150+ Years of Portland Architecture

Contributed by Val C. Ballestrem, Education Manager, Architectural Heritage Center

Dielscheider1Part 1

When Portland was incorporated in 1851, permanent structures in the new city were built completely of wood. The first brick commercial building wasn’t constructed until 1853 and it was rather simple in design. Little remains from that period, with the exception of the 1857 Hallock & McMillen Building at SE Naito Parkway and Oak Street and the adjacent Delschneider Building (1859).

By the 1860s, buildings throughout the city were emblazoned with European inspired architectural ornament. Everything from cast iron pilasters with Corinthian capitals, to hand-carved wooden heads could be found adorning commercial buildings in the heart of downtown as well as the homes of wealthy Portlanders that were beginning to rise as the City expanded in all directions. Wood ornament remained especially popular on houses, but after fire decimated a large swath of downtown in 1873, the use of brick and iron on commercial structures increased.


SE Portland Houses

The increased use of cast-iron ornament gave downtown Portland a series of rhythmic, unified streetscapes with the iron archways creating the effect of blocks-long colonnades between Front and Second Streets. Over time however, the Machine Age led to the mass production of architectural ornament and less emphasis on hand made decoration. Houses and commercial buildings from the 1870s -1880s were often dripping with ornament that could be ordered straight out of a catalog. This began to change by the end of the 1880s as new architects in town brought with them new ideas for design – designs that often included far less ornament, but equally beautiful architecture.


Dekum, SW 3rd and Washington St.

Around 1889, a series of new buildings began to rise in Portland displaying the influence of famed Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. These buildings were noted for their use of rustic brick and (sometimes carved) stone, rather than cast iron or wood. Arches over doorways and windows were round, similar to the arches found in ancient Rome and creating what became known as the Romanesque Revival (or Richardsonian Romanesque) style of architecture. Several buildings in this style are still standing downtown including the Dekum (SW 3rd and Washington St.), Auditorium (920 SW 3rd Ave.), and Haseltine (SW 2nd and Pine St.) buildings. Houses in Portland from this period, like the Mackenzie House in Northwest Portland (now known as William Temple House at 615 SW 20th Ave.) also reflected the Romanesque Revival style. The economic Panic of 1893 put a halt to the Romanesque age in Portland as many construction projects were stopped. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that a new building boom came to the city.




Part 2

As Portland entered the new century, so too did it enter a new age of architectural design. There was a near simultaneous return to an interest in the classical motifs of Greece and Rome and the development of the American version of the Arts & Crafts movement. Portland area houses from this period reflect this varied interest, with elements from otherwise different architectural styles often blended together. The architecture firm of Whidden and Lewis and their protégé Albert E. Doyle set the stage for this new generation of Portland architecture, with commercial buildings that by 1910 were adorned with glazed white terra cotta, a material easily applied to the new steel-framed structures. Examples of this popular building style can be seen on nearly all sides of the Pioneer Courthouse Square, including Doyle’s Northwestern Bank Building (1914) and the iconic Jackson Tower (1912), designed by California architects Reid & Reid.

Bank of CA

Bank of California

With the onset of the First World War, building in Portland slowed dramatically. It wasn’t until the mid-1920s that a series of new commercial buildings arose in downtown, with designs of particular note by Doyle, such as his Bank of California Building (SW 6th and Stark), from 1924-25 and the Public Services Building (920 SW 6th), completed in 1927. At the same time, there was widespread (and speculative) residential development throughout the city, with perhaps thousands of single family houses constructed during this time. Neighborhoods like Eastmoreland and Laurelhurst flourished, their streets dotted with bungalows and English style cottages. As with most cities in the US, the onset of the Great Depression had a tremendous impact on new construction. House construction dwindled, as Portland’s population during this time also stagnated. From the early 1930s until after the end of World War II, there were no new large buildings constructed downtown.


Part 3


Equitable Building by Pietro Belluschi.

In 1948, Portland was put on the Modernism map as local architect Pietro Belluschi’s Equitable Building (421 SW 6th) was completed. The Equitable, now known as the Commonwealth Building, represented a sea change in high rise commercial architecture, especially in an otherwise architecturally conservative city like Portland. The sleek steel frame was sheathed in aluminum and glass. The building was also an engineering marvel with an early form of air conditioning that was the first of its kind in the world. By the end of 1951, Belluschi had left Portland, turning his firm over to the internationally renowned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. SOM would transform Portland over the next four decades, designing such noted buildings as Veterans Memorial Coliseum (1960) in North Portland, the Standard Plaza at 1100 SW 6th Ave. with its unique lighted rooftop weather beacon (1963), and Portland’s second tallest building, the US Bancorp Tower at 111 SW 5th Avenue, sometimes called “Big Pink” (1983). Also completed during this period was Portland’s tallest building, the First National Bank Tower at 1300 SW 5th Avenue (1972). Now known as the Wells Fargo Center, it was designed by Los Angeles based architectural firm Charles Luckman and Associates.


Standard Plaza


Michael Graves’ Building

Portland has long been known for its quirkiness and perhaps no other building is representative of this than the Michael Graves’ designed Portland Building at 1120 SW 5th Avenue (1982). Known for the iconic Portlandia statue, its whimsical color, the Portland Building is another of Portland’s architectural “firsts”. It was the first high-rise office building in the world designed in the Post-Modern style. It’s safe to say that the style never really caught on otherwise in Portland, so it is truly a one of a kind building.

Since the 1990s, downtown Portland has seen a variety of large downtown area buildings constructed, including the Hatfield Courthouse at 1000 SW 3rd (1997), designed in collaboration by Kohn Pederson Fox of New York and Portland’s own BORA Architects. But perhaps more of note has been the development of an entire new neighborhood – the Pearl District. Carved out of a former warehouse and industrial area, The Pearl contains an interesting blend of old buildings converted to new uses, such as Powell’s Books and Whole Foods which are both located in former car dealership buildings. There are former warehouses turned into mix-use condominiums, an 1890s armory annex has been transformed into a beautiful theater, and even an old brewery has been integrated with new development.

Portland contains at least a little of every popular architectural style from the past 150 years. If you wander around downtown you can see buildings from just about every decade since the 1850s. If you venture out into some of the residential neighborhoods you there is a similar variety. Buildings are physical reminders of how the city has developed over time. When exploring the city you may find the last vestiges of residential areas adjacent to downtown, along with neighborhoods that have withstood the test of time, and still other areas that have been completely transformed. Architecturally speaking, Portland offers a little something for everyone.



Portland Japanese Garden and Lan Su Chinese Garden

Contributor: Amber D’Ambrosio is Processing Archivist & Records Manager at Willamette University, a small, urban liberal arts college in Salem, Oregon, where she manages the collections and wrangles ArchivesSpace and Archivematica. In her spare time she writes, reads about early modern London, hikes, travels, and obsessively visits the Oregon Coast.

Portland Japanese Garden


The Portland Japanese Garden combines a variety of traditional Japanese garden styles into a beautiful haven on top of a hill overlooking downtown Portland. The hill is known for Washington Park, which has many other family-friendly attractions that make the Japanese Garden’s distance from the conference location well worth the trip. After a recent expansion, the gardens now include a Japanese cultural center with constantly rotating exhibitions of Japanese material culture, a gift shop, and a cafe.


The garden itself is lush, extensive, and includes a wide variety of flowering plants, waterfalls, and Zen gardens known for their simpler aesthetic of carefully raked sand or gravel. There are traditional Japanese buildings, including a traditional tea room, and a hall with veranda that provides a great view over downtown Portland. On a clear day you can see Mount Hood in the distance. Guided tours are available at specified times for those who would like additional insight into the gardens and their history. This is one of my favorite places in Portland, and it’s worth a visit any season of the year.


The Portland Japanese Garden is open until 7 pm every day during the summer months. Admission is $14.95 for an adult with discounted rates for other age ranges available.


The garden and surrounding Washington Park are accessible via the Blue and Red MAX light rail lines to Beaverton and Hillsboro. Get off at Washington Park stop (inside the tunnel). There is a free Washington Park shuttle that will take you from the MAX station to the garden, or you can enjoy a 1.5 mile walk through the arboretum in Washington Park (the trail is well marked with signs for the Japanese and Rose Gardens, but it winds through wooded areas with uneven terrain).


There is parking available at the garden but also available at the Oregon Zoo and elsewhere in Washington Park if you’d like to walk to the garden. Additional travel information is available at the link provided.


Other attractions of interest in Washington Park include the Oregon Zoo, the Portland Children’s Museum, the World Forestry Center, the Hoyt Arboretum, miles of walking/hiking trails, and the International Rose Test Garden (celebrating its 100th anniversary).


Lan Su Chinese Garden


For those who would love to experience a garden a little closer to the conference action, Lan Su Chinese Garden comprises a full city block walled off from the noise of downtown Portland in the historic Old Town Chinatown district. It’s within walking distance (less than 1 mile) of the downtown conference hotel and the convention center. It’s also accessible via bus or the Blue or Red MAX light rail lines (with a short walk).


The garden is partitioned into various areas with stonework that allows views into the alcoves through elaborately carved windows. You can take advantage of a free guided tour at certain hours of the day or wander with the aid of printed guides. Shallow, reflective water, lush plant life, and traditional Chinese structures are the main features of the garden. Within the buildings are examples of traditional Chinese material culture and a Chinese Teahouse with light dining options (vegetarian and possibly vegan options are available). The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and concrete of downtown Portland and enjoy a moment of tranquility among beautiful surroundings. They have regular cultural events, so it’s worth checking their schedule to see what you might find during your visit.


Admission to the garden is $10 for an adult with discounts available to other age ranges. A family pass is available for $28. The garden is open until 7 pm every day during the summer months.


Oregon Museums Making Collections Accessible

Contributed by SAA Host Committee Member, Katrina O’Brien, World of Speed Collection Manager & Archivist

Oregon has a wide array of museums covering everything from Japanese and Jewish history to environment science, gaming and motorsports, local and national art and heritage, and corporate history. While this is only a small snapshot of Oregon’s museums, each of these museums are utilizing artifact and archival collections as part of their museum experience, special programs, and online resources.



mus1Preserving the stories of the Nikkei—Japanese emigrants and their descendants—of the Pacific Northwest, the Center offers both traveling and onsite exhibits, as well as a research library. It also offers onsite and walking tour apps that provide multiple avenues to experience the Center’s archival collection. As part of its Oregon Nikkei Endowment’s Visual History Collection, over 50 recorded video interviews are accessible online through the Densho Digital Archive.






Mus2OHS looks to “explore the people, places, and events that have shaped the history of Oregon and America.” Besides its digital history websites, The Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon History Project, and Oregon History Wayfinder, its new OHS Digital Collections website opens a wider window into the OHS Research Library’s collections. At the same time, the OHS Museum provides equally thought-provoking, interactive museum exhibits that make history visible and accessible.






mus3The WFC Discovery Museum offers an interactive experience for visitors to be “both educated and entertained as they learn about the importance of forests and trees in our lives, as well as environmental sustainability.” Visitors find exhibits that pique curiosity and encourage active learning about the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the interconnectedness of global forests, along with the Leadership Hall that celebrates contributors in forestry.




mus4Housing one of the largest publicly accessible game and puzzle collections in the world, IMOGAP seeks to “document and celebrate all aspects of gaming culture” with more than 4,000 games to play. While most of the collection are tabletop games, the collection also includes construction, knowledge, electronic, skill games, and more. The museum offers visitors hands-on tables for gaming along with historical and interpretive displays, and shelves featuring select picks from the collection.




mus5Besides supporting the World of Speed motorsports museum’s exhibits and education programs, the Archive offers “points of access while preserving the rich history of motorsports” with the museum’s complete collection catalog, collection highlights, and digital video collection available online. Besides being open to the public, the Archive Room hosts Open Archive Days each month, offering visitors gloved interaction with select items in the archive collection not currently on display.




mus6Wells Fargo has eleven museums throughout the country, including Portland. Besides artifacts specific to the Pacific Northwest, the museum utilizes the Wells Fargo Corporate Archive to produce local museum exhibits with materials that “range from historical images and objects to modern day marketing samples and digital records.” A select group of its archives are also available online including a photography and advertisement collection documenting the company’s origins, development, operations, and impact.





mus7Founded in 1892, PAM is the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest with a collection of 42,000 objects reflecting the history of art from ancient times to today, including North America native peoples’ arts, modern and contemporary art, and Asian and American art. PAM’s Crumpacker Family Library, the region’s most comprehensive visual art resource, holds a collection of over 35,000 volumes originated in 1895 and includes current and historical periodicals, and art archives.





OJMCHE’s artifact and archive collections “document the experiences of Oregon Jews from our earliest history through today.” It acquired the holdings of the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon in 1995, including 150 oral history interviews. In 2014, the Oregon Jewish Museum merged with the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, taking on the care of the center’s records, artifacts, and oral history interviews of Holocaust survivors and liberators.






Escape From Portland: Day-Trips Outside The City

Escape From Portland: Day-Trips Outside The City


Gwen Amsbury, City of Portland Archives and Records Center

If you think there are a ton of places to visit in Portland, once you step beyond the city limits the options feel endless. Whether you like touring historical sites, visiting small towns packed with things to do, or just getting out in nature and exploring trails (especially the latter), there’s a day-trip for you!


Just Outside of The City


Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (30 minutes) – Technically in Sherwood, this is a great place to quickly get away from the city (and people) and go for a relaxing nature walk.

Fort Vancouver (20 minutes) – Just across the Columbia River, this is a national park that includes four historical sites: Fort Vancouver, Vancouver Barracks, Pearson Air Museum, and the McLoughlin House.

Sauvie Island (30 minutes) – Fruit picking, fresh produce and events at both Kruger’s Farm and the Pumpkin Patch, as well as $6 you-cut lavender at the Sauvie Island Lavender Farm. You can walk out to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse (Warrior Point Trailhead) and there are multiple options for beach access including Collins Beach – where you can find the Sauvie Island UFO. (There’s also a nude beach in case you were wondering.)pic3

Mount Talbert Nature Park (20 minutes) – With a four-mile trail network and picnicking area at the trailhead, this is an easily reached place to go wandering if you don’t want to drive too far.

Champoeg State Heritage Area (40 minutes) – Fishing, hiking, the Newell House Museum, living history in a pioneer log cabin, and yurts!


A Little Farther Afield


Enchanted Forest (1 hour) – Oregon’s second oldest, continuously operating theme park is a piece of living cultural history. Enchanted Forest never disappoints with its DIY animatronics, rickety rides, and unique flare (and, yes, they do have churros).

Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary, Library and Museum (1 hour)– Visit the abbey to see their world-renowned library and an eclectic museum that includes taxidermy and a mineral collection. You can also take a hilltop walking tour to enjoy the grounds and the views.

Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum (1 hour) – Home of the Spruce Goose, the museum offers a wide variety of aircraft and artifacts from aviation history.pic-5

Mount Hood National Forest (1 – 2 hours)Wildwood Recreation Area is a close-in favorite to hike and picnic. Or continue on up the mountain to visit Government Camp or (up near the summit) Timberline Lodge. Bunsenbrewer in Sandy is a great stop on your way to or from the mountain. If you have the time to drive a little further, and don’t mind paying day use fees, be sure to visit the breathtaking Lost Lake.

Willamette Valley Oregon Wine Country (.5 – 2 hours)– The website for Oregon Wine Country has a helpful map to search for wineries and other places to eat and drink along (and just off) the I-5 corridor all the way down to Cottage Grove.


The Columbia River Gorge


Hikes and Waterfalls (varies) – Sometimes it feels like you’re trekking through Middle Earth when you explore the trails and waterfalls in the Gorge to the east of Portland. Horsetail Falls, Oneonta Falls, Angel’s Rest, Dog Mountain, and Coyote Wall/Catherine Creek are among a few to try. Many of the trails are short enough that you can do multiple hikes in a day and see the waterfalls along the Gorge. For example, go out McCord Creek and you can take a marked fork to visit Elowah Falls. For those who don’t want to hike, just driving I-84/Highway 30 you can see a number of waterfalls and include a stop at the famous (but usually crowded) Multnomah Falls (seen below looking a bit like Rivendell).


Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum (1.5 hours) – Takes an interactive approach to showcasing both the natural and cultural richness of the Gorge and Wasco County. Outside of the museum you’ll find walking trails and scenic overlooks.

Maryhill Museum of Art (2 hours) – Including both Native American and 20th century European art, there is also a sculpture garden and the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden. There is a lot packed into the museum so I recommend going to the site for a full picture of what you’ll find.


The Coast


Coastal Nature Areas (varies) -There are plenty of short, close-in hikes along the Oregon coast to explore. Cape Lookout State Park offers a variety of trails, picnic areas and beach access. If you enjoy a good tide pool, take a look at the Oregon Tidepools Map for locations and tips on visiting. Saddle Mountain, on the way to the coast, offers a view of the ocean to those who reach the top. The Siuslaw National Forest stretches along much of the Oregon coast and their website allows you to search by area to find hiking, day use areas, and scenic drives.

North Lincoln County Historical Museum (2 hours) – Among the museum’s exhibits is a permanent display about the long-gone amusement park Pixieland. While in Lincoln City there are secondhand book stores and antique malls to peruse, and tasty restaurants including The Sea Hag.

Tillamook Cheese Factory (1.5 hours) – Like cheese? Then you’ve probably heard of Tillamook. On a visit to the factory you can get a scoop of ice cream, tour the factory, and sample cheese to your heart’s content. Next door is Blue Heron if you haven’t had your fill of dairy (they also have tasty clam chowder).pic9

Astoria (2 hours) – There is a ton to do in this small town. Museums, restaurants, the Astoria Column, a riverfront trolley, the Garden of the Surging Waves and (of course) the Goonies house. You can spend days exploring the town and surrounding area, but it’s close enough to take a short jaunt up to see some of the points of interest. The Columbian Café is one of the best places to eat in town.

Manzanita (2 hours) – This is my favorite coastal town and a great place to get a cute close-to-the-beach rental. If you’re just there for the day be sure to visit the Nehalem Valley Historical Society, get a bite to eat in any of the town’s fantastic restaurants, and trek along the beach or through the nearby Nehalem State Park.


Gwen Amsbury is an Archives and Records Management Specialist at the City of Portland Archives and Records Center. Currently Gwen is serving as Secretary and Membership Coordinator for Northwest Archivists, Inc.  She spends her spare time reading, metalworking, and searching for abandoned amusement parks.