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Oak Hills makes history

Community lands on National Register of Historic Places


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Brent Gant and his daughter Taylor take a walk through one of Oak Hills' neighborhood parks with Shasta. The neighborhood has been recognized as a historical development ahead of its time.The Oak Hills Historic District, an early experiment of the late 1960s in planned communities in Oregon, is the state’s newest addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Oak Hills community set precedents for implementing self-governance in suburban developments through homeowner associations, progressive master planning and flexible land-use codes and regulations in Washington County.

By making the list, homeowners who opt in to the district could be eligible for limited tax breaks and other benefits.

Oak Hills includes nearly 650 single-family and townhouse properties and is a mix of mid-century modern homes, open areas and recreational space, with trails and pedestrian paths throughout, extensive landscaping and a widely-used cluster of community buildings in 240 acres.

“Oak Hills epitomizes the best in post-war development, emphasizing varying residential densities, mixed uses, the incorporation of open space and land conservation,” says Diana Painter, National Register coordinator for the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

Interns and staff from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office helped the Oak Hills Homeowners Association survey the district’s historic resources. The survey results led to the preparation of the National Register nomination, which was spearheaded by Darla Castagno of the homeowners association.

Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation recommended the district’s nomination at its February meeting. The nomination was based on the community’s example as one of the first master-planned developments in the region. Its cluster development of open spaces and neighborhoods was done nine years ahead of when Washington County wrote its planned-unit development ordinance.

The community also includes some of the earliest examples of Federal Housing Administration-approved townhouses in Oregon.

Oak Hills is the area bounded by Northwest West Union Road to the north, 143rd Avenue to the east, Bethany Boulevard to the west and Cornell Road to the south. The community is home to an elementary school, a church, a recreation center and two parks.

Most of the homes were constructed between 1965 and 1974. A cluster of five lots was developed in 1978. Another 27 lots were developed between 1994 and 1995.

According to a 27-page nomination report by Portland’s URS Corp., Oak Hills is one of the state’s earliest examples of a master-planned 1960s community that tried to avoid “ticky-tacky” suburban development.

“With its ‘village’ design concept that joined single- and multifamily residences, as well as religious, educational and recreational facilities into a cohesive whole, Oak Hills sought to address many of the negative environmental and social externalities of post-World War II housing developments,” according to the nomination report. “As an early example of an (homeowner association)-governed development, Oak Hills set an important precedent that was replicated elsewhere in the Portland area after 1966.”

Oak Hills is now one of youngest post-war mid-century modern residential districts listed in the National Register, which is maintained by the National Park Service under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

More information about the National Register and recent Oregon listings is online at oregonheritage.org (click on “National Register”).by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pathways and trails dot the landscape of the Oak Hills neighborhood.