The Rescue of Portland's FIREHOUSE 17
Old House Journal|November - December 2021
IN WHAT BECAME THE PROJECT OF A LIFETIME, THE REHABILITATION OF A 1912 FIREHOUSE IS ADAPTIVE REUSE WITH HEART AND SOUL. DECOMMISSIONED IN 1968, ALLOWED TO DETERIORATE AND LATER REMODELED, THE OLD FIREHOUSE HAD BEEN BUILT DURING THE DAYS OF HORSE-DRAWN ENGINES. THE PROJECT WAS SPEARHEADED BY RESTORAT ION CONSULTANT KARLA PEARLSTEIN, IN PORTLAND, OREGON. SHE NOW CALLS THE FIREHOUSE HOME.
DONNA PIZZI

It took a devoted team to rehabilitate and restore Portland’s Firehouse 17. Previously remodeled as a residence in the 1980s, the building had been stripped of much original material, and other elements covered over. A few years ago, it was slated to become four separate units, which would further degrade its history. Karla Pearlstein, a serial restorer and preservation consultant, stepped up, albeit with some reluctance. She was buoyed by collaborator Matthew Roman, a designer, who calls this restoration “one of the preeminent projects of my career.” Roman recruited Patrick O’Neill, of Greenline Fine Woodworking, to be general contractor. The project ultimately would win the DeMuro Award for Excellence in Preservation, Reuse, and Community Revitalization.

Firehouse Engine Company 17 was designed by then-Battalion Chief Lee Gray Holden, designer of 24 Portland firehouses and Fire Bureau Chief from 1923 to 1927. Built in 1912, this one featured dual bays to accommodate a horse-drawn steam pumper and ladder truck. Five horses were stabled on the ground floor, and six to eight firemen slept in the second-floor bunkroom. The firehouse was motorized in the 1920s, decommissioned by 1968; used only as a storage warehouse, it fell into disrepair. In 1984, the previous owner adapted it for a private residence. Meeting code requirements proved more important than aesthetics. He enclosed the staircase, demolished the recessed bay, and removed original windows. Modern “parquet floors” were installed over the original fir. Oddly inappropriate Palladian windows and contemporary stair rails were added. Pearlstein would discover fir wainscoting obscured when a handball court was added in the Day Room.

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