Tuck Lung building makeover on hold

A proposal to remake a property with deep roots in Old Town Chinatown’s Chinese-American community has stalled after running into opposition from Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commission.

Guardian Real Estate Services aimed to reposition the Tuck Lung building, at 140 N.W. Fourth Ave. The developer purchased the building for $8.25 million in May from investor John Beardsley.

After receiving design advice from the Historic Landmarks Commission, Guardian President Tom Brenneke said it appears unlikely the commission would accept the project team’s proposed alterations. Now, the developer may give up on updating the existing building and wait until a larger one can be constructed on the property, he said.

“Our proposal was to improve the façade and install a new storefront,” he said. “We don’t feel we’re going to be successful to convince the Landmarks Commission to allow us to do that. We’re unsure of our path. It’s frustrating.”

The two-story building’s ground floor is vacant, spurring Guardian’s desire for an update, Brenneke said. The second floor is leased by Allied Health Services of Portland, which operates an addictions treatment clinic there, while the basement is leased by Beardsley.

The existing building occupies approximately a quarter-block, and opened in 1978. It was designed by Chinese-American architects Edwin and Jessie Chen, and includes a number of characteristic Chinese architectural features, including a tiled roof, hexagonal windows and the use of red and green colors, a city staff report states.

The initial design by SERA Architects would have added glazed storefront openings on the ground floor and a wooden slat screen on the second floor. The proposal called for removing railings.

Brenneke defended the design put forward by SERA and Guardian.

“We’d like to bring a more modern look,” he said. “We appreciate the Chinese culture and attempted to bring in those motifs, but it’s not a particularly attractive building at all.”

Carin Carlson, a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission, did not return messages seeking comment on the Tuck Luck proposal.

With the planned façade improvements stalled, Brenneke said he may wait until the property is ripe for full redevelopment. The existing tenants have seven to eight years remaining on their leases, he said.

“That property is long-term suited for a larger building,” he said. “That’s certainly in the back of our mind.”

The existing building is regarded as a “non-contributing” structure to the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District. But the property has long been an anchor of Chinatown. The property was known as The Paris House (also known as the Panama Rooms) from 1889 to 1946. It had a ground-floor Chinese-American restaurant called Chop Suey and a smoke shop below an inn, according to a historical photo included in city documents.

The 39-year-old building hosted Tuck Lung, a restaurant and associated grocery store owned and operated by the Wong family. The businesses closed permanently in the 1980s.

The Tuck Lung building is part of the changing story of Old Town Chinatown. The neighborhood has a large homeless population, and much of the metro area’s Asian community has shifted to Beaverton or to the so-called Jade District in East Portland.

Guardian is among the developers pushing for a taller, more modern Old Town Chinatown that would have fewer links to its history.

Guardian also owns Block 33, the lot neighboring Tuck Lung to the west across Fourth Avenue. The parcel is currently a surface parking lot. Guardian has proposed to build a 10-story, 125-foot-tall mixed-use building on the property.

Brenneke said the Tuck Lung building’s proximity to Block 33 was part of its appeal.

“We felt that owning more rather than less in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood was a good strategy,” he said. “It was a bit of a defensive play to gain assurances that we knew what was going to happen there (at the Tuck Lung property). And we made a good real estate deal.”

Block 33 was the subject of a design advice hearing in January. Brenneke said the project is on hold until at least Jan. 1, when the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan takes effect. The plan raises the allowable height on Block 33 to 125 feet, up from 100 feet.

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