Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Washington Park Reservoirs

With the Portland City Council’s final decision not to further delay projects to build new reservoirs to replace the five historic open reservoirs, on the west side of the city in Washington Park a new below grade water storage tank is being planned in the general footprint of one reservoir. The second of the two reservoirs at Washington Park will be decommissioned and used for new purposes.

The implementation of underground storage tanks may still elicit a spirited discussion. And at the heart of the discussion is how to implement thoughtful change to a historic, well loved cultural resource to the rigors of rapidly evolving public safety and seismic protection mandates.

Reservoirs 3 and 4 were constructed as part of the Bull Run water system, a gravity-fed mountain watershed system built between 1894 and 1911 to provide the City of Portland with high quality drinking water. Reservoirs 3 and 4 continue to function as the city's primary water distribution source for the west side of Portland. The reservoirs have been in continuous operation for more than 100 years. They serve as a featured amenity enriching the landscape of Washington Park, one of Portland's largest and oldest parks, with vistas of open water, and period historic structures. Also due to their location on hills on the west side of the city, scenic views are afforded across the reservoir water.

As summarized in the National Register of Historic Places nomination, “one of the most defining landscape principle of Reservoirs 3 and 4 is the open expanse of water, their irregular shape, rusticated concrete structures, and ornate wrought iron detailing of fences and lampposts. The reservoirs are a striking and elegant addition to the serene forest that makes up this end of Washington Park. The surrounding forest is composed primarily of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and big leaf maple all predominating native tree species of the Pacific Northwest.

The challenge is to design a 100 year plus engineering solution while simultaneously designing a thoughtful change to the context, natural park setting, and historic district. Arising from the Olmsted Brothers vision for Portland and the City Beautiful movement, the changes to the Reservoirs offer an opportunity to evaluate the evolution of development outside Washington Park within the Park, changes to the Reservoirs themselves, public access, and protection of cultural amenities. If access to the “water” is transformed to a public amenity, how does the design enhance the serene qualities of the site? How should the change reconnect the reservoir area with the surrounding neighborhood and Park features?

The reservoirs embody the challenge associated with retaining a historic place as both a visual element and a dynamic landscape. The safety, security and seismic solutions may alter the purpose of the visual feature and the interaction with the “water,” but that does not translate into a diminishing of a historic place. There are no easy answers. In the end, this final decision should be assuring that the Washington Park Reservoirs will continue to provide safe, reliable water storage, and to elicit wonder well  beyond the next 100 years.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Preserving an Icon

Under the leadership of the Pittock Mansion Society, Portland Parks & Recreation, and hundreds of volunteers, the venerable Pittock Mansion is undergoing the first phase of preservation activities in anticipation of the Mansion’s Centennial celebration. Built for Henry Pittock, an Oregon pioneer, newspaper editor, publisher, and wood and paper magnate, “the Pittock Mansion occupies a place of special importance for Portland. It is a City of Portland Historic Landmark, a State of Oregon Landmark, and a national landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Portland owns many historic landmark properties, but Pittock Mansion is the only [property] operated as a historic museum [within] the city parks system.”[i]

After successfully raising funds, and with City Council approval of additional funding, the Pittock Mansion is repairing the exterior terraces with new waterproofing membranes, new sandstone replacing inappropriate concrete castings, and structurally reinforcing the baluster railings so that all the brides and grooms, admirers, and visitors, can once again perch and pose with the vista of Portland and Mt. Hood as the splendor of Pittock Mansion is in front of them.

“Pittock Mansion was design in 1909 by Edward T. Foulkes and took five years to complete. Georgiana Pittock, wife of Henry, died in 1918, having lived in the house for only four years. Despite its prominent site, imposing French Renaissances exterior, formal rooms and parlors, and impressive central hall with a grand stairway, Pittock Mansion was fundamentally a home for a family with modest tastes having lived most of their lives in undistinguished Victorian houses in downtown Portland.”[ii]

Original stone quarries are no longer operational, so an exhaustive search for replacement stone was conducted finalizing in a selection of stone from Idaho closely matching color and texture of the original. Local and regional craftsman are again involved in the careful dismantling, numbering, cleaning, fabrication, and re-installation of the stone details. New terrace tile, selected to better match the variegated colored clay tile roof, will be installed with a new waterproof membrane and improved flashing details. The original glass “sidewalk” purple lights that admit light into the basement will remain for all to enjoy.

There is still much work to be done. The Pittock Mansion Society has identified the top priority projects ranging from the practical structural and electrical work to additional programming and preservation projects. The Centennial celebration will be a grand formal affair, fitting for such a magnificent and unique cultural icon within the City of Portland’s stewardship.

[i] Historic Structures Report, 1st Edition, A Staehli, 1984
[ii] Historic Structures Report, 1st Edition, A Staehli, 1984