One of the Portland Judges in 1988 at his historic desk Judges in Pioneer Courthouse care about history... This judge advertised to locate the historic desk and chair used in this 1988 photo. The desk and chair were found several States away. He obtained them and complained that some who had space in the building did not appreciate its historic heritage. He was proud to be able to use the historically furnished courtroom.

GSA sends replies:

GSA needs funding for any new projects. The proposed work estimated for KPFF, the group hired to make recommendations for seismic analysis of Pioneer Courthouse Prospectus Project, will cost $15,074, 000. Following is the description sent to us indirectly by the 1996 Project Manager, Willie Hirano:

Description: The Pioneer Courthouse is a 48,045 gross square foot National Historic Landmark. The building is the 2nd oldest Federal Courthouse west of the Mississippi River and the 2nd oldest Federal Building on the West Coast. Major items of work include:

1. Possible repairs to exterior stone work and chimney repairs.
2. Base isolation upgrade of the structure for seismic resistance.
3. Upgrade of HVAC, fire safety, and electrical systems.
4. Modifications to meet ADA handicap requirements.
5. Repair of interior finishes.
6. Add secure parking to the facility

The project is to meet operational, building code, and client requirements in line with the purpose of upgrading the structure seismically while maintaining features of the original design.

Est. Total
Project Cost: $15,074,000

Status: The project is currently in the tentative phase of design.

Schedule: Design is scheduled for completion in February 1997. Construction is on hold pending funding. No funding is being requested through 1998 in order to respond to public interests in reducing the public debt.

Not mentioned is the fact that GSA had sent the Post Office Department an eviction notice. Please click here for more on this. Post Office eviction on hold!


Portland residents overwhelmingly spoke out against having the new parking under the present building. The Mayor wrote that the laws make such a parking difficult because no current public transportation lines may be crossed by public parking entrances. The area planned for such an entrance would have to cross such transportation patterns.

The secure parking addition to the facility! Portland is relatively safe as a city in the United States. An English architectural historian, Lawrence Wodehouse, wrote to me when I sent him word of this project. In his letter he suggested the judges be moved to a bomb shelter but that the Pioneer Post Office should be left alone.

This building could be a fine place for local students to study courthouses, court rooms, judges' offices and perhaps hold mock trials for educational purposes. Sam Oakland has a suggestion for the use of the first floor across from the Post Office section of the building: use it as a museum for Postal Services and to sell souvenirs etc. made by the postal department, historic stamp collections, and other products. This would cost the government much less and would he preserve the historic character of the building! It might even bring in revenue.

Base isolation upgrade is very controversial. It is not entirely tested though has promising design and theoretical properties. It requires excavating under the entire structure and installing something that has been described as shock absorbers designed especially for buildings. In earthquakes, they allow the entire building to slide from side to side. However in demonstrations we have seen of this system, if the earthquake shifts the building in one direction, all is fine, but if in another the building could slip off the track and be derailed as easily as railroad cars on a track.. Installing such, could cause severe damage to the current structure and could disrupt the present stability. It requires a moat around the foundation to separate it from contact with present surrounding land. The original Mullett portion of the building uses an arch and vault type of construction, especially in the foundation. Currently the new wings and the earth surrounding the basement floors act as support for these basement walls so that they do not crash outward over time. If a moat is created, the stairs and ramps used for entrances will have to serve a dual purpose of being buttresses for the basement walls. This is very tricky for someone not trained or not aware of the need. The base isolation system almost precludes this type of buttressing because its very purpose is to keep it isolated and free to sway from side to side in an earthquake. The St. Louis Post Office has a moat around it but the stairs, original to the structure, act as buttresses and on the original drawings for constructing that building the stairs are called buttresses, not stairs, to show the necessity of them in their present form. Another well respected architectural historian who is best known for his work on Robert Mills has inspected the base isolation currently being installed in Columbia South Carolina on their most historic building, the State Capitol. He stated confidentially to me by phone that the base isolation system looked to him like a disaster waiting to happen.

It is almost certain to create structural damage that will need to be repaired, hence the need to add the first point of repair or replace exterior stone work, roof and chimneys. This section is most likely not needed to the extent proposed if other proposals for building protection from earthquake damage are considered. We do not know if the proposal for needed work on the Pioneer Post Office was open to bids or if KPFF was hired because they were already doing proposals for the city of Portland on modern buildings damaged in the last earthquake in that region. We do not know if KPFF even bothered to inspect the original drawings for the current building. It is certain that if the proposal calls for replacing exterior stone work, roof and chimney, and excavate under the building to install shock absorbers, there won't be much left of the original building and the Registered Historic Landmark will be registering a location with a replica of the original building. This shows the lack of respect for history and cultural heritage of the current administration in GSA. Similar disrespect permeates the current Presidential Administration though they claim to be interested in our American Heritage.


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Copyright Mullett-Smith Press, updated June 1997 updated November 2002