Preservation Pioneer: The Salvation and Revival of the Harlow Block
By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | October 20, 2019
Sometimes success is achieved simply by not giving up. The Harlow Hotel in Portland, Oregon is just such a story. It is one of the city's oldest commercial buildings, but for most of the last four decades, it has been abused, battered and left vacant. It was the target of two previous attempts at rehabilitation. Depending on which calendar is being used, the current renovation has taken a decade. And yet, late this summer, the building opened as the Harlow Hotel, an intimate full service 26-room boutique hotel.
The Harlow Block is a three story brick building constructed in 1882 in what was originally called "North Portland." At that point in time, the city was only forty years old and the state thirty. It was an inland port city of 17,000 people. The wharf city generally revolved what is not known as the Skidmore-Old Town National Landmark District at Naito Boulevard and Burnside. At this time, the area around the Harlow Block was mostly upscale residential and the block adjacent to the west had been platted a public park. There were also ongoing conversations in the City about a new train station to be located just to the north.
Portland's 1882 Harlow Hotel was abandoned for four decades. Param Hotels has brought it back to life as a 26-room boutique historic hotel.
The developer of the building was John D. Harlow. Harlow had been born in Bangor, Maine in 1820. A descendent of an original Mayflower passenger, Harlow became a sea captain. He arrived in Portland in 1851 and became the successful owner and operator of steamships, including the Commodore Perry, the first steamer constructed on the Willamette River strictly for towing purposes, as well as ships, Shoo Fly, Minnehaha, and Rip Van Winkle.
He purchased the 5,000 square foot parcel in 1869 and built his family home. In the 1870s, he purchased land for a country home east of Portland and platted the town of Troutdale. In the early 1880s, he moved permanently to the country house, and in July of 1882 spent $26,000 to build the Harlow Block on the site of his home.