On a clear, cool Thursday morning in mid-June, the marketing, sales, and product development teams at Schoolhouse showed up to the office a little bit early. The time had come for the Schoolhouse Bus Tour, an annual tradition that’s not so different from the field trips most of us took as schoolchildren. The goal was to get out into the community as a group for a little bit of fun and a little bit of learning. A big yellow school bus (on loan from the Scappoose School District) pulled into the Schoolhouse loading dock to whisk us off to our first location.
Our first stop was the Blue Sky Photo Gallery on Northwest 8th Avenue. Founded in 1975 by a group of five young photographers, Blue Sky has since become a nationally known gallery that has shown the likes of Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Mary Ellen Mark, and more. On our visit, the gallery was showing exhibitions by Cinthya Santos-Briones and Daesha Devón Harris. The gallery is also home to the Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers, which features original prints from Pacific Northwest-based contemporary photographers. For such a long running organization, it’s amazing how relevant and vital the Blue Sky Gallery still feels.
From there, we headed up Burnside Street to our next stop, The Good Mod. Dealing primarily in mid-century modern furniture inside a 20,000 sq. foot loft, their operation repairs and restores vintage pieces as well as creating their own original work (including some of the most beautiful solid-wood ping pong tables you’ll find) with the support of modern technology like CAD design, 3D printing, and CNC routing. We’ve worked with The Good Mod here at Schoolhouse when we’ve needed specialty pieces of furniture, such as the table in our new studio conference room, but we’ve also felt a harmony with their team based on our shared values. Bringing past design traditions to life using modern technology is our bread and butter.
After a few games of ping pong and some showroom exploration at The Good Mod, we stopped for lunch at The Zipper, home to ChickPeaDX, Basilisk, Slice Pizza Co., and Wares. Bellies full, it was time to head out. Instead of getting on the bus, we walked a few blocks down the street to the New New Crusher Court. From the outside, the building is an unassuming retail space with few hints at what’s inside. But walk through the gated vestibule and a luxurious courtyard filled with palm trees, grass, and Dr. Seuss-like knolls opens up before you. Creative offices line the courtyard with glass garage-type doors opening directly into the space. Several office dogs slinked out from unseen beds to greet our group.
The building was designed and developed by Kevin Cavenaugh and his company Guerrilla Development, the firm behind the colorful Fair-Haired Dumbbell building on East Burnside, as well as The Zipper (it wasn’t a coincidence that we chose to eat there for lunch). It’s home to companies like Half Court Studio, Project Object, and The Beauty Shop.
Kevin gave a short speech on the intersection of aesthetic creativity and social conscience in his architecture. While many people know Kevin and Guerrilla Development for their more eye-catching works, he’s also pursued some valuable social goals with his projects. Many of his projects involve renovating older buildings in ways that add value to the neighborhood without disrupting its social fabric. Currently, he’s in the process of developing a housing unit that will feature subsidized rates for social workers. Work like this is crucial to the city having an equitable future for all its residents, and Kevin was skilled at describing how creativity can be used for more than just aesthetic ends.
Taking off for our journey’s final leg, we drove over to Division Street to explore the shops and businesses. The reason for this is that Division Street, more than many other streets in Portland, has witnessed serious change that has left some questioning whether there was too much change, too soon. Has all the change robbed the neighborhood of its character? Or had the new shops and businesses added something of their own while keeping the neighborhood intact?
This had become something of a theme for the tour. The Blue Sky Gallery has managed to exist for almost half a century while continuing to evolve with the times. The Good Mod is unabashed in its referencing of the past. Kevin Cavenaugh sometimes remodels old buildings and sometimes creates new ones, but every building he works on has to answer to the character and the occupants of the neighborhood it’s set down in. The tension between the past, the present, and the future can be felt in these businesses and organizations, and all around Portland.