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Steeple falls, historic stained glass shatters, as crews demolish fire

Aug 19, 2023

Sun., Jan. 8, 2023

The former Portland Korean Church, originally constructed in 1905, was demolished on Friday after a fire gutted it earlier in the week. (Dave Killen/Oregonian)

A crowd of onlookers at the corner of Southwest 10th Avenue and Clay Street shouted as a construction rig toppled the charred wooden steeple of the historic former Portland Korean Church shortly after noon on Friday – the first step in demolishing the building after it was ravaged by a fire Tuesday night.

The 118-year-old building's remaining stained-glass windows were shattered – along with local preservationists’ hopes for them – shortly after 12:30 p.m. The windows survived the initial steeple-toppling but they broke as crews continued dismantling the building's scorched remains.

The first stage of the demolition went according to plan, when workers successfully pushed the steeple east toward the center of the hollowed building and away from overhead lines on 10th Avenue that power the Portland Streetcar, said Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves.

Crews hoped to save the original stained-glass windows – which might have been made by the long-gone Povey Brothers Art Glass Studio, known as "the Tiffany of the Northwest" – but knew it would be difficult to do so, Graves said.

Watching the windows shatter was "pretty depressing," said Val Ballestrem, the education manager of Portland's Architectural Heritage Center.

"I understand the safety and health issues behind doing the demolition," he said. "But it's a loss."

The center is looking to rescue as many historic artifacts from the rubble as possible. Ballestrem said he's hopeful the building's cornerstone can be saved.

"If you don't save those stories, these artifacts, you lose this sense of the past and where we’ve come from as a city," he said.

About two dozen people stood behind steel barricades along 10th Avenue Friday morning to watch work crews unload demolition equipment. A firefighter sprayed water into the building's remains as its wooden walls were taken apart. Roads were closed on 10th Avenue between Park and 11th, and on Clay between Market and Columbia streets.

The demolition is expected to continue through at least the end of the weekend, Graves said.

About 80 firefighters on Tuesday responded to the three-alarm fire at the building. A large amount of wooden furniture inside the vacant church fueled the flames, which billowed out of the building and toward a house located about 10 feet east.

No one was injured in the fire, but the flames displaced the nearby home's five residents. Those residents will be able to return to their house "in short order" – albeit with one scorched wall, Graves said.

"The biggest, most impressive act was saving the home," Graves said. "It was unbelievable."

Portland officials decided to demolish the three-story former church after determining the building was a "total loss," according to a probable-cause affidavit. The building has been vacant since at least 2015, when the Portland Korean Church sold it to Hadi Nouredine, a Beaverton and Lake Oswego dentist. The property is valued at over $1 million, according to city records.

A receptionist at Nouredine's dental office said he was unavailable to comment Wednesday.

German-speaking congregants built what originally was known as First Evangelical Church in 1905. Architect Henry Dittrich designed the building, according to the 2003 book "Architects of Oregon."

Arson investigators determined the fire originated inside the building, the affidavit states.

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