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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 21, 2004 1:39 PM. The previous post in this blog was And it burns, burns, burns.... The next post in this blog is Way down yonder. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Surrender

Sad news on the front page of the O today. The City of Portland has given up its fight to keep the federal government from blowing a hole in the wall of the Pioneer Courthouse, the oldest building in town, to make room for a parking garage for the judges who work in the building.

City Commissioner (and mayoral candidate) Jim Francesconi, who held up the courthouse renovation by refusing to issue a city permit to build a new driveway, has caved in to bullying by the federal General Services Administration, landlord of the Pioneer. Apparently the GSA treatened to start a federal condemnation of whatever property was needed to get the job done. The city decided not to spend the legal fees that such a process would entail.

And so the courthouse renovators have won every battle. The historic Pioneer Post Office is no more, and the other tenants of the building have also been moved out for good. When the renovation is completed, that entire, wonderful building, cushier than ever, will be the sole province of just four federal appeals judges. The public will have little reason to go inside it again.

Like Congressman David Wu, who helped ram this through over the objections of history buffs big and small (including Congressman Earl Blumenauer), I worked for a year in the Pioneer. On the second floor were spacious chambers for three judges, and a law library. The appeals court operation took up less than half the useable space in the building. Even with a fourth judge, there would be no need for the whole courthouse. And with law libraries shrinking as books become obsolete and the internet fulfills more and more of the profession's legal information needs, there's no call for a huge library space.

And the parking garage? In the Pioneer Courthouse? How 1955.

Oh, well. I wish the city had stopped this. Short of that, I wish it would have prolonged the process and made it more expensive for the feds. But the City Council has come up with a fairly constant refrain in the last few years: "We'd probably lose in court, so we won't fight." Sometimes you should fight it out 'til the end, even though you'd probably lose. Maybe this was one of those times.

Comments (8)

I hate the west coast's lack of sense of history and preservation. It's so short-sighted.

Furthermore, did you get a load of the cost? Divide that by the number of parking spaces this will create.

It's a real crime.

Of course, if the City did fight it in court, they'd just end up getting shafted from the other side by accusations of wasting the taxpayer's money.

Lose-lose choices all around at this point.

Yep. Lose-lose. (And maybe a third lose for Congressman Wu -- we'll see.)

If I recall correctly, not a single one of the Portland-based judges who use the courthouse had the courage to say that he supported the GSA plan. It would make more sense to move the appeals court into the lavish Hatfield Courthouse a few blocks down, which was built with the equivalent of one floor per judge, and move some offices out of Hatfield into Pioneer.

"I hate the west coast's lack of sense of history and preservation."

Jeez, last time I looked, the city trying to preserve the courthouse was on the west coast, and the government trying to screw it up was on the east coast.

If this thing is so damn old why doesn't it have a Historical Registration? Actually it may, I don't actually know. So my question I guess would be, just exactly how does a Historic Registry protect buildings from change?

It's not that people won't go in...it's will the feds let them? As it is now, you have to pass security and go through a metal detector to get inside the courthouse area (necessary to climb the stairs to get to the cupola, where there are interesting views coupled with photos of what the same view looked like in the past).

I've been to a couple of oral argument sessions; the courtrooms are imposing and beautiful.

Your point about not needing library space any more because of on-line legal research is not well informed.

Yes, on-line legal research is available. Mostly.

However, experience has shown it is not 24/7/365 available. On-line systems fail, worms crash routers, and other technical issues mean the law books still have to be there.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Surrender:

» City Surrenders On Pioneer Courthouse from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
Of course, Jack got to this already while I had distracted myself with history. Yesterday's Oregonian reported the unfortunate news: In the end, after the historic preservation officials, congressmen and city transportation authorities had their say, t... [Read More]


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