The adaptive reuse of the old Multnomah County Courthouse, by GBD Architects, has been approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission. The proposal for developer NBP Capital involves the conversion of the courthouse into an office building, with an event space, a cafe, and a restaurant and bar at the ground floor.
The Multnomah County Courthouse occupies the full block bound by SW 4th, Salmon, 5th, and Main. The building was designed by architects Whidden & Lewis, and was built in two phases: a first phase facing SW 4th Ave in 1909; followed by a second phase facing SW 5th in 1914. The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
The building is both seismically vulnerable and too small for the need of Multnomah County, which has grown significantly in the last century. In 2014-15 the county studied two potential sites for the replacement courthouse, and ultimately chose a site at the Hawthorne bridgehead. The historic courthouse was sold to NBP Capital for $28 million in 2018. The county leased the building rent-free until the new Multnomah County Central Courthouse was completed in October 2020.
The main entrance to the new offices will be from the existing entrance on SW 4th Ave, facing Lownsdale Square. An ADA accessible entrance will be created facing SW Main Ave. The existing entrance on SW 5th, which is currently infilled, will become the entrance to the new event space.
As part of the seismic upgrade strategy for the building, the existing courtyard will be infilled with new structure. The non-historic addition at the lower floors of the courtyard will be removed. The new core will include restrooms, elevators and emergency egress stairs. The existing historic grand staircase will remain, as will the corridors with their marble floors and coffered ceilings, and four double height courtrooms.
The exterior of the building will remain relatively unchanged, except at the 8th and 9th floor penthouse levels, where new windows will be added.
The adaptive reuse of the Multomah County Courthouse was approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission at the project’s second land use review hearing, held on August 24th, 2020. In the Final Findings And Decision By The Landmarks Commission it was noted how the limited exterior alterations will help meet other city goals, including creating a more active ground floor and ensuring seismic resilience:
• The proposal includes alterations associated with renovating and repurposing the resource – an iconic public building – as an office building with an active ground floor. The proposal includes retention and rehabilitation of historic materials with loss of exterior historic materials limited to the sill along SW Salmon and historic cement plaster cladding and copper roofing at the original 2-story penthouse.
• The renovation also includes alterations to interior spaces, not subject to review such as the infill of the existing/ historic courtyard to accommodate all new seismic, circulation, and building services systems at the core of the building. While no longer a courtyard building, the volume of this interior space is expressed on the exterior of the resource through the proposed extension of mechanical screening at the top of the building above this newly infilled core. As such, the expression of this volume helps to differentiate this new infill from the historic mass of the resource, thus helping the resource retain a physical record of its time.
Building permits will need to be obtained before work on the alterations can begin.