This building had 3 distinct phases: It was originally constructed as a warehouse in about 1925. The warehouse phase extended from construction until 1988 when the building was converted to an apartments, also called Irving Street Lofts. The information provided here is from a document found in the on-site office files and its source is not known.
The apartment phase lasted from 1989 to 1995 when it the building was sold and the new owners converted it to condominiums.
ISL was originally built in 1924-25 with an address of 630 NW 14th. Located in the Northwest 13th Avenue National Register Historic District, at 7 stories, it is the district’s tallest building (shared with the M&F warehouse) and a superior example of reinforced concrete construction.
The Northwest 13th Avenue Historic District is comprised predominately of warehouses conveniently located off the 13th Avenue railroad spur line between Davis and Johnson. Originally residential in nature, the development of the area as a warehousing and distribution center arose as a result of railroad development spurred by Portland’s emergence as a world seaport, particularly following the city’s explosive growth after the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition. The spur line was built in the decade after the Lewis & Clark exposition to allow the development of warehouse space fed by the Hoyt Street Terminal Yards. These yards are now being developed into housing.
The prominent architectural firm of Sutton & Whitney designed the building. Portland architect Harrison A. Whitney and Albert Sutton established the partnership in 1912. The firm grew quickly and had offices in Portland and in Tacoma. As described in 1922 by C. H. Carey:
“Their excellent work and thoroughly reliable and progressive business methods have secured for them a large and constantly increasing patronage, so that they have become well known as leading architects throughout the Pacific northwest.”
Major Portland commissions included the old Shriners Hospital, Neighbors of Woodcraft Building and Mason Temple
Sutton & Whitney designed the building specifically for the Blumauer-Frank Drug Company, a wholesale druggist and manufacturing pharmacist. The company formed in 1890 when Emil Frank joined with Louis Blumauer to expand Blumauer’s retail drug business into a wholesale operation. The wholesaler carried a large variety of drugs, equipment, and supplies relating to the operation of a drug store of the period. Products included chemicals and medicines, as well as perfumes, toiletries, soda foundation supplies, wines, pipes, sundries, leather products, etc. They also handled store, display, and soda fountain fixtures.
In 1937, the national pharmaceutical firm of McKesson & Robbins purchased the business, though the Frank family continued to own the property. In 1976, the building was sold to William Jewett.
McKesson & Robbins began operations in New York City in 1833. Founded by John McKesson and Charles Olcott, the firm imported therapeutic drugs and chemicals for wholesale sales. In 1853, Olcott died and Daniel Robbins, a member of the firm, became a partner. In 1926, facing severe competition from Midwest-based pharmaceutical firms and heavy import tariffs, McKesson & Robbins sold its assets to Dr. F. Donald Coster. Coster revitalized the enterprise through aggressive marketing and innovative distribution schemes. He persuaded many of the regional wholesale drug distributors to become subsidiaries. With this network, McKesson & Robbins reached unprecedented sales of $140 million in 1929 with profits of $4.1 million.
From the stock market crash of 1929 through the depression and prohibition, McKesson & Robbins survived. In 1933, with prohibition repealed, the company established a liquor distribution business. In 1939, it was discovered that Coster had embezzled $3 million from the firm through its “crude drug division” and that Coster’s real identify was Phillip Musica, a twice convicted business swindler. The discovery ultimately led to Coster committing suicide.
Following World War II, McKesson & Robbins capitalized on America’s postwar needs by adapting wartime advances in synthetics and plastics for home use. Through the 1950s to the 1970s, the business continued to thrive. In 1967, they merged with Foremost Dairy to become Foremost-McKesson. Beginning in the 1980s, Foremost-McKesson reinvented itself, spinning off unprofitable enterprises (such as the dairy division) and became simply McKesson.
As part of that effort, the company consolidated operations in the Portland area, vacating this building in 1981. The building remained vacant until the late 1980s when it was renovated into the Irving Street Loft apartments. (It should be noted that at the time of the conversion, a walkway/bridge which connected the ISL building with the Meyer and Frank warehouse, now known as the Avenue Lofts, across 14th to the west, was removed. There is a photo of that bridge in the ISL lobby.)
Conversion to condominiums started in early 1995.
The conversion from a warehouse to apartments occurred in 1988-89. The owners hired SERA Architects to do the conversion design (see the Drawings). The owners applied for and received the building's "historical" status at that time which resulted in a significant tax property tax break for 15 years.
It is important to realize that the tax break that helped develop our building and helped initiate the development of what is now the Pearl District. Other than the loft apartments just south of the Post Office, there was no residential in this area. The bulk of the area consisted of many small business including a galvanizing plant and many machine shops. The area turned into a ghost town at night and on-street parking was readily available.
The building was a little different at that time. There was no penthouse; that space was used as a community room, complete with a pool table. The common area deck included the deck on top of the penthouse. The room now used as our board conference room on the second floor was utilized as a laundry room.
A full-time on-site manager (a couple) lived in the building.
The building was sold to GranCorp Holdings, LLC in 1985 which immediately initiated the conversion to condominiums. As a part of the process, renters at the time were offered the opportunity to purchase and it is believed that many did (believed to be about 30%). It is believed that most units sold within a year's time.
Conversion changes to the building were minimal. Most significant was the conversion of the communal room to a penthouse and making the upper deck a part of the penthouse (a section of deck was added on the north side of the main roof, since removed). The laundry room was converted to a new communal room since shakable Asko washer/dryer units were installed in all the residential units.
New owners also benefited from the buildings "historical" designation, since there was still about nine years left of the 15-year property tax break benefit (a typical unit property taxes amounted to about $200 per year). Subsequently, owners voted to assess themselves $20 per month for up to 2 years to hire a lawyer/lobbyist to try to get another 15-year extension to the property tax benefit. He got one additional year.
The Pearl area was still a very quiet zone at night. Most of the businesses were still operating. There was always a lot of free on-street parking and no parking meters.