BY BRIAN LIBBY
There is a new entry in Portland’s ongoing collection of warehouses converted to creative-class office space, joining projects from the past decade like the Olympic Mills Commerce Center in the Central Eastside, the Leftbank Building near the Rose Quarter, and the Ford Building in Southeast.
The Bakery Building is massive, occupying an entire block at NE 22nd and Riving, just north of Sandy Boulevard. The oldest portion of the 78,400 square foot structure dates to 1918, but it was built out in a succession of expansions over the decades, so much so that some of the building is wood-framed and some is steel-framed.
Davidson’s Baking Company, which built the building, was founded in 1914 and produced Davidson’s Ideal Bread, and later Sunbeam Bread). According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, when the company celebrated its golden anniversary in 1964, it employed 360 people and “was baking 12.5 million loaves of bread a year for retail grocery stores, restaurants, and schools—about six or seven loaves per Oregonian.” But since 1967, when company was sold (folding six years later), it has sat largely empty. It’s been waiting for a renovation since the Lyndon Johnson administration.
The restored Bakery Blocks, as the building is now known, was developed by Jeff Mincheff, who previously developed the Eastbank Lofts, and Don Vallaster, a partner at Vallaster & Corl Architects. (The pair are also restoring an industrial building across the street, hence the "Blocks" moniker.) It includes a variety of spaces but is intended as creative office space with retail storefronts on the ground floor, the latter of which businesses like Jasmine Pearl Tea and Old Portland Hardware & Architectural already occupy.
Visiting the building recently as workers completed renovations, I encountered a variety of spaces. As one enters through the oldest portion of the building, its stairway and half-circle windows give off a slightly Georgian feel in keeping with this portion’s construction just before World War I. Moving further into the former factory, the spaces get bigger and more wide open. One second-floor space is thousands of square feet, all column free like a ballroom, with its exposed roof trusses above and a restored maple floor at one’s feet. Nearby was a two-story loft space, with light pouring in from its upper clerestory windows. In another second-floor space, exposed brick revealed a small advertising mural reading, ASK FOR IT BY NAME.
The surrounding area is a mixture of industrial, residential and commercial. Across 22nd sits a warehouse fronted by two massive Pepsi trucks, and then across Irving a surface parking lot. Sandy Boulevard is just two blocks south, and while part of the intersection there is dominated by the oppressively window-less KATU television studios, there are a number of food/drink and cultural outlets nearby, such as the 23 Sandy Gallery and the cluster of small eateries comprising The Ocean. It’s a centrally located area that’s within biking distance of seemingly anywhere, but an I-84 onramp just down Irving for getting out of town. Sandy Boulevard is also a leading candidate for a future streetcar line, making this area all the riper for gentrification.
And in a time when local historic buildings of every scale are being threatened with demolition, it’s nice to see this building be restored rather than demolished, especially given how long it sat empty. One day this area may be of a substantially higher density and vibrant energy, and if it does, the Bakery Building may in many ways be its anchor.