The Portland Approach

Oregon city to welcome annual conference

By Rachel Adams

Among the conference sites in Portland is the Architectural Heritage Center, which opened in February in the restored 1883 West's Block Building.

Credit: Bosco-Milligan Foundation

This fall, the National Preservation Conference convenes in Portland, Ore., bringing with it all the activities that typify the Trust's annual gathering, from educational sessions to field trips and special events. Running from Sept. 27 through Oct. 2, the conference will embrace the many idioms of preservation in the city and region—among them, commercial district revitalization, cultural landscape conservation, heritage tourism promotion, and the rejuvenation of historic downtowns.

"Portland itself is a great model for a dynamic downtown, and its outlying areas provide especially fine examples of farmland and open space protection," says Peter Brink, senior vice president of programs at the Trust.

After the opening plenary session at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a restored 1928 theater, participants can attend educational panels on public policy and preservation practice. They can also take in field trips to see the real thing. In Japantown/New Chinatown, the city's fourth-oldest historic district, visitors will explore the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center (a museum of Japanese American history) and the Classical Chinese Garden (modeled after a garden in Suzhou, China), which holds nearly 100 specimens of trees, bamboo, and water plants. The Pearl District, a former industrial zone that has been transformed into a residential district, offers many stories of renovation success. And the city's celebrated modernist buildings—such as Pietro Belluschi's 1939-69 Portland Art Museum, the 1948 aluminum-and-glass Equitable Building, and the 1960 Memorial Coliseum—will direct discussion to the preservation of the recent past.

Portland's work in revitalizing its downtown while promoting preservation will be evident to those who stroll through the busy blocks of the city core. "The city has a very sophisticated approach to preservation and redevelopment," says Brink. "There's a lot to learn from that." Just across the Willamette River, another example of local energy will be found at the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, which since the late 1980s has salvaged countless architectural fixtures from razed historic structures. Early this year the foundation opened its Architectural Heritage Center, providing public access to its collection as well as a host of preservation-education offerings, in an 1883 building it restored.

Conference-goers may also pay many out-of-town visits. A field trip to the Mission Mill Museum in Salem, Ore., situated in one of the state's oldest water-powered mills, will focus on the link between industry and agriculture and how both sectors helped secure Oregon statehood in 1859. For another field session, conferees will travel the scenic Columbia River Highway to consider its particular route to preservation. The Vancouver National Historic Reserve—operated through a partnership by the city, the U.S. Army, the National Park Service, the state preservation office, and the Reserve Trust—and other parks will also host sessions.

The final plenary session will bring people back downtown to the First Congregational United Church of Christ, a Venetian Gothic structure built in 1891 with an elaborate bell tower. McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom, a restored 1914 dance hall, supplies the venue for the closing party. Key local partners include the Portland Business Alliance, the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, Russell Development Company, Gerding/Edlen Development Company, Georges and Eleanor St. Laurent, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Federal Lands Highway Program, and Rejuvenation, a local firm specializing in period light fixtures. More information is available at