She's Historic

Historic Resources Inventory

While researching the Going Queen a few weeks ago, I came across something called the Historic Resources Inventory.  This created a dilemma.

In the early 1980s, a group interested in historic properties in Portland started a multi-year effort to document over 5,000 historically or architecturally significant homes.  In 1984, the City of Portland adopted the results of this survey into what they called the Historic Resources Inventory (HRI).  The stated purpose of the inventory was to influence the planning and development process to preserve the aesthetic and historical value of Portland neighborhoods.

A city ordinance was passed whereby a home identified in the historic inventory was subject to additional scrutiny by city planners such that any modifications made to it would not diminish its historic value.  The “modification” the city was most concerned about was demolition and subsequent replacement with a contemporary home, or one of its cousins, which can bee seen all over Portland today.

Some property owners objected to the unilateral designation of their homes as being historic and pushed back.  The city then responded by allowing property owners to withdraw their homes from the historic index.  This led to 20+ years of a toothless policy.  If a homeowner went to the city and applied for a permit to demolish a home that was listed in the inventory, the city would say no.  The owner would then ask to be removed from the HRI and the city would say ok done.  The owner would re-apply for the permit to demolish it which would be approved.

The funny thing is that all of this could be done on the same day making the ordinance meaningless.

Fast forward to a few months ago.  Under mounting pressure due to the sharp increase in the number of HRI listed homes being demolished, the city passed an updated ordinance implementing a waiting period of 120 days.  So now, if you request to remove your home from the HRI you have to wait 4 months before you can touch it.

I found a publicly available excel file containing the data from from this inventory.  I searched the data and found that the Going Queen was in the inventory.  Of the 5,000 properties, there are about 2,745 ‘scored’ properties.  If you have an HRI score then you are subject to the ordinance.  The Going Queen is a scored property.


The original HRI records are hard copy pages in a series of binders stored at the planning office.  You can request them from the planning office or go look at them in person.

The picture of the house is interesting.  It may have been taken in 1981 before the previous owner Jim lived in the home.  The HRI record lists the owner in 1981 as Ernest R. and Kathryn Meyers.  I'm assuming the photo was taken at the same time the data in the HRI record was collected.  The family told me that Jim was there for 33 years which means he purchased it in 1983.

You can see that the house is being renovated at the time this picture was taken.  There are building materials stacked up along the side of it and you can see where exposed paper wrap is showing in the upstairs window.  If you look closely, you can also see that she's not in great shape.  The siding is stained and possibly mossy in a few areas, the deck appears to have some water staining or damage, one of the chimneys is damaged, the railing is missing or falling apart.  She was in pretty bad shape in 2017 and pretty bad shape in 1981 too.  She had some good years in between under Jim's care before things got out of hand.

Compared to what she looks like today, you’ll notice these differences:

  • The turret has a finial.  It's an interesting upside down teardrop shape.
  • The attic windows are smaller.  Inside, it's likely that there were no stairs up to the attic like she has today.  There was probably just an access in the ceiling with a ladder that slid down.
  • The front facing window is in the process of being installed.  It's set in the frame and you can see the black paper around it.
  • You can see a similar large picture window being installed on the side of the house.  The window isn't in yet but the hole is there and the paper is there.  From the inside, we can see how this was once originally 3 smaller windows more in-line with the victorian architecture.  We think they ended up abandoning this window because it's not there today.
  • The porch is smaller than it is today and the 2nd level deck is more ornamental.  It appears that the 2nd story railing is just 2 feet tall instead of the full size railing that was on the house when we bought it (now removed).  You can see that the porch structure was completely replaced and they may have added a few feet of width when they rebuilt it.
  • Obviously, the fence hasn't been built yet and the yard is at grade.  The next owner brought in a lot of dirt.

Here’s the excel file with the 5,000 properties.

 

I was excited about all of this.  Mainly because I had an awesome data set to play with, which I did.  We all have our areas of expertise and mine is data.  So I did what people like me do when they find a cool data set:

  • Imported it into Postgres (relational database engine)
  • Indexed it on the columns that I was most interested in
  • Started writing SQL (Structured Query Language) statements to analyze the data 
  • Studied the terminology in the data set to educate myself on the topic of historical properties

I then researched how other municipalities handle similar issues and found that the Historic Resource Index concept and terminology can be found many other places.  I found a few more data sets, researched some GIS technology that some of these municipalities use and began laying out a scalable data model so that my company could start development on an app to facilitate sharing this data with others than it would perform well.  The app I designed lets you move around the city and it would update a map of all the nearby properties on the HRI so you could tap on them and get the details.  In my design, you could ask for all the 'Dutch Colonial' homes within 1/4 mile of where you were standing and it would pull them up.  I wrote up the requirements to give to my CTO so that he could direct the new Java Engineer we just hired could start on this on Monday.

CTO said no way.  He pointed out we had actual work to do where customers with actual money would actually pay us for completing rather than spending valuable employee time on my dumb project.

Anyway, I asked my contractor what it meant to us that the Going Queen was scored as architecturally significant.

He let the air out of my fun bubble.  He said that this means that we are going to get another member on our design team named ‘The City of Portland’ and they will have different ideas about what we should be doing and their ideas would carry more weight.  He said the quality of their input would depend on who we were talking to on any given day.  He mentioned that we needed to remove the exterior porches, the chimneys and an illegal punch out on the back of the house.  He pointed out that we wanted to remove the upper deck in favor of a single level roofed porch.  Any of these could be rejected by the planning office and we’d have no recourse other than to spend thousands of dollars and months of time arguing with the city that our modifications conformed to the architectural style and ultimately we might not be able to do what we wanted to do.

Balls.

I felt that since I wasn’t tearing the house down, which is what any sane person would do if they were trying to make a good investment, that the city would be more flexible with me.  After accepting that my feelings on this didn’t align with reality I consented to removing the house from the HRI.

So, now I’m a hypocrite*.  I love the HRI data set and that the Going Queen is in it but I’m asking to have it removed.

The process was simple.  I called the planning office, they sent me a form, I filed it in person at the city planning office.

Here’s the form.

The planning office or “Bureau of Development Services” is on the first floor of 1900 SW Fourth Avenue.  I arrived at 1:30PM on a Monday and was out of there 30 minutes later.  They were fast and efficient.

A few days later, I got this letter in the mail confirming the details of the removal.

 

Now we wait.

In the meantime, Tim contacted the planner working on our HRI removal and got the OK to continue with certain aspects of the demolition like the removal of the chimneys from the house.  The planner gave the thumbs up to removal of the chimneys but otherwise we need to not make any changes until the 120 waiting period has expired.

When Jenny and I first purchased the property, at least 20 neighbors came by to say hello.  Everyone wanted to know what we were doing which is why I started this blog.  My neighbor Curt made a sign for us to let people know how to get updates about our project.

There was universal relief that we planned on keeping her.  Most of them probably liked the home but I sensed the relief was equally about what we were not doing: putting up three houses on the 2 lots: one duplex on the corner and a modern house with no yard next to it.  That’s what a developer would do and that’s what you would do to make money rather than lose money on the deal.

Once the cleanup began, one of the workers told us that an agitated nearby resident showed up and demanded to know what was going on.  The neighbor threatened everyone to stop tearing the house down and that she was calling the news media and the city to tell them what was happening.  The workers assured her that they were not tearing the house down.

At dinner last week, Jenny I sat next to a couple who said they saw a news report about our house before we bought it and there was concern about it being torn down to make way from some modern development in the neighborhood.  I’m not sure if it was actually our house in the store but they seemed convinced about it.

My point is, people around here care about the old homes and about what happens in their neighborhood and we are happy to be able to live in a place like that.  While removing the house from the HRI seems to be at odds with that, it’s not.  We are working hard to protect the Going Queen and make sure she stays in the neighborhood.  But, we are going to take enough of a beating on this art project and don’t want to make it worse by subjecting ourselves to more delays and costs.

We can't do any more construction work on the structure until mid July.  While we wait, we'll be working on the remodel designs and getting everything prepared for the permitting process.

 

* was already a hypocrite but this is more evidence.