Citing safety concerns, city set to deconstruct Field's Bridge farmhouse

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Constructed between 1890 and 1910, the Field's Bridge farmhouse is one of the oldest buildings in West Linn. The city says it has also become dangerous and plans to tear it down next month. In March of 1984, the historic Field’s Bridge farmhouse at 50 SW Borland Road was thought to be in “good” condition.

A Clackamas County Cultural Resource Survey made that determination after formally evaluating the property, which was estimated to have been built between 1890 and 1910. When the survey was conducted, the classic two-story Victorian house had recently been annexed into West Linn, but was still years away from becoming city property. The windows and white paint job were intact, the Doric porch columns still standing strong.

Just west of the farmhouse, the Tualatin River rose and fell with the rain.

• • •

The home surveyed in 1984 is nearly unrecognizable now. A lack of upkeep as well as weather damage and the simple passage of time ensured that.

Last September, West Linn City Manager Chris Jordan said, “I think the big bad wolf taking a blow at (the house) would bring it down.”

City Councilor Mike Jones worried that children might be hurt if they went to play in the house.

With those safety concerns in mind, the city decided to begin deconstructing the Field’s Bridge farmhouse next month. The plan, according to Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester, is to install a park shelter in the home’s place, with a similar roofline and perhaps some of the farmhouse’s original materials. Interpretive panels detailing the house’s history will also be placed at the property.

“That’s the plan,” Worcester said. “But we don’t know if it will work out yet.”

Though Worcester said he has heard from a number of residents who said, “It’s about time,” at least one resident has misgivings about the process. Danny Schreiber, a member of the newly created West Linn Historical Society, thinks the farmhouse has more than enough historic significance to merit saving.

“I hate to see it go,” Schreiber said. “Once you lose a piece of history, you can’t bring it back. You can’t save everything, but when we have a chance, we should at least have a conversation about it.”

• • •

In the city’s eyes, the time for conversation has come and gone.

Since the city of West Linn acquired it in late 2001, no one has lived in the farmhouse. The parks and recreation department started plans to build Field’s Bridge Park in 2002, and from that point on the house’s future became a nagging question.

“At that time, the house was pretty well dilapidated from the flood of 1996 and other events,” Worcester said. “Neighbors who worked on the park said the house wasn’t a good fit for the park.”

But Worcester and other park planners decided not to bring the house down at that time, for fear of disrupting the park construction process.

In 2007, the city put out a request for proposals in search of anyone who might want to revitalize the home.

“We sent them out to the neighborhood associations,” Worcester said, “to see if there was any last-ditch effort, if anyone wanted to utilize the house or move it — some kind of project other than something that would cost the city a ton of money.”

The city received three proposals, but Worcester said each centered around revitalizing the house to be lived in, which the city was not interested in pursuing.

“But that was (almost) a decade ago,” Schreiber said. “Things have changed since then.”

Schreiber, who himself lives in a historic 100-year-old home in the Willamette neighborhood, believes that the Field’s Bridge farmhouse would fetch a “pretty good amount of money” on the open market.

“We have had houses in the neighborhood that people have spent millions to renovate,” Schreiber said. “Old homes do good for the value of the community.”

• • •

When Worcester looks at the house, he doesn’t see much room for opportunity. What he does see is a second floor that can’t be accessed due to fire damage; broken windows left and right; overgrown vines running up the outside walls.

The city bought the property for its park land, not the farmhouse, and Worcester thinks the house has overstayed its welcome.

“You’ve been watching this house rot for all these 17 years — why would you just bring this up?” Worcester said. “If there was a great swell of community support, it probably should have happened a long time ago. We tried to dig that up, and it didn’t happen.”

And even if there was more support, Worcester said the financial burden of fixing the house would outweigh any potential benefits. “It becomes cost prohibitive for what use it would have generated,” Worcester said.

• • •

Schreiber, for his part, thinks the property was in good condition before the city acquired it, and it has only fallen apart in recent years due to lack of care.

“It’s probably very dangerous,” Schreiber said. “But then again, they’ve left it completely exposed to nature. There was never any attempt to restore it. It would make a very cute community center or an office of some kind.”

Schreiber points to the Fanno Farmhouse in Beaverton as an example of what could be done at the Field’s Bridge home.

“It was horrible, abandoned,” Schreiber said. “But that city decided to save it. Now they use it as a community center, and there’s no way that house was in any better condition than Field’s Bridge.”

As part of the deconstruction process, the city was required to work with the State Historic Preservation Office to determine the farmhouse’s significance. According to state historian Ian Johnson, the farmhouse was indeed eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but ultimately the city could decide what to do with it.

“The value judgment is made at a local level,” Johnson said. “Under state law, we don’t have enforcement authority.”

In its research while preparing documentation for SHPO, the city found that the farmhouse was located near the Willamette Falls Railway and was likely associated with early agricultural and industrial development in West Linn, Oregon City and Lake Oswego.

Associate City Planner Sara Javoronok works specifically with historic properties, and said she has examined the Field’s Bridge farmhouse as a potential historic site.

“I generally encourage both the city and private property owners to maintain and rehabilitate their properties rather than tear them down,” Javoronok said. She also noted, however, that “from what I understand, the cost to restore the house would be significant.”

“It would take a lot to save it,” Schreiber said. “But our city — we spend a lot. It depends on where we want to pool our resources.”

By Patrick Malee
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