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Lost Landmarks exhibit seeks to keep historic homes

by: Cliff Newell, Nancy Headlee — director of the Oswego Heritage House — and Marylou Colver, director of the Lake Oswego Historic Home Tour, stand near a display outlining how residents can preserve history.

Beauty, historical significance or even a spot in the National Register of Historic Places is no guarantee that a building will not be torn down and demolished forever.

That is why Marylou Colver is taking a do-it-yourself approach to preserving historic buildings in Lake Oswego, and one of those ways is the Lost Landmarks exhibit now at the Oswego Heritage House.

'We want to focus our community on preserving our architectural heritage,' Colver said. 'I saw what the National Trust for Historic Preservation is doing, but I wanted to take it a step further. With this exhibit, I wanted to explain the significance of the homes that have been lost.'

Colver has great stock in this project. Not only is she the director of the Lake Oswego Historic Home Tour, but she is also chairperson of the board on the Oswego Heritage Council.

Still, anyone with a spark of interest in the history of this community will experience a sense of loss when viewing the photos in the exhibit and seeing the designation beside them in red: Lost.

Lake Oswego is historic and was founded nine years before Oregon became a state.

'Lake Oswego has a lot of history that people don't realize,' Colver said. 'People think of Lake Oswego as new and glitzy, but it was platted in 1850.'

Why do people tear down beautiful historic buildings?

'Because they can,' Colver said. 'Because they own it.'

'Some people move here and they have no connection to the community,' said Nancy Headlee, director of the Oswego Heritage House. 'All they see is an old house. It doesn't matter if the houses were big or not. One of them was 5,000 square feet.'

So, the walls at the Heritage House now display about 15 photos and histories of houses that no longer exist.

Still, Lost Landmarks is sobering but not sad. That is because some of the great structures of the past are being preserved. These get the designation 'Saved' in blue indicated on the exhibit panels.

'We have some success stories,' Colver said, 'including this one (the Oswego Heritage House). It's not all depressing. There's also the Miner's Cottage and the Worthington House.'

After all, the Oswego Heritage Council was started in 1970 because the late Mary Goodall, a civic activist, tried to preserve the Irving House - the 1877 mansion built by soap tycoon Robert James Irving. It was considered the finest example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in Oregon. But Goodall's effort failed, and the Irving House is now the site of the Mountain Park Shopping Center. However, it was a milestone for historic preservation in Lake Oswego.

The Lost Landmarks exhibit came about through the work of Colver, Erin O'Rourke-Meadors, Corinna Campbell Sack and Suzanna Campbell Kuo - touring the city, gathering the photos, writing history and designing the exhibit.

Their objective with the exhibit is to get historic homes placed on the City of Lake Oswego's Landmark Designation List, because it decreases the chances they will be torn down, they said.

'That is why it is so important to get homes on the city list,' Colver said. 'That's why we have the (historic home) tour every year.'

'That is what gives the tour its purpose,' Headlee said. 'It changes the homeowner's or the public's view. There have been 20 plaques put up. Maybe it stops, or makes people pause, from tearing down these buildings.'

The exhibit concludes with a 'Take Action' panel which offers suggestions on what people can do to help; things like putting their own home on the city's Landmarks Designation List.

The Lost Landmarks exhibit will continue at the Oswego Heritage House through at least October.

For more information, go to the Web site www.oswegoheritage.org under the 'Exhibits' category.

The Oswego Heritage House is located at 398 10th St. in Lake Oswego.