Urban rehab: everyone wants to get into the act

It was easy to get caught up in the building boom that started in Portland after World War II.

But by the late 1960s Portland residents began to realize that pedestrian access to the waterfront along the Willamette River was blocked by the freeways.

And a proposal to build a freeway off-ramp through an older part of town prompted some people finally to say ''Enough!'' The idea of rehabilitating old buildings instead of leveling them began to blossom.

Portland's Old Town area today is a medley of small shops, chic eateries, galleries, and businesses. The Pioneer Court House is a focal point for the downtown pedestrian mall. And the Galleria offers shops and restaurants in a 1905 building that originally housed a department store.

Historic Portland, with its 1860s-vintage buildings, may seem relatively young to Easterners, but its resurgence is a source of pride for renovators and the community.

''It is kind of gratifying,'' says Bill Naito, who, together with his brother Sam, is responsible for the Galleria and much of the work in Old Town. ''It's a pleasure to see buildings fixed up that were an eyesore before.''

State and federal tax incentives for rehabilitating historic buildings have given renovators in Portland a lot of work.

Architect George McMath reports that in the past, many people involved in ''rehab'' were people who simply ''liked old buildings.'' Now it's a different story.

''We are getting people we have never seen before,'' says McMath, a rehabilitation specialist. ''It's a very attractive tax shelter. And it is pumping capital into the area.'' Despite the recession, ''We are as busy now as we ever have been.''

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