City of Portland Design Review team’s efforts noted in DeMuro Award for Jim Fisher Volvo restoration

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This photo illustrates construction work to install a new neon sign at the Jim Fisher Volvo dealership at Southwest 21st Avenue and West Burnside Street.
Award citation lists City as partner in helping restore iconic West Burnside building

Restore Oregon, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to historic preservation, recently announced its annual DeMuro Awards for Excellence in Historic Preservation which, according to the organization, are “the state’s highest honor for the preservation, reuse, and revitalization of architectural and cultural sites.”

Among the buildings recognized in the 2021 honors is
the Jim Fisher Volvo dealership at West Burnside St. and SW 21st Avenue, which updated its façade and signage and made other updates to its property that required a design review by planners in the Land Use Services division of the Bureau of Development Services. The City of Portland was listed as a member of the project team, a recognition of the partnership that city staff provided in helping the dealership fulfill its business needs while supporting the livability goals of the Central City Plan District, the Goose Hollow Subdistrict, and the adjacent Kings Hill Historic District.

This project began in 2016 when project managers from Hennebery Eddy Architects approached City staff to discuss ways to retain and update a lot on the south side of the property needed for storing vehicle inventory, as the lot  would not be allowed in the then-residential zone, and its nonconforming status was not verified. Amanda Rhoads, a land use planner at the Bureau of Development Services, researched the lot’s history and verified it had legal nonconforming rights, then worked with the architects and the business owner to update fencing and landscaping around the parking lot to better fit the adjacent residential neighborhood. This was done as part of the larger project to update the building façade and making other improvements to retain the building’s historic character while meeting the changing business needs of the Volvo dealership.

The building, first built in 1911, features one of the largest installations of Vitrolite glass panels in the United States, which were added in 1952. A few of the glass panels were cracked and needed replacement. In addition, the auto dealership wished to update its street-level signage. In the required design review of the proposed updates, Rhoads worked with the project team to ensure the replacement Vitrolite panels were of similar colors, update the storefront level of the east wall of the building and adjacent parking lot, and convince Volvo’s corporate leadership to support the installation of a neon sign attached to the building and hanging over the sidewalk on Burnside.

“Staff discouraged the applicant team from simply replacing old cabinet signs with new ones. Knowing we didn’t want to damage the Vitrolite, we supported the applicant’s ultimate design of a larger projecting sign that would have a lot of depth to it. It was also important to the team that the sign be compatible with the design and scale of the historic neon rooftop sign,” said Rhoads.

“One of the larger challenges was to achieve a historically appropriate look on the corner of the car dealership building between West Burnside and Southwest 21st Avenue,” said Alexander Lungershausen, the project manager with Hennebery Eddy. “Amanda recognized the importance of adding the corner sign from a historic point of view and guided its design closer to its historic original. The appearance now closely matches the appearance of the historic sign that used to be in that same location, including its rounded corners and overall size. The planner also required the new projecting sign to be illuminated by neon, so the new corner sign would be compatible with the neon of the large ‘VOLVO’ sign on the roof.

“The assistance from BDS was very helpful,” he continued. “Amanda very patiently walked us through the requirements of the planning code and helped us identify additional opportunities we hadn’t considered. BDS provided a sign area analysis for all frontages of the building that ultimately supported the size of the flag sign.”

More information this project and other 2021 DeMuro Award winners can be found


Ken Ray

Public Information Officer, Development Services