Portland Debates Fate of Modernist Memorial Coliseum

Portland's Historic Resource Inventory has given the highest rating to Memorial Coliseum, owned by the city and designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

The city of Portland, Ore., is putting the brakes on a vote to demolish Memorial Coliseum, designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and build a new minor-league baseball stadium on the seven-acre site.

At a public meeting last Tuesday, about three dozen people spoke, most in favor of saving Memorial Coliseum. In response, Mayor Sam Adams announced that he is delaying a city council vote, scheduled for Monday, April 20, until Apr. 29. He said that the city is now considering whether it can build the new ballpark next to the coliseum.

Designers submitted initial plans for the site several weeks ago, according to Adams, but could not find a way to fit the new triple-A stadium onto the site without taking down Memorial Coliseum.

"We had a lot of pushback, so I've asked for a delay to see if we can come up with an option for maybe a slightly reconfigured triple-A stadium and a way to repurpose and preserve Memorial," Adams says. "I want to make sure we're looking at every possibility—not just to keep it standing but to make it economically viable as well."

Letter from the National Trust

To Mayor Adams, April 13, 2009 "The National Trust asks that the reuse and renovation of Memorial Coliseum be the city's first priority," said Anthea Hartig, director of the Western Office, and lawyer Brian Turner. "The Trust also asks that the city consider the historic importance of the building relative to the rapidly diminishing number of significant modern works of architecture in the state and nationwide."

The city has been considering the fate of the 1960 modernist structure since 1995, when a new stadium opened nearby. The Beatles and Elvis both played in Memorial Coliseum, but today it's primarily a venue for hockey games, conventions, and high-school sports tournaments. In 2002, city officials commissioned a study for its reuse.

Despite the study, however, the city hasn't cared for Memorial Coliseum. "The city is now 'punishing' the building by emphasizing its physical shortcomings, which are deferred maintenance issues," Cathy Galbraith, executive director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, said in an e-mail.

Galbraith points out that the coliseum's construction destroyed 476 houses and dozens of stores, most of them owned by African Americans. "Now the sacrifices that were forced upon these hundreds of families and businesses are proposed to be disregarded," she wrote in a letter to Mayor Adams dated Apr. 14, 2009.

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed


Submitted by Val Ballestrem at: April 28, 2009
The Portland City Council has now delayed the next hearing on Memorial Coliseum and a new minor league baseball stadium to May 7th.