Portland's first skyscraper passes the century mark
Portland Business Journal - by Wendy Culverwell Business Journal staff writer
With at least five new buildings set to alter the Portland skyline, it's a good time to pause and remember that Portland's first skyscraper turned 100 this month.
When it opened in 1907, the original Wells Fargo Building loomed 12 stories over the streets below. It was Portland's first high-rise and it set the stage for generations of high-rise offices that followed, not the least being the 41-story tower with which it shares a name.
The Wells Fargo Building was the tallest in town when it opened. Its namesake, Wells Fargo Center, opened in 1972 and holds the current record for tallest building in town, at 166.4 meters, according to an architectural database at skyscraperpage.com
The Wells Fargo Building's centennial anniversary is a milestone for Portland, said Amy McFeeters-Krone, an architectural historian who works on historic preservation projects.
The Wells Fargo Building is a great example of terra cotta design and Portland is fortunate that it has been preserved, she said.
"Most people don't think of Portland as a very old city. It's nice to be able to point to a building and say, 'Look what we have!'" she said.
Wells Fargo Bank, at the behest of its president, Colonel Dudley Evans, constructed the tower for its three lines of business: banking, shipping and its celebrated stagecoach line.
The building was bought for U.S. National Bank in 1922 and was known as the Porter Building, for Andrew Porter, a local businessman and director of the bank who made the actual purchase. Even with a new name, the building retained its original facade, with the words "Wells" and "Fargo" spelled out across the top. The Porter name lasted through World War II.
Its new owners used it as a branch, executive offices and for backroom operations. When U.S. Bank opened Big Pink, aka the 42-story U.S. Bancorp Tower, to the north, company executives moved out.
Three years later, in 1986, U.S. Bank sold the old building at about the same time it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1999, it was bought for about $9 million by its current owner, Portland real estate investor John Beardsley.
Beardsley, who specializes in historic buildings, dubbed the entire neighborhood the Historic U.S. National Bank Block but officially restored the Wells Fargo name.
With its ornate Renaissance styling standing in contrast to the gleaming glass boxes that pass for skyscrapers today, the Wells Fargo Building may suggest a bygone era. But it is no relic.
Indeed, with LightPoint, a commercial data center and bandwidth provider, for a tenant, it offers some of Portland's best high-tech connections.
Wells Fargo was remade into a high-tech building almost by fluke.
An Australian telecom decided Wells Fargo was the right place to locate a "telco hotel," a secured location offering business customers a safe place to stash their corporate servers.
The Australians invested millions in undersea communications systems and developing the infrastructure to support high-tech connections. They spent $3 million on equipment in the Wells Fargo Building alone.
When the telecom bust swept through the industry the Australians went bankrupt. Beardsley and his company, Beardsley Development, took over operating the system simply because other tenants relied on the connections.
After a year, LightPoint took over the data center business. Today, it offers secured colocation and hosting services and has state-of-the-art connections to all major Internet carriers.
LightPoint isn't just a tenant; it is a magnet for other businesses that want their offices in the same building as their servers, Beardsley said. Tripwire Inc., the Portland-based company that provides technology control software, is the building's other main tenant.
Beardsley said that the Wells Fargo Building exemplifies his approach to managing older buildings.
Beardsley's portfolio of historic buildings stands at more than 20 and is growing. By December, he will complete the purchase of five historic buildings known as the Evergreen Portfolio. The final purchase, of the Yeon Building, closes by year end, he said.
Beardsley said he's drawn to the charm of old buildings and the melding of art and construction in a form that isn't in fashion today. He's also intrigued by the challenge of creating useful space for modern tenants.
"They're not museums," he said. "I get to bring these buildings into the 21st century."
With much of his property located around the troubled blocks near the downtown/Old Town border, Beardsley said he's eager to see the University of Oregon move its Portland operations to the White Stag building when renovations are complete next year. Beardsley owns one of the four buildings in the White Stag block. The other three are being transformed into the new Portland campus for UO and Beardsley is delighted by the change.
"It will help invigorate this area and hopefully it will change the image of Old Town from a dumping ground to a place people want to be," he said.