Portland Historic Landmarks Commission Supports Laurelhurst Historic District Nomination

On October 8, the city of Portland Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) reviewed our nomination, heard presentations and testimony, and voted unanimously to write a letter to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) supporting the nomination.

The hearing was lively and interesting. We'll highlight some of the HLC's observations, some points made by persons opposing the nomination, some points made by person supporting the nomination, and wrap up with a couple of comments.

We will be paraphrasing below, as alas we were not able to take verbatim notes or record the proceedings. (Should have taken those shorthand classes in high school.)

HLC Observations

Two commissioners did not participate in the review, citing conflicts of interest. Comments from the others include:

  • The Nomination was thorough and well-prepared. "It would be hard to find anything missing from [the nomination]".

  • The Nomination makes a strong case for designation of Laurelhurst as a historic district.

  • A historic district is not just a collection of individual historic houses. It is a neighborhood that represents an important aspect of our history and historical built environment, and where the historic character is still largely intact.

  • A historic district is not required to be "unique", indeed it may be eligible as a surviving example of history.

  • Laurelhurst is a fine example of the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s. It is incorrect to say Laurelhurst is just like any other neighborhood in Portland.

  • It was also the first significant planned development in Portland where a single developer designed a distinctive street plat, provided all the roads and infrastructure, and created a whole neighborhood with a cohesive vision. This modern form of development was largely unknown in Oregon, and hardly known nationally, before Laurelhurst.

  • The Nomination correctly acknowledges the original exclusionary deed restrictions. Such deed restrictions were not unique to Laurelhurst. Sadly, they were common throughout Oregon and Portland neighborhoods in the early 1900s. These all expired or became unenforceable long ago.

Opponents' Testimony

Several persons testified against the Nomination. All but one were activists from outside the neighborhood. In general, they said:

  • There is nothing unique about Laurelhurst. The houses, street layout, and the neighborhood are commonplace.

  • Laurelhurst, due to its location close to city center and transit, should be redeveloped to a very dense urban infill neighborhood.

  • Neighborhoods of single family houses are inherently racist and exclusionary.

  • The neighborhood's historical deed restrictions should disqualify it from recognition.

  • Many of the individual houses in Laurelhurst deserve historic designation and protection, the neighborhood does not.

  • Laurelhurst is just trying to avoid demolition and infill redevelopment.

Supporters' Testimony

Several persons from the neighborhood testified in support of the Nomination, including our current and past LNA presidents. In general, they said:

  • Laurelhurst ranks among the top 5% of the nation's neighborhoods, in terms of historic and architectural quality.

  • The neighborhood supports accessory dwelling units (ADUs), internal conversions to add units, and more density, as long as it is done without demolition.

  • Infill development will make Laurelhurst less accessible, not more accessible.

  • Laurelhurst was planned to include smaller houses and persons of more modest means. It was not, and is not, exclusively for the wealthy.

  • The neighborhood and its historic park benefit to all Portlanders, who enjoy walking on the streets, using the park, and most recently the Historic House Tour.

Our Comments

We were impressed with the care and thoughtfulness of the commission's review and also by the testimony by both opponents and supporters. As you might imagine, we disagree with the opponents, but we respect their concerns. Our comments will be limited to three:

  • The opponents generally misunderstood the practical effect of a possible Laurelhurst Historic District. There will be no historic district restrictions on building ADUs, internally converting historic houses to add units, or other remodeling/additions.

  • In the Historic District, our small historic bungalows will be protected from being torn down and replaced with very large, very expensive new houses. The district will help Laurelhurst remain a neighborhood for a wide range of families and incomes.

  • Our Historic District effort has been supported by Laurelhurst residents of all races and ethnicities, and by renters and owners alike.

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