US Customs House – Portland, Oregon
Yesterday I got a opportunity to wander freely inside the Portland US Customs House in Portland. The building is being auctioned off by the GSA for a starting bid of $250k. The 78,838-square-foot building was constructed in 1901 and comes with a significant backlog of deferred maintenance and other requirements. In 1997, Sera Architects estimated the building needed $18 million to $24.3 million in repairs, in 2009 dollars.
While wandering the halls I was dreaming of times past when this building was filled with the commerce of a city that was an important shipping port. Seeing the armored vault doors on a few of the floors made me wonder just what riches might have been enclosed. The building is massive and just heating it will be a huge burden. The next owners will definitely be up for a huge challenge, but the reward will be exciting to experience indeed!
Text from GSA page:
“Fueled by Portland’s economic development during the late nineteenth century, the U.S. Custom House was constructed to accommodate the city’s burgeoning prosperity and status. In 1875, the U.S. Customs Service first established a presence in Portland, moving into the newly constructed U.S. Post Office, Courthouse, and Custom House building (now known as the Pioneer Courthouse). As the city outgrew the space, a new Federal building was planned to house the Customs Service and additional courtrooms. In 1898, construction began on the present U.S. Custom House, reaching completion in 1901.
The building was designed in the office of James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, and constructed under the supervision of locally noted architect Edgar Lazarus. Lazarus is known for his designs for the Vista House at Crown Point and the Agricultural Palace for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition (no longer extant). Together, Taylor and Lazarus brought the new Custom House to fruition in a style inspired by the English Renaissance architecture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with similarities to the mannered style that characterized London architect James Gibbs’s public architecture.”
“In 1938, the east and west wings gained fourth floors to accommodate additional office space. In 1968, when the U.S. Customs Service moved into the Old Post Office Building at 511 NW Broadway, the North Pacific Division of the U.S. Corps of Engineers occupied the building. The building’s scale and distinguished design aesthetically enhances its neighborhood and serves as an anchor on the margin of the North Park Blocks, a row of seven blocks originally intended as open space in the late 1800s. In 1970, upon the recommendation of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, the City Council designated the U.S. Custom House as a Historic Landmark. In 1973, the U.S. Custom House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”
“Typical doors and trim are stained and varnished oak. Doors typically have half lights of ribbed glass and clear glass transoms. Door and window casings are moulded and have plain architraves with classical crown mouldings.”
“Portland’s U.S. Custom House is a large edifice, encompassing a full block bounded by NW Broadway, Everett and Davis Streets, and Eighth Avenue, near the downtown. The four-story building is symmetrical, H-shaped in plan, featuring pavilions extending to the north and south from the central mass. An elegant one-story granite loggia of five tall, arched openings with rusticated walls and a scrolled parapet encloses the entry courtyard and opens onto Eighth Avenue and the North Park Blocks beyond.”
“A grand cast-iron stairway extends from the center of the first floor to the fourth floor, featuring marble treads, double balusters with spiral and acanthus ornamentation, paneled stringers and soffits, and a molded oak handrail. Originally, windows at the landings opened into a light court, which was covered with solid panels in 1949, leaving the oak framing and trim intact. The existing vestibule and main stair lobbies are well-preserved spaces which remain as the most detailed and significant areas in the building.”