PosterSpeakingofHistoryPosterFinal2014_000001The Society is proud of the scope of our community outreach. Thanks to a generous grant from the Lake Oswego Rotary, the Society owns a screen and a projector that we’re happy to supply if needed. As a community service, all talks are presented free of charge.

We have given presentations about Lake Oswego’s history to over 30 groups and organizations:

  • Architectural Heritage Center
  • Boones Ferry Road Improvement Project Advisory Committee
  • Book Groups
  • City of Lake Oswego Historic Resources Advisory Board
  • City of Lake Oswego Sustainability Advisory Board
  • Clackamas County Historical Society
  • Daughters of the American Revolution Lake Oswego Tualatin Chapter
  • Friends of Tryon Creek
  • Lake Grove Lions Club
  • Lake Oswego Adult Community Center
  • Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce
  • Lake Oswego Downtown Business Association
  • Lake Oswego Lions Club
  • Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation
  • Lake Oswego Public Library/Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library
  • Lake Oswego Rotary
  • Lakewood Associates
  • Leadership Lake Oswego/Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce
  • League of Women Voters of Clackamas County
  • Mary’s Woods Retirement Community
  • Museum of the Oregon Territory
  • North Shore-Country Club District Neighborhood Association
  • Old Town Neighborhood Association
  • Portland Community College Seniors Studies Institute
  • Re/Max Equity Group
  • The Springs at Carman Oaks Retirement Community
  • The Stafford Retirement Community
  • Summa Professionals Real Estate Group
  • Ticor Title
  • University of Oregon in Portland Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
  • Windermere Cronin & Caplan Realty Group, Inc.

Please click on a link below to view a sample of one of the Society’s presentations. Note: Turning Oswego’s Iron into Gold has many visuals and it may take several minutes to load:

Additional presentations available from the Society include:

  • Building Blocks: A History of Lake Oswego Neighborhoods: Keynote Presentation
  • The Carman House: Keynote Presentation
  • Classic Houses on Oswego Lake:  Keynote Presentation
  • Lake Oswego Vignettes: The Story of My Book: Talk
  • Tryon Creek History: Fires, Freeways, Sewage, and Subdivisions: Talk

Walking tours available from the Society include:

  • Live Where You Play: Walking Tour
  • The Story of Five Families of Old Town: Walking Tour
  • Blockbuster: Downtown Commercial Historic Buildings: Walking Tour

If you are interested scheduling a presentation for your group, please email us or call us at: 503-481-2479.


Civic Event Remarks

Members of the Society have also been asked to speak at civic events.

Sundeleaf Plaza Dedication

September 26, 2011

By Marylou Colver

Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”   Richard Sundeleaf designed many buildings in Lake Oswego, both commercial and residential, that have shaped us and have shaped our community.

The English Cottage style Lake Theatre adjacent to the plaza opened in 1940. Although one of his architectural drawings shows “Satan Was a Blonde” and “March of Time” on the marquee, it appears that these films were fictional. The first feature film was “Another Thin Man” starring William Powell and Myrna Loy and admission was 25 cents. The theatre’s design was unique in that it allowed access by both car and boat. Three businesses opened in the building along with the theatre: Ireland’s on the Lake restaurant, Clever Cleaners, and the Theatre Ice Cream Store.

Across State Street is another Sundeleaf building in the English Cottage style that now houses a Starbucks. It opened in 1941 as the real estate office for Paul F. Murphy, the son of the visionary Paul C. Murphy. In the 20th century, Murphy senior shaped the town more than any other single individual.  As head of the Ladd Estate Company in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Paul C. Murphy encouraged architect-designed homes in park-like settings and this paved the way for Sundeleaf and other local architects.

Richard Sundeleaf, a University of Oregon graduate, started his career in 1923 in the offices of A. E. Doyle.  Doyle headed a prominent firm that designed many of Portland’s iconic buildings such as the Multnomah County Public Library and the Pacific Building.  Doyle told Sundeleaf, “Give up architecture.  You’re not cut out for it.”  Sundeleaf proved him wrong.  His career spanned more than 60 years and it is said that he did over 3,000 projects. Sundeleaf practiced architecture into his 80s. A 1982 article in “The Oregonian” is entitled “At 82, Oregon’s oldest architect is still going strong.”  He also said that he never turned down a job as long as the client could pronounce the word, “architect.”

Portland-born, Sundeleaf lived in Lake Oswego, in a house of his own design, for 38 years from 1949 until his death in 1987.  His English Cottage style house still stands on Phantom Bluff Court. The original design incorporated half-timbered brick and cedar beams, posts, and siding and a stone boat dock. Brick and stone were Sundeleaf’s favorite materials plus he expressed a preference for “good old wood and iron; I don’t like any of this fake stuff they use in everything.”

It is fitting that this City park built of stone, surrounded by Sundeleaf-designed buildings, and adjacent to the lake that he saw every day from his home, is named “Sundeleaf Plaza” in his honor.


Rotary Remarks (two-minute limit)

March 4, 2013

By Marylou Colver

Thank you! Hello! I’m Marylou Colver. I founded the Lake Oswego Preservation Society in 2011 and, in 2012, we were granted 501 (c) 3 tax exempt status. Our mission is to support Lake Oswego’s historic fabric through advocacy and education.

All of our educational events and outreach:

  1. Support our mission
  2. Are researched-based and passionately accurate
  3. Are opportunities to build partnerships with other organizations

And we want to make history fun!

My book, Lake Oswego Vignettes, published last year, is one example of how we fulfill these multilevel educational goals. Another example is our signature annual event, the “Classic Houses and History Boat Tour on Oswego Lake.” The Society partners with the Lake Oswego Corporation to present a two-hour guided cruise covering 50 historic lakefront homes and sites.

In addition we’ve given talks to over 15 community organizations, we lead walking tours, we’ve developed a continuing education series for real estate agents, we’re working on a high school essay contest, and we’re slated to receive a Clackamas County Tourism Grant to create an architectural treasure hunt of historic commercial buildings. These are just a few of our accomplishments so it has been a busy year and a half!

Advocacy is a more difficult task, but if we do not advocate we are not doing our job. We testify at public hearings when landmark properties are threatened, we write letters to the editor, we work with other preservation organizations, and we publish an advocacy page on our website and in our newsletter. Also, we are the only local organization focused on the critical link between preservation and sustainability.

The Society is supported by membership, fundraising events, grants, sales of my book and other Lake Oswego history-related gift items. True to our motto, “We see a future in our past.”


Arbor Week Lake Oswego Heritage Tree Dedication

April 9, 2013

By Marylou Colver

Trees have been essential to our community since it was founded 163 years ago. They’ve provided shelter from the rain and sun, jobs for local workers, and they’ve enhanced real estate values. Here’s a brief snapshot of the importance of trees throughout the town’s history.

The Peg Tree on Leonard Street is the only tree in Lake Oswego that’s on the City’s Landmark Designation List, which is different from the heritage tree designation we’re celebrating today although it also shares that distinction. The Peg Tree, estimated to be over 200 years old, provided shelter for community gatherings after the town was founded in 1850. A lantern, hung from a wooden peg, illuminated meetings and that’s how the tree got its name. It still provides shelter, just as it has done for about two centuries.

The iron industry, which developed early in the town’s history, depended on Douglas fir trees, such as the one we’re honoring today. Wood was a key ingredient of charcoal, which was used to fuel the iron furnace. Chinese woodcutters felled these giants and many of the Chinese lived in the area where the George Rogers Park baseball field is today.

Elizabeth Pettinger reminisced about a time soon after the end of the iron industry. I’d like to read her words: “On the east side of Furnace Street there was a line of about fourteen trees, big heavy firs, first growth, like the Grange Hall trees [the Grange Hall was located on the NW corner of Leonard and Furnace Streets].  Their under boughs had been kept trimmed high so that the view of the river could be seen through them. Here, under these trees, the men from the two big boarding houses on Furnace Street rested on summer evenings and watched the river boats that plied up and down between Portland and Oregon City.  This tree-shaded bank was a public playground winter and summer for young and old.”

Pettinger continues, “Several years after we came to Oswego, after the furnace had been closed down, the road supervisor– three weeks before his term expired–had his workmen cut down every one of those magnificent trees–every one of them. “They obstructed traffic on Furnace Street.” Did anyone protest?  Of course, but the trees came down!”

In the 20th century, Oswego’s natural resources were repurposed into residential real estate. A transition, so to speak, from “pig iron to nine irons,” or from “gritty to pretty.” In 1925, the Ladd Estate Company’s first Oswego development was named by combining the words “lake” and “wood” to create “Lakewood.” The marketing slogan for Lakewood drove home the point “Beside the lake – beneath the trees.”

The Ladd Estate Company’s second Oswego endeavor, also dating from 1925, used another tree-inspired name. It was Forest Hills, which surrounded the newly completed Oswego Lake Country Club. A 1928 ad claims: “The grove of fine native trees offer splendid opportunity to create rare landscaping effects for the artistic home some family will build. Nature needed many long years to grow those valuable flowering dogwoods, the graceful maples, the Madronnas, and spired firs.” Clearly the natural beauty of trees was an integral part of the company’s “Live where you play” vision of charming homes nestled in park-like settings.

In the last half of the 20th century, Mary Goodall, the author of Oregon’s Iron Dream was a champion of trees. In an interview, she said, “I served on the Lake Oswego City Council for eight years. And, I am happy to say that I worked constantly for beautification and also for preserving the great old trees, which soften the landscape. We did manage to pass an ordinance on tree cutting, which had been quite unrestricted before this time. Some people know that I managed to save the great Sequoia tree on the corner of the Safeway property. And this is used as our town Christmas tree.” Goodall was also instrumental in planting the flowering trees that line the south side of Country Club Road. On the Lake Oswego Public Library’s website, there is a wonderful photo of Mary Goodall taken on Arbor Day. Like the pied piper, she’s leading a band of children through George Rogers Park on the way to plant a fig tree.

As a testimony to the importance of trees to this community, it still remains harder to cut down a tree than it is to demolish a home. From many standpoints, including environmental sustainability and affordable housing, it would make sense to make demolishing homes and buildings much more difficult in Lake Oswego than it is today.

I’d like to close with a quote from Martin Luther who said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”


Lake Oswego Downtown Business Association

May 14, 2013

By Marylou Colver

The Lake Oswego Preservation Society is actively working on promoting the positive economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of historic building retention. I’ll briefly mention each of these “triple bottom line” benefits of preservation. I’ll rely on many quotes today because others have said it far more eloquently than I.

Donovan Rypkema, an internationally recognized authority, has written extensively on the economic benefits of preservation. He observes:

“On the commercial side, if we want to begin to mitigate the endless expanse of strip center sprawl it is critical that we have effective programs of center city revitalization. Throughout America over the last decade, we have seen downtowns come back and reclaim their historic role as the multifunctional, vibrant, heart of the city. Now this is the area where I do most of my work. I typically visit 100 downtowns a year of every size, in every part of the country. But I cannot identify a single example of a sustained success story in downtown revitalization where historic preservation wasn’t a key component of that strategy. Not a one. Conversely, the examples of very expensive failures in downtown revitalization have nearly all had the destruction of historic buildings as a major element. That doesn’t mean, I suppose, that it’s not theoretically possible to have downtown revitalization and no historic preservation, but I haven’t seen it, I haven’t read of it, I haven’t heard of it.”

Demolishing the past and building anew surrounds us with contemporary structures that rob us of our uniqueness and threaten to turn us into Any Town, USA. Diversity of ages, whether it’s people or buildings, makes for a stronger and more interesting community.

Richard Moe, former President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation observed, “There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here and there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”

Another benefit of building reuse is that it is our most sustainable choice. Is it necessary for the mantra: reduce/reuse/recycle, that’s printed on our curbside containers to be emblazoned on the sides of our buildings to remind us of this most critical aspect of sustainability?

Rypkema summarized the basic sustainability concepts as follows:

  1. Sustainable development is crucial for economic competitiveness.
  2. Sustainable development has more elements than just environmental responsibility.
  3. “Green buildings” and sustainable development are not synonyms.
  4. Historic preservation is, in and of itself, sustainable development.
  5. Development without a historic preservation component is not sustainable.

Lake Oswego’s built heritage is a very precious community resource. As the community works toward greater sustainability, preservation is key. Does it make sense to recycle Coke cans, yet throw entire buildings into landfill?

There is only one chance to make the decision to demolish an historic structure and we make that decision, not only for ourselves, but also for all who come after us. Preserving historic properties retains the wide range of options for rehabilitation and reuse.

Speaking of reuse, Rypkema also observed, “Functional obsolescence is when a building or its components no longer meet the utility demands of the marketplace. Functional obsolescence is real, but for many developers, real estate owners, architects, and city officials, the response to functional obsolescence is demolition. But the alternative environmentally responsible response is adaptive reuse. In real estate language, functional obsolescence represents the loss of utility, but adaptive reuse is the reinsertion of a new utility into an existing building.”

In Lake Oswego, one good example of adaptive reuse is the building on A Avenue currently occupied by R. Blooms. It was originally a turn-of-the-century boarding house and has been adapted to many uses over time. The buildings in the block on State Street could be restored just as attractively as R. Blooms. What we would discourage is the use of façade grants to fund major alterations that alter the historic fabric of a building beyond recognition.

As I mentioned, as long as a building remains standing the possibilities for adapting it for a creative and productive new use are endless. Once a decision has been made to demolish a structure, it eliminates those possibilities now and for all who come after us.

Retention and stewardship of Lake Oswego’s unique built heritage is a win-win decision. It’s today’s most sustainable choice, it makes economic sense, and it preserves Lake Oswego’s unique historic fabric for future generations.

Speaking of historic fabric, there is obviously the cultural aspect of preserving historic buildings. Homes, commercial buildings, and even industrial remains can be among the few long-lived “residents” who can tell us, our children, and future generations the stories of our community.

History tells our story and buildings can be communicators of that past. For example, one story is of immigrants and their contribution to our community. The Rogers Brothers, who built two grocery stores on State Street, came from the Island of Madeira and eventually settled in Oswego. They commissioned the renowned architect, Charles Ertz, to design the building on the northwest corner of State Street and A Avenue that currently used as a home theatre store. This building inspired the design of the southwest corner of Lake View Village occupied by Sur La Table and The Bank of Oswego. George Rogers contributed to the community in many ways including serving on City Council and spearheading the effort to create Oswego’s first park, which was subsequently named after him. The Rogers commercial buildings are part of the community legacy left by George Rogers and his brothers.

Another story is told by the building occupied by Chuck’s Coffee. It was originally the Koehler House and it’s where the early city council meetings were held after Oswego incorporated in 1910, long before a city hall was constructed.

Stories of our community can be told by every historic downtown building. In fact, the Lake Oswego Preservation Society plans to offer a walking tour of the downtown commercial buildings to focus the community’s attention on this legacy.

Some of these structures are protected as City Landmarks and others vary in architectural importance, but they may have equal significance to the individual memories on which the community’s collective past is built. The stories these buildings tell are critical in communicating our community’s history and values. They can be eloquent, and with our help and stewardship, can live long after we, as individuals, are gone.

Let’s be visionaries and see buildings for their potential and not just for the value of the land on which they sit. These buildings are a part of what make Lake Oswego our “hometown.” They are unique assets that set Lake Oswego apart from other places. Let’s have the vision to see what these older buildings have to offer our community if they are given the chance. Let’s not let landfills be cemeteries for these perfectly useable buildings.

Graeme Shankland, Secretary of the William Morris Society, may have said it best when he observed: “A country without a past has the emptiness of a barren continent; and a city without old buildings is like a man without a memory.”