Ladd Carriage House (photo by Brian Libby)
BY FRED LEESON
One of downtown Portland’s oldest and most charming buildings enters a new era this month after a twisting saga of architectural preservation that needed California entrepreneurs to complete.
The 130-year old Ladd Carriage House, one of downtown’s few remaining wooden buildings, opens soon as the Raven & Rose restaurant and pub. If the new upscale eating and drinking establishment achieves financial stability, it will mark a glorious turnaround for the historic building once seriously threatened by plans for a high-rise condo-turned-apartment tower next door.
Today, the asymmetrical three-story Victorian Queen Anne former horse barn sits proudly on the same site as it did in 1883, notwithstanding a four-block move and a 16-month sojourn in 2008-09 while five stories of underground parking were dug out below.
But even after that dramatic move - and followed almost immediately by a major economic recession - the partly restored Victorian antique sat vacant for two years while local brokers tried to find a new use and a buyer. It took a Northern California family to see the potential for the brainchild of Lisa Mygrant that soon awaits Portland diners.
“They seemed to understand the significance of the building and the opportunity it presented almost immediately,” said Paul Falsetto, a preservationist with Carleton Hart Architecture in Portland. The job of making Mygrant’s vision fit into a tightly-regulated landmark on the National Register of Historic Places fell largely on the shoulders of Falsetto and Tracey Simpson, of Innovative Designed Environment Associates.
Falsetto’s primary challenges included restoring the exterior as near as possible to its original design, adding a veritable boatload of mechanical equipment and vents into nearly non-existent spaces and reusing as much original architectural fabric as possible.
Ironically, for as old as it is, no photographs of the building have surfaced from near the date of its erection in 1883. Door and window configurations changed a number of times between its last use as a horse barn in 1923.
One fuzzy old picture showed a long-departed cupola in the center of the roof. “We could have refabricated it,” Falsetto said, “but we would have had to support it structurally all the way to the ground.” Doing so would have wiped out much of the restaurant’s tightly-planned open kitchen.
Falsetto worked with Portland architect and historian William J. Hawkins III in analyzing the facades and trying to replicate what might have been original appearances. “It is an asymmetrical building, but if you look at it in sections, the sections have a lot of symmetry to them,” Falsetto said. “We were really trying to get into the head of Joseph Sherwin,” the English-born architect who designed the carriage house for William Sargeant Ladd, a pioneer banker, mayor and philanthropist whose fingerprints also touch Portland’s earliest schools, library and churches.
Getting enough air in and out of the building without adding rooftop vents also took detailed planning. “Commercial kitchens suck in and pump out a lot of air,” Falsetto said. Intakes and vents with vertical louvers tucked under first-floor windows on the building’s north side provided much of the solution.
Working with Simpson, the interior designer, Mygrant wanted the feel of a comfortable English-style pub without trying to replicate any specific location or to look “cute.” Simpson leaned heavily on earth-tone colors with high dark wainscot on the walls and floors of salvaged oak and slate. The main-floor restaurant features several distinct small seating areas, including a wooden counter near a wood-fired brick oven built with bricks salvaged from an unneeded chimney. The main-floor ceiling includes several strips of original beaded ceiling boards, flanked by covered channels that hide densely-packed mechanical systems. The designers specifically eschewed open ductwork that festoons the ceilings of many old buildings.
Ladd Carriage House from SW Broadway (photo by Brian Libby)
The main bar is located on the second floor, accessible by elevator (“We did our best to make it disappear,” Falsetto said) or an L-shaped stairway. One’s eyes are attracted immediately to the scissor-style wooden braces that make the space unlike virtually any other in town. Careful eyes will note a few places where new, smoother boards were added for structural reasons to the original rough-cut timbers.
Research indicated that the eastern third of the building was used to house groomsmen for the horses and domestic help who worked in the Ladd mansion on the block now occupied by the Oregonian building. The restored building subtly retains the same proportion by putting offices, staff rooms and some baking facilities on the second floor and a mezzanine overlooking the second-floor bar.
Part of the formula that allowed for construction of the Ladd Tower and preservation of the carriage house included demolition of the charming Rosefriend Apartments on the same block.
Preservationists rued the loss of the Rosefriend at the same time they celebrated preservation of the carriage house.
“There never really was any choice,” Falsetto said. “The Rosefriend had no formal landmark status,” making it much easier to demolish than the carriage house, which was n the National Register. “That’s one of the reasons why the city (government) really needs to update its historic resources inventory,” Falsetto added.
Fred Leeson is a Portland journalist and board president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center.