Bricks, beams and history: An occasional look at underappreciated and unused buildings around Portland

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

Editors note: this is our first guest post by affiliate writer John Chilson.
We welcome submissions and we’re always excited to find more collaborators!

This is the first post of a series that explores commercial buildings around Portland that aren’t quite ready for the wrecking ball (but hopefully ripe for adaptive reuse or preservation).

The Pacific States Telephone Company building    1511 SE Holgate Blvd.    Built 1907

The Pacific States Telephone Company building
1511 SE Holgate Blvd.
Built 1907


This may not be the best-looking building in town. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable when driving down Holgate or taking the Orange Line along SE 17th near the TriMet bus parking lot.

It was never supposed to be a building with multiple-use or offices or housing and it certainly was never celebrated. Its original life was as a telephone exchange building, or The Sellwood Exchange, where phone calls were routed. That’s why old phone numbers have neighborhood names like Sellwood or Belmont in them. (Read Dana Beck’s story on what an exchange building is and how it helped advance the modern telephone in Portland.) It’s also rumored that Clark Gable once worked at the exchange before he became famous.

It’s safe to say the building was probably never supposed to last as long as it has. It had a long useful life as Carpet City for decades but has mostly remained abandoned, anointed with the Portland Fire Marshal’s U sign. Now it just kind of sits there, sadly, as commuters pass it every day.


However, it’s a great location, near a highway, near high traffic, and light rail. A nearby example of reuse as a creative space and brewery is The Iron Fireman Collective.

So, why not this structure on SE 15th and Holgate? I’ve spoken with many architects who think the building has potential but can’t do anything with it since it’s “owned by TriMet” (one of many rumors) or it’s in too bad of disrepair (maybe not untrue).

This all might be a moot point though.

Last year Next Portland reported that a project at 1511 SE Holgate Blvd has been submitted for building permit review by Base Design & Architecture to “construct a new 4 story (28) unit apartment building with associated site work.”

Update: The new building is going up on a tax lot across the street, which formerly (and confusingly) has the same address. As part of the plan review process it’s been given a new address: 1590 SE Holgate. (Thanks, Ian.)

So, the plot thickens —looks like the building shall remain in place —for now

Chilson writes about Oregon history (mostly buildings and architecture) at Lost Oregon and Small-Scale City.