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History takes a ride on elevator


by: KEVIN HARDEN - Oregon City's Municipal Elevator is a 751-ton concrete and steel icon on Seventh Street. It could be a national historic site if a city project can get it named to the National Register of Historic Places.More than five decades after it started carrying passengers on a 130-foot ride to the bluff above downtown, Oregon City’s Municipal Elevator could be in line for a national honor.

The elevator, built in 1955 to replace an aging and less-futuristic structure, is among three Oregon City buildings and a public site that city officials hope will be nominated this fall to the National Register of Historic Places.

by: KEVIN HARDEN - The Carnegie Library on John Adams Street has been a central part of Oregon City life for a century. The library was built with a $12,500 donation from businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who is honored with a plaque on the side of the building. The building is one of three structures and the McLoughlin Promenade that could be nominated this fall to the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the municipal elevator, the city also wants to nominate the Carnegie Library building (built in 1913), the McLoughlin Promenade (built in 1937; including the Grand Staircase and Singer Falls) and the privately owned Masonic Building on Main Street (built in 1907).

All of the buildings and the promenade have significant links to Oregon City’s early growth as a booming mill town on the Willamette River.

“They’re just the heart of what Oregon City is,” said Christina Robertson-Gardiner, a city planner working with the city Historic Review Board on the nomination process. “We’re excited to do this.”

City officials are negotiating with Olympia, Wash., architectural historian Chrisanne Beckner to write the extensive nomination forms. Six firms submitted proposals in January for the large project. The city has set aside $10,000 for the project that had been on hold for several years because of funding concerns. A state grant provided another $10,000 for the work, Robertson-Gardiner said, bringing the total to $20,000.

Once a contract is completed, Beckner expects to have a busy spring digging through local and regional historical documents to complete the extensive nomination reports. The reports, which sometimes are more than 50 pages, require well-documented histories on each building and site, and an explanation of their significance to the city.

City officials hope to have the project completed in time for the mid-October meeting of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, which approves statewide nominations to be forwarded to the national register.

Beckner has researched Oregon City’s history before, working in 2011 with Diana Painter of Painter Preservation and Planning on a survey of nearly 1,700 local properties to determine which could be eligible for listing as local and national landmarks.

That project included research on the Municipal Elevator and other downtown structures. The work and the city left an impression on Beckner.

“I admire Oregon City,” she said. “It has so much history.”

All of the buildings and the promenade are listed as Oregon City landmarks, but until now the city hasn’t tried to put them on the national history list maintained by the National Park Service. That process takes months and requires a lot of research, something the city has not been able to fund until now, Robertson-Gardiner said.

“They’re all eligible for the register,” she said. “The national register listing doesn’t do much more for them than a local listing can do.”

Listing on the National Register of Historic Places provides limited protection for older buildings, Beckner said. The listing is more of an honor for buildings and sites that have

local, state and national significance, she said.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process,” Beckner said. “It’s not something that just anyone who loves old buildings would do.”

A local icon

The elevator at the end of Seventh Street was constructed in 1954 and finished in 1955 to replace an aging 1915 wooden structure that had become unreliable. The 751-ton concrete and steel tower is the only “vertical street” in North America, connecting Seventh Street between downtown and the bluff near High Street.

The original elevator replaced a stairway of more than 700 steps that followed old trails along the bluff.

The current elevator was built using a $175,000 bond approved by voters in 1952. The original Otis elevator in the tower whisks passengers to the top in about 15 seconds. Its futuristic observation deck opens onto the McLoughlin Promenade, a concrete walkway that extends 2,300 feet along the bluff from Singer Hill to the historic McLoughlin House.

The promenade was constructed in 1937 as a federal Works Progress Administration project. It includes stone and concrete rails along the 10-foot-wide paved path. A local Kiwanis Club raised money to restore the promenade in 1972 after the walkway fell into disrepair.

Main Street Oregon City plans to project light onto the elevator tower as part of its Illuminate Oregon City art program. The project was funded through a National Endowment of the Arts grant and will shine lights on the tower sometime this year. Artists have been invited to submit plans to illuminate the elevator.

“This project is as innovative as the elevator itself,” said Cheryl Snow, director of the Clackamas County Arts Alliance.

Lloyd Purdy, director of Main Street Oregon City, said the project was a good complement to the elevator’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

“The Municipal Elevator is a purely Oregon City icon and deserves to be a focal point of public attention,” Purdy said. “What better time to celebrate the elevator’s history and cultural significance?”

Masonic Temple

Oregon City’s Carnegie Library was built in 1913 as part of Andrew Carnegie’s donation to construct libraries in most cities. Between 1881 and 1917, Carnegie donated more than $56 million to build more than 2,500 libraries around the world. Carnegie libraries were constructed in Eugene (1906), Baker (1909) and The Dalles (1910).

Carnegie offered $12,500 to the city to construct the new library if the city agreed to spend $1,250 each year in maintenance on the building. The city offered a site on John Adams Street, where the library stands today.

The Masonic Building on Main Street was built in 1907 as home for the Multnomah Lodge No. 1, which was established in 1846 and is the oldest Masonic lodge in the West. The four-story, 29,700-square-foot building was home to the lodge until it was sold in April 2012.

Members of the Masonic Temple Multnomah No. 1 used the third floor as their lodge and rented office and retail space on the other three floors.

Raymond Rendleman contributed to this story.