Historic Landmarks Commission endorses addition to historic library

News Article
This is a drawing of the front of the Albina Library on Northeast Knott Street and proposed changes.
Albina Library, a 111-year-old community institution in Northeast Portland, will be updated to meet modern building standards and community needs while honoring historic context.

On Dec. 12, the Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously approved substantial alterations to the historic Albina Library, located at 216 NE Knott St. The proposed work includes a seismic retrofit and rehabilitation of the interior of the historic Multnomah County library as well as demolition of the later additions to the south. The work also includes the construction of a new 32,000 sq. ft. addition to accommodate library space, a community room, and district-wide library administrative offices, fronting on NE Russell Street.

This is a drawing of proposed additions to the Albina Library on its south side on Northeast Russell Street.
This drawing illustrates the proposed addition to the Albina Library on its south side on NE Russell St. (Source: LEVER Architecture)

The historic Carnegie-sponsored library was designed by Portland architect Ellis Lawrence and built in 1912. Following a robust community engagement effort, LEVER Architecture designed the bold new library addition to be responsive to the County’s and community’s needs and desires while also being respectful of the existing historic building and the surrounding Eliot Conservation District. The new addition strives to be a place that the community can be proud of, connecting them to both the past and the future.

The Commission acknowledged that the Albina district has a long history, notable for its vibrant community and cultural roots as well as many layers of painful, discriminatory policies that caused physical destruction and large-scale community displacement. Therefore, as the Commission discussed the proposal’s response to its surrounding context, it focused heavily on the responsibility for the new library building to be forward-looking and create a joyful, welcoming, inclusive space for all Portlanders.

The project team conducted more than 50 community outreach events with a specific focus on engaging non-dominant stakeholder groups. The community outreach determined many aspects of the design, including how the library intends to program the new addition. The Commission celebrated the breadth of this inclusive process as a model for future design outreach and is grateful for the participation of many historically underrepresented voices. Peggy Moretti, a member of the Commission, noted, “I want to put on the record how excited how I am, and how grateful, for the wonderful quality of thought and - I want to say love - that went into the design of this, and the thoughtfulness and the engagement... I can only imagine the amount of effort and time to do this kind of thoughtful outreach in the community... and this community deserves something excellent, and this looks excellent. It has a sense of energy and presence that is deserved.”

Prior to the official hearing before the Landmarks Commission, the applicants applied for a voluntary Design Advice Request with the Commission where they sought and received advice on the proposal prior to submittal of their Historic Resource Review. All commissioners voting on the approval had high praise for the design process and the final design. The Commission chose to highlight Albina Library as its 2022 Project of the Year, and this project will be featured in its annual State of Preservation Report that will be presented to the City Council in March.

A permit is currently under review for the demolition of non-historic additions to the building that will make way for the proposed addition. This project is funded by a $387 million bond measure approved by Multnomah County voters in November 2020, with expected completion in fall 2024.