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Without leaving its site, the new Lincoln High School feels more immersed in central-city life.

COLUMN: Brian Libby's PORTLAND ARCHITECTURE


PMG PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - The first day of school in the new Lincoln High School in downtown Portland's Goose Hollow neighborhood is August 30, 2022.

Over the past decade, several Portland public high schools have seen modernizations of their historic campuses, including Grant, Franklin and Roosevelt from 2016-19, as well as Benson's current reconstruction. Now comes an entirely new building for the city's oldest high school, Lincoln, and a unique one compared to those campuses.PMG IMAGE - Brian Libby

Six stories at its tallest point, the new building actually qualifies as the only high-rise public high school west of the Mississippi River. And it's precisely the high density that makes this new Lincoln successful, with a sense of urban energy that's unlike virtually any other high school in Portland.

COURTESY IMAGE: BRIAN LIBBY - The front entrance of the new Lincoln High School is bright and welcoming.

Founded in 1869, this school has existed in numerous locations, first at the North Central School in the present-day Pearl District across from the Portland Armory and later at Central School downtown, where Pioneer Courthouse Square is today.

Lincoln's first stand-alone building was at 14th and Morrison, a gorgeous 1885 Victorian design with a clock tower. From 1911-1951, the high school was located on the South Park Blocks, in what today is known as Lincoln Hall (part of Portland State University); here famous alumni like painter Mark Rothko, cartoon voice artist Mel Blanc and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder matriculated.

COURTESY IMAGE: BRIAN LIBBY - Stairwells in the new Lincoln High School building offer lots of natural light and city skyline views.

The circa-1952 building Lincoln is now vacating, in Goose Hollow, has produced internationally-renowned graduates like The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter Elliott Smith. Yet its location, facing the noisy Interstate 405 trench, left something to be desired.COURTESY IMAGE: BRIAN LIBBY - Inside Lincoln High School's new gym.

The new Lincoln is located on the same Goose Hollow site, but hugs the property's northwestern corner at 18th and Salmon, across from Zion Lutheran Church and the Multnomah Athletic Club. This was a logistically practical move allowing the new Lincoln to be constructed where the track and football field had been, eliminating the need to displace students; the old building will subsequently be demolished and a new athletic field built there.PMG PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - The new Lincoln High School is situated on the west side of the campus near Providence Park and the streetcar station, instead of near the 405 highway like the old building.

Building along Salmon also places Lincoln in a more vibrant urban setting, with MAX trains regularly passing by and Providence Park just a block away (half its field can even be seen from the school's uppermost floors). It makes Lincoln feel like a school in the city center for the first time since its South Park Blocks days. The new building's compact footprint also allows Lincoln's large glass-walled lobby (which doubles as a cafeteria dining room) to look out on a newly restored 17th Avenue, which had been eliminated in the school's 1950 construction.

PMG PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - Old Lincoln High School gets demolished this August to make way for a new sports field area.

In its main six-story wing to the north, the building's first several stories are laid out in an oval shape, with classrooms, stairways and a library hugging the northern perimeter, giving way to a curving hallway that encircles administrative offices and a 500-seat auditorium. Upstairs, a mix of classrooms and specialty spaces — artist studios, a weight room and a culinary-arts kitchen — make Lincoln feel like a hive of activity. In the adjacent two-story structure, a dramatically wide lobby staircase leads to a multi-court gymnasium on the second floor, creating a striking two-level public space.

PMG PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - The old Lincoln High School building is being torn down.

There are times when the new building felt less transparent and full of light than I expected. While the lobby and corner staircases enjoy floor-to-ceiling glass, some of which is strikingly angled and indented from the building facade, the classrooms themselves come with smaller windows and can seem plainer. At moments the new Lincoln feels grand, and other times the building can seem relatively utilitarian.

Even so, this is a Portland high school in a class by itself: a place that feels collegiate and sophisticated, as if attending here gives one a chance to do something special — like several Lincoln alumni already have.

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 (portlandarchitecture.com).


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