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Checkerboard Building On 10th To Be Renovated by Richard Singer, Holst Architecture

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After years of sitting empty, the building downtown at 415 SW 10th Avenue with its unique facade of colored square panels (I call it the 'Checkerboard') has been purchased with a renovation in mind.

The developer is Dick Singer, who has been active for many years with projects in the NW 23rd Street (or Nob Hill) area. The controversial parking garage on 23rd being haggled over by NIMBY residents and frustrated shoppers is his project.

Singer has hired Holst Architecture for the job, which is a great choice. Holst is really hitting their stride these days with several projects finishing construction or about to begin: Hotel Modera downtown, the Clinton Condos on SE Division, the 937 Condos in the Pearl, and a soon to begin headquarters for Ziba Design in that same neighborhood.

There's just one potential worry, at least as it concerns my admittedly biased point of view. In a phone interview yesterday, Singer told me that the project is in design development and no permanent decisions have been made. He said there have been some design possibilities that include keeping the signature colored panel facade, and other schemes that remove it in favor of something more glassy. It's also undecided whether additional floors would be added. So technically, the unique checkerboard facade faces both its best potential in many years but also a threat.

One thing everybody can probably agree on is that the inside will need to be gutted. Much as I and others love the midcentury modern exterior, there's not much original to preserve on the inside. So there's carte blanche between the walls, I'd assume.

I would love to see a Holst design in this prominent downtown location, steps from Powell's Books, the Ace Hotel, the Brewery Blocks, and Living Room Theaters. I have ever faith that John Holmes and company at Holst could do something great.

But as a longtime fan of this building's exterior, I personally am crossing all my fingers and toes that the colored panels on the outside will be preserved. Is this building a masterpiece? Certainly not. But there's an elegant simplicity to this building's facade, and a playful touch of color lacking in most all other buildings. However shabby it may be inside, 415 SW 10th is a work of delightful sculpture, and a quintessential midcentury modern look that can't ever be completely replicated.

How do the rest of you feel about this project? Am I overboard in affection for this building? If so, the countless people who have contacted me out of concern for the Checkerboard since my previous posts are wrong too. So is the British novelist who bought a print of the photo above after a photography show I had a few years ago. But I respect that there are two sides to every story. What should be the fate of this tarnished little gem?

by Brian Libby, 2008

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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