the street Yeon did. We were ooing and aahing."
At heart, Randy Gragg writes in the Portland Monthly article accompanying the houses list, "Zaik relishes interpreting warm, clean forms of modernism for the Northwest landscape in the mlocal material of wood - and in this pursuit, the home he designed for his family stands as the finest example. The house is really a series of three separate pavilions - living spaces, bedrooms, and the carport - all connected by bridges and pathways. Each room is little more than columns, beams, and planes of glass-and-wood paneling. As simple as a Native American longhouse, but as delicate as a leaf, Zaik's home seems to almost hover above its wooded, hillside site."
The 9th-ranked house on the list represents the prairie style that was popularized by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright but never saw a boom in the Northwest. The Maegley House, completed in 1914 from a design by John Virginius Bennes. Although he also designed Portland's landmark Hollywood Theater and many buildings in Corvallis for Oregon State University, the architect was a Chicago native, explaining the Sullivan/Wright influence.
But it's not simply strict prairie style, for the Maegley has a Meditterranean tile roof, molded stucco and bay windows. Inside, each of the major public rooms are connected directly to each other and to the outdoors. This is a kind of modernism forerunner, exhibiting the simplicity of detailing and inside-out consideration that would inform generations of contemporary homes. For that reason, prairie style has also, as Gragg notes, become popular with today's era of faux-historic McMansions.
The #10 house on the list was the biggest surprise for yours truly. I've been covering architecture in Portland for over a decade, but am somewhat embarrassed to say I was not familiar with the Rockwood House until Randy Gragg suggested it to the rest of the jury. But now I want to become the Rockwoods' pro-bono housesitter.
We'd decided to include a house from the past 30 years on the list, and had been considering two recent houses in North Portland, PATH Architecture's Park Box and Atelier Waechter's Z Haus, as well as the Hoke Residence by Skylab Architecture. Yet the Rockwood House, which architect and professor David Rockwood designed for his parents at a site on the north shore of Hayden Island, was irresistibly magnificent.
"Rockwood's design channels Yeon's uncompromising craftsmanship by way of the celebrated prefab aesthetic of Charles and Ray Eames," Gragg writes. "Standing as commandingly as a Venetian palazzo on the Columbia River, the Rockwood House features an exposed stell structural system based on a near-perfect 11-foot, 6-inch grid. Panels of lightweight pumice concrete sandwiching foam insulation (a system Rockwood invented well before "sustainable" wall panels became mainstream) attach to the steel grid to form the exterior walls and roof." The house, Gragg adds, "creates the peaceful sense of floating in some much larger whole with every view and space framed by the grid."
Each of the jurors also selected a series of honorable-mention selections, and I will feature those in a post to follow.