PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Portland Japanese Garden held a handover ceremony Thursday evening at the former Salvation Army home for young women on the edge of Forest Park. The Garden bought the house designed by famed architect A.E. Doyle and three other buildings on the property for $4.2 million, with a view to turning it into a sibling organization called the Japan Institute.
The new site will host visiting artists and gardeners learning Japanese gardening methods, will house a dark room, ceramic studio and other artist studios, and the chapel will become an auditorium, which they are calling a “glass theater.”
The property is just past the Thurman Bridge at 2640 N.W. Alexandra Ave. Japanese Garden — as it calls itself without the definite article — currently has properties spread around Washington Park and Sylvan, as well as scattered storage units. The new suite of buildings will be able to accommodate office staff and objects that don’t fit into the Garden’s Cultural Village, which opened in 2017.
Portland Japanese Garden was established in 1963 to help heal the wounds of World War II. The Japan Institute aims to extend the garden’s vision to be a “leading global voice for cultural understanding, in pursuit of a more peaceful, sustainable world,” its CEO Steve Bloom said.
Thursday’s event was billed as a handover, and a chance to celebrate the Salvation Army’s work at what was known as its White Shield Center.
“As an organization that was established on similar ideals around peace and healing, we take our charge seriously that this land’s legacy of community service will continue for generations to come,” Bloom said.
Room for all
The Cultural Village at Japanese Garden was designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates and Portland-based architects Hacker, who also will renovate the new campus. Kuma will work with art glass for the first time, partnering with Bullseye Glass to turn the chapel into a brightly lit concert hall. The organization has never had a stage, and the institute will be able to host small conferences, concerts and talks.
“The Japan Institute won’t be a place to just drive by and check out what’s going on,” Bloom told the Portland Tribune. “But it will be a new educational institution where people can sign up for classes and come and participate in it. We’re going to transform this place to a place of creativity and enjoy.”
Portland Tribune and its parent company, Pamplin Media Group, are KOIN 6 News partners.
Bloom added that if the hall of residence is not full all year round, rooms could be let to other institutions, such as the Oregon Symphony, for hosting their visiting artists. “We can save them some money, just being good neighbors and a resource for the community.”
The Salvation Army’s Major Robert Lloyd said the handover hit some speed bumps when they discovered 3,500 gallons of fuel oil in an underground tank, abandoned in the 1950s. They also didn’t know that the Parks Bureau owned the lower parking lot, which they had been using for decades. That has all been straightened out.
“We’re just surrounded by Forest Park, we don’t have neighbors that would come and complain about us encroaching on them,” Lloyd said.
The hillside, wood-fringed property initially was developed in 1914 and features the work of Portland’s most celebrated architect, A.E. Doyle. Until 2020, it housed young women in the 1960s-era living quarters down the slope. The halls have baby blue paint and electric wall heaters, but that institutional feel will be replaced by the nature-informed minimalism of Kum and Hacker. The commercial kitchen and dining hall will be needed so people don’t have to leave for every meal.
Adam Crosson, who works with Portland Japanese Garden head gardener Sadafumi Uchiyama, said people learning the art of Japanese gardening can take Levels 1, 2 and, soon, 3 there. Areas of the hillside will be dedicated to plants and stonework. He said in Japan, it takes one and a half decades to become a Japanese master gardener — the first few years consist of just observation and training the body — but in Portland they expedite some parts of the training.
The campus started off as a hospital for women pregnant out of wedlock. The money came from a bequest by E. Henry Wemme. The once-time richest man in Portland was grateful to be cared for by single mother who took him in after he was injured while working as a lineman, according to lore. For the last 20 years, the Salvation Army partnered with the Oregon Youth Authority and Oregon Department of Human Services to house girls who were wards of the state and runaways, but it was not cost-effective, so the Salvation Army closed the program in the summer of 2020.
One young woman who stayed there for two months, was Tian Rufener, age 20. “It was like living in high school, like a journey of self-discovery,” Rufener told the Tribune at the event. “Thank God we had good staff who were good when it came to being there and being supportive.”
The girls studied mindfulness and yoga. Rufener now works at Killer Burger in Hollywood and is taking prerequisites to get into the addiction counseling program at Portland Community College.
Politicians in attendance included U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. The $25 million capital campaign is $15 million complete. Taxpayers have contributed $1.75 million via the federal government and $2 million from the Oregon Legislature.