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Cast Iron in Portland

Portland, Oregon is home to the second-largest collection of cast iron-fronted buildings in the United States. While parts of Europe and the United States were beginning to embrace cast iron construction as early as the 1840s, the newly established and recently flourishing cities on the West Coast were best poised to construct entire cities in the new medium. From 1854 to 1889, 90% of the commercial buildings constructed in Portland used the new “fire proof” material in a significant structural or decorative way.

Local architects and foundries developed ever more lavish patterns and created rhythmic facades that established a novel architectural unity in the downtown area. Although many of the buildings were torn down or gutted in a rush to modernize and make was for cars during the mid-twentieth century, more than twenty of the original buildings remain in Skidmore/Old Town, now a National Historic Landmark.

During demolition, many pieces of cast iron were rescued by Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan, Eric Ladd, and the old Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, with the idea that entire facades could be reconstructed in the area and early-Portland streetscapes could be revived. Proposed plans would unite new buildings with original ironwork on underused sites, making Portland’s architectural history more accessible and enhancing current use of the area around Skidmore Fountain and the New Market Theater.