a.k.a. Portland Armory Building, the First Regiment Armory
Architect: McCaw & Martin/remodel: GBD
Architects, 1891; remodel 2006
This fortress (complete with arrow loops and turrets) was originally built as an annex, adding more room to Portland's First Regiment of the National Guard. The tradition in the 19th century was to make armories look classically military in style, and this one adheres to that tradition with what John Terry called its "ersatz medievalness." It's a pretty substantial building, considering it was financed with $32,000; nowadays, that wouldn't even cover the down payment on a condo at the Henry next door.
Generations of Portlanders have passed beneath the Armory's arched entrances for a bewildering variety of events over the years. With a mezzanine gallery space that could seat five thousand, the huge, cathedral-like space (supported by nine 100-foot trusses) has hosted tennis matches, Portland State University basketball games, and professional wrestling. A number of notable politicians have delivered speeches here, including several 20-century presidents; more importantly, James Brown put on a live show here in 1965.
The Blitz-Weinhard brewery purchased the Armory in 1968 and used it as a keg and bottle warehouse. (The arch on the 11th Avenue side was demolished to make way for beer trucks.) In 1999, the building was included as part of the five-block Brewery Blocks deal. The problem that faced its developers was, what do you do with a 20,000-square-foot fortress? Jousting tournaments were considered, but it was thought that liberal do-gooders would quash the notion.
Through a labyrinthine series of events, the Armory ended up being converted to a "green building" with a $36 million retrofit, rehabilitation, and redesign. The project began with the interior being excavated 30 feet below its foundation. (That's deep.) Then, like the A. B. Smith Automotive Building two blocks to the west, a modern structure was essentially built inside the existing shell, a process likened to "building a ship in a bottle." By using the latest advances in sustainable design, this building earned a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. That means it met the highest federal standards for energy efficiency and environmentally responsible materials. This is a rare accomplishment for any building; it was unprecedented for a historically designated one.
Fun new features include employee offices tucked into the Theater's roof with their own skylights and a 12,000-gallon cistern fed by the rainwater-collection system. The California firm Landry & Bogan designed the theater itself. Ed Schlossberg (hubby to Caroline Kennedy) was brought in to consult on the interactive nature of the theater and the attractive public lobby. From here, one can see the steel rods that strengthen the old trusses, the new corrugated metal roof, and one of the more creative chandeliers seen in recent memory. (And happily, the building was cleansed of its crummy 1970s whitewash.)
Looking at the Gerding Theater today can inspire pride in even the most jaded old-timer. Portland preserved one of its genuinely historic buildings, made it highly environmentally efficient, and kept it accessible to the community. All parties involved should take a victory lap.
* The north side of the theater has a unique "sliver park" (Murase Associates) composed of a water feature and small bioswales.Less Text