Where We Live: Preserving a historic Sellwood building

Multnomah County

Matt Riley says he wants the community to continue enjoying the building for another 100 years

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some Portlanders are working to protect old homes and buildings with historical significance as new apartments and homes continue to be built across the city.

Matthew Riley is a proud resident of Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood. He recently bought a former church building on SE 9th Avenue and SE Spokane Street, just east of historic Oaks Park. The building is more than 100 years old.

“So I moved forward with the idea that I wanted to make it into a house to preserve the building and keep it as something that the neighborhood could continue to have for another 100 years,” Riley said.

It’s not that Riley is against the new apartments and homes that dot the Sellwood neighborhood, but he says the character of Sellwood — with classic homes, neighborhood hangouts and antique shops — should not be lost. They’re what make Sellwood what it is.

“I think that keeping these old buildings is important to show that we have a history,” he said.

The building Riley purchased was once home to the Sellwood Christian Church and the Sellwood Playhouse Theatre Company. Though vacant for several years, Riley didn’t want to see it torn down.

“We’ve looked at this as an incredible opportunity to take a beautiful old building and bring it back to life,” he said.

Riley’s teenage son Shep and young daughter Willow are pitching in on what has become a neighborhood project. Riley admitted that trying to get the city to see his vision is a frustrating process, with permit and development charges quickly adding up. But Riley is determined.

As Portland changes, Riley believes people should save what is worth saving.

“This is what we should be doing as a neighborhood, as a community and, I think, as a city,” he said.

Riley said he has a regular job and is not a professional developer. But he’s enlisted the help of neighbors and friends to guide him through the process and he hopes other Portland neighborhoods will also work to save their local histories.

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