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Two Portland buildings with LGBTQ+ historic ties nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places

News Article
Black and white photo from City Archives showing the exterior of the building now known as the Crystal Hotel.
Portlanders can testify on the City-sponsored nominations at two public hearings in January and February; National Park Service decisions expected in the spring.
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The City of Portland’s LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project has nominated two historic buildings for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of significant historic places. The nominated sites include the Erv Lind Field in NE Portland and the Crystal Hotel in the west end of downtown. If listed by the National Park Service, these resources would follow the Old Town-based drag venue Darcelle XV Showplace’s listing to be the second and third LGBTQ+ landmarks to be designated in Oregon, contributing to the growing number of LGBTQ+ landmarks across the country.

The public is invited to testify on the nominations at the City of Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission on January 22 and State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation on February 16.

About the nominated sites

Since its launch in late 2022, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project has identified several hundred historic resources associated with different aspects of Portland’s LGBTQ+ history. These resources are associated with queer experiences from the early 1900s through the 1990s and include parks, bridges, buildings, and streetscapes. Of the more than 400 resources considered by the project team, two have now been nominated to the National Register of historic Places for their significance in Portland’s LGBTQ+ history.

Crystal Hotel

An advertisement for the Majestic Hotel & Club Baths from a 1977 issue of Northwest Gay Review.
McMenamins Crystal Hotel housed several gay businesses during the 1969-85 period of significance, including the bathhouse franchise The Majestic Hotel & Club Baths featured in this ad from a 1977 Northwest Gay Review publication and described in the nomination amendment.

Exclusion of LGBTQ+ histories and other diverse stories in existing National Register nominations is an unfortunate reality exhibited by historic site documentation in Portland and across the country. The 1911 four-story, mixed used trapezoidal building currently home to McMenamins Crystal Hotel and Hal’s Café is just one of several examples. It was listed in the National Register in 2009 for its association with Portland’s commerce and community development in the early 20th century. However, the nomination made only scant reference to the building’s role in LGBTQ+ history as a site of multiple gay businesses, HIV/AIDS health initiatives, and the longest operating gay bathhouse on the west coast. The building is now being re-nominated to the National Register for its significant association with LGBTQ+ history between 1969-85.

The building’s LGBTQ+ associations coincide with the surrounding area’s ascendance as Portland’s primary LGBTQ+ district during the mid-late 1990s. Loosely bounded by West Burnside Street to the north and extending to areas downtown, the area often referred to as the "Burnside Triangle" served as a hub for LGBTQ+ life and businesses. The Crystal Hotel became an important anchoring point in the area, both as a prominent architectural feature and as a site for several gay businesses. The combination of bars, hotel, and bathhouse functions from 1969 through 1985 not only “created a uniquely protected space, elevating and centering gay men’s relationships with other men,” but also became the “most enduring and most representative building” of this LGBTQ+ district as described in the nomination form.

Erv Lind Field

A matchbook photo of Erv Lind Field at Normandale Park promoting women’s softball.
Erv Lind Field was a popular ballfield for tournaments and socializing around sports, captured in this matchbook photo promoting women’s softball. Image Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2004-002.6743.

New nominations for LGBTQ+ histories are just as important as amending existing ones. A National Register nomination for the 1948 Erv Lind Field located in Northeast Portland’s Normandale Park intends to elevate histories and significance of outdoor spaces to Portland women and LGBTQ+ populations. Erv Lind Field was built by the City in 1948 to host the National Softball Championship tournament; Between 1948 and 1964, the field served as the home field for all-women’s softball team, the Erv Lind Florists. The Florists won the 1944 and 1964 Amateur Softball Association National Championships and the 1954 National Softball Congress Championship tournament, among many other achievements.

Across several oral histories, LGBTQ+ Portlanders have identified the field as a haven for them during the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The team’s popularity and the atmosphere of the field allowed women to find each other and socialize through sports and in the stadium stands. This was especially important during a time when there were limited options for women to connect, besides a few bars and private residences. Later LGBTQ+ sports teams utilized the field after the Florists disbanded in 1964, continuing a legacy of Portland’s LGBTQ+ athleticism at the site.

The ball field represents not only “the first and only sports facility in Oregon to be constructed primarily for a women’s major-league team,” but also the only public space outside of bars for LGBTQ+ women to connect during a conservative era, as described in the nomination form.

About the National Register of Historic Places

The National Register is the nation’s official list of historic places, ranging from individual buildings such as Pittock Mansion to districts like Ladd’s Addition. In Portland, listing an individual property as a National Register Landmark automatically results in the application of a land use demolition protection known as demolition review. Additional land use regulations — and certain incentives — are provided to properties that achieve a separate City Historic or Conservation Landmark designation. To be eligible for listing in the National Register, a property must meet established National Park Service criteria for both historic significance and physical integrity. Owner consent is required for individual listing in the National Register.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’ LGBTQ+ Historic Sites Project –including preparation of the two National Register nominations – is funded in part by the National Park Service and Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. An additional National Register nomination, a comprehensive historic resources survey, and a historic context statement will be available for public review in the spring of 2024.

Upcoming public hearings and next steps

The National Register nominations for the Crystal Hotel and Erv Lind Field will be reviewed at two upcoming public hearings. Written and oral testimony will be accepted at both hearings. All community members are invited to participate.

Portland Historic Landmarks Commission
January 22, 1:30 p.m. (Virtual hearing)
Hearing information and testimony registration

Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation
February 16, 1:30 p.m. (Virtual and in-person hybrid hearing)
Hearing information and testimony registration

After the two hearings, the nominations are expected to be forwarded to the National Park Service for final consideration and decisions in the spring of 2024.

Questions about the nomination and hearings process can be directed to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Historic Resources Program at historic.resources@portlandoregon.gov.