Preservation Spotlight–Old Town Historic District

By RICK MICHAELSON

Portland’s Skidmore Old Town Historic District is an irregularly shaped area hounded by Second and Third Avenues on the west, Davis Street to the north, the Willamette River on the east, and Oak and Pine Streets to the south. This is where Portland’s mercantile life began, and the district contains a significant number of buildings from the 1850’s to 1920’s, including one of the largest collections of Cast Iron storefront buildings in the nation, which earned the district a designation as a National Register Historic District in 1975 and as a National Historic Landmark District in 1977. It was also the center of Historic Preservation and adaptive reuse of buildings during the early 1980s, creating a thriving art gallery and restaurant district. Since that time, however, other areas in the city have become more lively, and the

District has stagnated

The Portland Planning Bureau and the Portland Development Commission have sponsored a series of studies designed to promote infill redevelopment in the Skidmore Old Town Historic District while encouraging the preservation of the existing historic buildings. In 2006 the Ankeny Burnside Development Strategy was completed, and in 2007 an update to the District’s National Register Nomination was produced. The City is now in the process of implementing the recommendations of the Development Strategy by reviewing the height limits at the edges of the district, updating the district’s design guidelines, and exploring ways to use the Ladd Cast Iron Collection in Skidmore Old Town. Bosco Milligan Foundation Board President, Rick Michaelson, is a member of the project consulting team and Bosco Milligan Advisors Paul Falsetto and Bill Hawkins are serving on the Community

Working Group, advising the City in this project

Of particular interest to the BMF are the project’s efforts to find ways to reuse the Eric Ladd Cast Iron collection for which the BMF serves as custodian. PDC received a Save America’s Treasures grant to survey the collection and make recommendations for its preservation and reuse. Working under this grant, Bill Hawkins produced a 361 page report cataloguing the collection and making recommendations for its reinstallation in the Skidmore Old Town District.

Since 17% of the district’s land area is now used for surface parking, new infill development will have a prominent role in setting the character of the district. According to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, new development should be compatible with existing development while at the same time being a product of its own time, something open to wide interpretation. The role of “modern” design in this historic district is likely to lead to spirited discussions as the new design guidelines are developed.

The implementation project is examining increased height limits at a few discrete sites at the district’s edges in order to create a critical mass of residents and employees in the district and to increase property owner and developer interest in redevelopment. The additional height on these sites might be used as a potential funding source for other district improvements or as a way to reduce development pressure on existing buildings by allowing them to transfer their unused development rights to the proposed infill sites.

The project will conduct a series of meetings, briefings, and at least one public workshop during the coming months.

The schedule calls for hearings before the landmarks and planning commissions in late spring, and adoption by City Council during the summer of 2008.

For further information, visit the project web site:

www.portlandonline.com/planning/index.cfm?c= 45747