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Stumptown Stumper

by: COURTESY OF FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, In the old days before the pigeon droppings were nearly knee-deep, the church’s tallest tower wasn’t so lonely.

Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.

Q: The First Congregational Church on Southwest Park Avenue used to have not just one, but two other, 100-foot towers. What happened to them?

A: Scratch that - the historic Venetian Gothic church, which was completed in 1895, originally had four towers in all.

Jan Gibson, the church historian, said all but one of the towers and the 175-foot bell tower have been gone since 1951, when they were sadly demolished due to concerns about their condition.

The smaller towers had deteriorated from age, weather and pigeon droppings, she said. The metalwork was so badly decomposed it couldn't be painted, and the church officers feared the weather would rot the wooden timbers, letting water in. They decided to remove the smaller towers and the cupola.

When the demolition began, she said, the church officers found an unpleasant surprise: layers of pigeon droppings that were 16 inches deep. It was enough to fill 75 sacks, all of which had to be carried down the ladders in the building to the street below.

Hmm, we wonder, could the remnants have been a token from the church's designer, Swiss-born architect Henry J. Hefty, who modeled it on the grand Old South Church in Boston?

That wasn't the extent of the damage to the church. The remaining tower suffered extensively in the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, causing about $46,000 in damage.

Gibson said some of the ornamental woodwork and a Gothic arch were destroyed, and supporting beams and timbers split in the high winds.

The next year, however, the church installed an elevator from the south entrance to the sanctuary level, making it disabled-accessible and more convenient to get around.

More repairs were made in 1991 after an architectural study by the Coos Bay-based Crow/Clay and Associates firm.

According to Gibson, the firm reported that the tower was 'in generally good condition considering it is more than 100 years old,' but it needed some repair in order to keep it solid and secure.

Next week's Stumper: What makes the city's left-turn lane signal lights recognize that a car or bike is waiting to turn?

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