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DREW NASTO - The United Workmen Temple and Lotus Café and Cardroom, 923 S.W. Third Avenue, face the wrecking ball to clear the way for a hotel and office development.


Public outcry is growing over planned demolition of two historic buildings located between S.W. 2nd and 3rd Avenues and S.W. Salmon and Taylor Streets.

The five-story Lotus Café and Cardroom and six-story Ancient Order of the United Workmen Temple are worth protecting, citizens and architecture advocates say.

Built in 1892, the six-story Ancient Order of the United Workmen Temple has been empty for years, and was last held in a Eugene-based trust.

Plans provided by Ankrom Moisan Architects show a 20-story hotel and 10-story office building rising on the block. The Auditorium Building, located immediately south of the Lotus Café, would remain. The developer is Third & Taylor Development LLC, an amalgamate of Onder Development and Arthur Mutal real estate companies.

At Nov. 18 and 19 hearings both Bureau of Development Services and the Portland City Council appeared receptive to pleas to save the buildings. “Everyone has a Lotus story,” said Restore Oregon spokesman Brandon Spencer-Hartle.

Restore Oregon has filed an Intent to Appeal with the Land Use Board of Appeal (LUBA) and mailed a letter of appeal to the City of Portland dated Nov. 19 and sent to Bureau of Development Services (BDS) director, Paul Scarlett.

The preservation group believe that the buildings were mistakenly removed from the Historic Registry Inventory.

COURTESY: ANKROM MOISAN ARCHITECTS - Ankrom Moisan Architects drawings include a 20 story office building and a 10 story boutique hotel.

In the letter, Restore Oregon points out that the city had received a design review proposal for the site that clearly showed the intent to demolish the two historic buildings — the Albion Hotel (or Lotus Café building) and the United Workmen Temple — before the request was made to remove the buildings from the Historic Resources Inventory. Therefore, the city should have imposed the 120-day delay review period and provided public notice and a hearing.

Appeal to City Council

To gain time in its efforts to save the buildings the group wants the City Council to exercise its discretion to call up the staff decision, provide notice, and review it. A response to the letter is expected before the end of the year.

“Our appeals won’t necessarily stop a demolition permit from being issued,” says Restore Oregon executive director Peggy Moretti, “but we are encouraged that a representative from the development team reached out for a conversation with us.”

To lose two such significant historic buildings without review or public process is “patently absurd,” says Moretti, who adds that neither building is beyond repair. “In fact they represent tremendous cultural history, craftsmanship, economic value, and embodied energy that should not be thrown into the landfill.”

The late 19th-century temple “is the work of an exceptionally talented architect,” said Cathy Galbraith of Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center. “We’ve been worried about it for some time.”

Initial plans were to rehab the temple.

“For reasons nobody understands, demolition permits were granted immediately with no warning. We’ve had no ability to put a strategy in place or make a serious effort to save it,” Galbraith said. Both buildings are located just outside the Yamhill Historic District.

“We have a finite number of vintage historic buildings that make this place what it is,” she said. “Unless you want the city’s heritage wiped for what appears to be a very average office building they should be saved. It ought to be a privilege to add to the city’s building stock. I hope they will be responsive to a community outcry.”

People patronize buildings that played a roll in our history, preservationists say.

Fritz dined here

The Lotus Café is a thriving downtown lunch spot.

Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Multnomah County Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal lunched there last week.

The 30-foot antique cherry bar, shipped to Portland before the Panama Canal was built, would be moved to a new location if the business moves, a waitress said last week.

The Lotus opened in 1924 as a soda bar during Prohibition, and the first gambling license in Portland was issued to the Lotus’ card room.

Restore Oregon is a state wide non-profit focused on saving Oregon’s endangered places.

“There’s a lot of confusion and frustration,” said Restore Oregon’s Spencer-Hartle. “The city code is conflicting. It says that there should be a 120-day delay (before permits are issued) but another code says owners can remove a building from the historic inventory without delay. We’ve been aware of this loophole for about six months.”

“These are two are well-known and beloved buildings,” said Peggy Moretti, Restore Oregon’s Executive Director. “We want a rapid change to that code. There’s a growing uproar, so we remain hopeful.”

She added, “These places matter in the fabric of a community. Buildings in far worse shape have been saved. It’s our Portland culture and one reason why our city is so attractive to the tech industry and the creative class. Old buildings are economic drivers.”

Moretti is confident that an alternative development strategy could incorporate the historic buildings together with new construction on the site.

“The City is seriously considering our outreach and our petitions,” says Moretti. “The development team’s proposals were not well-received at the Design Review Commission meeting, at which time they were asked why they weren’t trying to repurpose the buildings in some way.”

Portland history aside it makes no sense to tear down old buildings from an energy perspective, says Moretti. “It would take fifty years to recoup the embodied energy in that building no matter what level LED the developers propose.”

Chain Reax

Designer Alyson Clair recently stood before the locked doors of the United Workmen Temple Nov. 16, where a blue Notice of Public Hearing sign was taped to the window.

Such notices are an unwelcome sight for people grown weary of the fast pace of development in Portland.

“I told the Mayor I would chain myself to the building if they intend to tear it down,” said Clair. “It’s a beautiful old building, you can’t replace it.” Mayor Charlie Hales’ wife, Nancy Hales, is a client of the clothing designer.

“This isn’t the Portland I know,” Clair said.

STAY OR GO?

Ankrom Moisan architect Carolyn Forsyth has worked on two schemes for the office.

In one scheme, the new office building is used to buttress the old Temple building. The latter has small floor plate and lots of columns, such that it was almost impossible to seismically upgrade it by dropping in more shearwalls and brace frames.

In the second scheme, the Temple has been demolished.

“We’re waiting for the owner to determine if they can keep the Temple or not,” said Forsyth. Already year into the project, a major rethink like that would take a lot longer. “Everyone on the team likes old buildings,” she added.

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