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Design, Historic Landmarks commissions highlight exceptional projects and successes in annual reports

News Article
This is a design for a new building for Portland State University’s School of Art and Design in the Park Blocks.
Innovative designs and notable achievements in historic preservation were highlighted in State of the City presentations to the City Council on March 13.
In this article

“This is a wonderful day to acknowledge beauty in the city.”

“This has been a fantastic presentation. I always enjoy this. I learn a lot.”

“This presentation is one of my favorite of the year. I always come out of this with a deeper appreciation of the city I love.”

These are just three responses offered by members of the city council as the City of Portland’s two leading public approval bodies advising on urban design and the enhancement of historic and architectural heritage presented their annual reports.

Design Commission State of the City Report

The Design Commission is the city’s decision-making body tasked with reviewing development projects in the city’s design overlay zones where design and neighborhood character are of special concern. Chandra Robinson, the vice-chair of the Design Commission, and Joe Swank, a commission member, highlighted a few projects for which the commission provided critical guidance to help enhance the character and livability of neighborhoods for residents and building occupants alike.

“These are all bringing vitality to Portland in different areas in different ways,” said Robinson.

Featured projects in the Design Commission’s report include:

  • The 2023 Design Excellence Award winner, a new and much-needed affordable housing building at the Hollywood Transit Center that creates a sense of place for people who will live there. It also improves the way residents and transit users move through the space while providing equitable access to newly created bus stops on Northeast Halsey Street and new access to the Hollywood MAX station. The Design Commission helped unlock, with help from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s office, a ZIP code boundary to enable a more superior design for affordable housing.
  • A model of civic leadership in the proposed building for Portland State University’s School of Art and Design in the Park Blocks that increase sun exposure to an outdoor courtyard and classrooms and creates a terrace along a greenway on Southwest College Street.
  • Faith in Portland’s comeback with the renovation of the ground floor and storefront of the Alderway Building, at 711 SW Alder Street, to enhance an existing 1929 building with a new façade design that makes the ground floor fully transparent with active uses and attracts people and activity.

Historic Landmarks Commission State of the City Report

The Historic Landmarks Commission provides leadership and expertise on maintaining and enhancing Portland’s architectural and cultural heritage. It reviews development proposals for changes to historic buildings and new construction in historic districts. It also advises on historic preservation matters and coordinates historic preservation programs in Portland.

Andrew Smith, the chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission, alongside vice-chair Kimberly Moreland and Commissioners Peggy Moretti and Maya Foty, were equally proud of the results their commission achieved in 2023.

Moretti urged the city council to focus on supporting efforts at the Legislature to implement a statewide historic rehabilitation tax credit, allocate resources from the Portland Clean Energy Fund to retrofit and reuse buildings, ensure preservation of city-owned properties that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and support more stable funding for the Bureau of Development Services.

“Our largest renewable resource is our existing buildings,” said Moretti.

This is a design for a new use for the First Church of Christ, Scientist, building in Northwest Portland.

A particular highlight of the Landmarks Commission report was its Project of the Year, the approval of the conversion of the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, Historic Landmark on Northwest Everett Street into a club with restaurants, spa and bar, and construction of a new, detached, six-story hotel on a vacant parcel within the landmark site.

Other highlights of the year for the Historic Landmarks Commission included:

  • Establishment of a Legacy Business Program designed to support the City’s most vulnerable small businesses that struggled to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, including those that serve historically underserved communities
  • Support for the designation of a Conservation Landmark for a 1902 craftsman-style house in the Northwest Plan District, at the request of the house’s owner
  • Approval of the relocation of a house within the Irvington Historic District and its designation as a Contributing Resource
  • Support for three nominations to the National Register of Historic Places: One for a building on North Williams Avenue that housed a small number of Black physicians working in Portland in the early 1950s, another for a home in Parkrose associated with Indigenous jazz artist Jim Pepper, of Kaw and Muscogee Creek heritage, and a third for the Beatrice Morrow and Edward Cannady House in Irvington

The Historic Landmarks Commission’s report also calls attention to a few concerns:

  • The proposed demolition of the remaining historic structures on the former Centennial Mills site, on the west bank of the Willamette River north of downtown, for future redevelopment
  • The buildup of garbage, leaves and other organic matter along the temporary fencing on the Vista Avenue Viaduct erected to prevent suicides
  • The need to incentivize owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to upgrade their properties to prevent their collapse in a major earthquake
  • Ensuring sidewalks downtown are safe for workers and visitors and that graffiti and trash are promptly addressed

More information

More information about the two State of the City reports is available below:

A video of the presentations and discussions at the City Council meeting can be viewed here.