'Love and care' guide Sovereign Building, mural renovation
The historic Sovereign Hotel unveiled the stunning product of its mural facelift this Saturday, May 20, which artists had been working on for the last four months.
The building, erected in 1923, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and noted for its artwork on multiple sides of the building. It was considered the city's first skyscraper.
The unveiling took place following the Oregon Historical Society's 2017 annual members meeting, where the artists, historical society members and others gathered and watched a documentary about the renovations and mural completion.
The 14,000-square-foot mural was originally commissioned by the Oregon Historical Society in 1989 and on the west side depicts four, 30-foot-high participants of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and on the south side a trompe l'oil freize of the Oregon Trail, and the John Jacob Astor fur trade, staples of Oregon history.
The building, at 710 S.W. Madison St., was originally donated to the historical society so they could further their work, but it wasn't seamless to walk from the main building to the hotel. It did house exhibit space and offices, while the rest of the building housed around 30 apartment units. The society no longer felt it was a part of its mission to act as a landlord, having nothing to do with history, and it wasn't up to the task to do the much-needed deferred maintenance that would have put a large dent in its funds. Oregon Historical Society sold the building in 2014 to 1922 Sovereign LLC.
The hotel needed seismic upgrades and other serious work that would have damaged the original mural. Part of the sale agreement to make sure the mural would be restored.
"They have provided all the love and care and refurbishment and seismic upgrades it needed," said Kerry Tymchuk, director of the Oregon Historical Society. "This is such an iconic Portland landmark. (The mural) looks like it's 3D, it's done so creatively. It captures great scenes in Oregon history."
The building will remain as apartment buildings in the upper floors, while there is an art gallery on the first floor. Caffe Umbria will open a new location there in June.
Dan Cohen, a Portland-based muralist, was selected to spearhead the Sovereign's mural restoration. He's known for completing murals on buildings in major cities, including advertisements for movies. Locally, Cohen's known for the massive, football-field sized mural on the side of the Portland Memorial Mausoleum that depicts waterfowl, hawks, an osprey and a 65-foot blue heron.
Richard Haas, who flew in from New York to see the mural on Saturday, completed the original mural on the Sovereign Hotel in 1989. He approved of Cohen's restoration, which was completely redone. Cohen and his team used digital photographs of the original work to redo the mural.
"I think it's fantastic, I can't say enough about how well it was done," said Haas. "It's not an easy one. It's got its nooks and crannies and complications."
Cohen said that apart from "a couple tweaks here and there" that it's exactly the same.
"I made a concerted effort to make sure it was as close to the original vision as I could," Cohen said. "I think that's part of the fun of restoration work, is trying to understand how another artist thinks and trying to be as true to that vision as possible."
At its members meeting, the Oregon Historical Society announced its first capital campaign in a decade, seeking $12.7 million for new projects and renovations over the next three years. It will build new permanent exhibition, develop a digital vault so that people may access their collections and documents remotely, and has plans to renovate its research library.