Beaverton has been waiting more than 30 years for an arts venue like the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts to call its own, but first I had to find it.
Making the right turn from busy Canyon Road onto littler Rose Biggi Avenue, there was just a strip mall with Beaverton Cleaners and Superbowl Teriyaki marking the corner. But another block inland from the thoroughfare, things changed quickly. To my right was Beaverton City Hall. Just beyond was The Round, with multistory condos and offices with ground-floor retail, oriented around the adjacent Beaverton Central MAX station. On the other side of Rose Biggi Avenue was a five-story Hyatt House hotel, occupying the former Westgate Theater multiplex site, where I’d seen countless Lucas and Spielberg blockbusters as a kid.
The Reser Center, despite being the newest addition to this high-density Beaverton enclave, found itself with the best site. That became particularly clear on a recent tour of the nearly completed building, especially in the voluminous, glass-walled lobby, which looks out on a natural setting the rest of Beaverton seems to have long since buried and forgotten: the city’s namesake creek, which, though mostly buried underground or relegated to drainage ditches, briefly opens wider here to form a small wetland.
“Now there’s a there there,” said Joe Baldwin, a partner at Portland’s Opsis Architecture, which designed the Reser Center, as we look down from a lobby balcony at a family of ducks kicking their way across the water. “Before, there was only a parking lot on this property, with no way for the public to engage and appreciate this section of the creek in any meaningful way, let alone even realize it’s there.”
Leave it to arts people to see what others look past.
The Patricia Reser Center, which is scheduled to open in March 2022, is not just one of the Portland metro area’s first performing arts venues built from the ground up in a generation. It’s not just a 550-seat theater space to complement downtown Portland theaters like The Armory, the Newmark Theatre, or Lincoln Hall. Perhaps most importantly, it’s simply a powerful act of place-making. It starts with the Reser Center itself, which offers not just the theater but also an art gallery, studios, educational spaces and an outdoor plaza overlooking Beaverton Creek. But it also harnesses the urban energy kindled by The Round, its ground-floor shops and cafés, and other buildings here: They weren’t quite enough to do that on their own, but with the Reser Center there may be some kind of critical mass within reach.
A Not-So-Nutty Idea
For Patricia Reser, for whom the arts center was named after her lead $13 million donation in 2018, the idea goes back to the late 1970s. In those days, Reser and her husband, the late Al Reser, founder of Reser’s Fine Foods, used to not only attend plays and concerts at Portland’s Civic (now Keller) Auditorium but also at a small venue in Aloha called the Nut Loft, which the amateur Tualatin Valley Players called home.
“I remember the excitement of live theater there,” she recalls, “and I began to just kind of fantasize: ‘I wonder what it would be like if we actually had something like that in Beaverton?’ But Beaverton thought of itself as a bedroom community. My husband and I would go to Portland to enjoy the arts, but nobody thought about it here.”
A native of Canada, Patricia Reser had grown up in the performing arts, performing piano recitals as a child, then singing in high school productions of operettas. “To watch those curtains go up when you’re on stage, with all of the pent-up energy, the greasepaint, the lights to put makeup on and a costume allowed me to just be who I wanted to be,” she remembers.
The dream was deferred, as the Resers instead helped underwrite another type of performance venue: Oregon State University’s 1999 expansion of the circa-1953 Parker Stadium, home of the Beavers football team, into what’s now known as Reser Stadium.
All the while, Patricia Reser stayed engaged with the arts commission. She and then-Beaverton City Council member Denny Doyle (who later became the city’s mayor) would brainstorm about where an arts center might be built. After her husband’s death in 2010, Patricia Reser began to embrace philanthropy more fully, and the dream of a Beaverton arts center became a tangible goal. In 2011, Doyle asked her to oversee a feasibility study, which reinforced the community’s growing diversity, as well as its desire for arts options that people didn’t have to drive to Portland for. But it still took another decade-plus of planning, securing a site, and fundraising.
“I think there were a lot of people out here who didn’t believe this was ever really going to happen,” says Lani Faith, executive director of the Beaverton Arts Foundation, which led the capital campaign to build the Reser Center. “This community hasn’t really seen itself as worthy of having that kind of venue.”
Community (Not Corporate) Support
You might think fundraising for an arts center in Portland’s western suburbs would be easy. After all, the state’s signature homegrown Fortune 500 company, Nike, is located in Beaverton (despite suing to designate its boundaries as officially outside the city) and has been all too happy to donate lavishly to local institutions (OHSU, University of Oregon) that founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, feel passionate about. Another international corporation, Intel, employs more than 20,000 workers at four Washington County campuses. The two companies’ assets total more than $180 billion.
Yet the sneaker maker and the chip maker stayed on the sidelines. Instead, the Reser Center campaign relied on donations from a range of individuals, many working for those very companies.
Lani Faith notes the smallest individual donation, $2, came from a young girl who saw the Reser Center fundraiser booth at the Beaverton Farmers Market. “I kid you not, she pulled the money out of her little Hello Kitty purse,” Lani Faith recalls. “She said she wanted to contribute to the campaign because she’s a dancer and she wanted one day to be able to dance on the stage.”
The Oregon Community Foundation also became an essential partner, offering to match any gift over $25,000 from Washington County residents.
“In three years,” Faith adds, “we’ve raised over $12 million from the ground up in addition to Pat’s gift. When we broke ground in November 2019, we had just a little over a million left to go in the community campaign. We wanted to get to a point where it felt reachable, doable. Then shortly after that, Covid hit.”
They feared donations would grow scarce just as the campaign hit its home stretch, but the opposite turned out to be true: the numbers went up. “Particularly in Covid,” adds the appropriately named Faith, “it was a signal of hope.”
Between Nature and Urbanity
Before the Patricia Reser Center was designed or an architect even hired, a University of Oregon architecture-school studio began to imagine how this arts venue might take shape. At the Beaverton Arts Foundation’s suggestion, instructors Jim Kalvelage and Joe Baldwin, both partners at Opsis Architecture, led a term-length studio to explore ideas. Reser and foundation leaders even visited UO’s White Stag Block in Portland’s Old Town to brainstorm.
“We thought it was interesting to explore what the possibilities were within a more suburban context. What’s the future of the suburbs? It seemed ripe with possibilities,” recalls Kalvelage, who before co-founding Opsis in 1999 co-designed a number of performing arts facilities throughout the western United States while a principal with Bora Architects.
The students zeroed in on what became the Reser Center’s future destination—the one the others had ignored. “We had the students explore a variety of sites,” Kalvelage says of the UO studio. “But we became intrigued by having a relationship to both Beaverton Creek and light rail. The site’s nestled between those two strong elements. We thought this was very exciting, because that site really embodies what it means to live in a suburban environment, where you have that connection to nature but there’s a creeping urbanity.” Students wound up presenting their findings not only to the Beaverton Arts Foundation, but also to the City Council.
Village of the Dammed
Viewed from outside, the Patricia Reser Center is, at two stories, smaller than the buildings around it (including an adjacent parking garage), and there is no glowing marquee outside to attract passers-by. Yet as it stretches down Crescent Street, the building feels like a welcoming, kinetic work of civic architecture. It’s clad in cementitious panels that evoke the look of limestone. The Opsis design frames a series of views outward, and with the center’s multistory walls of glass, it’s easy to see from the street all the different spaces inside.
Stepping into the building, a low-ceilinged entry gives way to a wide-open, double-height lobby with a dramatic central staircase: a kind of village common. Where there’s not glass, the interior is festooned with timber. The clients asked for wood to be a signature presence in public areas. Kalvelage and Baldwin both brought up the inspiration of a beaver dam, which perhaps is natural given the Reser family’s association with Oregon State University. Wood panels line the ceiling and the theater’s exterior walls and are festooned with long strips of wood, creating shadow patterns that change throughout the day.
The lobby is a place not just to move through before and after performances but is also worth a longer linger: a place for people to congregate as much as in the theater itself. An art gallery fronts Crescent, and the lobby’s largest, most IMAX-like wall of glass looks out onto Beaverton Creek. The lobby also can become a quasi-event space of its own, for fundraisers, banquets or small performances, especially with the interior balcony, which offers a more expansive view past the creek toward the West Hills. Baldwin swears that if not for one tree just across Hall Boulevard, you could even see Mt. Hood.
The Reser Center’s real raison d’être, of course, is its theater, which is designed to be flexible. Concerts, plays, dance performances, movies and symposia can all take place here. “It’s very chameleon-like,” Kalvelage says. The horseshoe-shaped theater, with a traditional thrust stage and a rear balcony, brings an intimate relationship between performers and audience.
The 550-seat theater is comparable in size to the Gerding Theater at the Armory (599 seats) and Lincoln Hall at Portland State University (475), but it’s also designed to accommodate smaller performances. “If you have a performance that only attracts 350 people, you can turn off the lights in the balcony and still have a very intimate experience,” the architect adds. “The goal is to always have that synergy you feel of a sold-out performance.”
That 550-seat capacity was not just the most flexible. It’s also what the public seemed to want. Working with theater consultants, “We found out that big 3,000-seat arenas are not being built. That’s not where people want to go. They want a smaller, more intimate place,” Reser says, echoing the sentiment. “I’ve had season tickets for the Keller for years. Unless you’re in the front section, the sound is not good. And if you’re in the back section, you can’t see.” Indeed, the Reser Center, despite a similar configuration, feels decidedly cozier than the 2,992-seat Keller and 2,776-seat Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Opsis worked with Seattle acoustician Michael Yantis of Stantec (now heading his own Yantis Acoustics) to assure the theater’s acoustics are also designed for balance: a mix of hard and absorptive surfaces. Also part of the team was Berkeley, California theater consultant Shalleck Collaborative, which helped integrate lighting and rigging, sound and production spaces, and settle on the overall shape of the room. One aspect of the design, an orchestra pit, was not built due to budget constraints and a high water table beside the creek.
There is no resident theater company at the Patricia Reser Center, but in anticipation of its March 2022 opening, several metropolitan area arts groups already are planning performances there, including Chamber Music Northwest, PDX Jazz, BodyVox, and ISing Community Choir. Some may perform not in the 550-seat main theater but in an additional experimental lab, as it’s known: a flexible space for smaller performances and events.
Hearts and Corridors
A great theater experience is all about leaving the outside world behind and becoming enveloped by a performance. Yet so much of the Patricia Reser Center’s significance seems to come not as a solo act but as part of larger ensembles.
There is the higher-density and pedestrian-oriented placemaking it’s part of with The Round, for example. There is the opening in Beaverton Creek it overlooks, which inevitably makes one wonder whether this modest waterway could be further uncovered and re-naturalized: a green corridor to go with Portland’s upcoming Green Loop. There is also the increasingly diverse community that the center hopes to welcome into its elegant beaver dam. And there’s the way the Reser Center helps form the northern edge of what’s seen as a loop of public-oriented spots that’s bookended by the Beaverton City Library to the south. In all cases, this arts center is using arts as a gateway: for people to come together, and for the city’s identity to be transformed.
“There is an energy here that is only going to keep growing,” Patricia Reser says of her namesake center and its neighbors. “When we first started looking for land and conducting a feasibility study, if we asked anyone, ‘Where is the heart of Beaverton? Where is downtown Beaverton?’, you’d get half a dozen different responses. But there’s all of this synergy that comes together in this location.”
- TOMORROW: Brian Libby talks with Chris Ayzoukian, executive director of the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, about what kinds of shows the new center will offer, why it won’t have resident companies, getting a broad variety of communities involved, and lessons from the Hollywood Bowl.
Patricia Reser Center for the Arts
- WHERE: 12625 SW Crescent Street, Beaverton, adjacent to The Round
- PROJECTED OPENING: March 2022. Ground was broken in November 2019.
- COST: $48.2 million, seeded by a $13 million gift from center namesake Patricia Reser
- DESIGNERS: Opsis Architecture, Portland
- THEATER: 550 seats, proscenium stage, adaptable to smaller audiences. Designed to be used for theater, dance, music, movies, lectures, and more.
- EXPERIMENTAL LAB THEATER SPACE: 1,800 square feet, hosting master classes, rehearsals, meetings and private-rental events
- ART GALLERY: 1,200 square feet, featuring Northwest artists and occasional traveling shows, with new shows quarterly
- CENTER DIRECTOR: Chris Ayzoukian
- OPERATED BY: Beaverton Arts Foundation