Building Description Montgomery Ward & Company Warehouse and Store, Portland Oregon

The Montgomery Ward Warehouse, situated on land formerly occupied by the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition grounds, is a nine-story-plus-basement, reinforced-concrete structure built in two building phases between 1920 and 1936. One of seven such facilities in the United States, the Portland warehouse and retail operation was similar to one built in Kansas City in 1917. Constructed for 1.5 million dollars, it was designed by W. H. McCaully of the Montgomery Ward Company.

Located between NW 27th and NW 29th, and extending for NW Vaughn to NW Nicolai, the building occupies the eastern portion of an irregularly shaped 8.59-acre parcel in Section 29, Township 1 North, Range 1 East of the Willamette Meridian, Multnomah County, Oregon, otherwise known as Tax Lot 29.

Oriented to the East, the painted building as originally constructed was L-shaped in plan and measured 281 feet along the south elevation and 300 feet along the east. Completed in September 1920, it contained 30,000 cubic feet of concrete, 120 miles of steel reinforcing wire, and 40,350 separate panes of glass. When constructed, the building contained the greatest floor space of any building in Portland, and was claimed to be one of the largest concrete buildings west of the Rockies.

A rectangular bay, 10 stories tall, 40 feet deep by 100 feet wide, is centered on the east (front) facade. Main floor and projecting bay areas enclosed approximately 569,000 square feet of floor space. An elliptical concrete elevated ramp abuts the projecting bay and allows access to the second-floor main lobby; it is in poor condition, according to structural reports. Constructed as a capped post/wall system, the ramp's entrances are demarcated by light standards, one of which retains its original globe.

The east entrance consists of three bays which frame stylized engaged pilasters and lead to the lobby. Five of the six entrances have been altered and now contain large fixed-pane windows. The remaining entrance contains double doors that are not original. Six original eight-transom windows appear in the three entrance bays.

In 1935, a 181-by-120-foot, 229,000 square-foot wing was attached to the northwest corner of the building, resulting in the current U-shaped configuration. A 60-foot-wide interior court is centered between the two wings and has been enclosed by a multi-storied bridge. It is covered with corrugated metal siding and is set in twenty feet from the west facade.

Three rail spurs enter the first-floor courtyard under the elevated entrance ramp from the east. A gable roof extends above the first floor in the interior court to shelter the unloading of freight. Other loading docks and truck facilities extend the building dimensions on the east, north and most of the west elevation; these were protected by suspended, flat-roofed canopies. The western portion of this dock is now enclosed.

Exterior

Fourteen bays wide on the north and south elevations, fifteen on the east and west, the elevations of the Montgomery Ward Warehouse reflect the best building technology of the period. With the reinforced concrete wall and floor structural system carrying the loads, the owner was free to insert steel-framed industrial sash windows to cover almost the entire floor to ceiling bay dimensions.

Of varying sizes, each window ensemble is divided into three parts by mullions. Numerous panes of clear or obscure glass fill the space, and ventilation is provided by changing numbers of smaller casemented openings set into the larger ensemble. This window system appears on all elevations and in the light court. Recessed spandrel panels below each window unit are constructed of brick as are all other infill panels on the exterior.

Vertical structural members generally rise uninterrupted on the west and north elevations while on the north, south, and east elevations, conformity to prevailing classically-inspired facade divisions is presented. The "base," containing two floors of vertical window bays, is separated from the "attic" story by a series of three horizontal corbels. The "attic" story of windows, slightly smaller in dimension, is separated from the "shaft" portion by two horizontal corbels. The "shaft," five floors whose openings are again smaller, is separated from the "capital", the ninth story, by another double horizontal corbel course. The "capital," whose window dimensions equal those found in the "attic" level, is topped by a projecting double-band cornice with intermittent dentils. A brick parapet appears at the roof level.

The storefronts on the south elevation below the transom level have been altered. In addition, a suspended canopy was attached to this elevation at an unknown date. The two-bay store entry on this elevation consists of recessed entrances through elliptically arched openings, above which appear geometrically designed projecting panels, subcornice and paneled sign plaque with end consoles.

Historically divided into four "sections," the open floor plan basically consists of areas delineated by the northwest and southwest wings (Sections 3 and 4) and the larger eastern portion consisting of Sections 1 and 2. The retailing space, eventually consisting of three floors plus mezzanine (1935), is located in the southwest wing (Section 3). Bands of freight elevators, oriented north/south, divide eastern sections one and two from the western wings. There are six freight elevators and three passenger elevators, plus seven sets of stairs dispersed around the building.

Sections 1, 2 and 4 on the first floor were employed for the temporary warehousing of freight that was unloaded by train or by truck.

Sections 1, 2, and 4 of the 2nd and 3rd floors were used for office and mail-order functions, and were partitioned.

Floors 4 through 9 functioned solely as warehouse space and are completely open, with the exception of minor partitioning on the 6th and 9th floors.

Floor heights ranged from 18 feet to under 17 feet. The building is heated by gas-fired steam boilers, the steam conveyed by perimeter radiation. A sprinkler system, dating from 1935, is still in operation. Lighting is provided by a variety of suspended fluorescent fixtures.

Structural columns, with cone capitals, are twenty feet on center, and are reduced slightly in dimension on each floor as the load is decreased. There are also extensive wooden storage racks throughout the warehouse sections of the building.

On the 10th floor of the projecting east bay is a 7500-gallon wooden vat which provides cold water for the plumbing system, plus a series of three tanks which are used to lead water to the sprinkling system.

The current roof membrane dates from 1978-79. Also on the roof is perhaps the largest extant neon sign in the city. Outlined in red and using white neon, the sign is supported by a massive steel structure.