The building has been a formally recognized historic landmark since 1978. The building has benefited from some recent re-investment activity including interior dome restoration, chimney reconstruction, installation of emergency egress lighting, interior sprinkler system, building security, and investment in ADA compliance.
Beyond this recent reinvestment activity, the building remains a seismically vulnerable unreinforced masonry structure. As such, the building and those who use the building bear some measure of heightened exposure to catastrophic damage and injury from a major earthquake.
Because the building is used as a school during a portion of each year, it is currently not in compliance with certain legal requirements of the City’s use and occupancy code. Also, many building systems are obsolete (e.g. plumbing, electrical, ventilation and climate control) or are failing (e.g. the roof). Simply put, the building is in need of substantial reinvestment if it is to be preserved for the coming decades.
In February of 2018, the building’s long-time anchor tenant, the Northwest Children’s Theater and School, decided that it would no longer pursue a plan to purchase and restore the historic NNCC building. NWCTS has decided to use the remaining term of the current lease to identify and secure a new home.
Portland history abounds in this regal building on the northwest corner of NW 18th Avenue and Everett St. The current national register landmark rests on land first developed by the adventurous seafarer Captain John Heard Couch. The former church structure designed by S. S. Beman opened in 1911. This building was the first Church of Christ Scientist west of the Rocky Mountains. The three-story building is a highlight of the Alphabet Historic District. Its stately colonnade and domed roof and soaring skylight, totals over 33,000 square feet including an 11,000 square foot auditorium. The church when it was founded bustled with activity and housed a rare 1906 Hook & Hastings pipe organ with over 2,000 pipes. The sanctuary pews sat an active congregation of 1,000, but most of the church activities were focused on the lower floors.
Like many urban churches the movement to the suburbs led to a dwindling church community, by 1976 the congregation had diminished to only 100 parishioners, and the church was offered for sale. A group of Northwest Portland residents mounted a drive to raise money to purchase the building and convert it into a community center. Neighbors held potluck suppers and other fundraising events, sought corporate assistance, and eventually raised $150,000 for a down payment on the $300,000 purchase price.
On June 5, 1978, the State Historical Preservation Review Board declared the building an historic landmark. In November 1978, the Northwest Service Center opened its doors and began serving the community. At that time. thirteen public benefit organizations including Loaves and Fishes, Gray Panthers and Neighbors West/Northwest occupied the building. Fifteen other public benefit programs and activities were regularly scheduled in the many available rooms in the building. With help from the City of Portland, Northwest residents completed the final payment on the building in July 1984.
The former church became a multi-purpose public benefit community center to be used and enjoyed by a wide variety of charitable organizations and local residents. The building’s new life as a community service center strengthened the character and livability of the neighborhood by providing a space for meetings, workshops, and performances. The stately auditorium supported community-based performing arts groups as well as regional and national entertainers. The auditorium provided an affordable venue for performing arts groups, who provided the center the revenue necessary to help subsidize low-rent office space for non-profit tenants.