3 Inner Southeast construction projects to celebrate this month
May is Historic Preservation Month – and here are three recent projects in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood which updated venerable structures, in celebration of the month – selected in the spirit of this year's international "Pritzger Prize".The Pritzker Prize is given every year to a living architect or architectural team, to "recognize talent, vision and commitment in the field." Established in 1979 by the family that started the "Hyatt Hotel" chain, it has been referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Architecture", because it is a prestigious international award. The notable projects of the past which it has honored have often been futuristic in appearance – but, without a personal visit, it is difficult for one to judge from online photographs just how their interior spaces work – which is the key to "successful" architecture. However, this year, perhaps recognizing the condition of the planet and global warming, the winning firm of the Pritzger Prize emphasized sustainable rebuilding. That team, French citizens Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, stated that their guideline is "never demolish, never remove, always add, transform, and re-use." Their approach is described as, "how to intervene, with the most economical of means, to expand and upgrade existing architecture." This has included the re-configuration and humanization of subsidized, high-rise apartments, for costs well below those of new construction. Lacaton summarizes, "Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short-term. It is a waste of energy, material, and a waste of history. It has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence." BEE readers are encouraged to search online for the names of Lacaton and Vassal to view some of their work. Hopefully, this is a trend that will soon be adopted by other architects.
With these thoughts in mind, and because May is Historic Preservation month, I wish to recognize several older buildings in the SMILE neighborhood that have been restored and remodeled in the past year. There are similar examples in the other neighborhoods within THE BEE's service area, and I hope readers there will watch for their owners, and thank them!
The owners of the "Iron Horse Building" on Milwaukie Avenue at S.E. Yukon Street have repurposed the popular Mexican restaurant space, which closed almost two years ago. The concrete-block building was constructed in the early 1920's in two phases, and covers two 50x100 foot lots. Interestingly, those are listed as "Lots 1 & 2, of Block One" of the Westmoreland subdivision, which opened for development in 1909. This makes the corner the northwest edge of that tract, which stretches all the way down Milwaukie Avenue to Malden Street. Prior to 1920 this parcel held only one small wooden frame store, with living quarters in the back. The first business to occupy the new building, at the corner of S.E. Yukon Street and Milwaukie Avenue, was the Cunningham Drug Store – finished in early 1921, and owned by James Cunningham. Within five years, additional storefronts were added to the south end of the building, perhaps expanding all the way across Lot Number Two.In 1928 Mr. Cunningham built a two-story, three-unit apartment building behind the store, and his drug store may have expanded, because it now included plumbing for a soda fountain. There is reference to a barber shop, probably next to Mr. Cunningham's business. It is unclear how long the drug store continued in operation; but by 1962 some of the space – presumably the section later occupied by the Iron Horse Restaurant – was occupied by the Bob Inn Tavern. By the mid-1970's, this became Rubenstein's Tavern; and finally in 1985, the Iron Horse Restaurant opened there, which operated for almost 35 years.After much community speculation about the future of the building, the owners essentially returned the interior spaces to their original configuration, uncovered the old transom windows, added four new entry doors, and created one large interior space and three smaller ones. A salon occupies the former drug store section, followed by two smaller storefronts, with a double-width space (the former bar/restaurant) at the southern end of the complex. Honoring the memory of the popular restaurant, the building sports a new sign: "The Historic Iron Horse Building".
Oddly, the former restaurant's website is still "live", so devoted diners can torment themselves by scanning the online menu for favorites like the Chicken Belize Tostada and Butternut Squash Enchilada. However, not even a ghost can take your reservation at their old phone number.
The next project to catch my attention in the past year is a small 1909 residence at 1335 S.E. Lambert, behind Sellwood's A Cena restaurant. The modest one-and-a-half-story house had suffered from deferred maintenance; but with its new dark-blue paint with white trim, fresh entry, and sidewalk, it now looks brand-new. Windows were replaced in-kind, and building permit information indicates the current owners/residents added almost 800 square feet – including bedrooms, and another bathroom. The added space must be directly behind the original house, as it is not visible to the sides or front.
My final choice to single out this month is a 1903 house on the southwest corner of S.E. 11th and Bidwell Streets. It was owned for many years by a longtime Sellwood property owner who collected the rent, but failed to put much of it back into the upkeep of the structure. While the rent may have been reasonable, the house appeared quite forlorn. Its location made it appealing to redevelopers, who can put two units on a single corner lot without re-zoning. However, something quite miraculous has happened instead! Five immediate neighbors, and one set of parents (who live in northwest Portland), formed an LLC, and persuaded the owner to sell the house to them.
The name of their company, "Sustainable Sellwood", reflects their intention to rehabilitate and enlarge the house to create spaces for three separate households, for long-term rental. According to one of the partners, the neighbors were concerned about the loss of affordable rental properties in Sellwood. In spite of its condition, the house had sheltered long-term tenants who did not have other rental options.Now the house, which previously had only a dirt crawl space under it, has been lifted off its foundation. A new basement will be excavated, creating a one-bedroom apartment. The interior of the original house will be reconfigured into a three-bedroom, one-bath space. And, already in place and just needing utilities connected, is a "tiny house". The group will not flip the property, nor use the small dwelling as an "AirB&B". When the work is complete – which optimistically they hope will be this fall – it will provide a range of affordable, long-range rental housing for three new neighbors.
Perhaps "Sustainable Sellwood" is launching a model that could be used in other parts of the city: A way to increase density and create new living options, without demolishing existing structures!
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