Architect: Whidden & Lewis/renovation: SERA Architects, 1895; remodel 1998
"The urns of fate from
which destiny flows."
That is not a description of a milk bucket by a self-important dairy rancher. Rather, it is a newspaper description of the roof corner ornamentation of Portland's City Hall. This is a handsome gray and pink four-story building executed in a style known as Renaissance Revival. Architect Peter Meijer has noted that no other public buildings in Portland can boast of the palette of materials that City Hall contains. As for the decorative four-foot urns on the roof, they are lightweight replicas of the original solid limestone ones, which were deemed too dangerous to passers-by and replaced during the remodel of the building.
City Hall actually sits upon a site that was prepared for a differently designed seat of city government. In 1892, ground was broken on this site for a city hall building designed by Henry Hefty; its plans included a 200-foot bell-tower, or campanile within what historian Donald R. Nelson called a "Kremlin-like structure." When Whidden and Lewis eventually got the commission, they planned a domed cupola or even a clock tower on the building. Although these were considered too gauche and expensive to build in the 1890s, they would have given City Hall a physical presence that would serve it in good stead now.
Upon its opening, thirty-four employees worked here. In order to use all of the building, the Oregon Historical Society had exhibits on the top floor. In 1936, one of the great outrages in city history occurred when Portland's stuffed-animal museum was removed from these premises.
When City Hall was constructed, it had one of the state's first steel frames. There are nice column cornice decorations and balustrades at the top of the building, and a rotunda for coach drop-offs is supported by paired Scottish Aberdeen granite columns on the west side. The entrance on Fourth Avenue shows the original scagliola-faced columns on the interior, lurking behind newer ones; these exterior column shafts have an interesting design. A courtyard was once located on this side of this building.
* God Save the Queen's Caboose: While Bud Clark is usually thought of as Portland's bawdiest mayor, let's not forget George "the kissing mayor" Baker (served 1917-1933). He once scandalized visiting dignitaries when he gave the Queen of Romania an affectionate pat on her callipygian hindquarters.
After the building had slipped into a sad state, a brilliant two-year remodel began in 1996. Most of the funds were spent on the steel frame structure and elevators, and fireproofing and safety measures. (Ironically, after the successful and expensive renovation, the city was fined $1,170 by OSHA for having an overly low balcony railing on the second floor.) In a "sustainability" move years ahead of its time, 90 percent of the construction waste avoided being dumped in a landfill. The refurbishing of building features included work on the marble floors and wrought iron frames on the elevator shafts. The restoration of the original four-story atrium courts was particularly noteworthy. The glazed white tile is mostly original, having been covered up in the 1930s during an earlier remodel.
* City Hall's rotunda on SW Fourth Avenue shows the marks where a 120-foot construction crane crashed down just after the renovation had begun.
Across the street from City Hall and to the east is Terry Schrunk Plaza, the former site of flop houses and a parking lot. Its namesake is a former mayor who was accused of accepting bribes and perjury the same year he was elected (1956). His trial featured the testimony of Robert F. Kennedy; Schrunk went on to serve sixteen years in four consecutive terms as mayor.
The 22-foot-high rock in the plaza's northwest corner is from China's Lake Tai, a gift from the Chinese government. There was some controversy as to its placement. Various branches of city government went into evasive maneuvers, intent on avoiding responsibility for the abstractly shaped limestone in a process called "passing the stone."Less Text