Friday, December 30, 2011

Loring Wood and the Log Portal of Sutherlin

I buy lots of postcards on the internet.  They provide a great source of graphics and with the new search sites, it’s pretty easy to pick up images that can guide restoration or rehabilitation projects.  Sometimes, oft-times actually, I find images of long-gone structures that pique my curiosity.  The amazing log gate at Oregon Woods Camp, near Sutherlin, would be in that category.

I picked this card up recently, which shows the 100’ long, 40’ tall log structure built from 32,000 logs taken from 464 trees, according to the sign.  Illuminated by colored lights, visitors were encouraged to “buy a postal” or picture “if interested in nature.”  Wow.  Roadside quirk at its finest, and right here in southern Oregon.  

The sign continues that the gate was built by Loring A. Wood, working alone, from a design that came to him in a dream.  A quick bit of research on Mr. Wood (I absolutely LOVE the internet), finds that he was born in Nebraska in 1891, served in the US Army during WWI, and after a stint in Idaho arrived in Oregon and set up a roadside camp, Oregon Woods Camp, with his wife Amy just south of Sutherlin.  The Arcadia book on Sutherlin, by Tricia Dias, describes Wood as a visionary.  “He had a series of five dreams, from their details he constructed his fabulous archway [and] it became the entrance to his Oregon Woods Camp, which was Oregon’s first motel.” (Dias, 2011:109).  Now, I don’t know if “first motel” is accurate, but clearly Mr. Woods had imagination.  In addition to the gate, he built log models of boats (Dias reports that these included the U.S.S. Constitution and the Mayflower), and toured them around the nation.  In May 1935, according to the Oregonian, Mr. Wood and the Constitution model, reported as being built from 18,000 pieces of wood,”  were on exhibit in Portland, in a “tent on SW Broadway and Columbia” but the city council shut it down as a fire hazard.

I have gone through all my collection of Oregon motels and roadside camps on the Pacific Highway and can’t find any mention of Wood or his Sutherlin campground.  Although Wood died in 1945 (and is buried at the Roseburg National Cemetery), I’ve yet to find his obituary or figure out what happened to fantastic creations in Sutherlin.  Clearly it doesn't survive.  Does anybody know?

As a side note, there is a gentleman named Loring Woods living in New Hampshire who operates a log home construction business, Log Restoration Worldwide LLC, that has a website called The American DREAM (  When I stumbled across this, between the name, the occupation and the dream bit, I was sure that there had to be some connection.  There wasn’t.  Mr. Wood, of Sutherlin, remains something of mystery.  I’d like to think that his log ship models, at least, survive somewhere.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beautility- Beauty and Function Combined at BPA

“Beautility” is a word that appears to have been coined sometime in the 1950s, recognizing the productive marriage that was possible when things were both  attractive and functional.  I first came across the term doing work for the Bonneville Power Administration, BPA.  In the early 1960s BPA, having come to the realization that not everybody saw their transmission lines and substations as works of art, hired a noted Portland, Oregon architectural firm to help them come up with a better design model that would be, well, be-utiliful.  “Beautility" is what Stanton, Boles, Maguire and Church called their approach, published in that summer-blockbuster A Report on Appearance Planning for BPA, released in May 1966.  This is a sketch from that hard to find report.  I found mine at Powell's (and for just $5 too!)

BPA’s Beautility actually made waves in the electric utility world and there were numerous requests for the report during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  BPA took the advice to heart and looking at their control houses, and transmission lines, and substations, the educated eye can easily discern the impact the report had.  Today, as most of those 1960s-1970s era buildings near five decades of service, they are all potentially historic, despite their sometimes space-age design.  “Beautility,” like other works of so-called Mid-Century Modern design, is just now coming into its own.  I think some, like BPA's buildings at the Ceilio Converter Station, show below, already have.

Beautility isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor is it frequently what the average person conjures to mind as historic.  We’ll leave alone that electric transmission infrastructure isn’t what the average person often conjures to mind as historic either, other than to mention that you might try to imagine the Pacific Northwest (or anywhere) without it.  "Historic" and stunning architecture aren't synonyms and never were.

I am starting to work on a late Beautility period project for BPA…one clad in colorful panels that surely screams late 1960s.  While I am somewhat disappointed to learn that Stanton et al simply borrowed the term from somebody else, I am pleased to see the use of the word continues (though mostly for hair salons and grooming, according to Google.  Even Nike has a line of clothes under that term).  Still it seems there are few places where "Beautility" could be more appropriate than at BPA which is, after all, what most people consider to be a “Utility.”  One that during the 1960s made an effort toward beauty wherever it could.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Facades are Improving

Medford’s Façade Improvement Grant Program keeps moving forward and transforming downtown buildings one storefront after another.  These past few weeks I’ve been working on the eastern portion of the Hamlin Building, one of the oldest structures in downtown.  Built in 1888 it was originally a vernacular Italianate form, with exposed red brick, arched windows and central stairwell that divided the façade into two symmetrical bays.  

Fast forward to the 1930s, the second generation of the Hamlin family split the property after a legal dispute and the west half was modernized.  Not to be outdone the Miles family, the heirs that owned the eastern half, covered the old brick with a mixture of stucco and panels in the latest Art Moderne styling in the late 1930s, probably with the assistance of local architect Frank Chamberlain Clark.  Clark’s offices were on the second floor for many years.  

The east half of the building was again remodeled in the 1960s and 1980s and by early October was in need of some TLC.  The heavy metal awning, mounted on what turned out to be panels of Masonite loosely attached to the lower façade, was failing and threatening to collapse.  Once the awning was removed, the Masonite came down, exposing the series of remodelings, and even including a glimpse of the original brick exterior.
We’re working with the owners, a great-grandson of Mr. Hamlin himself, on a new façade treatment that will try to create a more unified, and durable, lower façade, while painting the upper to accentuate its fine detailing.  A new awning, and new signage, will help support the success of the current occupant, a restaurant, or any subsequent tenants.

The façade projects in Medford aren’t always strictly by-the-book preservation in the normal sense, but we certainly take the lessons of preservation and use them to create what are hopefully more attractive members of the streetscape.  The program has been incredibly successful, addressing more than 90 buildings in the past 8 years and winning the James C. Howland Gold Medal from the National League of Cities for excellence in “Urban Enrichment.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Steam Makes Things Spin

Over the years I have been involved with many projects that generate electricity, mostly hydro projects, but also Oregon’s only nuclear project, the Trojan Plant, near St. Helens.  In general there are only a few basic forms of making electricity.  You can use nature in the form of water or wind to spin a turbine (which spins the generator), in recent years you can use the sun to directly create electricity through photo voltaics, or you can generate steam to turn the generators.  There are lots of ways to create steam; you can tap it geothermally or you can create heat, which boils water.  HOW you create the heat is the main difference between most forms of generation other than solar, wind, or hydro.  At root most generation is centered around what amounts to a big tea kettle...the boiler, than can be fired by coal, by wood waste or hog fuel, by natural gas, or by a nuclear reaction.  At its core even the Trojan Plant, which people somehow envision as using some primal natural force (an atomic reaction) to create massive amounts of power was far more was using all the heat generated by that reaction to create high pressure steam to spin a generator.  Exactly the same process as burning coal, or wood, just far more efficient and on a far larger scale (and yes, with a more complex waste product...but that isn’t the point of this little discourse). 

The more common way to create steam power for electric generation is to burn coal, and that is what most of America, without the plentiful waterways of the Pacific Northwest, does to power its computers and recharge its IPODs.  Coal is abundant, but it’s not generally considered green, and most steam plants in the Northwest now burn natural gas. 

Last month I toured one of Oregon’s few remaining steam plants of any sort, one built in 1930 to burn bunker oil, added to in the 1940s and 1950s to burn sawdust and wood-chips, and today burning natural gas.  EWEB’s Standby Steam Plant, located right in downtown Eugene, is also interesting that while it was designed to produce electricity (burning material to raise the temperature of water to turn one of its three generators), it was later converted (in 1962) to actually create, well, steam, that was directly transmitted around the downtown to heat various private and public buildings.  For the moment, the newest unit at the plant still does just that but all the earlier units remain in place, just as they were designed, and so the plant functions as something of a textbook of steam plant generation technology between 1930 and 1950.  I am enjoying researching, and documenting, the operation of this historic facility as part of EWEB’s decommissioning the facility.  It sure makes for some great images...the interiors of mid-20th century industrial facilities are nothing if not photogenic!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Show Starts on the Sidewalk

Earlier this month the JPR Foundation filed its formal application with the City of Medford Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, detailing the various exterior rehabilitation and restoration that mark the beginning of the transformation of that building from a long-vacant opportunity into a vibrant 1000-seat performing arts center.  Aspects of the exterior renovation include the restoration of the original wood windows, cleaning and repairing the Flemish bond brick of the upper floors, repair of the damaged sheet metal “tiles” at the parapet and the complete reconstruction of the exterior entry foyer, including the tile pattern that I’ve written of here previously.

But, as it should be, it will be the signs that get the most attention (that, of course, being the entire point of signs).  From the 33-foot neon pylon at the corner of Holly and 6th to the projecting marquee over the entry, we’ve done the best job we can of recreating the visual character and, hopefully, the excitement that this building created in Medford when it opened in August 1930.  Fernando Duarte, of Duarte Design, and Alpha Signs are working on the details, based on JPR's historic program, and we expect to be under construction by early next year, for a Spring unveiling.

Last week I was out in Coos Bay, Oregon, talking to the City and private parties that are interested in bringing new life to the Egyptian Theatre.  (Read the story) One of the concepts that I tried to convey is the value that a restored historic structure, especially a restored movie theatre, can have as a customer magnet.  Great architecture and design, that pays lots of attention to all the details of the exterior to create an unmatched “experience,” is really one of the most difficult to reproduce benefits that comes with any quality restoration project.  I am reminded, in such situations, of two statements.  The first “it’s hard to create great places from scratch” comes from Jane Jacobs, author of the iconic The Death and Great American Cities.  The other isn’t really a quote, but to me sums up the entire goal of theatre restoration.  It’s the title of a somewhat obscure book by Maggie Valentine, about the designs of the prolific California theatre architect S. Charles Lee.  Lee designed some 250 theatres between 1920 and 1950, including the Fremont Theatre, in San Luis Obispo and the La Reina, in southern California (where, as it happens, I used to spend Saturday matinees as a child.  I think it's a mall or something now).  Lee never worked in Oregon, but his design philosophy, as elegantly summed up by Ms. Valentine’s title, fits what I think is so exciting about theatre rehabilitation.  Valentine’s book is simply titled The Show Starts on the Sidewalk and, indeed, it does and should.