Home to local Chinese community's history, culture renovated
It wasn't a large endeavor compared to the multimillion-dollar construction work under way in Portland, but historical and cultural significance make the renovation of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) building a memorable milestone for the project team.
The project first started pre-design and permitting in June 2020, and construction work finished up Dec. 20, 2021.
Constructed in 1911, the building at 315 N.W. Davis St. provided a home away from home for Chinese immigrants as they navigated their new culture in the wake of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. In addition to providing housing during the immigration and citizenship process, the nonprofit CCBA provided assistance in helping them find work and permanent housing.
The CCBA building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as one of the only buildings in Chinatown that resembles those in San Francisco's Chinatown, effectively served as a city hall for the Chinese community. Disputes within the community were settled there, and the building provided space for a movie theater, playhouse and music hall for Chinese opera, and a gathering place to share current news and socialize.
In 1981, grants and donations funded the building's more extensive renovation. The Great Meeting Hall on the first floor is used for board meetings, tai chi and martial arts classes, as well as Lion Dance practice. It is also available for public use.
Rooms on the second and third floors serve as classrooms for the Chinese Language School. The CCBA library, also located on the second floor, is filled with books and other publications about the community's history. Historical artifacts depicting the Chinese community's contributions to the Pacific Northwest are housed in the CCBA museum on the fourth floor. The museum is open to the public, and tours of the building are available with advance notice.
With funding from a Livability Grant from Prosper Portland, the recently completed renovation includes refurbishing and painting the parapet, repairing water damage to the soffit, replacing weathered sheet metal and fixing roof leaks.
Neil Lee, principal of LEEKA Architecture & Planning and current president of CCBA's Board of Directors, said he felt both a professional and personal responsibility for the project, noting it provided an opportunity for him to combine his passion for architecture and his culture.
"This was near and dear to me," he said. "It's like a second home, and it's my obligation to take care of it and keep it well maintained because it's important for the community."
Like most renovations, Lee said it's hard to foresee what the unknowns are before a building is opened up. The team repaired the rain gutter and, in an effort to maintain the ornamental roof, found that it needs to be entirely replaced. That is on the list of future projects.
John Fifield, project manager with Joseph Hughes Construction, said the grant funding required a little more work on the front end as the general contractor assembled its team of MBE and DBE contractors. Once the renovation began, it quickly became apparent some complexity was involved.
"The five-piece cornice is small and matching that level of detail was interesting because they don't do that level of detail anymore, generally," he said, adding the renovation involved one of the most ornate cornice systems he's worked on. "Those little details give the building its character."
Another unique aspect of the project was the rich history of not only the building itself, but the many artifacts housed inside. The CCBA building's legacy within the Chinese community also made the project memorable.
"There is a lot of love and people are attached to that building for a lot of sentimental reasons, so the fact that we were involved in restoring it was a privilege," Fifield said. "These are the projects that you are proud of, and Neil was an absolute pleasure to work with."
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