On June 1, 1905 the gates swung open at Guild’s Lake to officially kick off the Lewis and Clark Centennial American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair. There were exhibitions from 21 nations and 16 American states and admission was 50 cents for adults and a quarter for kids. The fair featured an amusement park, blimp rides and was the finish line for a much-anticipated transcontinental automobile race. During the fair’s fourteen-week run more than 1.5 million visitors paid the entrance fee and another million fair-goers got in gratis.

Before the Lewis and Clark Exhibition Portland had grown from a village of some 800 settlers when it was incorporated in 1851 to becoming the major port in the Northwest by the end of the 19th century. The town could have been named Boston but a coin flip between pioneers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove landed on the latter’s hometown. Located at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers its deep water harbor helped Portland emerge from the shadow of its more established neighbor at Oregon City. But by 1900 Seattle, kickstarted by the gold rushes in the Klondike, was emerging as the Pacific Northwest port of choice since mariners didn’t have to navigate the pesky sand bar at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The world’s fair proved just the elixir the city needed. Not only was a profit realized, unusual for international expositions, but was a success as a showcase for the city as well. In the years following the Lewis and Clark Exposition the population of Portland more than doubled from 90,000 to 200,000 and the city never looked back. A building boom started that would last over 20 years, push the city core off the Willamette River and create much of the streetscape seen today.

Our walking tour of downtown Portland in the Southwest section of the city will discover small one- and two-building blocks and pedestrian-friendly streets and we will begin this exploration east of Broadway at the oldest federal building west of the Mississippi River...

Pioneer Courthouse
700 SW 6th Avenue between Yamhill and Morrison streets

This is the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest and the second oldest anywhere west of the Mississippi River. Work on the design of the Italianate structure began in to office of Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, in 1869 and construction was completed in 1875; the price tag was $396,500. Each elevation of the building has a projecting bay topped by a classical, triangular pediment. Intended for use by the United States Post Office, the federal courts and the Customs Service, the building is faced with Bellingham sandstone quarried from Chuckanut, Washington and rests on a base of rough-cut Tenino sandstone. The central octagonal cupola is wooden. A major expansion came along in 1902 and the post office and courtroom functions have shuffled in and out through the years but Pioneer Courthouse, as it has been known since 1973, is still in use.


Meier & Frank Building/Macy’s
bounded by SW 5th and 6th avenues and Morrison and Alder streets

German-born Aaron Meier established the roots of Portland’s greatest retail empire in a small rented space in 1857. He was joined in the business by Emil Frank in 1873. In 1909 Sigmund Frank, Emil’s younger brother and then-head of the business, traveled to Chicago with an architect he had just provided with his first major commission, A.E. Doyle, to scout modern department stores. Frank left Oregon with the intention of expanding his current selling space but returned with visions of a grand emporium that would swallow an entire block by the time it was through expanding in 1932. The 223-foot building of glazed terra cotta was Portland’s second tallest into the 1960s and the Meier & Frank store featured the city’s first elevators and just about anything a shopper could hunt for. If you were shopping for ties in 1922, future Hollywood leading man Clark Gable would sell you one. After 149 years the Meier & Frank flagship was acquired by Federated Department Stores which converted the lower floors into its flagship nameplate Macy’s and renovated the upper floors into a luxury hotel. 

Northwestern National Bank Building/American Bank Building
621 SW Morrison Street at northwest corner of 6th Avenue

When it was completed in 1913 this 207-foot office tower was the tallest in the city and remained Portland Sky King until 1927. Although Albert Ernest Doyle lived only 51 years and maintained his own architectural practice for less than twenty, he left his mark in the Northwest with Italian Renaissance buildings designed from his base in Portland. For this early commission, however, Doyle outfitted his tower with Corinthian columns on a granite base. The client was the Northwestern National Bank, established in 1912 by Frederick Leadbetter and his father-in-law Henry Lewis Pittock. Englishman Pittock arrived penniless in Oregon in 1853 where he found work as a typesetter for the nascent Oregonian in exchange for room and board, the room being space under the front counter to spread a few blankets. He eventuallybecame manager and editor of the then-weekly newspaper. Pittock was a partner in the first paper mill in the Northwest, set up at Oregon City in 1866 that would become the foundation of the Georgia Pacific Company. His business interests would expand to include real estate, transportation, and logging in addition to banking. When Henry Pittock died in 1919 at the age of 83 his estate was valued at $7,894,778.33, the largest yet probated in Oregon. His wealth did not save his Northwestern Bank, however, which was liquidated after a run by depositors in 1927.

Bedell Building
520–538 SW 6th Ave at northeast corner of Alder Street

Clothier Alfred M. Bedell out of New York City boasted that American women in the 1920s were “the best dressed in the world” and he demanded that his store buildings match the elegance of his Paris-made dresses. His high-end chain would include 20 stores in leading cities across the country. In 1924 Bedell spent $650,000 for this corner and cleared away a night club/bank to make way for his 12-story building. The classically-inspired design by New York architect George A. Schonewald caused the Morning Oregonian to gush that the Bedell Building was “one of Portland’s most distinctive business structures.” Also one of the most profitable. As the Bedell family retired from the business in the 1950s, the Portland store was the last to be sold off.  

Benson Bubblers
front of the Bedell Building on 6th Avenue at northeast corner of Alder Street

Norway-born Simon Berger Iverson immigrated to the Upper Midwest at the age of 17 in 1868 where he learned the lumber business. In 1879 with an Americanized surname Benson was in the Pacific Northwest where he began acquiring lowlands along the Columbia River from homesteaders unable to coax crops from the floodlands. Benson mechanized logging operations with steam railroads and floated his logs down to California on open-sea log rafts to his sawmill in San Diego where his lumber was gobbled up for the exploding Southern California building market. By 1912 Benson was divesting most of his interests and spreading his wealth around Portland. Never happy to see loggers dispose of their wages in local saloons, he donated $10,000 to the town to construct 20 bronze, four-bowl drinking fountains. Today those original 20 have become 52 “Benson Bubblers” in downtown Portland, most constructed in local foundries. 

Wilcox Building
502 SW 6th Avenue at southeast corner of Washington Street

The 12-story Wilcox Building was raised in 1911 on designs by William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis. Theodore Burney Wilcox was born in Massachusetts in 1856 but was lured to the Pacific Northwest to work in Ladd & Tilton’s Bank.  In 1884 he bought an old-fashioned, bankrupt mill on the Willamette River and turned the Portland Flouring Mills Company into one the great enterprises of Oregon. Wilcox spent the twilight days of his career investing heavily in downtown Portland development using prominent Portland architects William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis as his design team.

Equitable Building/Commonwealth Building
421 SW 6th Avenue at northwest corner of Washington Street

Designed by architect Pietro Belluschi as the headquarters of the Equitable Savings and Loan Association in the 1940s, this is one of the world’s first glass box towers. The pioneering structure is comprised of reinforced concrete and was the first major building sheathed in aluminum. The sea-green windows are double glazed and completely sealed so the Equitable was the first large commercial building to be fully air conditioned, pioneering the use of heat pumps. The surfaces are virtually shear with nothing extending so much as an inch beyond the aluminum and glass walls.

United States National Bank
321–331 SW 6th Avenue at northwest corner of Stark Street

Another creation of A.E. Doyle, this Neoclassical vault was formed with reinforced concrete and steel on a granite base and dressed in terra-cotta, including the full height Corinthian columns and pilasters. Marble was imported from across Europe to create the lavish interior. The massive bronze entrance doors on Sixth Avenue are the handiwork of Arvard Fairbanks, a one time professor of sculpture at the University of Oregon. The recipient of this fine banking house when it was completed in 1917 was the United States National Bank that had incorporated in 1890. Within a few years the bank decided to expand, bought out the neighboring Elks Club and marched their building down Stark Street, calling in the original artisans to extend their design.    

Bank of California Building
330 SW 6th Avenue at northeast corner of Stark Street

This rusticated two-story bank vault with over-sized arched windows underneath a Palazzo cornice is one of a series of Italian Renaissance buildings designed by A.E. Doyle following travels abroad undertaken by his chief designer Charles K. Greene. The Bank of California started in Portland in 1882 as a branch of the London and San Francisco Bank that was started to serve the emerging Northwest grain industry. The bank moved into this elegant space in 1924 and remained over 50 years.  


Lumbermen’s Building/Oregon Trail Building
333 SW 5th Avenue at northwest corner of Stark Street

David Chambers Lewis was born in Portland in 1868, the son of Cicero Hunt Lewis whose wholesale grocery house was the largest on the West Coast. After an Ivy League education at Princeton, Lewis hung out his architect’s shingle in 1897. He won notice for his European Building during the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition and a string of high-profile commissions came his way before his career was cut short by illness in 1911. This Beaux Arts-inspired building from 1909 was typical of Lewis’ work; the money man was Gay Lombard, president of the Pacific Grain Company. The Lumbermen National Bank and the Lumbermen’s Trust and Savings Bank signed on as tenants with the proviso that it be called the Lumbermen’s Building. Lumbermen’s moved on in 1921 and a succession of banks followed, often initiating their own design changes. In 1948 the Portland Federal Savings and Loan hired Pietro Belluschi to provide a modernistic appearance and in 1964 Benjamin Franklin Savings and Loan came along in 1964 and ripped out that work and replaced it with Colonial-era Flemish bond brickwork around the lower two floors.

First National Bank
401 SW 5th Avenue at southwest corner of Stark Street

The First National Bank of Portland was organized under the signatures of five leading businessmenduring a Fourth of July celebration in 1865; the first deposits were taken on May 7, 1866. The bank navigated through every American financial crisis until it merged into the First Interstate Bank of Oregon in 1979. The business moved into this banking temple in 1916, designed by the Boston firm of Coolidge and Shattuck, that was hailed as the finest expression of Neoclassical architecture on the West Coast. At the time First National boasted 250,000 depositors.

Railway Exchange Building/Oregon Pioneer Building
320 SW Stark Street at southwest corner of 3rd Avenue

This was one of the first buildings in Portland to be constructed using reinforced concrete, crafted on plans drawn by Portland architect David Chambers Lewis. When it was completed in 1910 Frank Huber moved his restaurant here from the corner of First and Morrison. Huber had purchased the business that was called “The Bureau Saloon” when it started in 1879. Huber’s is still operating in its mahogany surroundings as the oldest restaurant in Portland. The eye-catching gold trim is a souvenir from a 1962 renovation.

Bishop’s House
219-223 SW Stark Street

This structure was built in 1879 as an office and meeting space for a neighboring Catholic cathedral that was torn down in the 1890s. The humble adjunct remains as the finest surviving example of a Victorian Gothic design in Oregon; the cast iron facade fronts a wall construction of brick. The Bishop’s House was sold but trundled on with a wide variety of tenants. The half-empty building was restored in 1965 and secured a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. 

Concord Building
208 SW Stark Street at southwest corner of 2nd Avenue

This brick survivor of the 19th century was developed as a mixed-use office and retail building in 1889 by banker William Sargent Ladd and his sons Charles and William. Completed in 1891, it stands as Portland’s oldest continuously occupied office building. This was the first building in town designed by William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis, M.I.T.-trained architects who dominated the Portland streetscape at the turn of the 20th century. Whidden had come to Portland as an emissary from the legendary New York firm of McKim, Mead & White to shepherd railroad baron Henry Villard’s Portland Hotel to completion. He stayed to open his own practice and after being joined by former classmate Lewis they introduced emerging Eastern architectural styles that led Portland out of the Victorian Age as can start to be seen in the Concord Building.


Grand Stable Building
415-421 SW 2nd Avenue

Cast iron enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity as a building material in the Victorian Age following the Civil War. A cast iron facade was inexpensive, quick to erect and could easily be molded into the ornate styles of the day. The Italianate cast iron facade from 1887 of the Grand Stable and Carriage Company is a classic of the form. The business was a part of the transportation empire of Simeon Gannett Reed, who left a prosperous Massachusetts upbringing at the age of 22 to sail to California and sell supplies to gold hunters. By 1852 he had migrated to the Columbia River to start a mercantile concern but was soon immersed in river shipping companies, stagecoach and railroad ventures. His estate after his death in 1895 would establish Reed College.


Failing Building/Postal Building
510 SW 3rd Avenue at southeast corner of Washington Street

This land was purchased by Henry Failing, a banker and three-term mayor of Portland, in the 1880s as the Portland business district began to push away from the Willamette River. Failing died in 1896 and his estate kickstarted the development of the property in 1900. Architects William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis tapped the Italian Renaissance style for the office building, leaving scarcely an inch of brick facade undecorated on the four-story building. The Failings sold the property in the 1920s and took their name to another office they owned, the previously named Gasco Building. Through a parade of new owners the name that has stuck is that of the Postal Telegraph Company that was the biggest tenant at the time of the original property transfer.

Spalding Building
319 SW Washington Street at northwest corner of 3rd Avenue

Cass Gilbert, a Minneapolis architect whose distinguished résumé includes the United States Supreme Court and three state capitols, was working on the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Woolworth Building, at the same time he added this Renaissance-style high-rise to the Portland streetscape in 1911. The crisp gray brick, 12-story building boasts a terra cotta cornice and a painted limestone crown. The original tenant was the oldest bank in the Northwest, the Ladd & Tilton Bank, that took its first deposit on June 1, 1859. William Sargent Ladd was a Vermonter who met an old classmate, Charles E. Tilton, in San Francisco during the Gold Rush days. Tilton was working in a mercantile concern and Ladd tried to persuade him to strike out for the wide open Oregon Territory instead. Tilton refused and Ladd went alone in 1851 to sell wine and liquor supplied by Tilton’s company. Ladd would erect the town’s first brick building and serve two terms as mayor before Tilton would arrive in Portland to help launch the town’s first bank.  

Dekum Building
519 Southwest 3rd Avenue at southwest corner of Washington Street

Like many of his fellow Germans in the middle 1800s Frank Dekum emigrated to the American midwest and like many young men his age then set out for the California gold fields. In 1853 Dekum was peddling fruit and sweets in downtown Portland in the firm of Dekum & Bickel. Dekum poured much of the profit from his candy and the “largest wholesale fresh-fruit business in the Northwest” into real estate, constructing a series of large commercial buildings that culminated in The Dekum in 1892. The Romanesque-flavored building rises eight stories, with five levels of red brick and terra-cotta above three levels of rough-cut sandstone. Decorating the bold arches are intricate carvings across the facade. The final price tag was $300,000. Frank Dekum only had two years to admire the craftsmanship - he died at the age of 63 in 1894.


Hamilton Building
529 SW 3rd Avenue 

This building from 1893 marks a stylistic transition from the effusive Victorian age to the less decorative designs of modern commercial architecture. The sparse ornamentation offered by architects William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis is classically flavored, one of the first in Portland to demonstrate Greek influences. The six-story, mid-block structure carries the name of Hamilton Corbett, a son of Senator Henry Corbett.  

Buyers Building/Loyalty Building
317 SW Alder Street at northwest corner of 3rd Avenue

A grand Masonic Hall once stood here; it was replaced by this 12-story tower in 1928 with early touches of Art Deco styling. It was planned by architects Fred and William Claussen, transplants from Chicago, for wholesale jeweler Isidore Holsman in 1922. By the time the project came to fruition it marked the end of a building boom in Portland that didn’t see another major project in town for two decades.  


Hotel Alder
415 SW Alder Street at northwest corner of 4th Avenue

This four-story hotel was constructed in 1910 by the Southern Pacific Railroad at the end of its line in Portland. Over the years it operated as the Hotel President, Jack London Hotel, Century Plaza and the Hotel Alder. In decline by the 1970s, the building was put to use as low income housing but a 2005 makeover returned the Hotel Alder to historic standards. 


Lipman’s/Hotel Monaco
506 SW Washington Street at southeast corner of 5th Avenue

Lipman’s was one of the three department store pillars of Portland’s retail core along with Olds, Wortman & King and Meier & Frank. Soloman Lipman and his nephew Adolphe Wolfe hooked up in Sacramento in 1850, selling supplies to gold rushers and later turned eastward to outfit the Comstock Lode silver boom in Nevada. When the ore played out, Wolfe moved the business to a new store in Portland in 1880. Lipman-Wolfe settled into this flagship store in 1912 across the street from competitor Meier & Frank, designed by A.E. Doyle and William B. Patterson. The Lipman-Wolfe nameplate survived in Portland for 99 years; Portland shoppers rode their first escalators here and received their first change to the penny, not a nickel. In the mid-1990s the building was revived as a hotel and in 2007 it became the Hotel Monaco. 


Gevurtz Building/Failing Office Building
620 SW 5th Avenue at the southeast corner of Alder Street

This is another collaboration of the Failing family money and architects William M. Whidden and Ion Lewis, raised in 1907. Members of the Failing family were prominent in 19th century Portland politics and banking and the family’s wholesale merchandising operation was the largest of its kind in the region. This structure of yellow brick and glazed terra cotta started life as a six-story affair named the Gevurtz Building after the furniture company that commandeered the ground floor when it was finished. Six more stories were added in 1913. The building has suffered through a century of attempted modernizations but a recent renovation has returned it more or less to its 1913 visage.

Kress Building
638 Southwest 5th Avenue at northeast corner of Morrison Street

Samuel Henry Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. He took as much pride in the appearance of those stores as the nickels and dimes that piled up in his coffers. There would eventually be 264 Kress five-and-dime stores throughout the United States and many of them adopted the Art Deco style in the 1920s and 1930s. The Portland store was constructed in 1928.   

Pioneer Place
bounded by Morrison and Taylor streets and 3rd and 5th avenues

Now covering four downtown blocks, the first stage of the shopping mall called Pioneer Place opened in 1990. The complex spreads across four buildings, linked by skywalks and slices of underground retail concourses. 

Georgia-Pacific Building/Standard Insurance Center
900 SW 5th Avenue at southeast corner of Taylor Street

At the time of its construction in 1968 as a headquarters for the Georgia-Pacific Company this International Style 367-foot tower was the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. It stood as Portland’s tallest building for a year before being replaced by the Wells Fargo Center (still the city’s tallest building) and currently resides in the #6 spot. The marble sculpture out front was designed by Count Alexander von Svoboda in 1970 with the intention of leading “the beholder to look towards the middle of the building and then up.” Officially title The Quest, many Portland wags simply refer to it as “Three Groins in the Fountain.”

Multnomah County Courthouse
1021 SW 4th Avenue between Salmon Street and Main Street

Multnomah County was created in 1854, named for the Mulnoman peoples first recorded in the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When the county went looking for a new courthouse in 1909 they turned to Portland’s go-to architectural team of William Whidden and Ion Lewis. Whidden & Lewis delivered a block-filling Neoclassical composition. Still in use, the house of justice included 39 courtrooms.

Portland Building
1120 SW 5th Avenue and southeast corner of Main Street

This icon of post-modern architecture, with its cornucopia of surface materials and colors framing small, square windows, came from celebrated architect, Target product designer and New Jersey Hall of Fame member, Michael Graves. The groundbreaking plan was selected in a design competition for a new city municipal services building and opened in 1982. When it was unveiled, the Portland Building won an American Institute of Architects honor award but its detractors were legion and thirty years later continues to generate negative reaction. 

City Hall
bounded by 4th and 5th avenues and Madison and Jefferson streets

When the City of Portland sunk $600,000 into this new City Hall in 1895 the surrounding area was just dirt roads and scattered houses. Architects Ion Lewis and William Whidden crafted a beautifully symmetrical four-story Italian Renaissance structure rendered in sandstone. Cost considerations left a cupola and a clock tower on the drawing board. The building continues to house the city government thanks to a $29 million renovation in the 1990s. 


Ambassador Apartments
1209 SW 6th Avenue at southwest corner of Madison Street

A touch of the English Tudor Revival appeared on the Portland streetscape in 1922 with the erection of the Ambassador Apartments, fashioned from Columbian brick with Idaho sandstone trim. German-born architect Carl Linde contributed the fanciful design. The nine-story, H-shaped building was converted to condominiums in 1978. 


Gus Solomon United States Court House
bounded by 6th Avenue and Broadway and Main and Madison streets

This Depression-era stimulus project came online in 1933 to relieve the Pioneer Courthouse from some of its duties. Portland architect Morris H. Whitehouse provided the Renaissance Revival design with splashes of Art Deco detailing. The hulking, block-swallowing edifice, dressed in Wilkerson sandstone quarried in Washington, is not as immense as it appears - the center boasts a hollow center with a light court. Doors, grilles and handrails all feature brushed bronze. The Courthouse has carried the name of Gus Solomon since 1989; Solomon was a District Court judge for 37 years - longer than any other Oregon judge.

Public Service Building
920 SW 6th Street at northeast corner of Salmon Street

This building was raised in 1927 as the home of the Portland Gas and Coke Company and the Pacific Light and Power Company, a time when such utilities were looked upon as “public services.” Prolific Portland architect A.E. Doyle’s firm handled the planning and it was the third of the shop’s trilogy of Italian Renaissance creations to grace the streetscape in the 1920s. All featured red clay tile roofs. In 1957 the north and south wings were beefed up from two to twelve stories and the Public Service Building became the tallest building in Portland for a spell.

Pacific Building
520 SW Yamhill Street at southeast corner of 6th Avenue

Henry Winslow Corbett sailed from New York to Portland in 1851 when he was 24 years old, shepherding a stock of goods to sell to miners. In little more than a year Corbett was able to return a profit of $20,000 to his Eastern backers and pocket $20,000 for himself which he parlayed into a retail and banking career. He also thrust himself into local politics on the city council and in 1866 Corbett was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate. After one term he did not stand for re-election and returned to Portland and his business interests, building a grand mansion on this block. The Corbett house was razed in 1926 to make way for this 10-story office building. Architect Charles K. Greene blended the elegant Italian Renaissance style into the orderly parade of Chicago-style windows, capping the composition with a red-tiled roof. Pietro Bellushi, a leader of the Modern Movement in architecture with over 1000 buildings to his credit, got his start in Portland working on the lobby of the Pacific Building.