‘We’re still here’: Demolition of historic Japanese hotel in Old Town prompts outcry

The Morning Mails

‘We’re still here’: Demolition of historic Japanese hotel in Old Town prompts outcry

The structure that stands at the intersection of Northwest 4th Avenue and Glisan Street appears unremarkable at first look. Its architecture is square and simple, and the dilapidated structure is partially covered in graffiti. But its significance goes beyond the building itself, says Chisao Hata, creative director of living arts at the nearby Japanese American Museum of Oregon. From 1921 to 1941, the building operated as the Yamaguchi Hotel at the center of Portland’s Nihonmachi, or Japantown, in what’s now also known as Old Town Chinatown. One of the family members, Masae Yamaguchi, was also a well-known midwife within Portland’s Japanese American community in that period.

On Sunday, colorful origami cranes lined the fences surrounding the 1909 building to honor the hotel’s history and significance. Its current owner, Blanchet House, plans to demolish the structure and rebuild a medical center in its place. Blanchet House, which offers food, shelter and services to Portland’s homeless community, purchased the Yamaguchi Hotel in 1958 and occupied it until 2012, when it moved next door. Blanchet House launched plans to remove the building five years ago, and Portland City Council approved its demolition in 2021. Hata described the building’s condition as “demolition by neglect.

” The Japanese museum, Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center advocated for the building’s preservation, but were unsuccessful. The museum and Restore Oregon filed an objection with the Land Use Board of Appeals in 2021, but dropped it in favor of a settlement with Blanchet House, agreeing to preserve and store physical elements of the building. While advocates of the building’s preservation are disappointed, some good has come of the process, said Nicole Possert, executive director of Restore Oregon. The city has since made changes to the demolition code that will make it more difficult to destroy historic buildings, she said. When Portland officials approved the destruction of the building, they considered only the “economic viability” attached to it, said Brandon Spencer-Hartle, a project manager with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

New demolition codes require the city to consider additional factors, including cultural significance, Spencer-Hartle said. Scott Kerman, executive director of Blanchet House, said that physical pieces of the building have been set aside for the Japanese museum to display, or they could be incorporated into new buildings. Blanchet plans to develop the property into a health clinic to treat low-income and homeless individuals. The nonprofit’s current clinic, the Harrington Health Clinic, is in a small room inside its current headquarters. “Blanchet House believes a nurse-led health clinic and housing for women are meaningful uses of the site in light of Mrs.

Yamaguchi’s work as a midwife in the community,” Kerman said. Hata expressed support for the new facility, but said that communication about the building’s demolition should have been handled differently. She said museum executives received little warning about the demolition, which was set to begin Monday. Despite the loss of the historic hotel, Hata wants to remind Oregonians that the cultural district is still standing. “It’s not dead, it’s not gone,” Hata said.

“We’re still here.” – Austin De Dios; ; @austindedios; 503-319-9744 Our journalism needs your support. Please become a subscriber today at

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