Mystery Location: Solved!

This mystery location is a real doozy. I have not a clue as to its whereabouts. Though the lack of a hillside in the distance may indicate it being on the westside of the river. Photo is from 1973. Enlarged for your convenience is the address number.

Continue reading


Sandy at 12th

Here are a couple of views of Sandy Blvd at Burnside separated by nine years: 1977 and 1986. A bevy of real estate billboards entertained drivers as they sat idling at this notoriously confusing intersection.

Sadly, on this corner now stands a hideously overwrought and poorly executed mixed-use building: The Linden. Designed by LA firm, KTGY, it was designed as a 55+ community on land owned by Portland Foursquare. Apparently the siren call of the market and associated profit proved too tempting and it ended up yet another overpriced development.

Steigerwald Dairy Milk Bottle

The annals of early 20th century roadside architecture are littered with the sad reality that novelty buildings in strange shapes hold little promise of future adaptability. This was never truer than the tortured fate of the Steigerwald Milk bottle at the corner of Sandy and 37th Ave in Portland which has managed to look sadder with every passing iteration since its original glory as a giant milk bottle.

The bottle/building stood 75-ft tall and was the tallest structure in Northeast Portland when it was built in 1926. Inside, an iron spiral stair permitted access to the circular roof, atop which a Christmas tree with electric bulbs was erected every December. Ten years later the dairy was sold and with it the building to Pabco Paint. The bottle was blunted to become a couple of paint cans stacked on end. In 1940, 7-Up made use of the bottle and placed an iconic art-decco sign with animated carbonated bubbles rising.

By 2002 the derelict neon was repurposed as a Budweiser sign built on the same base and thus looking quite amorphous. Most recently the sign has morphed into its ugliest version yet: an ad for Director’s Mortgage, consistent with that firm’s tradition of aggressively ugly advertising. Lets hope the shocking rise in property values leads a wise developer to see the potential for this landmark building and does something imaginative with it.

Mini History of Powell’s Books Home & Garden Hawthorne

Powell’s Books brilliantly demonstrated how rehabbing an existing storefront can be both a savvy business move and a sensitive approach to entering an established neighborhood when they opened their second satellite store: “Powell’s Books For Cooks,” on Hawthorne in October of 1987. This was a marked departure from their prior expansion three years prior at Cascade Plaza, a brand-new strip mall across from Washington Square Mall in Tigard. That location embodied everything wrong with the soulless corporate monoliths then beginning to dominate the retail bookstore ecosystem, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Thankfully someone at Powell’s put the brakes on their own big-box expansion soon after. Since then the company has profited handsomely by doubling down on the idiosyncratic image epitomized by its landmark location on Burnside and invested heavily on the web.

Continue reading

Barbur Transit Center

I found this interesting pic of the old Barbur Transit Station sign. Reminded me of the insane inhospitality of this station’s design, seemingly influenced by snow-shed architecture. Years ago, I lived in an area that made avoiding this TC all but impossible and consequently spent many hours contemplating the monsters who would design such a thing.

The Barbur Transit Center is currently the oldest transit center in the Trimet system having opened in 1977 and as you will see it is showing its age. The transit center is actually nothing but a glorified Park N’ Ride lot as the area around the transit center is very auto oriented and hostile to pedestrians and is not designed to blend into the community or the community to blend into the transit center.

On the one hand you have to admire the confrontational approach here. The whole thing is designed around ease of bus movement and parking lot capacity. Humans are but an inconsequential nuisance, yelding to the high drama of folded Cor-Ten steel and hard conrete.

In the 39 years since completion, TriMet has attemped to soften the original design with paint and signage. I think they may have actually replaced the roofing material, as I am pretty sure you can not paint Cor-Ten steel. I am a firm beleiver in commitment. If you have a bad design, don’t try to pretend its not, flaunt it. It is what it is! Here you see the result of brutalist design being watered down. Sad!

Chech out this blog for more pics and anaylsis on Barbur Transit Center. 

Deep Dive: Hawthorne Safeway & The Lost Optimism of Grocery Store Modern

The Safeway on Hawthorne at 28th is pictured here in 1975 with an eerily vacant lot. Though it was a crappy due to poor management and ham-fisted renovations, the building had interesting roots from an architectural perspective.

Beyond the broad expanse of oil stained macadam and poor selection, this 33,000 sq ft store had the distinction of being one of the last “Marina prototype” store designs in the metro area still held by Safeway. So named for the 1959 debut location on Marina Blvd in San Francisco, this groundbreaking prototype had three variants but all featured a distinctive serpentine roof carried by soaring glulams. This afforded a voluminous sales floor almost entirely absent of columns. The exuberantly modern design made the brand a standout among the monotony of grocers, with a bank of tall plate-glass windows fronting the street, flanked by twin entrances against a masonry core. A tragically butchered example still survives in Lake Oswego and there are several which have been converted to other uses like Hong Phat Food Center on 82nd at Burnside. Some communities have even sought historic preservation for these threatened buildings but they hardly stand a chance in the face of impatient corporations and developers attracted to the acres of parking on which they stand. I should also note Safeway did remodel a Marina at their MLK Jr. Blvd. location but with pretty sad results. They basically crammed their current design typology, “Lifestyles”, into the space with little to no accommodation for the unique opportunities afforded the dramatic 25′ ceiling.

Continue reading

St. Johns Theatre, 1975

Now called St Johns Twin Cinemas, the theatre at the corner of N. Lombard and Alta has gone by several names but unlike other small theatres, has remained proudly family friendly. Built in 1924 an organist would accompany screenings of silent films.  In 1926 it was upgraded to show “talkies” and renamed McCredie’s Venetian until returning to “St. Johns” at an unknown date.

Interesting tidbits courtesy of Wikipedia:

Continue reading

Before & After

The beautiful Willamette Park Plaza on Macadam under construction in 1982. Amazing  and great they kept these graceful trees. This was the first office building in the area.


Portland Union Station, 1976

I wont bother going into any detail on the station, as much ink as been spilled regarding this beautiful building. But I do wonder if that roof is metal. It seems like every few years they are painting it and half the time it looks like this. I suppose a proper clay tile would be too heavy for the structure but would have been a better choice in hindsight.

Interesting fact: In October 2011, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced awards of $291.35 million in High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) grants from the 2009 Recovery Act to six northeastern states and Washington state. Of this, Portland will get $13.6 million to modernize Portland Union Station. Waiting areas will be expanded, making the facility fully accessible to those with disabilities and improving its energy efficiency. A study will identify desired improvements to Portland-Eugene Amtrak service.

Also Interesting: PDC, which owns the property since the mid 80s, sees about $200,000 profit on earnings from tenant leases.