Garden Home facility to double space for special events

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Construction has begun on Oleson Road for the new Scandinavian Heritage Foundatrion Cultural Center in Garden Home.Those used to seeing the old cottage housing the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation headquarters on Southwest Oleson Road may be alarmed by the vacant lot and construction equipment that recently took its place.

Appreciators of history and heritage, never fear. While the 1930s-era cottage was razed on Aug. 14, the organization focused on the Nordic nations of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden is keeping the space to further its near 30-year mission. While some will miss the cottage’s rustic charms, foundation leaders are certain the multifaceted culture center set to replace it by next spring will provide a long-term asset for the entire community.

“It’s a great project,” says Greg Smith, the foundation’s recently appointed executive director. “We are incredibly energized by the whole idea and what is possible.”

The 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose cultural center being built on the Oleson Road property will house the nonprofit foundation’s offices, along with room for meetings, activities, and historical exhibits and documents. Projected to open by June 2015, the cultural center will, according to a foundation statement, serve to celebrate contributions of Scandinavians and Scandinavian-Americans “to the fields of art, music, science, literature, history and social development in the Western world” and serve as a regional educational resource.

Along with newly landscaped gardens and grounds, the center will be available for Nordic organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as by local businesses and civic organizations.

“We will open our doors to the public for music, theater, film and educational opportunities and historical exhibits,” Smith says. “It’s going to be a very busy place and a very happy place.”

While construction is underway, the foundation operates in temporary offices in Tigard at 9370 S.W. Greenburg Road, suite 321, in The Commons medical office complex.

The $4 million project, which will double the space provided by the cottage, has been on the heritage foundation’s radar for several years. A recent matching contribution challenge toward the capital campaign hastened the cottage’s demolition and groundbreaking on the new building.

“The groundbreaking came very suddenly,” Smith says, noting the momentum created when the foundation’s board of directors chairman put forth a $150,000 contribution. “The rest of the board rallied and matched it.”

The annual Scandinavian Feast fundraising event, which includes a dinner and auction, will take place on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Tigard Embassy Suites on Southwest Hall Boulevard.

Cindy Eldkrona, the foundation’s new development director, says it’s well past time for a new facility.

“That poor cottage, there were a lot of problems with it,” she says. “It suffered from being too crowded with stuff, along with termites, ants, mice and everything else. I think it was just too old. It was time for it to go down.”

Founded in 1986, the nonprofit Scandinavian Heritage Foundation seeks to serve as a Northwestern catalyst for preserving traditions and culture while celebrating modern Scandinavian life, culture and business. Foundation surveys indicate 500,000 Pacific Northwest residents have family roots in Nordic countries.

“Our current membership is about 1,000,” Smith says, adding the foundation is the only one of its kind in the Portland area. “We anticipate it will grow dramatically once the site is open.”

“Groundbreaking” on the cultural center actually happened more than a decade ago, when the foundation purchased the Oleson Road site, with next-door neighbor donating an acre.

“Members of the Founders Club each gave $1,000,” Eldkrona says, “and raised $160,000 to buy the land. They’ve been working since then to raise money to build the cultural center.”

Redeveloping the property in a way that makes outdoor spaces useable while also protecting natural wetlands, longtime members as well as new visitors will enjoy a whole new experience by next spring.

“Once the full site is developed, we’ll be able to use the gardens and the meadow behind the building as well as the building itself,” Smith says. “It will add another dimension to what we’re doing.”

What to call the new cultural center has not been set in stone.

“It’s historically been referred to as the Scandinavian-American Cultural and Community Center, but to better represent the breadth and focus of the Nordic American heritage, “The Nordic Center would be more appropriate,” Smith says. “We’re still working on that.”

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