The Odd Fellows Block, left, and Chapman Block at Woodfords Corner are two of the properties along Forest Avenue that the Portland Historic Preservation Board is looking to designate as locally significant landmarks. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — City planners hope more than a dozen properties along Forest Avenue, most with ties to the auto industry, can be noted for their local significance and designated as historic landmarks.

For the last few months, the Historic Preservation Board has been reviewing the possibility of designating 17 properties along Forest Avenue between Interstate 295 and Woodfords Corner – once known as Portland’s Auto Row – as historic landmarks under the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

The group will finalize its recommendations to the City Council later this month.

Buildings at 533 and 525 Forest Ave. are occupied by Skillful Home Recreation and Supplement Center. But they were once Studebaker and Chevrolet automobile dealerships. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The Historic Preservation Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 5 p.m. July 24 in Room 209 at City Hall and then forward recommendations to the council about which properties to designate.

But before that, city staff will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 11, in Room 24 at City Hall, with property owners to make sure the owners understand what a historic designation means for their properties.

The historic preservation ordinance was set up to highlight historically and architecturally significant buildings and areas, while protecting and enhancing neighborhood character and applying design standards in a way to preserve historic features and elements.

Several people who own properties up for historic landmark designation along Forest Avenue told Historic Preservation Board members on June 19 that they don’t want the distinction.

“I don’t want you to micromanage my building,” said Mike Kaplan, who has owned 536 Deering Ave., the former Engine 8 Company firehouse – now Big Sky Bakery – for the last 27 years.

Peggy Levy, owner of 309 Forest Ave., the former Firestone Auto Repair and Service Center, was of the same mind, telling board members she does not want to “jump through the hoops” being placed on the historic preservation list might mean for her ability to lease and operate her building.

“It should be our decision what we do with our property and we are against this,” said Julie Weeks, whose family owns Palmer Spring Co. at 355 Forest Ave.

Jeff Levine, Portland’s planning and urban development director, said the intent of the ordinance is not to prevent future development or alterations of historic preservation sites. He said he sees the historic designation as a continuation of public infrastructure work on the roadway in recent years.

“I understand the reservation because we have had this reservation in the past, but experience has shown it has not been a great burden or hurdle,” Deb Andrews, the city’s historic preservation program manager, said June 19.

Andrews said the majority of properties, including parts of Commercial Street, that have been designated as historically or architecturally significant “have experienced some sort of alteration,” while still maintaining historical integrity.

“It is fair to say progress has not stalled with designation,” Levine said. “The idea is not to stop changes, but to make sure historic issues are kept in mind when changes do happen.”

Auto dealerships first began lining Forest Avenue between 1915 and 1930. Several of the buildings up for landmark consideration, including  343-349, 495, 501, 517-533 and 630 Forest Ave., were built and operated as auto dealerships. Others offered auto supplies and services.

Other properties up for consideration served another need for the community – including the former A&P grocery store at 617 Forest Ave. – or are recommended because of their architectural elements, including the Odd Fellows Block at 643-651 Forest Ave. and Chapman Block at 646-650 Forest Ave.

Portland’s planning office hopes to designate the current home of Woodford Food & Beverage at 660 Forest Ave. as a local landmark because of its mid-century modern architecture. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The Odd Fellows Block, built in 1897, “is an obvious landmark in the neighborhood,” Andrews said.

The building was designed by noted local architect Francis Fassett for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and for a short time in the late 1800s served as City Hall when Deering was an independent community. Over the years, it, like the Chapman Block, has contained a variety of businesses.

Other proposed sites include architecture not commonly seen commonly in other sections of the city.

Andrews said 660 Forest Ave., now home to Woodfords Food & Beverage, is noteworthy due to its mid-century modern architecture, a look that is hard to find in other areas of the city, aside from the UHaul building on Marginal Way.

The  Firestone Auto Supply building, Andrews said, is an interesting example of Art Deco, a style that “is fairly limited in the city.”

“Part of what gives Forest Avenue its character,” Levine added, “is its history and its unique buildings.”


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