Tuesday, July 03, 2007

(Chamber of) Commerce Building

It was 1890 or so, & wunderkind George B. Markle Jr., the Pennsylvanian transplant who had, shortly after his arrival in Portland, been instrumental in the revival & completion of building the Hotel Portland (aka, "Villard's ruins"), convinced the Portland Chamber of Commerce they should build a new HQ on the north side of west Stark street between 3rd & 4th Avenues.1 Markle pledged his 2 banks as street-level tenants & secured a mortgage from New York Life Ins. Co. for its construction.

Ground was broken Sept. 2, 1890, but costs quickly accumulated, w/ overages to the tune of $170,000.2 Undeterred, Markle personally secured funding to complete construction. The 8-floor Chamber of Commerce Building, designed by Isaac Hodgson, Jr., opened to the public in September of 1892.

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Hailed as the NW's premiere office space (love that circa 1890-1910 Portland boosterism!), the Commerce Building (as it was called in later days) boasted the aforementioned banks, an auditorium, "the prestigious Commercial Club," a bowling alley, saloons, & a billiard room.3

However, the completion of the Commerce Building happened to neatly coincide w/ the run on gold, which lowered U.S. federal reserves to their statutory minimums. The Panic of 1893 was in full swing. Markle's banks closed for good before they could ever set up shop at their new location. New York Life foreclosed on the Commerce Building mortgage. Markle eventually returned to Pennsylvania.

In 1906 NYLife sold the building to the Spokane Portland & Seattle Railroad. A few years later, deeming the Commerce Building "too old fashioned" the SP&S then its local offices to the newer American Bank Building (completed in 1913). In the shadow of the Great Depression, SP&S, citing the tax & maintenance costs, & claiming that a remodel would be "too expensive & impractical," had the building demolished in 1934.4 The lot was used, & is still used, as a parking lot.

So when you pass Stark at 3rd & 4th, stand in wonder at that 70+ year-old parking lot.5


1 Furthermore, he was key role in organizing the N. Pacific Industrial Assoc., Portland Tanning, Columbia Fire & Marine Insurance, Portland Traction, the Commercial Bank of Vancouver, NW Loan & Trust, & the Oregon National Bank, to name a few, all amply assisted by his father's fortune. Markle Sr. was the founder of Jeddo-Highland Coal in the Scranton area &, along w/ Thomas Edison, built the 1st 2 coal-fired electrical power plants in the U.S.A. Markle Jr. came to Portland because he felt it was the young city that was going somewhere. For more on Markle see MacColl, E. Kimbark, The Shaping of a City: Business & Politics in Portland, Oregon 1885 to 1915 (Georgian Press Co., Portland 1976), p. 81-108.
2 MacColl, p. 85. $170,000 in 1890 is about, say, maybe, $29,000,000.
3 ibid.
4 ibid., p. 88
5 Seriously. I mean, Portland has its share of parking lots where once-proud buildings stood, for sure. But the majority of those buildings, as far as I know, were demolished in the late 40s & early 50s, for which I can't really blame anyone - that was the price of progress, then. But 70+ years, a parking lot?!?

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