Restoration of Portland landmark continues

Bremik Construction works to return Ladd Carriage House to its former glory

By Justin Carinci

The Ladd Carriage House has been a stable presence on Southwest Broadway Avenue in downtown Portland since 1883. Except for that one time it strayed.

In 2007, the historic building was moved a few blocks away during construction of the Ladd Tower. The carriage house – all 534,000 pounds of it – returned last October and is now being restored.

The old house is home, said Paul Falsetto with Carleton Hart Architecture, “albeit five feet north and five feet west of where it was.”

The house now sits atop a four-story underground parking garage. And although the brief move caused it to lose its historic status, the Historic Landmarks Commission approved the rehabilitation last summer.

Troutdale-based general contractor Bremik Construction gave a tour of the work site on Thursday afternoon. While safety required some period-inappropriate touches, such as steel supports, history calls for preserving everything within reason, said superintendent Sean Cowan.

That means taking pains to support a chimney that was left hovering on the third floor, long ago disconnected from its base. “That was kind of uncomfortable at times,” Cowan said of working near the unsupported structure.

Other touches include preserving the tongue-and-groove bead board on the first-floor ceiling. “It just adds more of the charm of the building,” Cowan said. “It tells its story.”

Outside, much of the wood paneling has deteriorated over time. The north side was rebuilt in the 1960s, and Bremik is modeling new construction pieces after ones that have survived.

“I was impressed that, when Bremik had the subs take the paint off, we had pretty good wood underneath,” Falsetto said.

Upstairs, the building’s original trusses frame the grand hayloft. The area’s adequate ventilation probably eliminated the need for a large opening between the hayloft and first floor, Falsetto said. “They could keep the lower area heated for the horses.”

The carriage house was more than a barn, of course. William S. Ladd’s coachman and gardener also lived in the building, said Brandon Spencer, a member of Friends of the Ladd Carriage House. Ladd himself likely had a studio in the carriage house that looked out at his mansion.

Today, the carriage house is nestled on a block with the shiny new Ladd tower, looking out on The Oregonian building. When the protective plastic sheeting comes off this spring, the house will cut a stark contrast between past and present building styles.

Exactly what style the carriage house represents is a topic of debate among the historical preservationists. Most likely, its English architect was inspired by the Queen Anne stick style and other architecture popular in his home country, Spencer said.

“We struggle with what to call it,” he said. “Because it’s a hybrid of styles, all bets are off.”