At a Glance
- FoodWorx will take place at the historic Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland’s Pearl District.
- The venue is located at 128 NW Eleventh Avenue Portland, Oregon 97209.
- For more information about the venue, please call the Theater at 503-445-3700 (please do not call them with questions about FoodWorx – contact us instead).
Constructed during the spring and summer of 1891, and formally dedicated in September of that year, the Annex initially provided local units of the Oregon National Guard—quartered in the three-year-old main Armory located on the south half of the same block—with more space for drill maneuvers, as well as an underground firing range for all-season target practice. The fortress-like Annex—with its thick walls, reinforced wooden doors, loopholes, turrets, and crenellated parapets—played another, no less significant role in the city. Given the era’s ongoing worries about mob violence and fears of class warfare, and given the numerous anti-Chinese riots that had recently taken place up and down the Pacific coast, most Portland residents would have welcomed the building as both a symbol of power, strength, and security, and as a constant reminder of military authority during unsettled times.
Although the Annex was designed to meet the needs of the National Guard, by the mid-1890s, it had definitely taken on the character of a public hall. One of the main reasons for this was the fact that the building could handle extremely large crowds. The roof’s innovative truss system meant that there no pillars to get in the way, and so more people could move freely inside the space. Additionally, whenever an event was scheduled, as many as 5,000 could be seated on temporary wooden bleachers on the main floor, while another 700 to 1,000 could easily fit in a second floor gallery.
What sorts of events would have taken place in the Annex? Prior to World War I, the offerings there were many and varied. In 1897, for example, audiences watched a display of “living pictures and animated scenes by the latest and greatest of all the so-called ‘moving picture’ machines–the wonderful electrograph.” The Oregon Pioneer Association staged two of its annual reunions in the building in 1898 and 1899, and in March 1900, it was the site of a moving tribute to the state’s war dead. During the first fifteen years of the new century, various local and national organizations, including the Portland Rose Society, the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club, the Shriners, and the Elks, used the Annex as a meeting and convention space, and a number of very well-attended trade shows and exhibitions were held there as well. At the same time, local music lovers could hear vocal recitals by, among others, Mary Garden (who, in 1902 created the title female role in Claude Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and who may, or may not, have been the composer’s mistress), Dame Nellie Melba (in a program that, according to the newspaper’s account, transformed the “grim old Armory…into a veritable place of enchantment”), and the young Irish tenor John McCormack, and concerts by the Chicago and New York Symphony Orchestras. John Philip Sousa, a regular visitor to Portland, showcased his famous ensemble in a series of three Annex programs. The Oregonian’s review of the first of these reported that “3,000 people applauded when [Sousa] raised his baton at the Armory…and led his players into a revel of melody which continued for two hours and a half…The concluding number was the magnificent ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ from ‘Die Walkuere,’…and it rounded out most beautifully what was one of, if not in fact the very finest, evenings Portland has ever spent with a band of music.”
In 1911, the Annex welcomed “Colonel” Theodore Roosevelt, governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey (yet to start his campaign for the 1912 presidential election), and the current occupant of the Oval Office, William Howard Taft (who had previously spoken at the Annex in 1909, only seven months after being sworn in). Writing about Roosevelt’s visit, the Portland Spectator noted that, “The size of the crowd at the Armory must have pleased [him]; it was patient and enthusiastic. On the platform with him were a number of prominent citizens, who were as generous in their applause as was the man in the farthest corner of the building to whom the speaker’s words were hardly audible. The Colonel is popular—of that there is no doubt; probably all the people who go to hear him would not vote for him. If he does not know that he will run for the presidency again…Portland may feel satisfied that she did all that was possible to make Colonel Roosevelt’s stay pleasant….”
By 1918, Portland’s 4,500-seat Municipal Auditorium, dedicated the year before, had established itself as the preferred location for most of the city’s major cultural events, mainly because audiences could now experience concerts, recitals, and lectures in style and comfort, rather than in a large rectangular drill hall with hard wooden bleachers and cavernous acoustics. Clearly, the days of opera singers and symphony orchestras at the Annex were over. Amateur boxing, which had been introduced there in 1919, turned into the primary form of entertainment during the 1920s, and it continued to attract large and enthusiastic crowds up until the late 1930s.
In 1928, following a Fire Marshal’s report determining that the Armory and the Annex were unsafe, the county and the National Guard needed to decide whether to spend money to fix the problems, or to sell the property and its contents and put the proceeds toward the construction of a brand new facility. From this point on, one gets the sense that everyone involved simply lost interest in these structures, that the financial burden required to maintain two potentially hazardous buildings became too great. Over the next four decades, there would be repeated calls to replace the Armory, but none of these ever panned out. When Blitz-Weinhard purchased the Armory block in 1968, the Annex was a faded, worn, and neglected relic, one whose past glory seemed to be almost entirely forgotten.
The vision began in 2002 when the Portland Armory Annex was the last piece in the Brewery Blocks development puzzle that Gerding Edlen Development was looking for a solution to. Many things were considered, but when Mayor Vera Katz and Artistic Director, Chris Coleman agreed that it would make a fantastic home for Portland Center Stage, Bob Gerding stood behind the concept and personally drove the effort to make it a reality.
Originally built in 1891, the building was reborn as the Gerding Theater at the Armory on October 1, 2006, with a community celebration and block party attended by a throng of thousands. Shortly after opening, the building was certified by the US Green Building Council as exceeding the requirements for designation as LEED Platinum (go to www.usgbc.org for more info).
During its first year as the home of Portland Center Stage, the Gerding Theater at the Armory was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, nominated for the Portland downtown Rotary Club’s Environmental Excellence award and the Portland BEST award for green building. It was also recognized by Forbes magazine as among the top 12 green buildings in the country. Alongside the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, the Gerding Theater at the Armory received honorable mention from the American Institute of Architects Council on the Environment’s Top Green Projects awards. In April 2007 the Urban Land Institute selected the Gerding Theater at the Armory from among 170 nominees spanning two continents for its Award for Excellence, the Americas.
From the beginning, the Gerding Theater at the Armory was envisioned as much more than a new venue for live performance. Partners agreed that this new community destination should stand as a testament to and celebration of the values that have given Portland its distinctive character and national reputation. It’s no secret that sustainability ranks highly on the short list of core Portland values. For 2006, Sustainlane.com ranked Portland as number one in the nation for overall sustainability, and cities around the world have long looked our way for benchmarks of community planning and sustainable development.
Here are just a handful of the many innovative technologies and integrated systems that have helped make the Gerding Theater at the Armory the first building on the National Register of Historic Places and the first performing arts facility in the world to achieve the US Green Building Council’s highest certification level: LEED Platinum.
Theater venues require comparatively massive amounts of energy to operate throughout the year and keep guests comfortable during performances. Largely due to the intricate integration of mechanical, electrical and information systems, the Gerding Theater at the Armory is able to perform 30% more efficiently than code, even with these massive energy needs.
Water Conservation: On the outside of the building you’ll notice that our rain gutters don’t reach the street. Inside, on the Mezzanine level, you’ll see a white pipe marked “rain drain.” Pipes like these on all sides of the building deliver all the rainwater from our roof to a 10,000 gallon underground cistern. From there, the water is redirected to keep the building’s public toilets flushing with minimal use of fresh Bull Run flow. The PCS performance season and Portland’s peak rainy season line up conveniently to make this redirected water available when it will be in highest demand.
Natural Ventilation: Theater spaces are notoriously difficult to ventilate and keep at a comfortable temperature. The Gerding’s Main Stage features an air flow cavity under seating risers and distribution vents under every other seat. The result is a more comfortable theater experience that’s also quieter and more efficient than the industry standard. Upstairs, in the rehearsal and administrative environs, modular flooring is raised 9 inches from the level’s foundation, allowing under-floor air flow and workspace specific vents. Access to every square foot of this flooring allows for the stow-away of power and data cables and ease of their repair or redirection.
Lighting and Heat: Administrative and lobby spaces are lit by a battery of skylights throughout the daylight hours. Many of these skylights and several windows are manually operable to allow fresh air and building flush-out without the extensive use of machinery. Lobby spaces treat guests to radiant heat from hot water tubes embedded in the cement flooring. In offices and rehearsal rooms, chilled beams are used for individualized comfort and greater efficiency. Not much larger than two standard shop lights, these chilled beams employ a small fan blowing air past tubes of regionally chilled water to cool individual workstations. Energy-efficient illumination is built into the same fixture.
Recycling: Construction crews at the Gerding Theater have worked tirelessly to maximize recycling of construction waste, diverting over 95% of it away from landfills. Wherever possible, contractors have sought local and recycled building materials – 25% of all materials contain recycled content and 45% of materials were regionally manufactured. Patrons will have the option to leave their playbills behind for re-use and PCS staff are adopting even more aggressive recycling habits than they’ve already become accustomed to. Educational programs will contribute to continuous improvement in resource efficiency at both individual and collective scales at the Gerding Theater at the Armory.
Day to Day Operations: Now that the building is complete and functioning as planned, the pursuit of sustainability continues for all of us who do our work here every day. We’re saving “oopsie” prints from our laser printers and stapling them together as notepads. Our cleaning crews use only environmentally sensitive cleaning products. More PCS staff than ever are commuting to work via carpool, public transportation or bicycle. In truth, sustainability is more a process than an endpoint, and there are always additional steps to take and new discoveries to make on the path of sustainability. Portland Center Stage and all the partners on the Gerding Theater at the Armory project hope that you’ll be as inspired as we are to engage in the pursuit of a more sustainable future.