« Van Jones on green jobs, national climate change policy | Main | Fishing for public-private greenery, east of the freeway »

Comments

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

Khrissoden

Sadly, the residents of the apartments on Couch were served with eviction notices last month, according to a friend that resides there. I believe that they have to vacate the building by the end of March.

Englestadt

According to my friend also residing there, the property owners gave tenants 90 day notice, then gave every tenant 60 days of free rent to help with relocation costs. The new development didn't come as a surprise to most, as the first applications to the city happened two years ago. It is sad to see the buildings go, but at least the landlord is helping to offset relocation.

John Boyd

Two big missed opportunities for Portland and it's collective memory. The only thing that will bring long-term financial return on these properties -- and this town -- is making unique places that show some respect for the work of those that got us here.
Taking down that distinctive restaurant is such an obvious bonehead missed opportunity to reinforce the swanky vibe anchored by doug fir.

There oughtta be a law.

Jeff Joslin

There is a law. Unfortunately, it's the wrong law. And it's fundamental to this discussion.

The "owner consent law", as it's known in preservation circles, took effect in 1996. A statewide mandate, it limits historic designations to properties where the owner is a willing participant, but for the case of publicly owned properties (such as the Memorial Coliseum). A property rights driven effort, it prevailed despite the attempted intervention by the City of Portland, the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Trust, Bosco Milligan, and other preservation organizations of the time. Unfortunately, that effort failed, and has been the law of the land since that time.

As such, the City, or any other municipality cannot simply preclude demolition. It would be a takings, the City would be sued, and it would lose.

Two things need to change in order to remedy this. The owner consent law needs to be repealed or modified, and - in turn - the City would need to amend the Code to include "demolition" in its definition of "development".

The reason this latter piece is important is right now, land use reviews such as those mentioned only review development (alterations or new development). Total demolition is not within the purview of the review. This is important for those engaging these processes to get. The guidelines responses provided by Bosco Milligan identified above only related to demolition. While the arguments are passionate and true, they are not regulatorily relevant.

In other words, the problem that's been addressed is the process and policy ("no regulation without designation"), when the problem is not within either, but lies in these overarching regulatory limitations.

As an additional note: I'm concerned that shots are being fired at development for invoking green principles, including deconstruction, as being a shield to hide behind in order to rationalize a development. It's been a long road to creating a culture of development where sustainability is consistently hard-wired into most projects. To flail and penalize such projects and developers is to dis-incent them from doing so in the next project.

stephen

It is unfortunate that the development is happening in this way.
I can imagine that the apartments need a lot of work to get them properly restored and I am glad that the materials will be re-purposed. It would be nice to save them, but the cost of doing so would be too great for the return, I assume.
Demolishing the Galaxy is a shame on many levels. It is an interesting prototype building that is worth saving.
I hate to see the funky/cool Galaxy replaced with an ugly, uncreative, contrived suburban building as shown in the proposed elevation. Why only build a one story in an urban setting? Dumb on many levels and a waste.

Brian Libby

A comment from architectural historian Henry C. Kunowski passed on to me by email:

"Conserving the heritage of Portland and Oregon has become quixotic adventure. Jeff makes a number of excellent points in this direction in terms of the 1996 law that removed historic preservation from the list of Goal 5 resources and gave us 'owner consent'. Mercifully, it did not become the indicator species for the dismantling of other Goal 5 resources as was the hope of the leadership for Oregonians in Action. In terms of the bigger picture, a repeal of owner consent in this or any future legislative session is highly unlikely and even if it did make it to committee, opening up this matter again may likely create unintentional consequences not only for historic preservation but a number of other resources.

The issue in Portland is simply that the city government, its commissions and bureau’s do not care enough, or at all, about heritage conservation matters, especially if they compromise new development, green, sustainable or otherwise. As long as the heritage community is relegated to fight, one property at a time, to conserve the collective memory of Portland they will likely lose, whether the property is listed on the National Register, a local landmark or just a nice old building. The tally of conservation success stories in Portland is few and far between. The challenges keep coming in different forms; from new development proposals to solar panel installations in historic and conservation districts to declaring the Norway maple invasive so that places like the Ladd’s Addition can no longer replace these magnificent trees with like kind.

What is needed is a significant structural change not only in heritage conservation policy but the consciousness of local leadership to recognize the value that historic preservation provides to creating a sense of place, community and yes, sustainability in its truest form, conservation."

Mudd

I had a friend that several years ago, lived at the apartment building. I went to visit her several times there. While the place certainly had (still has?) character, it has always looked to me that the building is in supremely poor shape. Back then, it had some big old columns holding up some very scary balconies. (Might I die going out there to enjoy a smoke with my friend??) I would think that it ultimately became a huge liability and they had to partly demolish it.

While I get the iconic argument for the Galaxy, it is silly to say that it should be saved just because of this. It is not unique in any way. In fact, just go down the street and you'll see another just like it. When did prototype architecture become precious? Sure, it may be the first in the metro area but for heaven's sake the design was rubber stamped in Southern California. It means nothing in its current location. (Nor, for that matter, does the fugly suburban replacement building. Yikes...)

Just because something is old, does not make it automatically good. After all, there were bad architects back then as well. Not everything must be preserved at the expense of financial common sense.

Brian Libby

Mudd,

Thanks for your comments.

You're probably right that the buildings on 5th and 6th would need work cosmetically and structurally if they were preserved. But I'm not sure that necessarily means they should come down. Would it really be more expensive to fix these buildings than to tear them down and rebuild? I'm guessing the owner is motivated more by profit from a new building than fear of repair costs on this one.

Nobody is saying a building's advanced age automatically makes it historic or worth saving. But as it happens, people find these buildings attractive as well as representative of an early 20th century housing that is rapidly disappearing. It's not just about these buildings, but all the buildings like them that are going away. The best cities are collections of architecture from every generation.

What's more, whether we're talking about the Couch buildings or the Galaxy, I think you're mistaken in saying that wanting to preserve buildings like this is a demonstration of architectural preciousness. Obviously we wouldn't try to save every national restaurant franchise's first incarnation in Portland. Few people would care where the first Burger King was. But this first Denny's in Portland captures a certain kind of googie-style, pop culture influenced mid-20th century design that is also rapidly disappearing.

Furthermore, there is an overriding tendency for people to not appreciate architecture from 50 years past even if they like the idea of preserving 100-year-old buildings. We need to do a better job of recognizing recent architectural and cultural history.

Mudd

Come on, Brian. You can't seriously claim that a prototypical 60's Denny's is somehow supremely representative of a type of architecture moreso than, let's say, the one down the street. Really? In my mind, this is precisely why historic preservation isn't taken more seriously. Many preservationists feel that you must fight every battle, regardless of merit, just to elevate the overall position. Many people just see that as obstructionism, taking away from the overall (important) message. As a person also interested in preserving our heritage, I feel it is important to advocate for the preservation of the best, most representative, and significant properties. If not, you'll fail make any real progress.

Mudd

FWIW, I actually like the Galaxy building a lot. Architecturally, it is very nice. It a shame that it'll come down and be replaced with something so hideous. I just don't think this is a case that falls under the realm of historic preservation.

Portlandpreservation.wordpress.com

I hope that people aren't mis-interpreting the interest in preserving the Galaxy and the two apartment buildings on Couch. While it is interesting and correct that the Galaxy was Portland's first Denny's, that is less important than the process by which such developments move forward in this city. In addition to Henry's suggestion for an updated historic resources inventory, which we certainly need, It is the design review process that needs revamping as well. I have yet to hear anyone besides the restaurant owner and the architect for the new Trio, claim that the new building will be a great addition to the neighborhood. This would seem to be a signal that (if nothing else) the Trio design is either poor or incompatible with the neighborhood. Yet the design has gained approval at the cost of a far more distinctive building that really ties together the nearby Jupiter Hotel/Doug Fir.

A similar argument could be made for the apartments on Couch. Yes, they need work, but it is completely feasible to rehab them and then integrate a new apartment building on the north side of the lot. This would add housing and preserve some of the remaining bits of historic character in the area.

The language in the design guidelines for the Central Eastside calls for "integrating urban design and preservation of our heritage into the development process.” They also state “Areas of the Central City are enhanced, embellished, and/or identified through the integration of distinct landmarks.” They also call out "the reuse, rehabilitation, or restoration of buildings" and seek new development that “Complement[s] the context of existing buildings." It seems that with both the Couch and Galaxy projects these guidelines are not met and certainly aren't exceeded. Yet designs were approved.

Mudd

While I can certainly agree with you that the design review process can be enhanced to prevent replacing a good building with a bad building, I take offense by anyone unfamiliar with the full details of a project making some sort of assertion on what is "completely feasible". This, again, is another reason why preservation isn't taken more seriously. Baseless bold statements from the fundamentally uninformed will never further the cause.

Portlandpreservation.wordpress.com

Not meaning to offend anyone, but the first step toward a feasible rehab is having a property owner/developer/architect with an interest in considering such a rehab. When you look at these projects from the perspective of the general public, all people are told is that the buildings will be demolished and new ones constructed. This makes it seem that the intent was always to demolish and build new. If indeed the buildings in question are too far deteriorated to be rehabbed perhaps the developers should publicize something showing that to be the case. Instead, the only public mention of building conditions related to the Galaxy came in a news article where demolition was justified because of bad plumbing.

There are some ways to help offset the costs of building rehabilitations. In the case of the Couch apartments, there's the possibility of listing one or both buildings in the National Register of Historic Places, which would make the properties eligible for federal tax credits. Both the apartments and the Galaxy restaurant buildings are within the borders of the Central Eastside Urban Renewal District too, so there may also be PDC storefront improvement or other assistance out there too.

Mudd, based on each of your prior comments, you clearly have an issue with preservationists in general and that's unfortunate. I'd welcome a discussion on this topic further. In fact, I'd propose a public forum to discuss people's feelings about preservation and preservationists - if you'd come and be an active participant. I can be reached at the Architectural Heritage Center.

Mudd

Your statement "...the first step toward a feasible rehab is having a property owner/developer/architect with an interest in considering such a rehab." implies that this developer was not open. Unless you can back that up, you should not spout it. The statement is alarmist and unhelpful.

As far as there being some obligation of the developer to inform the public, perhaps you need to be reminded that they are not public projects and the developer is not beholden to that sort of process, beyond the (current) design review process. Suggesting that all developers jump through a ton more hoops for this sort of stuff when there is no real evidence that there is even an issue is naive about the way business is done. As an architect interested in getting (good) things done, I'd hate to create such a system of hoops where there are so many angles that can stop or hold a project up. I think of certain projects that I have worked on where nimby-ism is running rampant. Giving folks one more way to obstruct only seems to ultimately keep good things from happening.

This all feels like the Tea Party. Raise a red flag, get everybody up in arms and get people talking. Even though there is perhaps no actual issue here. Just because the developer didn't offer any evidence to any particular historians (that you know of) doesn't mean that it wasn't considered. Your comments above generally assume the worst in absence of any actual facts. That, my friend, is wrong.

Actually, I greatly value preservation. You're missing the entire point. I really feel that this hurts the cause of preservation. This entire dialog on these two particular projects (in my opinion) just serves to water down the concerns of preservation. Neither are really contributing structures in any way that preservation is actually intended. (Perhaps I am wrong. If so, educate me. So far, it seems that it is only assumed because of their age or "coolness".) Perhaps the first real step is to do that meaningful audit that you referred to. Making finite statements on a particular project void of any real evidence won't help.

Obviously, this is all a double edged sword. Perhaps design review should be expanded to really review this sort of stuff early on...after the city creates that audit and new list, of course.

Again, I am not against preservation. In fact, I have worked on a few historic projects myself. I just don't like alarmist, unfounded statements of any sort. In this case, it really doesn't feel like there is a preservation issue here. Design issue...most certainly.

Justin

It's not the destruction of the Galaxy that is so bad, it's that its replacement looks like a strip mall out-lot Red Robin. Too bad, loss for the neighborhood.

Good news is we won't blink when we plow it down in 2070.

Ted Stevens

This, I believe, is a cultural problem, not one of regulatory process. As long as architects such as "Mudd" (or anyone who wields power and control over our built environment) deem structures such as these as insignificant or simply not "under the realm of historic preservation", we'll always have this argument. As long as they don't even think that this is an issue, it will remain one.

Architects are trained from the very beginning to dismiss the subtle beauty of older buildings, unless a popular preservation movement or the fame of a building's designer designates that building "significant". The quiet buildings like those on Couch Street, or the "prototype" buildings like the Galaxy are seen as worthless, which is why so few are left. No one is up in arms about the brick building at W. Burnside and SW 13th that will soon be replaced with yet another cheap gimmick. No one will lament the destruction of the careful brick detail at its cornice.

"Mudd" claims to "greatly value preservation". Obviously not if I'm writing this right now. It would have been more accurate to say that he/she values the preservation of certain properties to his/her personal liking. To those of us who have an honest concern for historic preservation, it's not just a beauty contest where only the "best" win. Preservation also considers sustainability. Scraping everything to the ground is just foolish when parking lots or even bare ground abound nearby.

The neighborhoods of the inner east side (and in many other cities in America) were literally covered with well-crafted and often beautiful buildings. They're just about all gone now, with only a few scraps left. Meanwhile, the noble attempts of some to preserve these last scraps of our past are dismissed by "Mudd" and others as "obstructionism". Some only want to save the best. Unfortunately, even the "best" properties are almost all gone now.

Mudd

Ted, you miss my point entirely. I don't know whether or not these buildings are significant. Neither do you, I assume. (If wrong, please correct me.) The only thing anyone has written is that they are old or somehow uniquely representative. There have been no statements describing in any meaningful way what the pedigree is of any of the buildings in question. My problem with much of this article and the associated comments has been with several finite statements assuming the worst intentions, absent of any actual facts. My feeling is that this sort of attitude only serves to further alienate the historic preservation initiative.

As far as the way architects are "trained", I'm sad you feel that we cannot look critically at these types of issues. Perhaps the most troubling thing to you is that we CAN look critically at it and still not agree with you.

Heidib

I have always wondered about the way historic preservation seems to be sidelined in design discussions in our country and can only guess it’s due, in part, to the (previously) seemingly endless source of building materials and land. It’s rare to see a project team work diligently to retain an existing structure and it’s character while creating something new. Hopefully we will see more of this as our resources become more scarce.

On a technical note: While the buildings on Couch would need structural rehabilitation, the materials which comprise buildings of that era are of a quality unattainable in today’s lumber market. So while Mudd may have felt that the building was insecure structurally because something new would not look, feel or sound like that today, the renovations required are probably a little more reasonable. Further, upgrades to wood structures are not in the same cost category as upgrades for masonry, concrete, or steel structures. It’s more the planning of spaces and the FAR needed to make a project profitable that comes into conflict with the retention of buildings shaped like these in neighborhoods with this mix of uses.

Aside from that, the missing ingredient is, as Henry C. Kunowski states above, a restructuring of design review. The character of a place is the sum of many parts. In the case of a neighborhood targeted for redevelopment like this one, it’s a grave mistake to think that any and all properties could be rebuilt/renovated to a healthy development formula while the neighborhood retains its beautiful, and ultimately profitable, character. I realize we are not discussing and and all properties, but the important thing to remember is that a regulation, standard, or guideline has to work across the board, otherwise it's useless as such and the system gets bogged down in exceptions and appeals.

Regarding character, look at NW 23rd and count how many of those buildings are new developments and how many are old buildings. It’s a profitable neighborhood that also has character and it would not feel the same if the lots were all developed to their maximum allowable area. The case of the Galaxy and the apartment houses are perfect to illustrate this for the Burnside/Couch neighborhood. What do they add? Differences in architectural massing, details, and materials that are not possible or at least rare in today's urban environment, be it for reasons of cost or availability. The are adjacent to less distinctly massed and detailed structures and something will undoubtably be missing when the two properties are demolished.

It would be a first step in the right direction if design review included thorough consideration of the massing and material character of existing structures. The next step is to incentivize tenant property ownership, as the relationship of tangible benefit, profit, and character are best understood from that perspective. Not to mention, properties tend to be more well-maintained when that is the case.

Williamnobles.blogspot.com

There are a lot of difficulties that come along with remodeling an old building. Obviously disregarding the difficulties makes renovations seem more reasonable than it may be.

While it is true that the quality (and size) of wood members in this type of building is far superior to what you would find today, the connections between members are not, and the foundations supporting these oversized members are usually the weakest point.

There are a lot of construction standards from the early 20th century and before that are simply not acceptable today and must be dealt with when they are found.

Additionally, documentation of existing conditions is often spotty at best. You are taking a huge risk when you open up the walls during a major remodel or upgrade.

I have often had the experience of previously unknown conditions requiring enormous unanticipated efforts and cost. Contingencies are double when dealing with a building that is 50 or more years old, and those are quickly exhausted the older a building is.

The owner should seriously weigh the value of the existing building's character and the contribution to the community when making the decision to renovate or demolish, but they cannot ignore the risks.

Requiring that a building be restored when the owner does not agree should be reserved for only exceptional examples of historic architecture.

Chris Wilson

I wish preservationists would use the "green" angle with people that don't get historic architecture. A lot of people are green washed into thinking a new building will be green. A new building will never be greener than restoring an old one. Simply not possible. As for people that think we've saved too much I suggest you look at any photo of Portland from 1900 and see if you can find a building in it that you recognize. Even when thinking of what we consider a venerable old building like the Multnomah Hotel we need to understand that that's the 4th building on that site. We've lost almost everything. What we have left is almost by definition with looking into saving. It seems also that when you look at tear downs in the past (like whatever was torn down to build the Galaxy) they were replaced with building built from better materials than today. Without spending an extreme amount, today's buildings are cheap and won't last as long as those they are replacing.

Mikey See

I'm really disappointed that these structures are slated to come down. I lived in one of the buildings in line for the wrecking ball and the first time I sang karaoke fifteen years ago was at the Galaxy. Sure there is the historical aspect and these structures might not seem worthy of preservation for some people but there is also sentimental element. People lived and played in these places and they should hold a special place in our urban fabric. The buildings that will replace these buildings don't have any soul or imagination (I'm sorry to say but I'm not a big fan of a lot of the square box behemoth architecture that has been cropping up around town). I really wish that these building could be repurposed and added to a new development rather than be taken down completely. Its just sad to me personally.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Lead Sponsors




Sponsors













Portland Architecture on Facebook

StatCounter

  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad

Paperblogs Network

Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics

Awards & Honors