Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum Modernist Landmark Named City’s First National Treasure

Portland’s Modernist Civic Landmark Named City’s First National Treasure
© Brian Libby

Nation’s largest preservation organization encourages city and local partners to build on the iconic Veterans Memorial Coliseum’s contributions through a sustainable rehabilitation plan

Portland’s Modernist Civic Landmark Named City’s First National Treasure
© Brian Libby

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum (VMC) its newest National Treasure—the first site to obtain the designation in the city. The National Trust selected the iconic but neglected arena for its historical and architectural significance, as well as its potential to contribute to Portland’s cultural and economic vitality.

As part of its National Treasure campaign, the National Trust will work with Portland city officials, residents, business community, local partners and other stakeholders to identify the best rehabilitation and enhancement options to assure that the modernist landmark shines with renewed brilliance.

Built in 1960 and designed by the globally-renowned firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), the VMC has suffered from decades of underinvestment—placing both its current operations and long-term prospects at risk. Despite deferred maintenance and lack of up-to-date amenities, the VMC continues to serve the people of Portland, holding an average of 117 events per year, including Portland Winterhawks hockey matches, high school graduations, and the popular, century-old Portland Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade, which it was specifically designed to host.

Portland’s Modernist Civic Landmark Named City’s First National Treasure
© Brian Libby

In naming the VMC a National Treasure, the National Trust will draw on its considerable experience with historic places throughout the country to work with the City of Portland and stakeholders to identify and pursue a sustainable rehabilitation plan that fulfills the demonstrated market demand in the Portland region for a mid-size multipurpose civic venue. Rehabilitating the VMC would preserve its unique design, allow for new state-of-the-art amenities and enhancements and reflect Portland’s reputable environmentally friendly policies, all at a fraction of the cost of building a new facility.

The VMC is one of the most significant International-Style Modernist civic structures in the West—its strikingly simple design consisting of a glass box holding a concrete seating bowl.

The VMC was a technological feat of engineering unrivaled in the Pacific Northwest when built and features an innovative structural system that carries the building’s entire weight on four concrete columns, leaving the arena and spacious concourse free of any interior supports. Designed in an era in which many civic buildings and arenas looked inward, away from the city, the VMC set a different tone with a view through an all-glass façade that not only looks outward, but brings the city itself into the arena.

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