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Bid to get listing on National Register of Historic Places gets unanimous thumbs up in Portland and Salem

The Multnomah Arts Center on Southwest Capitol Highway, which was Multnomah School from 1923 to 1979, could become an official, national landmark next year.

Before the building could even be considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it had to be cleared by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation. Both have now done so.

However, both the Portland and State of Oregon historical review panels said the application for a listing needs to be revised before being submitted to the National Park Service, which maintains the Register, for final approval.

Thousands of men and women graduated from Multnomah School over the years and would be able to boast about their old school being an official landmark if a listing is approved next year.

The Multnomah Neighborhood Association (MNA) is sponsoring the application, which claims Multnomah School is historically significant in the categories of education and architecture.

"The inspiration and construction of the school represents the community's embrace of and commitment to public education as a core social value…to support the execution of a progressive educational philosophy," the application states.

"It is a near textbook example of school architecture in the era and thus, is important as a building type," the application says of the 41,000-square-foot, Spanish Revival-style building.

The MNA now has 90 days to revise the application to meet the concerns over how long the building has been significant. Conventional wisdom holds that a property should be significant for at least 50 years to be listed. No date for a final vote has been set.

There are currently 2,000 properties in Oregon listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Familiar examples would be the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Paul Bunyan Statue in North Portland, Jakes Famous Crawfish Restaurant downtown and Portland City Hall. If it's listed, Multnomah School would be the first Portland public school in Southwest Portland to be so recognized.

The vast majority of listed properties are private homes or buildings. In March, the home at 1020 S.W. Cheltenham was added to the Register. It's currently for sale for $1.2 million. A listing could affect the taxation of a privagte property.

Multnomah School was closed in 1979 despite a fierce effort by neighborhood activists to save it. In 1982, it became Multnomah Art Center operated by Portland Parks and Recreation. It's not currently clear how being designated a National Historic Place will affect discussions underway about the future of the building. Some have described the listing of public properties on the National Register as "symbolic." There are 90,000 properites listed nationwide.

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