Avenue Lofts Condo Building
Guide to Avenue Lofts Condos for sale
Would you rather live in a historic loft or a “telecom hotel”? Most of us, even those who don’t know what a telecom hotel is, would choose the former, but the Pearl District’s Avenue Lofts nearly became the latter. Those who love the character and style of this 1923 warehouse building, however, can be glad fate stepped in as it did. Here’s how it happened:
The Meier & Frank company’s history dates back nearly as long as Portland’s does. Founder Aaron Meier opened his first dry goods store at Front & Taylor in 1864. A decade later he partnered with German music teacher Emil Frank. The two expanded aggressively, continually buying and developing property.
Eager to impress, they employed only the area’s leading architects, such as Whidden & Lewis, who had designed Portland’s City Hall, and Doyle & Patterson, designers of the Central Library, as well as the “Benson bubbler” public fountains. The result was a collection of striking buildings.
As the decades went on, the families’ heirs followed this tradition, and the company’s success was continual. Its only period of hardship came during WW I, when it faced competition from rival store Kress, and mail-order giant Montgomery Ward, as well as a national anti-German sentiment that had been stirred up by the war.
The trouble was short-lived, though, and expansion soon resumed. In 1920, Julius Meier purchased a vacant block in the Pearl to house the company’s wholesale operation. The space stretched from NW Irving to NW Hoyt, and from NW 14th to NW 15th.
To develop the spot, Julius, who later served a term as Oregon’s governor, hired Sutton & Whitney. This prestigious firm had designed many Portland landmarks, including the Masonic Lodge, the Hollywood Theater, and the Trinity Episcopal Church.
In 1923 they constructed Meier & Frank’s eight-story, reinforced concrete warehouse, at 1438 NW Irving St., where it still stands today. The building, which was dubbed “the retail reserve,” cost $300,000 at the time.
For the next half-century and more, the warehouse served as a retail and storage space for the company. As developer Robert Ball said, “The Meier and Frank warehouse is a place where many . . . have fond memories of exciting shopping experiences. I remember going to Meier & Frank warehouse sales with my mom when I was young.”
Time moves on, though. In 1966, ownership of Meier & Frank left family hands, going first to May Department Stores and later to Macy’s. The 1990s saw the warehouse vacant. The building had a small detour on its way to becoming the Avenue Lofts, however.
In 2000, the California firm Fowler and Flanagan bought the building and began remaking it as a telecom hotel, i.e.: a building that houses hundreds of thousands of web servers to meet the demands of web hosting companies, as well as media corporations like Google and AT&T.
In the midst of this renovation, though, the telecom market crashed. Over-saturation, the dot-com collapse, and the failure of media giants, such as World Com, were all seen as contributing factors.
Fowler and Flanagan had poured $7 million into seismic and electrical upgrades when the crisis occurred, and now their financiers, Lehman Bros., were left with an empty, if up-to-date, building. Lehman Bros. approached several Pearl District developers, including Robert Ball, who leapt at the project.
“The telco hotel concept didn’t fit well within the Pearl District or the historic character of this building,” Ball said. “They were going to put generators on the street level, which would have been awful for the neighborhood.”
Instead Ball conceived of converting the space into 195 classic lofts. In doing so, he’s preserved the dramatic architecture of the building, creating spaces with windows as large as 18 feet, and ceilings as high as 26 feet.
His most daring update is the 5,550 sq. ft. atrium, cut into the center of the building from the roof to the third floor. The stylish addition offers air and light to the lofts’ interior units.
As for the name, it comes from the cobblestone street on Irving, which Ball also preserved, continuing it within the building as a winding, cobbled corridor. The corridor could serve as a metaphor for the Avenue Lofts, themselves. They, too, have had a long lives filled with twists and turns, and have persevered to remain one of the Pearl’s shining gems.
Exterior – Courtyard