Northwest Portland's old Goldsmith house may yet be saved from the bulldozer.
Developer Marty Kehoe's company bought the site at 1507 N.W. 24th Ave. in March for $1.5 million. Adding it to the smaller lot next door, he proposed to demolish the 1902 Queen Anne Victorian home and build seven townhouses. The Northwest District Association heard about the plan too late and tried to stop him. But Kehoe's crew was already gutting the building.
"We are working with the neighborhood and the city in a collaborative manner to find a solution, and all options the table at the moment," Kehoe said Monday.
"I'm responding to the neighborhood which is requesting a collaborative method of attempting to save the house. I have a lot of respect for the neighborhood association."
Kehoe says he may still sue the city if a demolition permit issued on April 9, but blocked nine days later, is not eventually approved.
The house is a hulking, moss green structure that sits high above the street, partially obscured by large trees, on a 10,000-square-foot lot zoned for residential development. It was designed by architect Edgar Lazarus and is an example of the Shingle style.
During the April 24 Northwest District Association meeting, Kehoe showed up on his own to answer questions about the project. The first question: "Is there anything we can do to save that glorious home?" His short answer: "I don't think there is."
Kehoe told neighborhood association members that the house, which has been used as offices since 1964, has problems with its brick foundation, dry rot, electrical, plumbing and insulation, and requires asbestos removal. "The amount of money it would cost to save it makes it economically unfeasible."
Kehoe said codes on turnaround radii for driveways and stormwater management tanks made it difficult to build enough new homes to make a profit and keep the house.
Kehoe has looked at other options, such as building fewer townhouses on the land and keeping the historic building, but no option would provide a return on his investment. He added that he had "saved more houses that I've torn down, and even moved houses," but could not see it working in this case.
It was 9 a.m., but the atmosphere in the lobby of the Coho Theater in Northwest Portland, was tense. John Bradley, co-chairman of the NWDA Land Use and Planning Committee, pressed the developer as to why he had not reached out to the group. Association Chairman Phil Selinger asked why Kehoe wanted the property on which the old house sat, and not one of the many other open local properties.
"I'll be real frank, this body has a reputation for really going after developers," Kehoe answered. "I was scared of you guys."
Another neighborhood association member, Roger Velnikis said, "If this body hadn't been doing what we have for the last few decades, you wouldn't be able to buy a lot and resell it for millions. We might be pissy, but it's benefitted you and others."
By the end of the meeting, the neighborhood association members seemed resigned to losing the house. They were also determined not to let something similar happen again.
Afterward, Kehoe said if it were a matter of saving the structure, he would gladly pay to have it moved. The house can be cut in sections and trucked away for storage at a yard. The problem is finding someone willing to do it.
Velnikis, a retired a machine shop owner, says the Goldsmith home is worth saving. "Demolition needs to be reviewed by the city. In this case, it was done in a haphazard way. I think there's a bias against saving things at a city level, and at the national level. We don't have a cultural leaning towards saving things."
In early April, the NWDA members heard the house was already being deconstructed. The inside is already gutted, with most reusable parts being sent to vintage home supply stores. Neighborhood association members wrote to city officials complaining that "proper notification of the pending demolition had not been provided to the neighborhood."
On April 18, the city issued a stop-work order, halting demolition until the end of May. It could be extended by 90 days, but the demolition cannot be stopped indefinitely.
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz told the neighborhood group that Kehoe's building permit application should not have been accepted and the demolition permit should not have been issued, and that they were canceled.
In an April 18 letter to the city, Selinger wrote that the plan to replace the Goldsmith house lacked sensitivity to the neighborhood. "No one today is building homes with the craftsmanship exhibited in this particular historic home," he wrote. "This particular redevelopment proposal exhibits no creativity or contextual sensitivity whatsoever — in saving this house or in giving back to the community something even comparable to what is being taken away."
On a recent morning Stephen Jones, who lives opposite the old house at the Quimby townhouses, said he would be happy to see the Goldsmith house pulled down, so long as the four sweet gum maples on 24th Avenue were saved.
"This place has always been oppressive to me," Jones said. "It's a lovely old house but it hasn't been well-maintained. It doesn't hurt my feelings that it's going to go. From my perspective, and that of my wife, I'm all for having more density in the neighborhood."