Building Description Multnomah Hotel, Portland Oregon

The Multnomah Hotel, erected in 1911, was designed in the American Renaissance style by the architectural firm of Gibson and Cahill. For many years the largest hotel in the city, the Multnomah was eventually leased to the General Services Administration in 1965 and converted into offices for 1200 federal employees. All former banquet, ballroom, and other public spaces in the hotel have been altered in the conversion with the exception of the fine Classically-detailed lobby and mezzanine, which is essentially intact.

The building is located on the western edge of the Skidmore/Old Town Historic District. In the immediate vicinity are buildings of similar scale, including the new US Bank parking garage to the west, the Early Modern Pacific Northwest Bell building to the southwest, and an early 1920s parking garage to the south which was constructed originally to service the hotel's patrons. The hotel's main entrance was on Pine Street. It occupies, a full 200' x 200' block, otherwise known as Lots 1 through 8 of Block 44, Portland Addition to Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. Erected in reinforced concrete veneered in tan-colored brick, the nine story, M-shaped building rises above a two-story base. The north/south oriented wings are bisected by the main service corridor which faces east/west. Originally, single, slightly off-center corridors separated the hotel rooms, each of which faced an exterior or light court elevation.

Storefronts of varying depths flanked the main entrance on Pine Street. The imposing lobby space, essentially T-shaped, was flanked on three sides by a mezzanine level. Banquet and meeting rooms were situated off of the lobby on the first and second levels, and a massive ballroom occupied the northwest corner of the building.

The first exterior elevation drawings presented a decidedly classicized composition, with an' elaborately detailed base and capital. Colossal columns, heavy cornices, quoining, pilasters, broken pediments and other details would have put the Multnomah in a stylistic vein that duplicated current revivalist decorative expression. This set of elevations, dated November 12, 1910, were not executed and a more modern interpretation was realized which nevertheless retained the classical organization of base, shaft and capital.

Instead of applied ornament in a different material, the exterior decorative program on the Multnomah is derived almost exclusively by the use of the ornamental potential of brick itself, primarily by the use of various types of corbelling. Instead of projecting quoins at the corner bays, recessed brick courses are used and result in the same but more stylized effect. Similarly, columns and pilasters are replaced by flat, minimally detailed panels on which V-shaped inserts in stone or concrete appear. Above these pilasters are found square, corbelled brick panels, the center of which is either decorated with a circular panel of stone or concrete, or with a bubble light fixture which once helped illuminate the exterior. Belt courses and cornices are plain. At the capital level, the sets of windows are separated by highly-stylized pilasters which are textured brick panels composed of combinations of recessed courses, corbelling, and dentil-like projections.

On the east and west elevations, windows are grouped vertically in pairs in the "shaft" portion. The one-over-one, double-hung sash are set into recessed frames with slightly projecting brick sills and no lintels. At the upper level, the paired window arrangement, similar in size and configuration to those on the lower elevation, appears at the corner bay only. The remaining windows in the upper two levels appear between the pilasters and are two narrow, one-over-one, double-hung sash, which flank a set of paired one-over-one windows.

On the north and south elevations, windows are single one-over-one, double-hung sash which flank a central recessed bay on each wing which once served as a porch. Access was gained from the interior corridor. A bowed, cantilevered balcony decorated with projecting brick panels appears on each floor of each wing on the south elevation, and on the center wing of the north elevation. A metal fire escape is found on the flanking wings of the north elevation in place of the balcony. On the south, these features have been altered to allow for the installation of an exterior fire escape, which now extends to the street level but is not visibly intrusive.

Original mezzanine level windows, extant irregularly on the elevations, were composed of single glazed panels, some of which were casemented, and others being fixed. Original structural separation of the lower bays is generally intact with the exception of the southwest corner. Storefronts are most altered on the southern end of the Pine Street elevation, while it seems that much of the northern end of this elevation is intact on the lower level. Modern materials have been used to alter all of the entrances. Glass and aluminum is typical on the Pine and 4th Street entrances. The 3rd Street entrance has been bricked in, although with compatible or identical brick.

On the interior, only the original lobby space is intact. The indication of the magnificence of the interior spaces is evident in the elaborate plaster ornamentation, highlighted in gold leaf. The space is dominated by eight, square, free-standing columns, which rest on five foot high marble bases. Each face of the columns is basically a fluted Ionic pilaster, heavily encrusted with applied plaster at the base and at the capital. Festoons of fruit and a cartouche with a superimposed MH logo decorate the capitals, and is a motif that is repeated periodically around the periphery of the room at the mezzanine level. The coffered ceiling is divided into panels of varying widths, which contributes to the heavily textured effect realized by the extensive use of replicated plaster ornament, various foliate designs, egg and dart moldings, quatrefoil shapes, bosses and other meandering ornament employed to complete the composition. The decorative treatment is similar on the mezzanine and results in an overall lushness that manages to diminish the negative effects caused by unsympathetic remodeling around the edges of the lobby.

The former shop or service functions on the first floor of the lobby have been replaced with modern glass/wood or glass/metal storefronts. Most of these appear between structural or decorative columns and are therefore easily reversible. A similar situation exists on the mezzanine level, but by no means extends to the entire wall surface. The most intrusive elements are a free-standing wooden cage-like enclosure at the southeast corner of the lobby which serves the federal credit union, and a massive modern chandelier composed of spear heads, protruding elements, and red-shaded light fixtures. There is no furniture in the lobby although display board and directories dot the space. Two original stairs, consisting of marble wainscoting (to the third floor), and elegant wrought iron balusters and wooden rails, are located in the west and east wings.

When the building was new, it boasted 725 rooms and suites, 300 of which had private baths. This figure was reduced eventually to about 500, or an average of 85 per floor. When the building was converted to offices beginning in 1965, many of the room configurations were retained but the majority of the spaces were changed to open-plan use, necessitating the gutting of many of the rooms. Drop ceilings, fluorescent lighting, new partitions, wall treatment, doors and other detailing are standard throughout the building above the second floor. Major public spaces such as banquet and meeting rooms were turned into conference rooms if possible. The old ballroom served for a time as a restaurant but is now, also office space. Whether or not any detailing exists above the ceiling fixtures or elsewhere is unclear. Although there were continuing alterations to the interior of the building throughout its history, those undertaken by architect Richard Sundeleaf were the most extensive, although none are evident on the exterior except for the fire escape additions.