The city's citizen Rose Quarter redevelopment team essentially needs to turn the clock back 60 years on the area around lower NE Broadway. The Rose Quarter redevelopment stakeholder group this month launched a year-long process looking at ways to turn the Quarter into a vibrant, high-density, mixed-use 24-hour entertainment district. But what stood out at last night’s stakeholder meeting is that before the city’s muckity urban renewal process got involved decades ago, the now-isolated area was a vibrant, high-density, mixed-use 24 hour entertainment district.

Screw Rose Quarter Eco-District - were calling the area Pleasure Spot of the West.
  • Via Leftbank
  • Screw "Rose Quarter Eco-District" - we're calling the area "Pleasure Spot of the West."
Historian Bob Dietsche presented an excellent, juicy history of the black neighborhood the city ripped out to build I-5 and Memorial Coliseum. “Colored Town, Black Broadway all meant the same thing: the Avenue. Specifically Williams Avenue. This was the street that never slept. All of this has been swept away, like some kind of Jazz Pompei,” said Dietsche. The only building that still stands from the era is the old Dude Ranch which is now the Leftbank building. “There never was nor will there ever be anything like the Dude Ranch. It was the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club and Las Vegas all rolled into one.” Dietsche asked the group to imagine the people who flocked to the Rose District back when it was called, not branded, Jumptown: “Zoot suited hipsters and jungle queens with red nailpolish—racially mixed party people who couldn’t care less. People who were on the cutting edge of integration in a city that had been called the most segregated in America.”

One member of the stakeholder group noted that the area’s history shows that perhaps small development—clubs, independent stores, organic neighborhoods—works better to enliven an area than single large development projects, like a Major League Soccer stadium.

More on the meeting—including an interesting defense of Memorial Coliseum and Mayor Adams making an actually funny joke—below the cut.

Portland Architecture critic and local architect Stuart Emmons presented a brief history and defense of Memorial Coliseum. One fun fact: Memorial Coliseum was almost named “Portland’s Glass Palace.”

“Memorial Coliseum is a sleeping masterpiece in our minds,” said Libby. “This was a big step for Portland becoming an international city. You don’t save a building for its cultural history, but still we want to recognize that.” Libby said the building has “some of the DNA of Pioneer Courthouse Square” and could be successful as a beautiful civic space. Libby pointed the building's engineering feat of supporting an area the size of four city blocks with just four columns and opined that the greatness of the Coliseum’s design comes from its “simple, confident, sculptural” elements. “I equate this with being at St. Paul’s cathedral in London or a Buddhist temple in Japan.”

A couple of the committee members mentioned at the end of the meeting that they didn’t even know the giant curtains that cloak the inside of the Memorial Coliseum could be pulled back. For its most recent years, the Glass Palace has been more like the Curtained Castle.

“The history of great cities can be seen in their buildings and Memorial Coliseum is a part of Portland’s history,” said Emmons. In addition to Obama, the Beatles and various monster truck rallies, some see Memorial Coliseum as the sacred ground where the Trailblazers won the national championships in 1977.

The Coliseum was listed National Historic Register building this month, protecting its exterior and the inside bowl. That designation makes changing or demolishing the building much more difficult, but not impossible.

Rose Quarter Rules: Too Big To Miss!!
  • Rose Quarter Rules: Too Big To Miss!!
That was a lot of history to digest in a single hour. But — onward! “If you’re feeing overwhelmed, just wait until you’re done listening to Steve Janik,” quipped Mayor Adams as city planner lawyer Janik entered the room, wheeling in three massive black binders on a metal dolly. The intimidating binders detail the complicated legal agreements entwining the area.

The gist of the incredibly dense development agreements governing the Rose Quarter is that while the city of Portland owns Memorial Coliseum the land that the Rose Garden sit on, private company Portland Arena Management owns special development rights for both facilities. Unless the city wants to go through some major and lengthy contract negotiations with PAM, the Rose Quarter redevelopment will have to work pretty much hand in hand with the company.