« Street of Eames Returns | Main | Be "Still" For Cloepfil & Allied Works' New Denver Museum »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Are we supposed to sympathise with a church deciding it is above the law?

Maybe they should get fined so much they have to file for bankrupcy like the other churches who decided they could just handle things internally instead of through legal channels.

If they lose the church, let the next congregation fix the tower.


I think that the more reasonable approach would be to hire an architect and contractor to repair the tower, and then send the church a bill for services rendered. This is similar to what the city does when owners do not maintain their yards and such, just on a much larger scale.

This approach would guarantee quality work, whereas a church with limited income trying to get out from under a major penalty is very likely to cut whatever corners they can. Reference their attitude towards the project already, and I would be in a big hurry to give them more help than they think they need.


First Congregational's bell tower is rotting to bits as well. Two others had to be demolished in the past and the one remaining - the red and white cupola at park and salmon - isn't long for this world.

My guess is that most downtown churches no longer have resources commensurate with the scale of their fine buildings. Preserving them properly is unlikely to happen on the congregants' money alone.


it's just a building.

Jim Heuer

Responding to a prior comment, the Central Lutheran Church is definitely NOT "just a building". It is part of our community fabric, and its loss or significant alteration affects everyone. That's why it's a city landmark and why it is listed in the Great Buildings of the world website that Brian links to in his blog.

As a resident of the neighborhood, I've been wondering what was happening to that tower. After the tower was partly dismantled (roughly chopped off is more accurate), I assumed that the church would simply rebuild to replace the weather-damaged elements. Instead, it appears that their respect for their own church building was so low that they planned to leave the hacked off stub just standing there.

A review of their newsletters on their website does, in fact show plaints of financial distress in 2006, shortly after the tower was chopped down, but never once in those pleas for more money from the congregation is there any discussion of a long-range funding program for tower reconstruction.

Only much later when the pressure was mounting on the church to reconstruct it did they actually set up a building fund for the tower reconstruction. In the intervening months, their newsletter has had small blurbs about the tower fund but nowhere has there been a strong statement by the leadership of the church that the tower must be restored and the funds had to be found.

The fact is that despite the church's financial issues (they report that they broke even in 2007 after many years of losses), a payment of $100 per year for each of the last 3 years by each member for the tower would have had it restored by now. The problem was not funds. It clearly has been a lack of will and a lack of respect for their own edifice that they were willing to leave it stand disfigured for so long.

Like Brian, I'm appalled about this, and feel their actions are an insult both to their Irvington neighbors and to the city of Portland as a whole. We can all understand financial difficulty, but to just take the stupid way out and demolish the tower without even an effort to reach out to the community for assistance was irresponsible and unconscionable.

By the way, the architecture community has made an effort with the tower: the AIA donated $1000 to the tower fund in August, 2007.

When I see the church authorities really reaching out to the larger community for help (where is the fund raising banner stuck to the side of the church like so many congregations do to promote their building fund?) and even applying to the Irvington Community Association for a grant to help with tower reconstruction, then I'll take them seriously that they have really tried to get the funds together (the ICA donates nearly $20,000 per year to good causes in the neighborhood and certainly would have considered such a request). In the meantime, the church leaders are deserving of whatever scorn they receive as a result of their stupid and shortsided handling of the situation.


I think it is good to be critical but it is probably better to be compassionate. It is one of those situation where they didn't realize what they have. Or just naive with the result of their action.
What the architectural community needs to do is get together and raise some money bcause the church is obviously don't have the funds to do so.
Again, what they've done is not right but can we do to make it right?


I don't think anyone can blame this on ignorance or naivity. From the Oregonian article the church leaders met after being informed about costs, permits, historic requirments, etc. and conspired to act on their own outside the law. After all, "We're a church! What can they do about it? Fine us?"

I cannot find any compassion for that, and I think it is silly to ask others to clean up after their mess when the only regret they show is that they got caught.

How about some regret for tearing down an historic landmark? How about some regret for breaking the law?


"where they didn't realize what they have"? What does that say about the architecture? Do you think they'd have pulled down the First Congregational tower so casually? The church was wrong to tear this down, but to the majority of people the tower neither inspires awe or Godly respect. Its a glorified fence post with a cross on top.

Related to this top, would Pietro Belluschi be as respected if his name happened to be John brown or Bill Smith? I just don't get the appeal of this guy.


in terms of the architectural community initiating some sort of campaign to help raise awareness/funds, that is really a job for the historic preservation league of oregon or the bosco-milligan foundation (now known as the architectural heritage center). however, it seems that both of these organizations lack a full understanding of what it means to be preservation advocates. hplo is underserved and could definitely use more help in getting their act together becasue they are the true quasi-public organization that could take on this role. ahc, on the other hand, seems more interested in "historic" kitchens and other fluff.
and most importantly, the church certainly should be fined for demolishing the tower without the necessary approvals or permits. what kind of precedent would this set otherwise?


on a more constructive note, partners for sacred places offers assistance in helping religious organizations find funding for maintenance and repair of their historic buildings. (perhaps there is a way to convince the church to rebuild the tower.) here's their website: http://www.sacredplaces.org/home.htm

David Owen

I admit that I've known about this for almost two years, though I'd never guessed that their actions were untoward.

I first learned of it when I took some photos of the building, back in June 2006. A handful can be seen here:



I dunno, not having a cross on top of their church seems rather symbolic.


If the tower belongs to the community too ("it's our tower as much as Central's) then it would be very good for the concerned community members to pitch in on the capital campaign now in progress to rebuild the tower. I'm sure your contributions would be most welcome.

Jim Heuer

For those who want to donate, the information for donating is given at http://www.centralportland.org/building_home.htm

I expect I'll step up to the plate and make a donation, although it still grates that they only got serious about raising this money after the city threatened them with fines.

As to the role of HPLO and the AHC, as mentioned in a previous comment, HPLO is barely hanging on to its organizational existence and is far, far from being in a position to collect money or donate anything for any cause.

As to AHC, perhaps there are some that consider Portland's historic housing stock unimportant and efforts to ensure its historically sensitive rehabbing and restoration to be fluff. I don't happen to be among those. AHC's Board approved a far-reaching advocacy policy in late 2007, and in 2008 will be rolling out a series of programs that address just that subject. Already AHC has taken positions both public and behind the scenes on key preservation issues including the Portland Public Schools review of historic properties, on the Irvington Squire, and has provided substantial valuable support to the Friends of the Ladd Carriage House in their efforts to save and preserve that iconic part of Portland's history.

I'd invite anyone who views the AHC as providing fluff for the preservation movement to visit the AHC center itself and talk with its staff about volunteering for the many on-going projects that profoundly benefit the Portland community and its historic buildings.


"... the Central Lutheran Church is definitely NOT "just a building". It is part of our community fabric, and its loss or significant alteration affects everyone. That's why it's a city landmark and why it is listed in the Great Buildings of the world website that Brian links to in his blog."

the placement of this building on the Great Buildings website (which was created by two UofO professors with a heavy NW bent) hardly makes it significant or "great." if the architecture or the profession cannot engender enough interest or support of the design arts, perhaps efforts would be best directed at engaging the community (not the provincial architecture community) in open design discussion rather than haughtily ridiculing the masses from the (now demolished) ivory tower.


aplomb: Who was ridiculing the masses in this post? Are you just out trolliing again?


my perspective on both ahc and hplo comes from volunteer experience with both organizations. i recognize that ahc has prospered in the past few years whereas hplo has foundered. why that is, i'm not sure, but i imagine it has to do with ahc's emphasis on style and decoration rather than policy which is less interesting to the layperson. while they may have begun to speak up in the last few years, i still think they are more interested in artifacts or what i called "fluff" (rather than urban fabric) because of how they came into being. i did not mean to imply that this aspect of preservation education is not important, simply that it is limited. i still think hplo is the proper organization to highlight larger preservation issues and if i lived closer i would be working to help them do this. of course, it is true, they may soon be extinct, in which case, more power to ahc indeed.


I received my impression about the church board's handling of this issue from the Oregonian article. I can appreciate that with their dramatically declining church membership and rising costs of materials and repairs, the dry-rotted modernistic steeple presented them with a dilemma. The church just wasn't very sophisticated in the means they chose to solve the dilemma.

As Jim Heuer basically says,the church could have and should have reached out to the community for helping to rebuild this part of the church structure. Given the steeple's architectural distinction, they had the perfect rationale for appealing to the community's appreciation for the important architectural presence that the church's design offers to the community's character.

I wonder if the $150,000 figure was a fair estimate for that job. It looks like a simple structure, but maybe that doesn't translate to a lower replacement cost.

PG's comment about the structural integrity of First Congregational Church's bell tower is very disturbing. I don't think they'd be likely to hack it down like Central Lutheran did theirs (well, it wouldn't be so easy to do that there), but if it's in bad condition, it will have to be repaired. If structures like this really are seriously considered by a community to be a vital part of the architectural fabric of the community, it's only right for the community to assume a greater role in sustaining it.

Rodney King

you guys do realize preservation laws dont apply to churches?

there was a huge fight to save a historic church in the heart of downtown seattle a few years ago and there is a fight in DC over saving a brutalist church and in both these cases this issue has been at the heart of it.


Rodney King, you must be on PCP.

Religious properties are not exempt from land use laws which require that property owners receive the necessary approvals prior to demolition of a structure or a portion of the structure. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act, which I assume you are round-aboutly referring to prohibits local governments from imposing a land use regulation which would impose a susbstantial burden on an organization's "religious excercise". It does not provide religious organizations with immunity from land use laws. To keep or not to keep the tower is not a religious excercise, and even if it were, the requirement for the church to receive the necessary approvals is not a substantial burden. Equal protection under the law requires that churches, just like everyone else, are subject to obtaining permits.

Your information is incorrect.


I was just directed to this blog, and, though it seems the conversation has run its course, as a member of Central Lutheran Church, I feel the need to have a comment on record.

It would be very easy to take offense at all the comments made that are based on one article in the Oregonian, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. At least someone took the time to look at our web-site.

Having just finished a near million dollar renovation in 2000, we knew what we needed and what we need to do while working with the city. As with most churches, we have had a building and maintenance fund forever, and as with most churches, we come from a tradition of paying for things ourselves. We paid for the 2000 renovation with an internal financial campaign and with the sale of two properties in the Irvington neighborhood. During this renovation, we worked with an architect who had been a student of Pietro Belluschi, because the historical significance of our church is important to us. During the renovation, we spent the money on our balcony to meet seismic specifications so it doesn't fall down when the church is full in December while people sing the chorus's of Handels' Messiah; we installed an elevator to all 3 floors so that our members and members of the Disability Arts and Culture Project can have full access; we installed a sprinkler system and updated the electrical so that when we have a lefse baking fundraiser, we don't blow the circuits and set the smoke detectors off. We also worked with the city so that we did not have to build a fence in our parking lot to hide the fence that is already there, but we had to plant bushes that cost $45 instead of purchasing gallon container plants from Freddies for $5.95. The costs of these projects pushed back the rebuilding of the visible part of the building, our tower.

So, when we had one more structural inspection and found that the tower was less than 40% stable, we had the choice of working with the city for 1 or 2 years to get the proper permits first and hope we didn't lose the tower during a winter storm, or take the tower down safely and deal with the consequences. We chose the second scenario.

Since then, we have worked with the city and have a good relationship. We have our structural plans finished and approved and have hired a contractor. Our fundraising continues. The day the Oregonian article was published, 3 people walked in off the street to purchase our newly published history book. Three foundations have contacted us and asked us to apply. Others are considering the requests we had already made, and some have turned us down because they do not fund churches. Other churches have sent us money, and people have donated on-line. We will "Lift High the Cross" again.

In the meantime, you are invited to visit us any weekday, or even Sunday morning. Did I mention I am the Office Administrator also? Give us a call, check us out. All Are Welcome.


Sorry Sue, but it still sounds like the church decided it was above the law: "We had the choice of working with the city".
You mean you chose not to follow the law.

It seems indisputable now that church leaders conspired to act on their own outside the law. It was a conscience choice, not ignorance or naivety.


indeed, robert. perhaps they were following god's law. have they ever heard of stabilization?


Robert - who ARE you - please tell me you are not a Native Oregonian, nor raised in Portland!

I have wondered what happened to this steeple and cross when I've been back in Portland. Looking up at it is part of my childhood. After reading the article in The Oregonian today I, too, will write a check to help the congregation.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Lead Sponsors


Portland Architecture on Facebook

More writing from Brian Libby


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad

Paperblogs Network

Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics

Awards & Honors