John Leach’s pharmacy bldg. on Foster to be preserved

Discover what’s behind the group that plans to renovate an outer East Portland landmark – the Phoenix Pharmacy building …

For decades, this unique building was a landmark on SE Foster Road, as people traveled between Portland and the Lents neighborhood. Contributed historic photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

What’s now known as Leach Botanical Garden wouldn’t exist, had John Leach not successfully created and successfully operated his Phoenix Pharmacy, starting in 1922, on SE Foster Road at 67th Avenue – In what’s now called the Foster-Powell neighborhood.

“Over the years, many people advised us to demolish the building and construct a new, more-spacious high-rise on this corner,” remarked Matt Froman of “Foster the Phoenix LLC”, while he was working on the building.

Ready to stencil the name of this restoration project near the front door is “Foster the Phoenix LLC” partner Matt Froman.

“Razing the building and constructing a new structure would have provided more square footage for less money; but I and my partners don’t want to see another ‘big box’ here. We think it’s in important to save a building like this; it’s something that makes Portland really special,” Froman told East Portland News.

While looking up the history of the building, Froman said he’d learned that the iconic curved brick corner building had been one of the best pharmacies in the state – while also acting as the headquarters for local YMCA and Chamber of Commerce chapters. The building was eventually donated to the YMCA in 1970, to be sold for their benefit. Since then, the property has passed through several hands, with the most recent tenant closing the doors in 1999.

With interior walls stripped away, this building shows its “sturdy bones”, inside the surprisingly spacious main floor area.

“My father, Buck, of Buck’s Stove Palace up SE Foster Road at 68th Avenue – he’s been in business here since 1974 – purchased this building in 1999 from Allen Washbaugh, who ran ‘Allen’s Used Phones’ and ‘Allen’s Videos’ here.

“My dad’s original idea was to turn this building into a grand ‘Stove Museum and Art Center’ – but, for the past 20 years, he’s focused on his business of selling, installing, and maintaining wood stoves. And, over the years, he filled the building with antique stoves and architectural features, instead of redeveloping it,” Froman said.

In 2012, Froman said, he himself had the “grand scheme” of creating a music venue or brewpub in the building. “Now, I just want the building to come to life again – and to be a place the neighborhood can be proud of; and perhaps be a destination.”

Here’s a look at the curved storefront from inside the building, looking out at SE Foster Road from the mezzanine.

With that aim, “Foster the Phoenix LLC” partnership was created on August 23, 2018, involving Matt Froman, and historic preservationists Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson. The enterprise had the purpose of resurrecting the Phoenix Pharmacy building.

They’ve spent months clearing Froman’s father’s “collection” out of the basement, main floor, mezzanine, and second floor, and they hope to begin renovations this summer.

Touring the building is like stepping back in time.

In the basement, the door of a massive “Pacific Coast Vault Co.” safe is open. Although the surfaces are in rough condition, the mezzanine is sturdy – constructed from 2x4s, stacked on their sides. A rounded-corner second floor room looks much as it did when it famously served as a dental office for decades.

The original curved glass in these windows is rippled by time, distorting the view from this second story room, which once was a dentist’s office.

“The building has beautiful character and heart, doesn’t it?” Froman asked with a smile.

The structure’s makeover task is daunting, Froman commented. “Although the building solid, it needs a complete renovation, starting with a new roof; then, seismic upgrades, a rebuilt storefront modeled after historical photographs, reconstruction of the office on the second floor, and new mechanical and utilities systems.”

The partners are currently working with the Oregon State Preservation Office (SHPO) to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places, and enroll it into Multnomah County’s special assessment program. And, SHPO recently awarded the project a competitive “Diamond in the Rough Grant” to reconst the storefront that’s been boarded up for decades.

Because the structure is located on the western edge of the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area, Froman said the Phoenix Pharmacy Building project has also been awarded a Prosper Portland “Prosperity Investment Program Grant”, as well as pre-development loan to help jump-start redevelopment.

If all goes as expected, this inimitable building will again be the pride of the Foster-Powell neighborhood.

When restoration is completed, Froman said, he’s confident that the main floor will appeal to a restaurant or retail shop owner, and that people providing professional services will again inhabit the second floor.

To learn more about this unique building, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2019 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

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