John Leach's pharmacy bldg. on Foster to be preserved
What's now known as Leach Botanical Garden in East Portland wouldn't have existed, had not John Leach first successfully created and run his Phoenix Pharmacy – starting in 1922, on S.E. Foster Road at 67th Avenue – in what's now called the Foster-Powell neighborhood.
"Over the years, many people advised us to demolish the building and construct a new and more-spacious high-rise on this corner," remarked Matt Froman of "Foster the Phoenix LLC", while he was working on the building.
"Razing the building and constructing a new structure would have provided more square footage for less money; but I and my partners don't want to see another 'big box' here. We think it's in important to save a building like this; it's something that makes Portland really special," Froman told THE BEE.
While looking up the history of the building, Froman said, he'd learned that the iconic curved brick corner building had once been one of the best pharmacies in the state – and also acted as the headquarters for local YMCA and Chamber of Commerce chapters. The building was eventually donated to the YMCA in 1970, to be sold for their benefit. Since then, the property has passed through several hands, with the most recent tenant closing the doors in 1999.
"My father, Buck, of Buck's Stove Palace up S.E. Foster Road at 68th Avenue – he's been in business here since 1974 – purchased this building in 1999 from Allen Washbaugh, who ran 'Allen's Used Phones' and 'Allen's Videos' here," recalled Froman.
"My dad's original idea was to turn this building into a grand 'Stove Museum and Art Center' – but, for the past 20 years, instead he's focused on his business of selling, installing, and maintaining wood stoves. And, over the years, he filled the building with antique stoves and architectural features, instead of redeveloping it."
In 2012, Froman recalled, he himself had the "grand scheme" of creating a music venue or brewpub in the building. "But now, I just want the building to come to life again – and to be a place the neighborhood can be proud of; and perhaps be a destination."
With that aim, "Foster the Phoenix LLC" partnership was created on August 23, 2018, involving Matt Froman, and historic preservationists Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson. The enterprise was set up with the purpose of resurrecting the Phoenix Pharmacy building.
They've spent months clearing Froman's father's "collection" out of the basement, main floor, mezzanine, and second floor – and they hope to begin renovations this summer.
Touring the building is like stepping back in time.
In the basement, the door of a massive "Pacific Coast Vault Co." safe is open. Although the surfaces are in rough condition, the mezzanine is sturdy – constructed from 2x4s, stacked on their sides. A rounded-corner second floor room looks much as it did when it famously served as a dental office for decades.
"The building has beautiful character and heart, doesn't it?" Froman asked with a smile.
But the structure's makeover task is daunting, Froman commented. "Although the building is solid, it needs a complete renovation, starting with a new roof; then – seismic upgrades, a rebuilt storefront modeled after historical photographs, reconstruction of the office on the second floor, and new mechanical and utilities systems."
The partners are currently working with the Oregon State Preservation Office (SHPO) to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places, and to enroll it into Multnomah County's special assessment program. And, SHPO recently awarded the project a competitive "Diamond in the Rough Grant" to reconstruct the storefront that's been boarded up for decades.
Because the structure is located on the western edge of the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area, Froman said the Phoenix Pharmacy Building project has also been awarded a Prosper Portland "Prosperity Investment Program Grant", as well as a pre-development loan to help jump-start redevelopment.
When restoration is completed, Froman commented, he's confident that the main floor will appeal to a restaurant or retail shop owner, and that people providing professional services will again return to inhabit the second floor.
To learn more about this unique building, go online – www.FosterThePhoenix.com
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