How Peggy Moretti and Restore Oregon want to juggle the big three

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Peggy Moretti is the Executive Director of Restore Oregon, which seeks to preserve historic buildings from demolition and encourage owners to restore them, such as the Erickson Apartments on West Burnside St. Peggy Moretti is still steamed about the imminent demise of the Workmen’s Temple downtown.

The demolition delay on the Ancient Order of United Workmen Temple at Southwest Second Avenue and Taylor Street, to give it its full name, is past. So too the one for the Prohibition-era Albion Hotel, home to the Lotus Cardroom until that bar closed last week.

Those old buildings were originally going to be saved and made part of a 100,000-square-foot office development by Jeff Arthur of Arthur Mutal and Jack Onder of Onder Development, known as T&T Development. But Oregon law couldn’t save the buildings when the owners changed their minds.

“They said they wanted to save the Workmen Temple, but you could tell from the architects they hired they didn’t want to,” Moretti told the Business Tribune. Moretti believes Ankrom Moisan is all about making modern buildings — it’s not a firm you call when you want a careful restoration and seismic renovation of an 1892 masonry building. “Best we can determine, they never did a true assessment to evaluate what it would take to restore the building,” she says.

House of cards

As the full time Executive Director of Restore Oregon, Moretti spends her days saving historic places, as the mission statement has it. Restore Oregon is “A statewide non-profit organization advocating on behalf of the homes and neighborhoods, bridges and barns, churches and Main Streets that make Oregon, OREGON.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - AE Doyle's Cascade Building at Southwest Sixth Avenue and Alder Street, near the Beavers store, is being restored by an owner that wants to play up its history with old photographs.  “We are the only state that leaves it entirely to the property owners to determine if their property is historic.” It’s known as Owner Consent. So unless a property is on a national register, it has no protection. (A third old building on the site, the Auditorium and Music Hall at 920 S.W. 3rd Ave., is being saved, because it is on the National Register of Historic Places.) The state and local designations mean little compared to what the owner thinks.

To Restore Oregon, the Workmen Temple is historic for its architecture, its age, and for the story behind the building, which is part of the story of Portland. It was built to house a fraternal society, at a time when laborers had no insurance.

“If the Workman’s Temple is demolished it will be the largest and most historically significant building to be lost in a decade, perhaps two decades. And it should not be happening without any consideration for the public benefit.”

She adds, “The community has no say what should happen and the development team has determined they want to demolish it. And we don’t have any levers left to pull. It is about striking a balance between private property rights and the public benefits of historic places.”

So who is keeping track?

The Historic Resources Inventory, which is part of the state stature, requires municipalities to take stock of their historic resources. But it hasn’t been updated since the 1980s.

Moretti testified in front of the Design Commission that the new building is woefully inadequate. “What they’re proposing is not even in the ballpark of a landmark.” Moretti calls it “just another glass box. I’m not an architect but I know boring when I see it.”

A company called Innovative Housing Inc. said it could be converted for affordable housing. “We need that more than another 10 story office building of mediocre at best design. We don’t oppose development, we oppose demolishing a landmark and replacing it with something half-assed.”

For Restore Oregon, the Workmen’s Temple is a symbolic project, because of the “huge amounts of demolition going on, developers targeting middle class, older neighborhoods, sliding in larger, denser developments and destroying the character of the neighborhoods.”

Sprawl versus density versus character

This time in Portland is unique. “It’s a perfect convergence of factors. People are moving here all the time, and there is the need to accommodate growth and density without sprawl. Of course we need to grow and change but we don’t want to lose those things that make Portland Portland not any other old place in the country.” She says the buildings are the tangible story of where we come from.

“We don’t look like the sprawled out places where you look at the buildings and don’t know where you are.”

Although it will not save the structures, T&T has said it will use elements of them in the new buildings. For example the bar from the Lotus should show up in some form, probably in the hotel.

Legends never sleep

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Restore Oregon didnt get very far saving two of the three historic brick buildings in the Lotus Card Room area, since the owners had the right to take two of them off the historic register. They will soon be demolished. The Auditorium Building, shown in the rendering, will remain, unused for now.Moretti points to the Erickson Fritz Apartments at Third Avenue and West Burnside as an example of good preservation. They were created by merging the 1912 Erickson Saloon and Fritz Hotel, in the Old Town National Landmark District. IHI turned them into 55 affordable housing units and 10 market-rate units. That saloon used to have 684 feet of bar space as well as cabaret dancers and rooms to rent by the hour. A pee channel in the floor was preserved and plexi-glassed over. Artists created clouds-as-lamps and turned timbers into benches for the common areas. Amateur historian and host of the KickAss Oregon History podcast, Doug Kenck-Crispin, worked on the photographs in the building.

“We were really untangling the legend from the reality, because it had been a bar for 100 years so there were a lot of tall tales,” Kenck-Crispin told the Business Tribune. “The project lead James Harrison decided to embrace the legend.”

“It looks fantastic. You get the feeling projects like this are for the wealthy and maybe poor people shouldn’t have this,” he says of the attention to detail and quality. He says the building was never threatened with demolition. IHI bought it from the Naito family.

“From day one they were concerned about preserving it.”

He is now working on the Cascade Building at Southwest Sixth Avenue and Alder Street, which has the Beavers store. The management asked him to research old photos of the building, displaying its life from the original drawing to the invitation placard of its opening, to photos from the 1960s.

When it was built in 1926, although it was one of AE Doyle’s lesser buildings, he says, “It was called Portland’s million dollar building. It was a big deal.”

So is Kenck-Crispin hopeful about the preservation of historic Portland buildings? He wishes there was a cooling off period when the dollar bills are flying and developers announce their plans to replace an historic building.

“There are some real estate investors who recognize the value of having that provenance to their building. The question for Portland is, can we find that middle ground, of height versus character?”

Changes will have to come from Salem

Getting to the legislature to change this Owner Consent rule has become a hot topic in Moretti’s nonprofit. She cites another example, the Ocobock House at 5128 N.E. Rodney St. which she says a developer bought and then threatened to demolish it earlier this summer.

“He held the neighborhood to ransom, until the neighbors rallied round and bought it.”

Moretti says downtown historic buildings attract new companies because they have authenticity, they are made of wood and brick. They have a human scale and character.

But there’s no standard way of measuring, in dollars or any other currency, the benefit of historical buildings. Moretti’s best attempt is invoking the Triple Bottom Line of economic, cultural and environmental assets.

“There’s the cultural value, in the craftsmanship and aesthetic appeal; there’s the environmental and sustainable value, because of the embodied energy in the building; and economically they create local jobs that require local skilled labor, and they attract tourists and companies. There’s the overarching sense of uniqueness and identity, their walkable nature and the integration of private and public spaces.”


Restore Oregon is hosting a public town hall meeting for those interested in learning what living in a historic district is all about. What are the rules? Are there costs? And why might it offer protection to your home and neighborhood?

Attendees will be able to pose questions to an expert panel composed of government agency representatives and citizens who currently live in a historic district. The meeting is intended present the facts, help people weigh the pros and cons, and figure out if it’s right for them or their neighborhood.

Living in a Historic District: What Does It Mean to You?

When: Thursday, Sept. 8, 6-7:30 p.m.

Where: 10th Church of Christ Scientist, 5736 SE 17th Ave., Portland

Cost: Free

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