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Renovating a historic Stark Street building

06/29/07
BY JASON NOVAK
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One of Southeast Portland’s oldest buildings, deemed structurally unsound by the City and on the verge of being condemned, is getting an overhaul from the ground up. Built in 1891, it’s by no means the oldest building in Portland, but – with a false front straight out of an old western movie set – it’s one of the last buildings left of its kind. Most people probably know it as Sindee’s Market, the dilapidated and ominous convenience store across the street from Laurelhurst Village that folded last year. Located just two blocks down from The Goodfoot, it’s the sort of place that should’ve thrived on the neighborhood’s nightlife but locals, when asked, say it looks haunted, creepy. Indeed, when Portland native John Chandler bought the property earlier this year, over a century of rot and neglect had caused the building to lean eastward about a foot and a half. Built without crossbeams, the floors had begun to sag, creating a walleyed effect on the hardwood finish. Many of the more stately houses and buildings from the period have been properly maintained over the years. Mercantile buildings – thought too pedestrian in the past – have more often been torn down than restored. This protracted weeding out of old general stores and trading posts have made them a rarity, an all-but-lost link to the agrarian side of Portland’s history. Enter Chandler and the team he hired to restore the building. When Chandler first sized the place up, he knew restoration wouldn’t be easy, but he knew it was possible. “I’ve worked in construction for years, so I was willing to give it a try,” he says. Progress has been swift. Mike and Dan, the craftsmen responsible for saving the building, spent the first few weeks getting support beams under the house, expanding the basement and rigging a complex network of cables along the sides and throughout the interior to keep it from toppling while a new foundation is poured. “Most of the technology we’re using to do this is very old,” says Mike. “The geometry here goes all the way back to Archimedes.” Circling the building, with its rigging, anchors and counterweights, it’s easy to see the correlation between their work and early nautical engineering. Watching Mike weaving through the building, shifting equipment and construction materials around with his sturdy hands, one gets the impression that he’d handle a schooner with equal grace. “This,” he says, holding up an iron cable that’s been hammered into a horseshoe, “is an anchor. The rigging bolted to the side of the house runs down into the earth about six feet, comes up through concrete cylinders, and latches onto anchors like this at the top. These cables can support about 15 tons, which is far more than we’ll actually need.” The building is now nearly upright. The steel beams they have inserted underneath, combined with braces, have helped level out both floors of the two-story structure. Much of the stress on the building had come from decades of accumulated clutter, including thousands upon thousands of picture frames stowed away on both floors by a previous owner. “At one time, the building was owned by a dentist,” says Chandler as he flips through a folder full of deeds from the house’s 116-year history. He points to a finely tooled brass lamp above his head. “This dentist’s lamp is so old that it might’ve been converted from gas to electricity.” The walls still bear shadows from portraits and furniture piled in and forgotten for generations. From another folder, Chandler produces a photo of the house with its original owner seated in a carriage out front. “His name was William Landuaer, and we actually found his name engraved into the wall over there,” says Chandler, indicating a far corner. Some Portlander’s may still recall Landauer Grocery, the busine ss that occupied the building into the 1940s. Chandler is reticent about his plans for the building. “I’d like to open a coffee house on the ground floor,” he says, “and use the space in the basement for live music - jazz, rock, anything good.” The city has placed a nine month probation on commercial activity in the building while Chandler gets it up to code. If all goes well, says Chandler, the building may open its doors to the public as early as next spring.

 
 

 
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