Rothko alley: a walk to the park?

Portland Art Museum heads to City Hall on Thursday with a new plan to build its pavilion and give public access to the park

A little over a year ago the Portland Art Museum proudly announced plans for a $50 million addition – the Rothko Pavilion, an elegant tall glass passageway that would connect the museum’s two major buildings, the original 1932 Belluschi Building to the south and the Mark Building, a refurbished Masonic Temple, to the north.

Almost immediately, the protests began.

Artist’s rendering of the Portland Art Museum’s new Rothko Pavilion, from Southwest Park Avenue.

The main point of contention was that the pavilion, which would fill in the space of the current plaza between the two buildings, would cut off the public passageway between Southwest 10th Avenue, on the museum’s west side, and Southwest Park Avenue, to the east. The plaza has been used by bicyclists, pedestrians, and neighborhood residents, and although the museum’s plans called for keeping the pavilion open to passers-through for free use during the day, opponents argued that that wasn’t enough, and that the plan constituted a hardship in particular for older people and people with movement disabilities, who would be forced to go around the block to get to the park. Others objected to the idea of an unbroken long museum campus along the Southwest Park Blocks, arguing that the resulting mass would be out of character with downtown’s intimate 200-foot city block scale.

A lot of talking and replanning and negotiation has been going on in the months since, and on Thursday, Dec. 7, the museum will take a revised plan to the Portland City Council, hoping to gain approval for a compromise that would be acceptable to all sides. Museum director Brian Ferriso will present the museum’s proposal to the council at 2 p.m. in a meeting that, as always, is open to the public. The main point he’ll deliver: The museum would keep the pavilion open for free public passage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Keeping the doorways open would cost the museum about $100,000 annually in security costs, a museum spokesman estimated.

Artist’s rendering of the Rothko Pavilion connection and passageway, seen from Southwest 10th Avenue.

In a letter to museum members on Tuesday, Ferriso announced a long-term plan to make the museum itself more accessible to people with disabilities. “There’s no question that we have a long way to go,” he wrote, “but I know we can create a Museum that is a national model for accessibility. The proposed Rothko Pavilion is key to that effort. It will not only become an open and accessible welcoming center for visitors, school tours and the community, it will enable more extensive renovations that will open galleries and create barrier-free connections on all three floors.”

From an internal point of view, the Rothko Pavilion is a sorely needed addition. Its 30,000 square feet of new space would create new public spaces, room for sculptures now located in the plaza’s sculpture court, and add nearly 10,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum’s current 30,000. It would establish a vital link between the museum, which has almost no work by pavilion namesake Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland, and the Rothko family, with a promise of rotating artworks to display. Most importantly, the pavilion is designed to truly link the two buildings and create sense and flow out of their hodgepodge of gallery spaces, making it vastly easier for visitors to find their way around.

Museum staff have created a Frequently Asked Questions page that gives the museum’s views on what the project will or won’t accomplish. Funding for the pavilion project is expected to come mostly from private sources, with $1 million from the State of Oregon.

In the meantime, it’s up to the City Council to decide whether a public passageway open most of the time but closed in the late night and early morning hours is in the public’s best interest. Stay tuned. And go to the council meeting if you have something to say.

 

One Response. Have your say.

  1. P. Worrilow says:

    We are PAM members and supporters. We are also residents of the neighborhood. We do NOT support the planned Rothko Pavilion which will discourage pedestrian and bicycle-friendly movement, resulting in a diminished sense of safety crossing the Park Blocks.
    It will enable PAM to be a massive 2-block structure on the intimate Park Blocks. Your reasons for needing this do not present persuasive reasons against less obtrusive and restrictive alternatives.

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