Please email the City of Lake Oswego Mayor and the Councilors about these issues: CouncilDistribution@ci.oswego.or.us
Historic buildings are the precious gifts our City has the unique opportunity to give to the future, they are our legacy. We need to protect these fragile, threatened resources for Lake Oswego residents now and those who come after us and for those who come after them.
Please join the Lake Oswego Preservation Society’s efforts to save the best of our built heritage for the sake of our future. As John Steinbeck wrote, “How will we know it’s us without our past?”
May 2015 Letter to the Editor by Marylou Colver, President
“There’s gold in your attic!” could also apply to our city’s historic buildings. There are consequences to tearing down our older buildings and homes; we could be throwing away a major economic benefit. The “gold” is heritage tourism, which can provide long-term returns on investments in our historic resources.
Lake Oswego has the only remaining iron furnace west of the Rockies. The city helped finance the major restoration of the 1866 furnace and the only extant iron worker’s cottage. In addition, the Oswego Iron Heritage Trail guides visitors to these and other former industrial sites.
Promoting tourism, especially in light of the recent Oregon State Heritage Area designation and possible national designation, makes economic sense. Studies show that heritage travelers stay longer and spend more money than any others.
Visitors drawn to our city by the unique vestiges of the iron industry will also be attracted to our restaurants, shops, hotels and surrounding neighborhoods. For a city with such a long and rich history, it’s alarming that, as of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan update, we retained only 8 percent of the housing stock built prior to 1950.
Especially in the 1920s and 1930s, major Oregon architects were designing Lake Oswego homes, and many of these have been lost. The city, based on our Comprehensive Plan’s historic preservation goal, should encourage private property owners to retain older homes by providing real incentives to do so, funded by the hotel/motel tax. Charming streetscapes have often defined our neighborhood character, but this is changing with the increasing pace of demolitions.
Historic preservation is far too often viewed as a burden, but, given incentives and a shift in emphasis, it can be of tremendous positive benefit to our community. As Arthur Frommer observed, “Tourism does not go to a city that has lost its soul.”
April 2015 Letter to the Editor by Marylou Colver, President
“Building demolitions unlock decades of poison.” This attention-grabbing headline immediately brought to mind the seemingly daily demolition of homes in Lake Oswego neighborhoods. As backhoes claw these houses to piles of rubble, lead paint is converted to a particulate dust that spreads to neighboring homes, an unwelcome and dangerous presence which lingers for decades.
Most homes in the United States built before 1978 contain lead-based paint. Lead poisoning leads to crippling mental and physical health effects for people of all ages and for pets, but it isn’t the only health risk posed by unregulated demolition practices. Unleashing asbestos and even non-toxic dust can lead to asthma and other respiratory issues.
The question for our community is: Should redevelopment be allowed to expose residents to long-term health hazards?
The good news is that we can take steps to prevent unleashing additional decades of poison in our neighborhoods. Responsible demolition practices can effectively minimize health risks. An Annie E. Casey Foundation study (aecf.org/…/aecf-ResponsibleDemolitionBmoreCaseStudy-2011.pdf) recommended implementation of eight demolition safety protocols:
1. Effective community notification;
2. Adequate use of water to minimize dust;
3. Partial deconstruction of homes to remove components with high amounts of lead prior to demolition;
4. Fencing and other barriers;
5. Picker method for demolition as opposed to backhoe or wrecking ball;
6. Prompt, careful debris removal;
7. Replacing contaminated soil with new sod; and
8. Independent testing to measure lead dust and lead accumulation.
Please join the Lake Oswego Preservation Society in asking the city to take steps to responsibly address this critical issue that adversely affects the livability of our neighborhoods.
July 2014 Buildings Matter Letter to the Editor
A Seattle wedding and a Philadelphia funeral — what do these two solemn ceremonies have in common? There’s the woman who tried to save an abandoned Seattle warehouse by marrying it and the funeral held for a vernacular Philadelphia townhouse prior to demolition. Both of these ceremonies were intended to honor buildings that were once an integral part of their communities. Why are people willing to invest time and money in such unorthodox, and potentially useless, acts? The only answer is that buildings matter. Places matter. Humble, grand, and everything in between. Buildings house our personal and collective memories. Too often building materials — stones, bricks and lumber — typically of a quality that would no longer be affordable today, are thoughtlessly tossed into dumpsters destined for landfills. The unfortunate fate of these structures that shaped our memories is a disservice to our community now, and for every future citizen who won’t have the opportunity to experience and enjoy these buildings that were once a part of us. Take action and oppose the changes that threaten the essential fabric of our city and our neighborhoods. Here are a couple of steps you can take to be a part of the solution. 1) Advocate for changes in City policy regarding demolitions: CouncilDistribution@ci.oswego.or.us 2) Join and support the work of the your local non-profit historic preservation advocacy organization, the Lake Oswego Preservation Society: lakeoswegopreservationsociety.org
February 2013 The Eloquence of Buildings Letter to the Editor
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. These stories might be about the place where the first city council meetings were held after Oswego incorporated in 1910 (long before a city hall was constructed) or the local mid-century hamburger drive-in.
They 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 silently eloquent, and with our help and stewardship, can live long after we, as individuals, are gone.
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.”
January 2013 Let’s be Visionaries Letter to the Editor
Let’s be visionaries and see buildings for their potential and not just for the value of the land on which they sit. Many buildings, particularly houses, have been part of the lives of generations. You don’t have to live in a house for it to become a part of you. It’s the small mid-century modern you notice every time you walk to town. It’s the cottage where your best grade school friend lived. These houses make it our “hometown.” These are not big and grand structures. They are often affordable houses for young families and for seniors, only we’re not seeing it that way.
Let’s not let landfills be cemeteries for these habitable houses. There has been one residential demolition permit issued every 10 days in Lake Oswego over the last decade. These permits do not require a photograph so, for many homes, even this simple snapshot recording their existence doesn’t exist.
Houses are unique assets that set Lake Oswego apart from other places. Let’s have the vision to see what these older homes have to offer our community if they are given the chance.
March 2012 Letter of Recommendation to the National Trust for Historic Preservation
March 5, 2012
National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Re: Oswego Iron Furnace
Dear Award Committee Members:
As a citizen of Lake Oswego, a resident of the Old Town neighborhood in which the Oswego Iron Furnace is located, and as president of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, I recommend the Oswego Iron Furnace project for the Richard H. Driehaus National Preservation Award.
The 1866 Oswego Iron Furnace stands proudly in the heart of the city’s first public park, George Rogers Park, and in the heart of the community. It’s a monument to the past, present, and future of the city. It’s a monument to the nineteenth century capitalists who invested in the dream of iron, the stonemasons who built it, and the industry’s role in shaping the town.
The stabilization project completed in 2010 has added another layer to this historical significance. The furnace is now also a monument to community leaders with the vision of preservation, to the art of present-day stonemasons, and to those who rallied over the years to save the furnace. It will continue to stand as such a monument and, given the accompanying interpretative panels, it will continue to provide a learning opportunity for those who come after us.
The following examples demonstrate the community’s support of the furnace and its importance to the city’s economic vitality:
- The furnace is such an iconic symbol of Lake Oswego that the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, whose tagline is “forging relationship, building the community” recently adopted an image of the furnace as their logo.
- Over 250 people attended the “Furnace Blast” event in celebration of the completion of the stabilization project.
- Hundreds of people attended a memorial service at the furnace for a former mayor and community leader.
- Educators teach grade school children about the history of Lake Oswego by visiting the furnace.
- Townspeople use it as a gathering place. The area surrounding the furnace functions as an “outdoor living room” for the community.
- The furnace, as the only remaining blast furnace west of the Rocky Mountains, is both a local and a national tourist attraction and this, in turn, contributes to the city’s economic vitality.
- The recently completed Oswego Iron Heritage Trail, funded by the city, links and interprets seven sites related to the industry. It is an innovative approach to telling the story of the iron industry through the eyes of the workers. The trail is generating more interest in Lake Oswego’s history for local, regional, and national visitors who, it is anticipated, will spend tourist dollars in Lake Oswego.
As a resident of the Old Town neighborhood in which the furnace is located, I can attest to the fact that the furnace, along with the other iron-era sites, is a source of pride for the neighborhood. This sense of pride has been revitalized since the city demonstrated the importance of the furnace by investing it its stabilization. Old Town residents have applied for and have been awarded several Neighborhood Enhancement Programs (NEP) grants by the City of Lake Oswego. These neighborhood-driven, city-funded projects include:
- Every street name in Old Town, officially platted in 1867, has a connection to the iron era. An NEP grant funded interpretative signs for each street explaining the significance of the person or place in the city’s history.
- Another NEP grant funded the creation and installation of two maps that show the location of the historic sites in Old Town.
Lastly, I speak as the president of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, a non-profit corporation. This organization was founded in 2011, too late to play a role in the furnace stabilization project. I applaud the concerted efforts that saved this place that matters so much to our community.
William Murtagh wrote, “It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.” Receiving this national award would underscore the importance of the furnace as a symbol of Lake Oswego’s industrial past, a symbol of the present community’s roots, and a symbol of the city’s future.
President, Lake Oswego Preservation Society
*in October 2012, the Oswego Iron Furnace was selected as one of 22 National Preservation Honor Award winners.
March 2012 Oregon’s Most Endangered Places Nomination
The Society nominated the Carman House, the oldest remaining house in Lake Oswego, dating from the mid-1850s to Oregon’s Most Endangered Places list. It is also one of the few extant territorial (pre-statehood) homes in Oregon. The Historic Preservation League of Oregon did not select the Carman House as one of its most endangered places.
February 2012 What’s Old is New Again Letter to the Editor
Graeme Shankland, first Honorary 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.”
In Lake Oswego, one of the most unlikely adaptive reuses of an old building is located on Lakewood Bay. It was built about 1912 to house the electric generators that powered the Southern Pacific’s Red Electric trains. In 1929, as the automobile gained prominence, that mass-transit system shut down. The building was reinvented as a facility for the Oswego Weavers’ tie factory. Their hand-loomed products were featured at the Meier and Frank department store and were popular nationwide. The labor shortage caused by World War II drained the workforce and the factory ceased operations in this facility. The war housing shortage prompted renovation of the building into apartments. These apartments were expanded and converted into condominiums in more recent times so the building is on its fourth reincarnation.
As shown by this example, 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. 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?
December 2011 Preservation’s Role in Economic Development Letter to the Editor
Fostering current economic development does not require sacrificing our past. Given the community update to the comprehensive plan, we have an opportunity to rethink our approach to historic preservation and recognize the contribution Lake Oswego’s existing historic fabric makes to the local economy and to sustainability.
To fully utilize the potential of Lake Oswego’s built heritage, the Lake Oswego Preservation Society suggests that the following “better by the dozen” concepts be included in the comprehensive plan update:
- Educate the community about the strong relationship between sustainability and preservation.
- Promote rehabilitation of historic buildings, which contributes more, in the long term, to the local economy than new construction.
- Actively encourage partnerships among municipalities (city, county, and state) and local businesses and organizations specializing in building reuse.
- Enhance the protection and retention of Landmark properties by strengthening our code language.
- Encourage the use of conservation easements to protect historic properties.
- Protect National Register properties the same as Landmark properties under the City’s Historic Preservation code.
- Provide incentives for relocating buildings within the community as an alternative to demolition.
- Prohibit demolition by neglect.
- Reexamine the criterion for delisting an historic property and make them more objective than the current method.
- Require deconstruction on any remodel or new construction project costing more than a certain to-be-determined amount.
- Require that photographic documentation be submitted with a demolition permit application for buildings over 50 years old.
- Actively encourage homeowners to document and share the history of their homes, streets, and neighborhoods via workshops, storytelling sessions, photo contests, etc.
October 2011 The Historic Carman House Letter to the Editor
According to the real estate listing “This gorgeous piece of property with an old Farmhouse (as is) is ready for development or imagination for a private home on 1.25. R-5 zoning allows many options.” The one option it may not allow for is the preservation of what is possibly the oldest and one of the most historic homes in Lake Oswego.
The Carman House was built in the mid-1850s, prior to Oregon becoming a state. Few homes from the territorial period survive in Lake Oswego or even statewide. Carman built it with the help of fellow pioneer, C. W. Bryant. The house was constructed for Carman and his bride, Lucretia Allyn Gurney, the first couple to be married in Oswego. Historian Mary Goodall described it as “an outstanding structure of the times.”
Carman was a millwright and is credited with building the first wooden dam on the lake and the first school.
This historic house has been in our community for over 160 years, the span of five generations. It is one of only 43 homes designated by the City as a landmark; it is a scarce and irreplaceable part of our past. A public hearing is required to alter or demolish a city landmark. Hopefully this safeguard will protect the property as intended.
Carman Drive should not be the only tribute to this pioneer family. Preservation of the home would allow their legacy to continue and would add a new owner’s legacy of stewardship. Care of the Carman House, as well as Lake Oswego’s built heritage, is an individual and a community responsibility. Let us not allow this irreplaceable resource to be lost.