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Josh G

edit: You need to introduce Galbraith.

Brian Libby

Thanks. I actually caught that a few minutes ago and fixed. But I appreciate the heads-up regardless.


I generally support the preservation of architecturally significant or "nice" buildings, but I wouldn't pay anyone not to tear down a house they just bought. I think that's a reasonable standard. The problem is that preventing someone after the fact from using property they bought in a totally legal way decreases the value of that property, taking some of their money away in effect, so they should be compensated.

As an actual system for preserving such houses, what about making a list of the 500 (say) most architecturally significant houses in the city? Or the 50 most significant in Laurelhurst? That would allow some protection for the overall "flavor" of a place while not outright prohibiting redevelopment.

Just throwing blanket protection over any house more than 50 years old wouldn't help anything: my junky 1911 farmhouse doesn't have any significance.


Well done, Brian. Having a house more than 50 years old make the inventory list is a good start. At least we'd know what we are dealing with. Maybe the standards of the Design Commission could be enhanced and carried over to cover aesthetic value of these houses.

The other measures you cite are interesting ones. One other radical idea is to find an economic incentive for people to hold on to historic houses. Perhaps after ten years the rate of tax increase would be capped, or held below market. That would have helped in Vancouver, B.C. where there is zero incentive to keep a gorgeous turn of the 20th century house standing with the result that "dreck" characterizes much of the city.

Over time, the beauty and character of streets left intact would probably provide more than average value to a home. That won't help a developer, but it will help a home-owner.


Saving every home over fifty years old is saving the worst homes. They have little seismic capacity, they are often fire-traps, they have bad energy performance [even when 'fixed']
They are sitting on inadequate footings, they have inferior plumbing and electrical.

This mania in PDX to save every claptrap because it is old or it has 'character' is childish. If it has value as a work of architecture then someone will own it for that reason, if the neighbors feel that is not happening, then they should buy it themselves or shut up. You do not own the entire area you have a house in, you only own your home. Making everyone else live the way you insist they live is fascist.

Cities thrive because people come there and add qualities to them. We need to build new and exciting architecture in PDX or it will become some sad olde-timey disney-land. I say what happened to the poor goog guy was a sad sign of local bullies not letting a person develop a new piece of possibly great architecture.

You will never get new architecture in a city unless you tear some old building down. Every single person has a different idea of what is beautiful, and we cannot let NIMBY behavior stiffle the creativity of our architects.

Brian Libby


Thank you for adding your perspective. I think it's good for the conversation to have someone representing a different point of view. After all, this is a blog that's about architects and their creations, so it's completely valid to pop the balloon of preservation or the preservationist notion of preserving everything.

You very well may be right that it's a mistake to give blanket protection to every house 50 years old or more. At the same time, however, I personally think you're being a bit too harsh by using words like 'facist' or characterizing the preservationist argument as 'making everyone else live the way you live.' By that rationale, there would never be ANY historic districts or neighborhoods with a collective historic character, and in my view that would decidedly be a bad thing.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I'd thought what I was trying to advocate for was a balanced approach. No one is saying that all 50-year-old homes should be unlawful to tear down. Rather, having an inventory of them and a waiting period would enable a measured approach that would, in all likelihood, help keep the best ones and yet still allow the 'claptraps,' as you call them, to be replaced.


I don't have any data, but I'd suspect that the pre-1964 housing stock in Portland isn't any more deserving of protection than the post-1994 stock, in general. In Woodstock and Mt Scott, I'd guess over half the houses date to the 50s or earlier, but fewer than one per block is interesting at all, much less significant enough to warrant legal protection.

Remember, when you're advocating for a 120 day waiting period on starting demolition, you're saying that a property owner should have to make 4-5 mortgage payments before being able to start renovating an old house to make it ready to move into or demolishing it and starting construction on a replacement.

Brian Libby

Great point, Evan. I'm thinking maybe an across-the-board, 120-day waiting period for all homes over 50 years old might be ill-advised for the reasons you specify. Maybe it would be better to have a specific citywide inventory of architecturally significant homes. That too might easily have some downsides, but again, the goal here should be to strike the right balance between property owner rights and acknowledging that when we lose too many historic homes something larger gets lost than the wood and glass.

keath L

Just a quick comment and question. The portland planning, zoning, environmental and preservation codes, districts, overlays, etc. are already extraordinarily thorough and publicly biased. If the owner (developer) has met the criteria currently in place - why should the public outcry or perceived public "ownership" supplant the landholders right to use the property? Not trying to start an argument, but I am curious why the "public good" supersedes private rights?

Brian Libby

Keath, you bring up a very valid question. I don't think anyone is arguing that the public good should supplant private rights in most cases. And while you're right that most of these codes and regulations are pretty explicit in giving the property owner the right to demolish, I think a lot of what we're talking about here doesn't prevent that. Much of what is being asked for is just a waiting period. Or if we do get talking in certain neighborhoods about stronger restriction, it would be similar to what exists in many other cities. Many places around the world have recognized that certain neighborhoods or districts have a collective value in their historic fabric, something greater than the sum of its individual houses, and have made it harder to demolish as a result. Again I come back to the notion of finding a proper balance, one that in most cases allows property owners to do what they want with their own property but in certain cases puts the breaks on a bit. While I totally agree that property owners rights are very important, I don't think it should be an absolute case every time where the homeowner can do whatever he or she wants in a way that hurts the broader neighborhood. If you buy a home in a historic neighborhood, that history is in many cases what you're buying. But just like gun laws or traffic laws or anything else, sometimes absolute freedom to do anything has to be curbed just a little bit for the greater good.

Tanya Lyn March

I'm working alongside a group of volunteers to save the Burger Barn. The 114-year-old building on MLK and Shaver. The building was a home for an community minded black family starting in 1906. Asking for more notice of any home over 50 years of age is critical. Homes not in the HRI and those on the HRI would be protected, but would homes that have been converted to commercial use have this same 120 notice? Sites like the Burger Barn that was never the abode of the elite need to be a part of the conversation. It is important and I know Cathy Galbraith is very supportive of this cultural history-The National register of Historic Places is NOT the national register of Beautiful places-in order to preserve a more diverse history I think we need to open up this conversation beyond aesthetics.


Here in San Diego the property owner cannot decline historic designation. The city's Historic Resource Board decides a property is historic or not based on N.P.S. criteria. This system has worked and continues to work. We have a wonderful vibrant plethora of neighborhoods. Older buildings that retain integrity add to multiculturalism- diversity. If a biologist deems a piece of property a wetland or wildlife sanctuary why would the property owner be allowed void the professional and destroy this environment? Architecture is the built environment. We need to treat buildings and neighborhoods as public environments. I suggest Portland adopt San Diego's historic resource model. It is the only proven way to retain valuable human habitat.

Jeff B.

BTW Rose made a $75,000 profit when the house was "rescued". In addition, he lied and was very deceitful(or extremely naive) in his intentions at a neighborhood gathering. See today's NW Examiner.

Jeff Joslin

Three forces are conspiring to put these historic resources in jeopardy: an uptick in property values, up-zoning during the 1980s and 1990s, and the passage of legislation in 1995 that precludes any municipality in the State of the Oregon from imposing an historic designation without owner consent. Remove any one of these legs of the stool and there's little threat to such historic properties. Assuming the economy continues to advance positively, we'll continue to see more cases like this until one of the other two aspects is remedied.

While the potential provisions suggested above will all provide more opportunity for public outcry and the seeking of alternatives to demolition, only addressing owner consent will allow the establishment of a clear means to thwart demolition of our most precious resources.

This could be done so without a full repeal, but through an amendment that would afford municipalities the option of establishing a local rule.

Owner consent rules were advocated by property rights advocates at a time when preservation was not as appreciated and preservationists were not as strategic and effective as they are today. It's time to consider remedying this regressive rule that is unique to Oregon.

Brian Libby

Great point, Jeff!


Living in NE Portland in historic Alameda district, I too am seeing a change in our neighborhood. I am concerned, yes about the overall aesthetics of these pop-up homes, but I'm also concerned about their quality. My home is over 100 years-old. Looking at a house for example being built on NE 42nd and Failing, there has been a brick layer "pasted" to the front of a gigantic house. Will these houses last? Will the deteriorate quickly? Will they decrease the overall property value of surrounding home?

NE 35th Place did an excellent job at taking a stand against a pop-up by making "STOP the DEMO" signs. I wonder if there's a resource where other neighborhoods could access these sorts of resources quickly.

Great conversation!


Here goes the problem.

Someone in the comments section referred to saving the Burger Barn on MLK. I personally can't see any reason why one would want to save it. Yeah it's old. Yeah someone may have some sentimental reason to save it. I'm not looking to get into the merits of saving the Burger Barn but to mean it demonstrates the issue and the complexity of it.

It looks like junk to mean. Some other group sees reasons to save it. Who's right? Does every building have a savior so we should save every building when folks say so? When is the time to move forward and build new buildings that could add energy to a neighborhood. Tough questions for sure but the only thing that's obvious is that you can't make every one happy.


I lived in Portland in the 70's and again recently and rode my bike everywhere b4 it became the thing it is today. Historic homes everywhere being turned. I lived in the beautiful Captain Brown house with amazing interiors made from woods and items from around the world. The house next door which provided housing to the caretakers was also amazing and now both are gone. These historic homes are integral to the character of Portland. I also love modernity but how can we integrate our heritage ?



Write your councilperson if you love Portland vernacular architecture! Get the planning department and a public historic resource committee be the final decision makers on historic properties. No option of the property owner to overturn. Then enact county property tax breaks for historic properties, allocate funds for rehabilitation along with more liberal setbacks, FAR, parking regulations for additions, adaptive reuse projects on historic sites. everyone can win.

Val Ballestrerm

The argument that most of the 50+ year old homes are "firetraps" etc.. is simply false. There are plenty of knowledgeable contractors in town that understand how to work on older homes - everything from foundation repair to complete period restorations can be accomplished, but you have to want to do it and you have to seek the right people to do the job. This sort of work does two things that new cosntruction does not. 1)It conserves energy and materials. Most older homes still have a great deal of usable and repairable materials in them such as windows, doors etc... Knocking down a house puts a strain on the waste stream and the resource stream (even if deconstruction is involved). As someone once asked, what good does it do to recycle your pop cans if we're going to throw away entire buildings? 2)The work on older homes is also more labor intensive than materials intensive. This means good jobs for skilled labor, while maintainig the sustainability notion of re-using what we have rather than throwing it away.

And before anyone jumps on the lead and asbestos terror bandwagon - true, older homes often have one or both of these materials in them. That said, they can and should be abated during any renovatioon project in whiuch these materials are affected. Moreover, they should also be abated during a demolition, so either way these "baddies" get dealt with and the argument that you should tear something down becaise of lead and/or asbestos is also a false one.

People don't move to Portland or live in Portland just because of the people. They move here because it is a beautiful city filled with great neighborhoods. That said, what is happening now in neighborhoods like Laurehurst, Eastmoreland, Willamette Heights, Sellwood, Richmond, Eliot, St Johns, etc... threatens to take many neighborhoods past the tipping point that made them attractive in the first place.

We have to come up with a solution that balances the need for growth with that of the need to ensure our older neighborhoods remain vibrant and interesting places - for those people that are already there and for those that will come in the future. The onus for neighborhood preservation should not always be put upon the long-term residents. Those buying into a neighborhood should also show some sort of courtesy to those who have kept the neighborhood beautiful for many years prior. After all without their efforts, these neighborhoods would not be as attractive (to builders/developers) as they are today. Yet whenever a long-time neighbor balks at what is often unispiring or dettrimental new construction, they are chastised for being anti-change. I think that many of these people aren't anti-change so much as they are pro-creativity. In other words, wouldn't it be nice if a builder-buyer in, say, Laurelhurst, could figure out a creative solution to a home that needs work? Or, in the name of density, what if they built an ADU or finished a basement to allow for more living space, while fixing up the existing house too? This sort of work would have far less visible impact on our great neighborhoods.

There are far older homes in other parts of the world that are still standing, wouldn't it be great if a century from now we could say that we have homes that are 200 years old?


One of the important issues is the one of appropriate scale. Yes, increasing density requires an increase in scale most likely, but at what point does the value of the neighborhood decrease due to a patchwork of oversize houses dropped into the middle of blocks? We are also not increasing population density if it is a 3600 SF single family house replacing an existing 1200 SF house.


Correction - it's not the city who will be placing the demolition door hangers, it's a voluntary notice that the contractor can walk around and hang themselves if they want to.

The 3000 sf. $600,000 plus cookie cutter contractor grade houses that are being built are actually probably not what people want. They are just what is available, because building the same big house over and over and over makes the greatest profit.

Are the same people advocating for both the larger houses and the micro apartments? There are so many issues here.


Thanks so much for the dialogue here, I appreciate hearing different perspectives around a key issue impacting the quality and feel of our neighbourhoods.
We lived in inner SE PDX for ten years from 2000-2010 and restored eight mostly neglected and run down homes that were all 80-100 years old. We restored them in ecological ways by improving foundations and structural integrity; reusing materials; making more energy efficient; using as non toxic and local materials as possible.
And this is possible to do in a relatively affordable ways and we romantically like to think we have added another 100 years plus to these homes lives. We also like to think we improved the quality of the neighbourhood by planting trees in planting strips and restoring landscapes and gardens.
We weren't doing anything that many other PDX home owners (and renters) have done. I'm all for diversity of our neighbourhoods and architecture, but I also think there are few homes that are say 70 plus years old that can't be restored to be beautiful and sustainable and that can then preserve some of the dna and identity of our communities. There is a fine line between new development and killing off the very qualities that give PDX the unique feel that drew many of us here.
Having spent most of the 10 years I was in portland working to create a plan for the future of Division street and find a balance between preservation and new development, it seems we still have a lot to learn about how to best bring these qualities together well.
And thanks again Brian for opening up the comments section, its' nice to see this lively exchange.

eric cantona

I think the notion of a mandatory 120 waiting period may have the unintended effect of pushing development back out to the fringes. 4 mos. is an eternity to a small developer. they'll find nice green lots at the edge of the UGB to develop.

I would suggest that the City has to come up with some objective standards about what constitutes a significant cultural resource. it could be the NPS criteria, or something different, but it needs to be clear and relatively easy for the layperson to interpret. make it part of the demo permit that the developer or property owner needs to fill out a form that proves the property in question does not trip the barest minimal requirements to be considered historic. if there is any question THEN you can kick in the 120 period.


It is hard to imagine any one right solution to the great questions you have posed here. Yet anything that encourages more reflective consideration of tradeoffs of preservation vs demolition/new development, before the decisions are already made, seems to the good. Personally 50 years seems a bit short, 70 feels closer to good quality construction worth preserving and considering. But this comes from now living in London where 50 year old buildings are near toddlers...


Some thoughts:

--Major Streets should be dense with multifamily buildings and retail.
--Minor streets should not be allowed to increase density except through the use of ADUs.
--Engage the region’s top historians to catalog those dwellings deemed significant
--Set up a trust to raise capital to relocate those significant structures off of major streets.

This is not perfect but it best achieves the goals of increased density, effective transit, walkable neighborhoods while reducing much of the tension between residents and new development. If we would simply adhere to good urban design principals many of these conflicts would be reduced.

Jim Heuer

On July 31, at 2pm, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission will present its annual State of Preservation in Portland to the Portland City Council. It is expected that the Commission will speak out strongly against the unlimited demolition of historic single family homes as seen in the last 2-3 years. They will likely present several proposals to slow down and partially mitigate the effects of these demolitions. If you believe strongly as I do that these demolitions taken as a whole are detrimental to Portland's neighborhoods, I urge you to attend that meeting. Audience members may testify relative to the proposals (you'll only have 3 minutes) if they register with the clerk just prior to the start of the meeting.

Mike Steffen

David has put forward a very good, simple formula. That would provide the balance that Brian was looking for.


I second the support of David's ideas. Its not enough to say we want to preserve everything old , there has to be the financial resources to back that up available.

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