The history of the Architectural Heritage Center and the Bosco-Milligan Foundation

Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan

For nearly three decades, the Bosco-Milligan Foundation’s unwavering commitment to the preservation of our regional architectural heritage has been based on the belief that vintage buildings and traditional neighborhoods are essential to the vitality and identity of our communities. Established in Portland, Oregon in 1987, the Bosco-Milligan Foundation is one of Oregon’s most active non-profit historic preservation organizations. Our founders knew that when one historic building is lost, a piece of our history is gone forever.

The Architectural Heritage Center began as a vision of two remarkable men, Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan. The Center is their legacy to historic preservation in Portland and the Northwest. Alarmed by the tragic destruction of historic buildings throughout the region, Bosco and Milligan salvaged countless architectural pieces which would otherwise have been lost to the wrecking ball.

From the 1950s–1980s, they collected a truly awe-inspiring treasure trove of historic artifacts, from stained glass windows, building hardware, doors, light fixtures and shades, tiles, and mantles, to cast-iron pieces and countless other historic building elements. The National Park Service documents that the Bosco-Milligan Foundation’s collections are the largest in the West and among the five largest in the United States.

Prior to their passing, Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan established the Bosco-Milligan Foundation to fulfill their vision of a place where their collections could be used in education and training programs. Renovation of our historic West’s Block Building – constructed in 1883 at 701 SE Grand Avenue – to house the Architectural Heritage Center was completed shortly after the Center’s opening in February, 2005.

The Architectural Heritage Center is a significant historic preservation education facility for the Portland region and plays an important role in celebrating and advocating for the architectural heritage of our city and region.The Center includes two exhibition galleries, two classrooms, workshop space, a library, collections storage spaces, and the Foundation’s offices.

Public historic preservation programming, begun in 1992, continues at the AHC, as well as at historic sites and neighborhoods throughout the Portland metro area. We have served the needs of more than 65,000 people. Continued progress is being made on the professional inventory and documentation of the collections.

Meeting a Vital Community Need

Downtown walking tour. Photo by Brian Johnson.

The Portland area’s rich diversity of vintage buildings defines the character of our community, and how it looks and feels both to long-time residents and newcomers alike. Our local history is irrevocably tied to these buildings, which stand as physical testaments to the hopes, dreams and talents of those who came before us. This is our architectural heritage – the built environment – which is vital to the fabric of our neighborhoods and community identity.

Growth and development pressures, deterioration, and unsuitable alterations threaten our building heritage throughout the region. The problem is compounded when people lack knowledge of good preservation practices that need to be followed to take care for our historic buildings or are unaware of knowledgeable craftspeople. With the appropriate resources and training, people go on to practice quality building preservation and restoration.

At the Architectural Heritage Center, we provide these essential resources throughout the year: the teaching of architectural traditions, styles, materials and building techniques; offering hands-on training in rehabilitation; and ongoing outreach programs to the general public. We proactively promote a greater understanding and appreciation of preserving our building heritage.

Our programs and exhibits forge the link between people and place, between buildings of the past and the living communities of today. The Architectural Heritage Center – the physical facility and the resources within it – provides a unique and dynamic learning environment, for today and for generations to come.