With the deadline for comments fast approaching (1/18), the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center submitted a letter to the City of Portland regarding the proposed project, noting how the proposal does not meet several aspects of the Central City and Central Eastside Design Guidelines. We thought it would be good to share this letter with the public in order to draw attention to not only this proposal, but also to show how complicated it can be to argue for or against such projects. Below is the text of the letter:

January 14, 2011

To: City of Portland Land Use Services

From: Val Ballestrem, Education Manager, Bosco-Milligan Foundation

Re: LU 10-160377 DZ909 E. Burnside

Project: Proposed Trio Club Development/Galaxy Restaurant Demolition

The Bosco Milligan Foundation opposes the redevelopment of the Galaxy Restaurant. As currently proposed, the project would not meet several criteria of the Central City Fundamental Design Guidelines (CCFDG) and the policies of the Central Eastside Design Guidelines (CEDG). We request that the proposal be denied until the design is more appropriately in compliance with the applicable design guidelines for the Central City and Central Eastside.

CCFDG Goal 2 aims to “Integrate urban design and preservation of our heritage into the development process.” The project as proposed would demolish an existing building with considerable modern heritage. Although not a designated historic landmark, the Galaxy building and its sign provide a significant Portland example of mid-20th century Googie or Space-Age type architecture. The preservation of such architecture is rapidly becoming an issue in Portland and throughout the U.S., as exemplified locally by the debate over the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 2009-2010. The renovation of the existing building and signage would better meet or exceed Goal 2 outlined above and would be compatible with the nearby renovated Jupiter Hotel, which was built the same year as the Galaxy building, and is similarly reflective of mid-20th century architectural optimism.

CCFDG Goal 4 is to “Promote the development of diversity and areas of special character within the Central City.” The project does not meet this goal as the demolition of the existing building and signage will actually remove the “special character” which is the unique existing design and replace it with something that is neither unique nor special.

CCFDG Guideline A2 supports projects that emphasize themes “unique to Portland’s culture.” The project as proposed does not emphasize Portland culture. One of Portland’s most embedded cultural tenets is that of sustainability, achieved through the reduction in consumption of energy and resources, and the reuse of resources, such as existing buildings. One way the project developer could meet this guideline is to rehabilitate the existing building. Such an effort would emphasize Portland’s unique culture, as exemplified by the success of the nearby Jupiter Hotel, the ongoing reuse of other commercial buildings along East Burnside, and the general interest in the Portland area in preserving other iconic if not designated historic landmarks like the neon signs of Interstate Avenue and other mid-20th century architecture such as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

CCFDG Guideline A5 states “Areas of the Central City are enhanced, embellished, and/or identified through the integration of distinct landmarks.” The project as proposed does not meet this guideline. The demolition of the existing Galaxy restaurant building and signage means the removal of a “distinct landmark” in this neighborhood. The Galaxy building and sign are iconic, rare and intact Portland examples of Space-Age or Googie style architecture. The renovation of the existing building and sign would enhance the neighborhood as already exemplified by the renovation of the nearby Jupiter Hotel. Renovation of the existing building and sign would enhance both the existing property and the surrounding neighborhood. Demolishing the existing building and sign and construction of the Trio Club, based on its current design, would detract from the district; it would isolate the distinctive Jupiter Hotel, and diminish the modernist and visually interesting intersection that exists at East Burnside and 9th Avenue.

CCFDG Guideline A6 focuses on the reuse, rehabilitation, or restoration of buildings. The proposal to demolish the existing Galaxy building and signage ignores this guideline altogether. As noted in the guideline, financial incentives are available for the rehabilitation of older buildings. We encourage the project developer to investigate such incentives further. The demolition of the existing building is also a tremendous waste of resources and energy. The amount of energy and resources consumed and wasted to demolish, and then dispose of the existing building materials – even if materials are recycled – would be greatly reduced through a building rehabilitation.

CCFDG Guideline C4 “Complement the context of existing buildings by using and adding to the local design vocabulary.” The project proposal does not meet this guideline, because the demolition of the existing building and signage will detract, by removal, rather than complement the nearby design vocabulary. The existing Galaxy building is highly complementary of the Jupiter Hotel. The building design for the Trio Club only seems to mimic the massing and scale of the building across 9th avenue at 835 E. Burnside. Guideline C4 calls for complementary building design, not just the mimicry of other nearby buildings. If the existing building were rehabilitated – maintaining its complementary design to the nearby Jupiter Hotel – the project would meet and exceed guideline C4. It is possible, and we suggest, that if the developer feels a larger building is necessary, a complementary addition to the existing Galaxy building would better meet this design guideline than the demolition and new construction as proposed.

CEDG policies support the design guidelines of the CCFDG. They also support mixed use development that includes housing. The Trio Club project as proposed, does not meet this policy objective, because it simply replaces a one story strictly commercial use building with another. This policy would be better met if the project developer included a mixed-use component – with housing – in the design. Such a project would also be more in line with Portland’s comprehensive plan goals of adding density where possible. In addition, the project proposal does not preserve the significant architecture of the Galaxy building or its signage and therefore it does not meet another of the CEDG policies.

The Galaxy building and its signage present a meaningful and feasible opportunity for rehabilitation with a possible complementary building expansion that would better meet and exceed the Central City and Central Eastside design guidelines, goals, and objectives. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation is supportive of such a project. The current proposal for the Trio Club does not meet these guidelines and the project should be denied at this time.