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Portland Building could find a place in history

State panel might nominate Michael Graves' 1982 building to the National Register of Historic Places
by: Tribune file photo The 1982 Portland Building designed by Michael Graves could be nominated next week to the National Register of Historic Places. The building is considered a top example of post-Modernism architecture.

Is the 29-year-old Portland Building a landmark worthy of a place in national history?

That's the question the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will answer next week when it meets at Salem's Mission Mill Museum. The Portland Building is one of eight properties across the state considered by the committee June 9 and 10 for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Proponents of the nomination say architect Michael Graves' 1982 unusual vision is one of the first examples of post-Modernism design completed in a major city. They also say the structure should be considered an example of a high-profile building constructed in the 'post-Modern Classicism style' popular between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Nomination to the national register would ensure a place in history for the Portland Building - also known as the Portland Public Service Building. If the state committee agrees to nominate the building, it could take several months before the building is listed on the National Park Service's historic register.

Before the building can be nominated to the national register, however, it must overcome a hurdle in criteria, which usually limits the honor to properties that have been around for more than 50 years. A nomination report by Kristen Minor of Portland's Peter Meijer Architect firm says the relatively young building should still be considered for the honor because 'it is exceptionally important as one of the first physical manifestations of a new architectural style coming on the heels of the Modern movement.'

It also was one of the first design-build projects in the nation, constructed by a joint venture between Portland's Hoffman Construction Co. and Pavarini Construction Co. of Greenwich, Conn.

Graves' first vision

The Portland Building was Graves' first major architectural commission, coming after an April 1979 city design contest to construct a new public building on a Southwest Fifth Avenue block next to City Hall. Eleven design-build teams answered the city's request for proposals for the new building. Those were whittled to three, and the Graves-designed building was selected.

Portlandia statueRaymond Kaskey's Portlandia statue was added to the Portland Building in 1985, completing Michael Graves' design. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

Graves was a Princeton professor who had designed small projects up to that point - mostly residential buildings - before coming up with the 'jolt of color' that eventually became the Portland Building. Graves' design included a colorful façade and sculptor Raymond Kaskey's three-story Portlandia statue, which was installed in 1985.

The 15-story, 362,422-square-foot building was constructed for $28.9 million using bright green tile and off-white stucco exterior with mirrored glass, an earth-toned terracotta tile and a sky-blue penthouse. Graves also designed the building's interior lobby and second-floor public spaces. Portland's Zimmer Gunsul Frasca architecture firm designed the city office space.

Graves' unusual design touched off an uproar of criticism among the public and architects. After some minor tweaking on the design, the city broke ground in July 1980 and completed construction by October 1982.

Since then, Graves has gone on to design several major buildings across the nation. He also has earned national awards for his architectural designs and education.

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