Aerial PDX_OldTown

Skidmore/Old Town Historic District

SkidmoreOldTown

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Skidmore/Old Town District

Statistics

  • Location: Portland
  • Built: 1857 – 1929
  • Architects: several
  • Designation: National Historic Landmark District
  • Significance: One of only two urban districts in Oregon designated as a National Historic Landmark, Skidmore/Old Town is where the city began. Noted for its exceptional collection of cast-iron commercial buildings, this district embodies the early history of the Rose City.
  • Status: SAVED! City of Portland has adopted the 2008 design guidelines for the historic district. The Central City 2035 Plan also includes height limits for the district to ensure the infill will compliment and retain the historic fabric of the district.

News and Updates

May 22, 2012:

Listed as one of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon

History

Running along the west side of the Willamette River, the district is roughly bordered on the north by Davis Street, on the west by Third Street, and its southern edge zig-zags along Pine and Oak Streets. Its symbolic center is the Skidmore Fountain with the inscribed C.E.S. Wood motto “Good Citizens are the Riches of a City.”

The district includes 55 contributing buildings and its western edge overlaps the New Chinatown/Japan Town Historic District. The two districts are often seen as one neighborhood, but it is Skidmore/Old Town that is officially designated as one of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places.

Why is it Endangered?

Though there have been several notable redevelopment projects, the district is threatened by a lack of investment, a tangled regulatory and review process, and assertions that infill development cannot pencil financially without blowing through current height limits. Although design guidelines have been drafted for the Landmark district and an impressive inventory of salvaged cast-iron is available for interpretation and reincorporation into the district, a stalled process must be overcome before the National Historic Landmark can reach its full potential.

Surface parking lots cover 29% of the district creating ugly gaps in the historic fabric. Drug use and perceived safety issues deter businesses. Demolition-by-neglect, vacant upper floors, the high cost of seismic retrofitting, and inability to reach political agreement on design guidelines all add up to the potential loss of district integrity and viability.

Prior to the Oregon’s Most Endangered Places listing there was no process in place to find an answer to the unique challenges of the neighborhood and conflicting visions vying for political favor, resulting in opposition to virtually any proposed project.

 

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