BY FRED LEESON
A small miracle unfolded in Portland’s preservation circles the other day that will have ramifications perhaps for years to come.
It was small, indeed, comprising a mere 1,600 square feet in a house measuring a story and a half tall. But it was a miracle that it happened, given the amount of work, grief, struggle, money and hard feelings it took to move the 1890s Edwin Rayworth house a mere two miles in North Portland.
For the most part, the story involved a lot of people who wanted to do the right thing, but managed to trip over miscommunications, misunderstandings and likely some bureaucratic egotism. In the end, the house was saved, will be restored and will likely live on for another century or more – far outliving the temporary grief of the past few weeks.
The episode began early in 2013 when a Lake Oswego developer, Andre Koshuba, bought the old, vacant house in a foreclosure sale. He planned to demolish it and build two units on the small lot that sits fewer than 50 feet from trendy North Mississippi Avenue.
The proposed demise of the charming but run-down architectural gem hit the Internet. Koshuba, not wanting to be framed as the prototypical evil developer, offered to sell the house for $1 to anyone interested in moving it. Members of the Boise Neighborhood Association hoped to raise enough money to move the house to a nearby lot and keep it in the original neighborhood.
Alas, the neighborhood couldn’t muster the money. Koshuba set a deadline of midsummer, hoping to get started on his new building before bad weather hit. Roy and Kim Fox, two Humboldt neighborhood residents who had done a masterful job of restoring a larger Victorian, stepped forth as potential rescuers. They found a lot two miles away, and started negotiating the many city regulations about preparing the site through the city’s Bureau of Development Services and making the move, which required a permit from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Koshuba, meanwhile, had shown admirable patience. He set a Sept. 8 deadline. With lengthy assistance from Cathy Galbraith, head of the non-profit Architectural Heritage Center, the Foxes lined up a moving company, negotiated with the various utilities that would have to move lines, paid all the city fees for the various permits and actually received a permit from PBOT to make the move on the deadline.
Alas, somewhere along the way PBOT had not consulted with the urban forester about impacts on trees. PBOT retracted the permit it had approved. City Forester Jenn Cairo evidently believed the move would damage or destroy up to 20 trees. Oddly, other city staffers who travelled the proposed route placed the number much lower.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the new commissioner of parks – which includes urban forestry – declined to overrule the forester. She said in an email that she didn’t want to face the wrath of property owners whose trees had been destroyed. Mayor Charlie Hales responded that trees were a renewable resource and historic old houses were not.
Fritz intervened with Koshuba and he graciously extended the deadline once again. In a meeting with the Foxes and others, Cairo reportedly said she was a “one-issue” person when it comes to urban tree canopy. Her intransigence could be mitigated, however, for a $50,000 tree mitigation fee, according to news reports. The Foxes countered with $3,000, and ultimately agreed to $10,000. After modifying the route, the deal was struck.
With masterful choreography of both men and machinery, Emmert International performed the move. Though the transport of the house progressed smoothly – if slowly – difficulties arose with utilities. Some electricity and Internet service were lost for as long as five hours along the route. “We lost a lot of goodwill over that, and we are very sorry about it,” Roy Fox said. If fault is to be laid, it is not with Roy or Kim Fox on that one. They had given the notices required under all of the rules.
The house now sits at its new location, awaiting a foundation that will be poured in the weeks ahead. Then the restoration can finally begin. Meetings are being scheduled at City Hall to figure out how the missteps happened and how they can be corrected, although few such building moves occur.
For single-issue bureaucrats who may never face the same situation again, the message should be this: Buildings like the Rayworth house represent a time in the history of our city, and in the history of craftsmanship, materials and architecture that cannot be replaced. They provide a sense of place – and places for people to live and work. We are not better off if they go to the landfill.
“Portland will be all the richer, thanks to the extraordinary commitment of the Foxes”, said Cathy Galbraith of the Architectural Heritage Center. “Like all of the 5,000 properties on the city’s Historic Resources Inventory (1983), the Rayworth house had no formal Landmarks designation and that means no protection. What people see in the house is an 1890 picture-perfect Victorian-era cottage that has survived, unlike thousands of vintage houses that were bulldozed during the clearance of Portland’s older neighborhoods during the 20th century. Now, we lose them one at a time - - and Rayworth would have been one more loss.”
Fred Leeson is president of the non-profit Bosco-Milligan Foundation, which owns and operates the Architectural Heritage Center.