Addition to National Register remains to be confirmed

by: MARK MILLER - Ian Johnson, a historian with the Oregon National Register and Survey Program, gives a presentation on the Scappoose post office at the McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove Friday, Feb. 21.An Oregon state advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of the United States Postal Service’s application to designate the post office in Scappoose as a historic building Friday, Feb. 21.

Members of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation said the Scappoose post office — one of several postal buildings in Oregon it recommended for historic status — is a “slam dunk” case for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The post office was built in the mid-1960s for about $170,000, according to Oregon National Register and Survey Program historian Ian Johnson. While it was completed in early 1966, making it two years shy of the 50-year cutoff point typically used to determine which buildings may be considered historic, the committee opted to be flexible with that limit.

The boxy, unadorned post office off Highway 30 in central Scappoose may not spring to mind as a candidate for historic status for many people, participants in the meeting at McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove acknowledged.

“Saying, ‘Here’s this post office, and by the way, it’s not 50 years old, and it’s exceptional, and it’s worthy of the National Register,’ I mean, a layperson is just going to wonder, ‘What is going on in your mind?’” John Goodenberger, chairman of the committee, said.

But committee members seemed to agree the Scappoose post office is an exemplar of architectural and design standards in place for what Johnson called the “Thousand Series” of post offices, built in the 1960s and early 1970s in a largely uniform style.

Gail Sargent, a Hermiston architect who serves on the committee, recalled a field trip to a postal facility as a 10-year-old girl. At the time, she said, automated mail sorting machines of the sort seen at the Scappoose post office were a cutting-edge innovation.

“It was so cool, this new mechanized [system],” Sargent remembered. “The post office thing, that was a really huge deal. It was a new building, or newer, ‘new-ish,’ building, at the time. ... Take the kids and go see how mail is done. It was great.”

Roger Roper, deputy state historic preservation officer, tried to place the committee’s consideration of the post office as a historic building in context after the vote, during a break in the meeting.

“Sometimes, newer buildings are harder for us all to appreciate, because we’re too close to them,” said Roper. “Every generation of buildings kind of goes through sort of an ‘ugly phase’ where people don’t really appreciate it. And that’s just sort of the nature of it. So we try to be open-minded about that — even though I’ve said I’m going to get out of the business once split-level homes start getting listed in the National Register,” he quipped.

The process for conferring historic status is not instantaneous. The committee voted to forward the nomination to historic status for the post office in Scappoose, as well as several other contemporary USPS facilities included in a multiple-property document, to the Keeper of the National Register. The Keeper — currently Carol Shull, serving in an interim capacity — will have 45 days upon receiving the nominations to decide whether to place the buildings on the National Register.

According to Roper, placement on the National Register is mostly a matter of “recognition” and “status.” However, he added, local governments and community members may be inclined to preserve and protect a federally listed historic building.

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