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Great post Brian, I actually really enjoy the eclecticism of many of the McMenamins, and appreciate their dedication to restoring historical landmarks in a very creative way (in my opinion). On the other hand, I would also love to see an interest in restoring mid-century modern structures like the "checker-board" building. It's exciting to think of all the possibilities!

Frank Dufay

You don't have to order a Terminator Stout or be into the hippy vibe to appreciate that the McMenamins are doing something very precious.

I couldn't agree more, Brian. They are a major asset to our community. And their beers are awfully good. (Though it is "hippie" not "hippy"...you obviously didn't graduate High School in 1969 and attend the first be-in in Central Park like I did.) They would've made the Rosefriend an AWESOME boutique hotel had they been given the chance, and what a great location for one!

BTW Read you article in "Dwell", re Belmont Lofts. Thought it very interesting.

Fred Leeson

A little-known fact about McMenamin's is that they have a professional historian on STAFF (or at least, used to) who does detailed historical research about their buildings. I think the company has a respect for history that goes beyond whatever is needed to get a tax break for a historic building. I wish more owners and developers had this mindset.


Isn't there a PDX-based magazine concentrating on mid-century design? The rebirth of the square-as-cool!


Absolutely, the McMenamins rock!! They have vision. Vision is is what it takes to actually enhance livability through new development, rather than diminish it. The question I find myself asking, is why some of the most powerful, sucessful developers in our area, apparently do not have anything approaching the level of vision exemplified by the acheivements of the McMenamins.

As the First Christian Church and John Carrol stamd poised to scar Portland's architectural landscape for the next 50-100 yrs with their myopically conceived condo tower, this question regularly crosses my mind.

May the visiom and spirit that the McMenamins have rallied, inspire others towards an ever better city for all!


That building would be one of the best restaurant buildings in Portland, done well. It has a great flat roof which I imagine could have expansive outdoor seating for our mild summer weather.

I don't mind the Disneylandification that McMenamin's does on it's old buildings, certainly they are stylish & fun. My problem is this concept that whole neighborhoods in Portland require this treatment with new buildings. The City put a pile of money up on 23rd, including a modern streetcar - and yet when they turned it into an Historic district they ignored the modern & contemporary work already there and wrote up rules that require the new to look old.

Making something new look old just waters down the history of place, it adds nothing and stifles creativity.

Portland needs to embrace the creative in architecture and learn to push itself a little in growing a city for tomorrorw's generations (not yesterdays).

I wonder what a McMenamin's that embraced modern interior design with the beauty of an old repurposed building would be like? Certainly it would speak to the moment when we were here, rather than some made up never-was past.


It would be Bridgeport Brewery, cold, uninviding and out of date within 5 years. The quarky details are what make McMenamins, how would cold modern architecture compliment those thoughtful details?


I didn't say cold modern - that sounds like a bias on your part about what you think modern looks like (hint it's not Bridgeport Brewery.

Here's a nice example by Marcel Wanders. (It even has 'quarky' details.)


you know what is funny is that McMenamin's has a few locations in strip malls. However, they still manage to have that "McMenamin's" feel.


Cheers for mentioning the checkered flat roof. I would love to see a lounge lined with private karaoke booths that look over the street. As big as private booth is in Vancouver and Seattle it would be a hit in karaoke loving' Portland. Anyone agree?


Agreed, I need to go to the St. Johns pub some day... a classic piece from the world's fair.

Also that building on SW 10th has massive appeal to the design savvy in this city... even the people next door at the Ace Hotel.... hmmm?


Don't think that the checkerboard building on SW 10th hasn't been looked at by more than one developer, because it has. My second hand understanding is that it has extremely cost prohibitive needs in regards to water infiltration and structural problems. A piece of property like that doesn't just stand empty for 5+ years without a good financial reason.


does anyone have more pictures of this multicolored checkerboard building?


That building should be restored, though probably won't. That quasi-Mondrian pastel grid facade is classy and kitchy at the same time. I've noticed it and liked it a lot and so I remembered this bit about it, quoting from Isaac Laquadem's blog:

"...now unnamed but formerly called the Insurance Service Building. It's inconspicuous from the street, fitting into the middle of the block. What makes it unusual is that it runs through the middle of the block all the way to 11th Avenue, where there's access to underground parking. The Knower of All Things says that it's the last building built in downtown Portland without a building permit, something that if true deserves a historical plaque on the sidewalk in front."

If that no-building-permit thing is true it probably doesn't stand a chance commercially. Too bad; this could be a very useful and good looking structure in some way otherwise.


"The question I find myself asking, is why some of the most powerful, sucessful developers in our area, apparently do not have anything approaching the level of vision exemplified by the acheivements of the McMenamins."

Perhaps because they are just bean counters? And that to run a restaurant requires a helluva lot more than just counting beans - you have to create a place with decent food, service, and beer that people want to go to?

Huge difference!

Mr. Magoo

As far as McMenamins goes, I think it is a far cry to call it "Disney" architecture. Sure, it may be quirky and a bit pseudo-hippyish, but all of their restaurants, pubs and venues all have their unique identity, even being a chain. As the poster above pointed out, they have their own historian on staff.

This is called 'historic renovation,' which preserves the uniqueness of each building - which contrasts sharply with commodification and homogenization of icons, such as is done with fast-food restaurants and places like Applebee's.


For the most part, of course, larger developers are working on an entirely different scale than McMenamins. I think to pull off a big half-block condo project, there seem to have to be a lot of lowest-common-denominator decisions. It's also new construction versus renovation. McMenamins does a great job of occupying buildings that already have a history, a context.

I also think the McMenamins brothers are ahead of the curve when it comes to creating hybrid spaces such as their theater pubs or some of the stuff they have going on at larger places like Edgefield, where there multiple spaces with different activities. We take it for granted now, but remember 10 years ago how incredibly cool it was to have a beer and pizza at a movie theater? One of the best moviegoing experiences of my life was seeing the re-release of the original "Star Wars" at the Baghdad in 1997 as my innaugural pizza-beer-movie experience.

Frank Dufay

We take it for granted now, but remember 10 years ago how incredibly cool it was to have a beer and pizza at a movie theater?

Absolutely true. And we forget how when the Bagdad re-opened how long it took to build an audience for this "new" concept...I used to go every week just to show my support as a neighbor for what they'd done (well, that and the pizza and beer was great!)

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