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'Old' Heathman has date with history

Former hotel may be named to National Register of Historic Places


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The original Heathman Hotel on Southwest Salmon Street near the South Park Blocks could be nominated this week to the National Register of Historic Places. The 11-story building has been converted to affordable housing. History is about to check into the “old” Heathman Hotel.

Not the “new” Heathman on Southwest Broadway, but the other — the original — Heathman Hotel a half-block away on Southwest Salmon Street.

The 11-story, 88-year-old former hotel at 723 S.W. Salmon St., which has been converted into single-room occupancy apartments, is among a dozen properties that could be nominated this week to the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel is being considered with Hanthorn Apartments on Southwest 12th Avenue as additions to a multiple property nomination known as Historic Resources in Downtown Portland 1906-1931.

The state Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will consider adding the two downtown buildings to the multiple property nomination Friday during its meeting in Independence.

Both old buildings have the history of Portland’s early boom years written deep in their brick and mortar. Both were pioneers of sorts as Portland’s downtown expanded and matured as a West Coast destination. Both also went through some hard times, being closed three decades ago because of code and safety concerns, and then reborn as affordable housing after extensive renovation and restoration work.

“We’ve done a very thoughtful and, I think, sensitive rehabilitation of the properties that I hope are listed (on the national register),” says James Winkler, a trustee with Cedar Sinai Park-Park Tower Limited Partnership, which owns the old Heathman Hotel and the Hanthorn Apartments. “There’s a great deal of history and tradition with these buildings, and I think it’s important that we make every effort we can to save them for our community.”

Built in 1926 for about $1 million, the original Heathman Hotel was billed as an 11-story fireproof building with more than 300 rooms in the heart of what was then Portland’s entertainment district. According to a national register nomination report by John M. Tess of Heritage Consulting Group in Northwest Portland, the building was part of hotelier George Heathman Jr.’s trio of South Park Blocks hotels. Heathman’s company, Heathman-Crum, also owned the Roosevelt Hotel just west of the park blocks near Salmon Street and would build the “new” Heathman Hotel at Southwest Broadway and Salmon Street a year later.

The Heathman was an elegant hotel with a dining room, storefronts and a two-story lobby. Radio station KOIN moved into the hotel’s basement two weeks after the hotel opened.

George Heathman sold the original Heathman Hotel in February for $750,000, and used the money to begin construction of the “new” Heathman Hotel less than a block away.

His original hotel was in the vanguard of Portland’s building boom in the 1920s, when more than 184 buildings were constructed downtown. The boom started shortly after the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition and continued until about 1931. At the time it was built, the Heathman Hotel was the sixth most expensive project in the city, according to Tess.

Apartment living

During the booming construction years, 38 hotels were built in downtown, including the Multnomah, the Portland, the Roosevelt and both Heathmans. Today, about 109 of the 184 buildings built in those years have been demolished. Of the original 38 hotels, 28 have been torn down, according to Tess. Of the remaining 10, only one — the new Heathman — still functions as a hotel.

In 1961, the hotel, which had fallen on hard economic times, was taken over by real estate investor Paul Haviland. He renamed it the Park Haviland and added the Aloha Room restaurant on the ground floor, built a swimming pool on the 11th floor and created the Sky Lounge bar on the upper floors.

By the mid-1970s, the Park Haviland, like other old-style downtown luxury hotels, had run into financial trouble. In the late ‘70s, the city closed the hotel because of building and fire code violations.

City Commissioner Nick Fish says the old Heathman, owned by Harold Schnitzer until 2012, had an expiring Section 8 federal housing contract, which meant low-income tenants could lose their affordable units. The city worked with Schnitzer's family after his death, Cedar Sinai Park and other community partners to preserve the affordable housing. The Schnitzer family donated the property to the Oregon Jewish Community, which sold it to nonprofit Cedar Sinai Park. The rehabilitation project preserved affordable housing units for the next 60 years, Fish says.

Winkler says the rehabilitation was the “appropriate thing” to do for the building. “I look forward to preserving this historic resource for our fellow citizens,” he says.

The same company also owns the 104-year-old Hanthorn Apartments at 1125 S.W. 12th Ave., among the first wave of residential apartment buildings constructed in Portland early in the 20th century. The six-story project, originally built by Astoria cannery owner J.O. Hanthorn, ushered in an era of downtown apartment living.

By the 1950s, the building was hit by financial woes, like other downtown apartment buildings, and by 1981, it too was closed for code and safety violations. Cedar Sinai Park acquired the property along with the old Heathman Hotel and began a restoration and modernization project that preserved it as affordable housing.

Nomination by the state advisory committee is the first step in naming the properties to the National Register of Historic Places. The process could take several months before the buildings earn the national honor, which includes some tax breaks and access to federal grants for restoration work.

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