Galleria (photo by drburtoni, via Flickr)
BY FRED LEESON
The deed is done. Target, a mega-retailer based in Minneapolis, will open one of its smallest stores ever in the former Galleria building at 921 SW Morrison Street.
The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission on October 10 unanimously approved plans by Target and the Bill Naito Company, the building owner, to make changes to the 101-year old, full-block former retail emporium that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The proposal’s prospects seemed circumspect when first surfaced earlier this year because Target wanted to replace two bays of display windows on the building’s north (Alder Street) side to make loading bays that would allow supply trucks to drive into the ground floor. The trucks would pull completely into the building and roll-up style garage doors would be opened to allow their ingress and egress. It amounted to a significant impact on a building that is protected by national and local preservation laws.
Yet the benefits of the Target plan were clear. It would add a major retail magnet to the west end of the downtown retail core, and it would allow for full rental of the Galleria building after more than a decade of partial occupancy.
Although his term ended on the city’s landmarks commission last month, former chairman Art DeMuro laid out the terms of a possible agreement last summer. He lobbied for a series of small improvements on almost every side of the building that would restore or repair damaged elements of the structure’s historic fabric. And in return, the city would allow the truck bays.
And that’s exactly how it played out. “We tried to work together to get some consistency to this building,” said Judy Van Alstyne, a property manager for the Bill Naito Co. The Portland architecture firm of Fletcher Farr Ayotte found places where latter-day ventilation louvers could be replaced with original-style wooden double-hung windows, agreed to restore two window bays that had been converted to separate storefronts and found damaged windows that could be replaced.
The most striking “historic” improvement, however, is likely to be replication of a steel-framed marquise that once was suspended over the main entrance at the center of the 10th Avenue façade. Amalia Groebe, a Fletcher Farr associate, said the new marquise with a row of light bulbs surrounding its base, was designed from photographs of the original.
Surprisingly, perhaps, she said the building’s original drawings showed a more elaborate marquise, but the version that was erected in 1911 was simpler. Value engineering, it turns out, may have a longer history than we thought.
“In this proposal, we get back a better 10th Avenue main façade,” said David Skilton, a city planner who shepherded the project and ultimately recommended its approval.
Target has elected not to use the restored main entrance on 10th Avenue as its primary entrance. Instead, it will use a smaller doorway at the west end of the Morrison Street façade, covered with a lighter canopy similar to the one at the Brooks Brothers entrance at the east end of Morrison.
Target officials said they wanted their primary entrance to be on Morrison, a major pedestrian street and served by MAX. They also liked that corner’s proximity to the five-level city parking garage just across Morrison to the south. Shoppers entering the main Target entrance will find a coffee shop on the ground floor and an escalator that takes them to the main store above.
Existing tenants, including Brooks Brothers, a cooking school and medical educational facilities, are expected to remain.
The building, completed in 1910 for the pioneer retail firm of Olds Wortman & King, was designed by Charles R. Aldrich, who designed some major commissions in Minneapolis before moving to Seattle in 1905. He worked for an investment firm that erected buildings in Seattle, Spokane, Portland and Los Angeles. The Olds building was the first full-block retail structure built in downtown Portland. Its steel frame with terra cotta exterior and wide bays reflected the major retail trend of the era.
The building has undergone many changes over the years, but its basic shape, exterior materials and footprint have survived. Aldrich would have no trouble recognizing it were he to be reincarnated someday down the road as a Target shopper.
Fred Leeson is president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation and its Architectural Heritage Center.