You can quickly spot Sandy Boulevard on any map of Portland for how it cuts a long diagonal across the otherwise uninterrupted east-side street grid.
But for much of its history, addresses along lower Sandy especially were not places to stop — at least, not on foot: low-slung industrial buildings and car dealerships.
Even today, it's all too easy if you're driving towards the airport or the suburbs to miss the delightful little outdoor courtyards that have been carved into these former buildings, such as the New New Crusher Court borne from the former Timberline Dodge dealership (Alexander's Chrysler to an earlier generation), or the nearly completed Pioneer Lavada Jones, in the former Pioneer Gas Furnace building. Sandy itself may not yet be very pedestrian-friendly, but these and other recent projects by Brett Schulz Architect and client Guerrilla Development have changed that dynamic, both architecturally and culturally.
Both New New Crusher Court, completed in 2017, and Pioneer Lavada Jones, set to open later this summer, did something few developers would choose. Not only were the existing single-story structures retained when Sandy is zoned to allow much taller (and thus more lucrative) buildings — most other developers would have demolished — but Guerrilla chose to carve courtyards into the middle of these buildings, somewhat substantially reducing rentable square footage.
But they also, in so doing, pulled off something else: acts of place-making.
You could be standing in front of the New New Crusher Court building on Sandy and still not quite realize it's there, through a small passageway between storefronts. Yet, no matter how many cars zoom by, it's beautiful, tranquil, and a people-magnet. The same is sure to be true at Pioneer Lavada Jones. My favorite part is how in both these structures, the old roof trusses extend over the courtyards, passing from inside to outside and back again. There's also the simple materiality of the unstained raw wood cladding these newly outdoor spaces. No wonder creative companies have flocked there.
Soon an altogether different scale of development will arrive here, as the nearly five-acre former Pepsi bottling plant is redeveloped into a cluster of mostly seven-story buildings. But preservation and public space will be key there too. Thankfully the Pepsi plant's distinctive curvy-roofed pavilion from 1962 facing Sandy will be retained and renovated, between the buildings will be not a regular street but a woonerf, favoring pedestrians over cars.
This scenario has played out across Portland, as it does in other large cities:
two different kinds of neighborhood revitalization—or, perhaps more accurately, two stages. First come the modest renovations of existing one and two-story buildings, and then come the taller new structures, often lacking personality but increasing density. It's happened in the Pearl District and the Central Eastside, and it's lower Sandy's
fate too. Yet often the best neighborhoods and places are ones that balance these
forces, allowing the mountains but protecting the foothills. In that way, cities can be like natural landscapes: the more varied the topography, the more beautiful and vibrant.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or Online at: portlandarchitecture.com
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