Portland's historic landmarks commission said proposal should be a template

The uptown area along 23rd Avenue in the Alphabet District is a fun place to go boutiquing, an expensive place to live and a nearly impossible place to add new buildings — in part because of the existing density, and in part because it's a historic district.

Allied Works Architecture's designs for a new storefront commercial building located at 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street went to its first hearing with the City of Portland's Historic Landmarks Commission in mid-March and were met with general approval although there wasn't a vote to move forward.SOURCE: CITY OF PORTLAND FILES - A rendering of the proposed four-floor building with ground floor retail, apartment flats and two-floor townhomes.

The HLC meeting was running more than an hour behind its packed schedule, but members still said some of Allied Works' design documents with colored bubbles signaling alteration alternatives should be used as a template because it was so easy to read.

The site has C2 storefront commercial zoning with a historical overlay, and currently has the Moonstruck Chocolate cart at the location.

It is located where the 110-year-old two-story wood-framed Alfred Burgard House was demolished in 2016 by the gas explosion that also damaged the other building next door at 2281 Glisan, which Allied Works originally designed for completion in 2000 and re-designed after the blast.

The 1,789 square foot site is surrounded by non-contributing historical buildings. But one block away is the 1912 Campbell Hotel and a 1902 retail shop with a house behind it that are marked as contributing historical resources.

At the HLC hearing, city staff said the building is responsive to context is terms of the massing, scale and height. As for character, staff said it needed a stronger base on the corner and a more prominent residential entryway. City staff also wanted to see a bigger juliet balcony protruding out more than the proposed 8.5 inches — for texture. They also wanted to see samples of the glazed tiles next time.

Streetcar-style inspired

As for the Allied Works designs, the four-floor building's proposed height is 45 feet — the maximum allowable.

The plans include a voluntary contribution to affordable housing, a 529 square foot retail space on the ground floor, five residential units and long-term bike parking.

The residential units include three two-floor townhomes on the top two floors with double-height space, and the second level also has two flats.

Rebekah Wood, junior architect, and Dan Koch, project architect, represented Allied Works at the meeting.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: FILE PHOTO - In October 2016, a gas explosion damaged many businesses, buildings and trees at Northwest 23rd and Glisan.

"The main goal is to design a quiet building that reflects context without mimicking it, trying to find a balance between buildings of its time and of its place," Wood said at the hearing.

She and the team focused on three contextual scales: neighborhood scale with massing of the urban pattern; materials used in the scale of the facade used in historic districts; and understanding the architectural character of the district and how to interpret it in the new building designs.

"We want to find a way to continue the active pedestrian experience along 23rd and make it active and safe for people walking," Wood said. "We looked to other buildings along the street to understand scale and orientation that would be appropriate on this site: we see footprints tend to be small and working with our pretty small site we feel that the footprint of the site fits well into the massing of this neighborhood, and also relates to the massing of residential on side streets."

Uptown, a strong sidewalk edge differentiates commercial streets from side streets, creating a sense of urban enclosure.

"Being in the historic Alphabet District, it's important that our building fits into the context and reflects the character of the neighborhood," Wood said. "We were especially inspired by the streetcar-era buildings around — the uniqueness for the Alphabet District comes from a wide range of streetcar play of materials between masonry and the beginning of the use of metal to reinforce masonry — play between long, thin metal and the simple modular of brick."

"Tile gives it a hand quality in terms of scale, gives it texture," Koch added. "We want it to feel like it's been made by hand, not a larger-scale module, and given the small size of the building we felt brick would be appropriate given its historic connection."

Allied Works' presentation included their research photos of the district's other historic facades. Flat facades were on a wide range of different architectural styles buildings. Many had metal fins or vertical or horizontal shadow lines or details (datum lines), giving depth to all styles of facades.

"Given the wide range of streetcar-era apartment buildings in the district, we were interested to discover certain threads of continuity between these buildings: certain types of facade organization, detailing, that managed to unite buildings of totally different architectural styles, cohesive to the neighborhood," Wood said.

HLC response

"We appreciate receiving this package. It was a big loss for the Alphabet District," commission Chair Kirk Ranzetta said. "It's nice to see creative solutions we haven't seen before in terms of the design of a building within this context. It's pleasing to see an opportunity here to put in an infill building with a unique design solution."

With attention to details, the commission was overall generally supportive of the direction the design is going.

"I live very close to this building, and when the blast occurred pictures in my living room fell off the wall," said commissioner Wendy Chung. "I echo that it's an inspiration for other projects and particularly very grateful that your presentation included these cute little circles showing which design criteria you were meaning, it was very helpful." SOURCE: CITY OF PORTLAND - Plans submitted to the city show the elevation of the street rising along the retail storefront, and the ground level floor plan.

She especially liked how the cornice looked old-timey and hand-crafted, but still modern.

"I enjoy modern architecture, but is it appropriate on this site?" commissioner Matthew Roman said. "Please don't take it as being negative about the design — I agree with the commissioners, I think it's a handsome design. One concern is ... window proportions, these are very tall, skinny sort of proportions."

The modern windows take advantage of filling the residential units with light in a way that historical architecture can't support, but the juliet balconies break up the long, tall window design into a shape more comparable with small old windows.

"In the next go-round, understand where rooftop mechanical will be placed, hopefully in a minimally visible area on the roof I think would complete composition of this building and make it more successful," Ranzetta said.

A letter from the Northwest District Association planning committee asked for a height modification of adding three to five feet to allow more height for the ground floor retail, to raise the retail floor line to the level of the sidewalk. It also requested additional canopies or rain protection at the south side, a stronger facade for the townhome levels on the upper two floors, and the inclusion of sidewalk extensions and pedestrian area lighting at the corner.

"When we left that meeting with the neighborhood group, honestly, we were a little surprised because they provided us with, generally they like the design, had really thoughtful comments, and not having met with them before we didn't know what to expect," Koch said. "When they offered this idea, we were actually working very hard to stay within the height limit because we thought that would be a concern with the neighbors. Since we did that, we are actually attached to it at its current height and feel scale-wise."

It has a direct relationship to the 2281 Glisan building directly east: they'll be connected at the top once finished, and Allied Works is currently working with R&H Construction to put that one up.

"We appreciate this design coming in to fill a hole, a real hole that has been left there," Ranzetta said. "The design and attention to detail is well-appreciated on this."

By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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