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City will test support for National Historic District

Would designating downtown Hood River as a National Register District help boost the local economy?

That question will be discussed at an open forum on Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. in the city council chambers at the intersection of Second and State streets.

“We’re testing the climate, we’re not going to go ahead unless it’s what the downtown building owners want,” said City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge.

Walbridge will be joined by Sally Donovan, historic preservation consultant, in outlining the process to qualify a property for listing with the National Park Service. Also present will be the seven members of the city’s Landmark Review Board, a voluntary body which helps downtown building owners with renovation plans.

Fifty-one percent of the downtown building owners have to concur before Hood River can be ranked with 76,000 other properties/districts across the United States. Donovan said the Gorge city already meets the requirement that its structures exhibit a distinctive architectural style or are associated with a significant person or event.

Although property owners within the District would not be prohibited from altering, managing or disposing of holdings, they would be required to follow specific design guidelines for alterations.

Donovan, who has worked with the city for the past 15 years, said since 1992 the number of National Districts in Oregon has grown from 25 to 80. She believes that movement is happening because more communities are seeking to capitalize on tourism dollars. To qualify as a National District, Donovan said properties have to exhibit a distinctive architectural style or be associated with a significant person or event.

Those unique qualities can then be marketed to attract the interest of travelers.

“People in Oregon are really wanting to have an identity for their town,” Donovan said.

The Hood River-based firm of Donovan & Associates was hired to perform a feasibility study on the formation of a National District with $3,000 in grant funds from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Walbridge said that task was simplified since Hood River already formed a local Historic District in 1994. She said 41 building owners have chosen to adopt design standards that preserve the rich heritage of the Gorge city.

By working with the Review Board, made up of graphic artists, architects and other professionals, these individuals draft plans that retain design elements from the building’s origin.

“I think people have really taken pride in their buildings and its shows a lot of pride and respect in the local district,” Donovan said.

Walbridge said the proposed National District area runs east/west from Front to Seventh streets and north/south from State Street to the Union Pacific railroad tracks. She said many of the brick structures within that area were constructed between 1901 and 1913, a time the fruit, timber and tourism industries were flourishing. She said these buildings were slowly replaced by smaller wooden structures until the development boom of the mid-teens through 1930s. During that time, the invention of the automobile brought concrete construction of car garages one to one-and-one-half stories in size, service stations and showrooms.

The Landmark Review Board has obtained SHPO grants for the past several years that have been used to purchase interpretive signage. Those markers are displayed on the exterior of 33 downtown buildings. The plaques list facts from Donovan’s research on the era of construction, and biographical information on its early owners and the enterprise it housed.

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