By David Krogh
An old boarded up triangular brick building on Foster Rd. is about to be reborn. Located at SE 67th St., it originally got its start as the Phoenix Pharmacy in 1922.
Though it has gone through several incarnations over the years and has been sitting vacant since 1999, it has recently been sold to Foster the Phoenix LLC for the purpose of a total restoration to preserve its architectural integrity.
Pharmacist John Leach, whose home was at the current Leach Gardens site, purchased the fledgling Phoenix Pharmacy business in 1911 and commissioned the construction of the brick building with its unique windows.
Under Leach’s direction, the business grew and expanded beyond pharmaceuticals to household goods including cameras, phonographs, and sporting goods. By 1935, the building housed the headquarters of the area YMCA.
Mr. Leach retired in the late 1960’s and sold the pharmacy business and moved across the street, but was still located on Foster. His former pharmacy building was then donated to the YMCA and included both YMCA facilities and medical/dental offices/temporary retail uses for a period of time.
The building was taken over by Allen Video in 1978, and rented VHS tapes and sold rotary telephones, with a gorilla statue standing out front as a greeter.
By 1999, the building became vacant and was purchased by Robert Froman, the owner of nearby Buck’s Stove Palace with the intent of developing a stove museum and space for community uses. This goal was never realized and the building was mainly used for storage and fell into disrepair.
In 2012, Foster the Phoenix was born with the single goal of rescuing the original Phoenix Pharmacy Building from demise and restoring its past prominence.
The business was formed in 2018 as a partnership between Matt Froman, the prior owner’s son and Nonstop LLC, consisting of historic preservationist Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson.
The group purchased the building and took on the enormous task of renovating and upgrading “a nearly century old architectural gem and neighborhood icon” per the group’s website.
Foster the Phoenix has discussed the project with the area neighborhood and business associations, gaining their support. The project has been awarded a Diamond in the Rough Grant from the State Preservation Office for the reconstruction of the storefront.
The building is proposed for a complete renovation which will include: seismic upgrades, a rebuilt storefront modeled after historical photographs, a new roof, the reconstruction of office and retail space, as well as new mechanical and utilities systems.
Once completed, there will be 3,477 sq ft. of retail and/or restaurant space on the main floor, 1,942 sq. ft. of office space on the second floor, and 1,861 sq. ft. of basement storage.
The Southeast Examiner asked Matt Froman how he felt his project would fit in with the City’s vision for Foster Rd.
“I can’t speak on the city’s future vision as honestly it’s impossible to know what they are thinking. I can say that by rescuing The Phoenix from demise, it helps keep alive the history of Foster Rd. for future generations and creates some uniqueness for the area that will help Foster stand out within the city.
“We have loads of new construction in the city with bland mixed-use development and older buildings being demolished regularly for the sake of more usable and denser square footage,” Froman continued. “We need to keep buildings that really helped make Portland and its neighborhoods what they are today.
“Due to the condition of the property and level of seismic upgrades needed, from a financial perspective, it makes more sense to knock down the building and build it bigger as can be seen from examples across the city.
“However, they are not building Phoenix Pharmacy Buildings anymore and there’s something to be said for older buildings and the nostalgia and sense of community pride that come with the decades they’ve contributed to the area. Some things you can’t put a price on and to Foster the Phoenix LLC, this building is it!”
Potential tenants have not been identified as yet but are encouraged to inquire soon so that renovation work can address their needs. More information including contacts, diagrams and photos can be found at FosterThePhoenix.com.