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Historic Lake Oswego home faces uncertain future

The modernist house, designed by Pietro Belluschi, is scheduled for demolition
by: Vern Uyetake, Tim Mather sits in a home designed by noted modernist architect Pietro Belluschi. The 1950 home is slated for demolition in two weeks. Mather and other historic home supporters are hoping to save the house.

A group of history buffs is working to save a modernist house on Pine Valley Road designed by noted architect Pietro Belluschi.

The house was built in 1950, designed for a Lake Oswego family. Belluschi is known for his design of the Portland Art Museum, the Central Lutheran Church in Portland and other commercial and residential buildings in Oregon.

Late in his career, Belluschi became dean of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is said to have designed more than 1,000 buildings in 50 years in practice, beginning in the 1920s, according to online sources.

Local preservationists say few of Belluschi's residential designs remain. The Lake Oswego house is slated to be torn down if a new owner can't be found.

Developer George Hale, who owns the house, has had it listed for sale for about a year and is working with history fans to preserve it. Hale is offering to donate the structure to anyone who wants to move and preserve it. The clock is ticking, however, and the home is scheduled for demolition in two weeks if plans to move it aren't in place.

'The house is going to be removed because it's got a lot of dry rot and it needs to be restored,' said Tim Mather, who is working to save the house with a consortium of historic preservationists.

'The house is in such disrepair that it would need to be moved to reconstruct it,' he said, particularly because radiant heat tubing below its floor, as well as its roof, needs extensive repair.

Mather is a member of the Historic Resources Advisory Board, which develops code and manages a landmark designation program for the city of Lake Oswego. His preservationist colleagues include other HRAB members, Tia Ross and Kasey Brooks Holwerda, to name two.

City sources are careful to say the group's work to preserve the Belluschi home is outside the purview of their scope as a city committee.

The historians learned of the home's impending demolition through word of mouth about nine days ago. They developed a favorable rapport with Hale and have held open houses, including one set for today from 2 to 4 p.m., to attract a new owner.

'(Hale) has been very gracious and would like to see the home preserved,' said Ross.

The approximately 2,000-square-foot home has a simple but elegant modernist interior made famous by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright but played out with more subtlety in Belluschi homes.

It has cork floors throughout, folding doors between bedrooms, and straight, modernist eaves that have a less-flamboyant look than Wright's designs.

The house has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and two fireplaces inside. Today, it is nestled in mature trees just off Iron Mountain Boulevard, a site supporters believe once offered it a view of Oswego Lake.

A brick fireplace anchors the house's design, serving as a centerpiece in the living room. The fireplace accents adjacent maple cabinets. Together, they act both as a room divider and the wall of an anterior kitchen. Sliding glass windows add mid-century flair to the cabinets and allow a view from the kitchen into the home's living room.

'This is a whole sculptural element in the middle of the room,' said Mather.

He pointed to similar elements throughout the house, including hemlock paneling, glass accents and beamed ceilings. In the kitchen, counters are covered with the original linoleum, which curves up the backsplash. A den includes built-in, utilitarian shelving.

'The original owner who hired Pietro Belluschi to design this lived in the house up until last year, so it never was remodeled,' said Mather. 'So this is a very unique home because it's all the original materials and surfaces.'

'The owner has been very gracious because (he) would like to see the home preserved,' he continued.

Ross has worked to locate the original building plans to aid a new owner with remodeling it.

Those who support a remodel say Lake Oswego has few modernist homes on its voluntary Landmark Designation List. Through the program, awards and plaques are used to generate interest and accolades for preservation.

'The historical significance (of modernist homes) has just recently come of age,' Mather said.

He said local fans of the Belluschi home face obstacles to find a new owner: Chiefly the cost of needed repairs and a small circle of enthusiasm surrounding the newly valued modernist homes.

Mather said so far several people have shown interest in the house - 25 turned out to a first open house - but none yet have put the money together for the move. The group has two weeks remaining to place the home with a new owner.