There’s more to the red-brick-and-mortar building with its terra-cotta moldings that served as a public high school in Buckman for almost six decades before being shuttered in 1981. Preserving the former Washington High School was the dream of Venerable Properties late founder Art DeMuro. The preservationist’s goal of modernizing an old school building while retaining some of the original finishes such as lockers, blackboards, cabinets and intercoms, preserved the school’s character and breathed new life into the building.
Notable Washington graduates include physicist Linus Pauling, chef James Beard, former governor Vic Atiyeh, and civic leader Bill Naito. After encountering several twists and turns, WHS lives on, re-purposed after being acquired in October 2013 from Portland Public Schools by Venerable Properties and PacTrust.
“There are layers of history buried on this site,” said Jessica Engeman, Venerable Properties project manager. Renovated in 2015, the 113,500-square-foot building houses the corporate offices of New Season’s Market (a locally based grocery chain), a restored music and events venue named Revolution Hall and a variety of businesses. The lessee of a corner restaurant space on the ground floor will be announced soon. The crowning jewel of the restored building is a 2,640- square-foot roof deck with panoramic views.
In 1867, local Portland pioneer Joseph Buchtel lobbied the school district to purchase two blocks bounded by Southeast Stark, Alder and 13th and 14th avenues on which to build a high school. Central School and Hawthorne Grade School were built on the site but by 1897 both were demolished. In 1905, WHS, the Eastside’s first high school was erected on the northern portion of the site. Built with timber and masonry, the new school was not fireproof and burned down in 1922. With damages assessed at almost $400,000, the fire was the city’s largest and most expensive.
Although Portland firefighter Chester Buchtel, grandson of the pioneer who organized the original purchase of the WHS grounds, later confessed to multiple arsons, the case remained unsolved.
Chester Houghtaling and Lee Dougan, a local architectural firm, was hired to design a replacement building. Opened in 1924, its fireproof construction was considered state-of-the-art. The building’s facade, featuring caryatid-head capitals, lion heads and terracotta friezes, exemplifies Classical Revival architecture. In 2015, WHS was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information: See washingtonhighschoolpdx.com.
According to Engeman, the most complicated challenge facing developers was restoring the auditorium. They sought to retain the heart and soul of the building and to maintain its functional use while honoring the building’s historic values. The challenge was combining an acoustically soundproof music venue with office space.
“It may be the only Portland music performance venue situated in the middle of office space,” said Engeman.
Venerable formed a partnership with Mississippi Avenue Studios co-owners Jim Brunberg and Kevin Cradock to create “a perfectly designed acoustical space” that would seat 840, according to Brunberg. A musician with his own band, Brunberg cares deeply about how a room sounds and looks.
“With three weeks to opening, we discovered all the balcony seats were child-size and too small for today’s adults,” said Brunberg.
A local carpenter worked around the clock to cut out 400 seats and replace them with standard-size, 21-inch seats. The venue opened on February 13, 2015, to a sold-out performance.
Brunberg worked closely with the Buckman Community Association to resolve concerns about parking and offered amenities like Martha’s, a cafe located inside the building that’s open daily. On Monday nights, Brunberg will host Back to School Night events that are free to the public. His goal is to foster community engagement, including discussions in the cafe following mayoral and televised presidential debates. For more information: See marthaspdx.com and revolutionhallpdx.com or call 503-288-3895.
Never stop learning
“You can’t build history,” said Jerry Chevassus, New Seasons Market chief development officer. By 2014, New Seasons had outgrown office space for its 150 employees at North Vancouver Avenue and was seeking close-in office space consistent with its corporate culture.
“We support what’s in our DNA,” said Chevassus. “We believe in reuse and repurpose, continual learning about food we eat and support of local food producers.”
Chevassus appreciates the building’s wide hallways and staircases with original handrails. He also enjoys watching from large windows on the building’s westside as, down below, dogs sprint at full speed on the former athletic field. Chevassus tested sound levels before moving into the building by cranking up the volume of a Doobie Brothers song, which was barely noticed in enclosed office space. Coincidentally, Brunberg recently recalled his band opening for the Doobie Brothers at concerts in the 1990s.
In mid-March, New Seasons will open its newest store in University Park. For more information: See newseasonsmarket.com.