Who has the “Cooler” City Hall?

I have been known to play a little rival, us versus them with our larger neighbor south of the border. I promise I am not proposing a wall down the middle of the Columbia River. I wonder if that’s even possible… never mind ­čśë You may remember my somewhat harsh posts regarding Rip City and the ‘Couv’. Below are just a few.

So which of us has the cooler City Hall? Seriously, the ‘Couv’ is rockin’ a pretty mean pad. But Portland has a grand edifice for the bloated bureaucracy to conduct their waste of taxpayer dollars as well. Which mayor gets to strut like a rooster in the hen-house and which is jonesing it up for crib across the river?

Let’s start with Portland. Our neighbor in that other state, has been a big city for a fairly long time. In fact Portland had some 90,000 people at the turn of the 20th century. America’s Vancouver had a rather village like 3,200 people in 1900. In 1890 the City of Portland purchased the land upon which the current City Hall building resides. They hired a firm to design the building and construction began. Legend has it the building was similar looking to the Kremlin. That actually seems like it may have just been a little early but perhaps a fitting facade for the current government ­čśë So the basement and first floor were done and the City decided to fire the firm and start over. Yes they tore out all the work and began anew. Ah isn’t that special, Portland, wasting the people’s┬átax dollars now for over 120 years ­čśë This new guy had a truly grand plan for the City’s municipal offices. There was to be 4 floors built and a 5 story clock tower up top. But as it turns out they ran out money for the clock tower. I guess building a third of the Kremlin and then tearing it all out was bit too much for the coffers.

Portland City Hall, Wikipedia photo

All kidding aside, the building was completed in January of 1895 and the business of the city would start in the new structure in February of that year. The building has some notable historical interest as it is purported to be the first large building in the Pacific Northwest with electrical wiring and centralized heating. Over the years the building has had some additions including a rooftop penthouse apartment, which is pretty cool if you think about it, seriously ‘da mayor was rollin’ phat with a penthouse up top!

Google Earth View, Portland City Hall

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located downtown at 1221 SW 4th Avenue. The original construction cost was $600,000 and the major renovation in 1998 cost some $29 million. Ouch they definitely could have built a very nice brand new place for that kind of cash. But I think having the old girl dress for a new millennium was probably still a good call. Modern buildings just don’t have that craftsman’s attention to detail like the buildings of yesteryear. All told there is roughly 48,000 square feet of usable interior space.

So Portland has a pretty cool place to do its government business. How does it compare to the 21st century fabrication┬árockin’ across the Columbia in the ‘Couv’?

Old City Hall, Google Images

Vancouver USA has had quite a number of locations for city offices over the years but two structures come immediately to mind. First is the building at 210 East 13th Street. This thing is not winning any beauty contests my friends. The building was built-in the 1960s and was home to the City Hall and the Police HQ. It is 4 floors and takes up the whole city block but it is a basically a parking garage with a building in the center. This rather dull and boxy building was stuffed to the gills as Vancouver grew and expanded over the decades. The city later moved the police to multiple precincts one on the eastside and one called the “West Precinct” but really more like central and then a HQ and Dispatch office which is near Fort Vancouver. Still, even with the PD and city jail out of the building it was busting at the seams with all that taxpayer-funded bureaucratic BS. An annex building was needed and that lies on Esther Street across from the Slocum House in Esther Short Park.

Vancouver City Hall
Vancouver City Hall, photo credit on image

Things were about to change drastically as the great recession of 2009 was going to slow things in the downtown area to a crawl for a while. Local newspaper, The Columbian built a fantastic new building on the corner of 6th and Esther during the flurry of building activity in the mid-2000s. It overlooked the brilliantly restored Esther Short Park. The structure may have been a vote of confidence for the future of print news, or perhaps a culmination of a life long dream. The recession however had other plans and the building was placed for sale for $41.5 million. Having cost some $40 plus million to build, the city agreed to buy it out of the Columbian Bankruptcy for a bargain $18.5 million in 2011. And what a gorgeous piece of 21st century architecture.

Vancouver Esther Short Park Arial
Google Earth View, Vancouver City Hall

The Vancouver City Hall building features 118,000 square feet of space on 6 floors. ┬áIt overlooks the Park to the north and the Mighty Columbia to the south. The amazing waterfront is under construction nearby. It was purchased by the city for a fraction of its value so let’s compare. Portland started a building, tore it down, started rebuilding and ran out of money so no clock tower. Vancouver meanwhile has $20 million in instant equity day one. That’s a crushing win right there. Ours has double the space, and is two floors taller. Ours fronts a better park too.

So who has the “cooler” city hall building. Well, we do of course. I must say I do like the classic buildings and Portland’s City Hall is coming in a close second to our amazing municipal HQ here in the ‘Couv’.

Ah the ‘Couv’ life; it is good and our City Hall is definitely the ‘coolest’.


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