1890 Cornerstone Building Revived

The transformation of 7901 NE Glisan Street from a neglected structure, to an impressive multi-use building, is nearing completion. Constructed in 1890, it has been updated many times. However, this most recent project seeks to rebuild and unify the building like never before. With exterior construction nearing completion, the owner expects to be ready for tenants by early September.

This project had challenges from the onset. Over the years many updates to the building were not done to acceptable construction standards. Often the work had been done without permits. Building owner and contractor, Alex Ianos, had to first resolve all these old issue with the city. Only after those issues were resolved, could he begin the real project of reviving this neglected building. With the help of his architect, John MacKinnon, Ianos was able to get over the initial hurdles with the city and focus on the renovation.

In an email with Montavilla News, John MacKinnon of NW Architecture & Design PC, described his design process. The “major challenge for me as architect, was bringing a sense of design clarity and coherence to the initial building through the design process.” MacKinnon explained the building “just evolved,” in ad hoc additions over the years. “The existing building was haphazard in style, incongruous and visually it looked that way. So, when I began the design process, my primary goal was to work with the existing building structural skeleton, modifying the building forms and bring coherence to the overall design as much as possible. Alex and I worked closely together on the design. We are both pleased with the final outcome. The design on both the interior and exterior has a Scandinavian sense to it.”

The building is arranged as a mixed use building with 5 commercial spaces on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. MacKinnon designed the second floor as four one bedroom residential units, each with it’s own cantilevered bay off the living area. Those bays project from the second story and add detail to the exterior, making the building more interesting along all sides.

Siting on a prominent corner for 130 years, this building has housed many businesses. The original address would have been on Villa Ave but its number has been lost to time. When records begin for this building, 1973 E Glisan Street was its address. Finally changing to its current address in 1933 thanks to Portland’s renumbering project. Early history of the building is harder to find, however in 1911 a mortician from Vancouver Washington moved his mortuary practice to the building. W H Hamilton operated Hamilton undertaking Co. out of this location for eight years. Mr. Hamilton was an active member in the Montavilla community. In a 1916 article he is listed as the President of the Montavilla Board of Trade. A later article, in 1918, referenced Hamilton as a Nobel Grand of the Villa Lodge, Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) number 124.

In 1919, the funeral business changed from Hamilton undertaking Co. to R. W. Gable & Co. They operated out of this location for years before relocating to NE 80th in 1928. Later changing their name to Gable Funeral Parlor and working from the NE 80th location until just a few years ago.

Later the building was owned by Dr. Charles (Chas) B Zeebuyth. It is not obvious if the property ever served as his office but is listed as his official address in 1922. Dr. Zeebuyth, like Hamilton, was heavily involved in Montavilla’s community and business. He owned the building well into the 1930s.

In the following decades, it held different businesses. In the 1940s, it was listed as a bakery. In the 1950s it was a photo shop and then in the 1960s it was a barber shop. Many more businesses came and went from that location and each took a little more life out of the building. Before the latest purchase, it looked like it could be demolished instead of saved.

Fortunately Alex Ianos liked the corner lot and thought the building could be transformed once more. In a email to Montavilla News, Ianos expressed how please he has been with the progress on the building. He went on to write that “numerous people stop by the property and ask about leasing space.” He doesn’t plan to sign any tenants until the buildout has completed, but conversations are in process. There is a good chance a Pool Hall business will return to the space. Thanh Billiards was located in the 7909 NE Glisan space, prior to construction. Ianos mentioned he has been in talks with a coffee shop owner about taking a space and has engaged in early conversations with Little Big Burger.

Very few buildings from the 1800s still exist in Montavilla. Although a true restoration of 7901 NE Glisan Street was not possible, seeing it reworked and stabilized is a great service to Montavilla history. This location will be alive again with businesses and residents, pushing ever closer to its 200th year.

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