AUGUST 3, 2022
TO: Stephen Percy, President, Portland State University
Dear President Percy,
The non-profit Bosco-Milligan Foundation, which owns and operates the Architectural Heritage Center, strongly encourages preservation and responsible stewardship of Portland’s historic districts, historic buildings, and public landscapes. This letter reflects our deep concern over the pending demolition of the Parkway Apartments/Residence Hall at 1609 SW Park Ave.
To begin, we respectfully request that Portland State University (PSU) immediately withdraw the request for the demolition and required delay that expires on September 29, 2022 so that potential restoration and adaptive reuse of this handsome historic building can be thoroughly assessed. It is one of the few significant historic buildings remaining on the PSU campus. For almost a century it has been a valuable neighbor contributing to the defining character of the South Park Blocks, a treasured historic public place now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation can recommend experts with architectural and preservation experience to help assess a new future for this building.
Here are reasons why PSU should withdraw its request for a demolition permit and the required 120-day demolition delay:
The building is an attractive design of the fourth decade of the 20th century from a leading Portland firm, Bennes and Herzog. Those architects also designed the nearby Jeanne Manor and the Hollywood Theatre, landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places. John V. Bennes designed several buildings included in the Oregon State University National Historic District. Harry A. Herzog was a key architect of Temple Beth Israel, another National Register landmark.
In 2020, the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office re-evaluated this building and upgraded its historic importance. It is now designated as being eligible for National Register listing and, if it were located within a historic district, it would be a “Contributing” historic resource requiring public hearings by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and City Council for demolition.
Demolition by neglect
According to Jason Franklin (Associate Vice President of Planning, Construction & Real Estate), the justification for demolishing this building is that the cost of rehabilitating it—given “over $5 million in deferred maintenance”—would exceed replacing it with new construction. However, without a proposed replacement building, the specific cost savings of new construction compared to rehabilitation is not possible.
The building’s poor interior condition is due largely to the lack of maintenance over the fifty-two years of PSU’s ownership. But neglect—benign or otherwise—is never an acceptable reason for demolishing a historic building. Historic buildings can often be “saved” by finding successful new uses for them. Although alternative uses for the building other than student housing were not considered, PSU has adapted a similar significant historic apartment building at 632 SW Hall St. (East Hall) to academic offices and creatively reused two historic public school buildings that also face the South Park Blocks (Lincoln High School and Shattuck School) to include performance, lecture, studio, and workshop spaces.
Absence of a specific replacement plan
Mr. Franklin has indicated that PSU has no specific plan for redeveloping the site, nor any budget for its development in the near future. We agree with the State Historic Preservation Office that no historic building should be demolished (unless it has been condemned as hazardous by local authorities) without an approved replacement that has been evaluated as demonstrating a larger public benefit, based on thorough weighing of the environmental, cultural, social, and financial impacts
Furthermore, the building occupies a vital corner on the South Park Blocks. As an avowedly urban university, we believe that PSU would be doing its immediate urban environment eminent disfavor by leaving a site adjacent to one of the city’s most historic parks and pleasant pedestrian havens empty and surrounded by chain-link fencing possibly for years to come.
Not Consistent with the PSU University District Framework Plan
The preemptive demolition of this historic resource does not reflect the University District Framework Plan (2010). Not only does this master plan not identify specific new development on this site, but a section of the document is dedicated to “Preservation and Reuse.”
PSU recognizes that historic resources are valuable cultural assets that contribute to the character of the University District and, as such, should be protected. The preservation and reuse of historic resources is also consistent with PSU’s overall commitment to sustainability. (p. 83)
Looking ahead, the University will work with the City and community stakeholders to:
- Identify historic resources for preservation or rehabilitation
- Develop a strategy to protect these resources and strike a balance between historic and new development in the district
While new development will be required in the district, existing buildings should be reused and retrofitted when possible…Ultimately, the decision to retrofit a building requires the careful weighing of financial costs with environmental concerns and preservation goals. (p. 85)
Demolishing an existing structure is the least sustainable approach, given both the embedded carbon released and the carbon generated in creating new building materials. (ECONorthwest estimates that for a 40,000 square foot building such as this one, demolition and new construction would equate to placing over 4,000 cars on the road for a year.) Moreover, demolishing the only Zig-Zag Moderne architectural example in the University District would only diminish the variety and historical feel in PSU’s aesthetic and cultural environment.
In conclusion, we urge PSU’s leadership to reconsider what appears to be an expedient and organizationally localized decision to demolish a significant historic building without full consideration of its broader implications. As an educational institution with graduate programs in architecture, public policy, sustainability, urban planning, design studies, and related subjects, PSU should set an example by modeling what its academic programs espouse as best practices. Moreover, as one of the City’s major public institutions, it should act in accordance with its stated mission as being “dedicated to…sustainability and community engagement” and committed to “…collaboration, stewardship and sustainability.”
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Denyse C. McGriff, President, Board of Directors
Stephanie Whitlock, Executive Director