1910s Postcard of the Multnomah County Courthouse
Courtesy of the Architectural Heritage Center

Years of deferred maintenance and numerous prior alterations have left the Multnomah County Courthouse, on SW 4th Avenue, in a state of disrepair that must soon be addressed. To that end, county commissioners Judy Shiprack and Deborah Kafoury, recently held public meetings to address concerns about the courthouse and to get ideas for solutions as to its future. If you haven’t already done so, consider taking the county’s survey here.

While the building may be in need of very serious repairs and seismic retrofitting, from the standpoint of the historic preservation community, the building is far too important to lose. Its 1914 neoclassical design embodies the popular style of government buildings from that period. Although many of the finer details have been lost or hidden over the years, the building still retains many original features – especially on the exterior. While some may rush to judgement noting that the building must be seismically updated, such work would have to be done by the County anyway if they ever intended to sell the building or put it to other uses. So with that in mind, we hope the County will consider a major rehabilitation of the building, making it more usable for the 21st century court system, safer for those inside the building, and restoring some of the interior features to their original grandeur. And getting rid of those awful dropped ceilings!

We have witnessed the wonderful restoration of other public buildings in Portland. Two prime examples are City Hall and the Multnomah County Central library. It is doubtful that many would argue now that those buildings should have been replaced. The Courthouse should be given the same treatment.