All Classical Radio James Depreist

News & Notes: A new large Portland performance hall?

Keller Auditorium, which is susceptible to earthquake damage, must be upgraded -- or maybe replaced. Also: The elk is finally close to a return, but Abe and Teddy still wait while the city talks.

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Keller Auditorium. Photo: Jason Quigley/courtesy Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.

Portland’s Keller Auditorium: Upgrade an aging building susceptible to earthquakes, or give it up and start fresh somewhere else?

That’s the question facing the city’s financial and cultural decision-makers, with regular tenants such as Portland Opera, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and the popular (and lucrative) Broadway in Portland series of touring Broadway musicals waiting to find out.

Either is possible, although rebuilding the 3,000-seat performance hall would require shutting the auditorium down for construction and at least temporarily relocating shows to some other space.

A release Friday, July 14, from the city’s arts program revealed that the city is also actively exploring “possibilities for the development of a completely new, large-scale performing arts venue at a different site, which would allow continuous operations at the Keller Auditorium until the new facility is completed.”

And in case you have an idea for where and how a new auditorium could be built, the city is accepting “expressions of interest” through Aug. 11.

The Keller’s structural susceptibility to large earthquakes is the most important issue in the city’s decision — it would have to be significantly upgraded to meet current standards — but other upgrades are included in any potential remodel of the building, which was opened in 1917 and has gone through previous remodels.

To get a deeper understanding of the issues and possibilities, take a look at Brian Libby’s September 2022 ArtsWatch story Keller Auditorium: Renovate or replace?, the best available analysis of what might happen and what’s at stake.

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Good news for elk fans, less so for friends of Teddy and Abe

Downtown Portland’s Thompson Elk Fountain, before the fountain was damaged during the city’s 2020 social protests and the elk was moved to storage. Photo courtesy Regional Arts & Culture Council.

THE SAME RELEASE FROM the City Arts Program underscored that the Thompson Elk Fountain’s long disappearance from the downtown space it had occupied since 1900 is about to end. The city has included $1.5 million in its 2023-24 budget to repair and replace the beloved statue and fountain, which had been damaged during Portland’s 2020 social protests, to their original site between Chapman and Lownsdale Squares.

Elk and fountain have been missing in action since July 2020, but the city says reconstruction, with a new circulating water pump, “is expected to begin in early 2024.” Again, Brian Libby’s March 2022 ArtsWatch story The elk’s compromised return provides vital background.

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No such happy outcome — at least, yet — for the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt that were torn down from their longtime perches in the South Park Blocks in acts of planned vandalism during the 2020 protests. They, too, are sitting in storage.

“On Wednesday, July 19 at 2:00 p.m.,” the arts program release declared, “Portland City Council will officially receive a report with recommendations for how the City should go about engaging the community to make decisions about its public art monuments – including those that were toppled and removed in the summer of 2020, as well as guidelines for considering new monuments in the future.”

While Abe and Teddy cool their bronze heels, the city will embark with the aid of a $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on “a robust and inclusive community engagement process” to decide how Portland should deal with public monuments in general. At this point, how it all turns out is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, you can visit Council Chambers on July 19 for the presentation of the monuments report, which was commissioned by the City Arts Program and Commissioner Carmen Rubio in January, and give written or oral testimony.

Teddy and Abe eagerly, and nervously, await the outcome.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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One Response

  1. Sydney is associated with the iconic Opera House, and the Gehry designed Disney Theater in LA, and there are other examples. Portland has to go big and not try to renovate the existing Keller. The result will never become iconic. The existing location is ideal, but there are other options mentioned by Brian Libby that may work.

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