By Doug Decker | Historian
What’s the history of 602 N.E. Prescott St., and when did Portland Playhouse take it over and begin producing plays there? — Karen Wells
The historian reports:
We love it when readers write with a question about a specific building that’s had a long and interesting journey like this old church. We know it today as the Portland Playhouse – and it’s recently undergone a major overhaul inside – but it started out life as the Highland Congregational Church Jan. 3, 1904.
A news story in The Oregonian from the next day reported on its construction:
“The Rev. D.B. Gray reported the cost of the building was $4,709.15 and the 100 x 100 lot had cost $800. The community raised $600 and the Oregon Missionary Society provided the rest.
“The Sunday school associated with the church had 150 children. Plans for the church were furnished by L.B. Volk of Los Angeles, California, and Peter Wiser was the builder. The building is modeled after the Mizpah Church at East Thirteenth and Powell streets.”
The story went on to say why the new church was so symbolic for the surrounding community:
“The dedication signalizes strikingly the wonderful growth of the city to the northeast as fully 500 homes have been built in the Highland District in the last two years, besides a schoolhouse now occupied by 500 students.”
From the mid-1920s until the early 1950s, the building was referred to as Grace and Truth Hall. Its most recent faith community was the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, from the mid-1960s to 2005.
The building was vacant for several years and, like many older area churches, was sinking under abandonment and deferred maintenance. It was bought by a private owner who lived in the old church for several years prior to its current incarnation as Portland Playhouse, a theater company.
The first play in the church was in 2008 and, since then, Portland Playhouse has built a solid reputation for high quality and well-produced shows, and a loyal following.
Michael Weaver, playhouse managing director, explained the church has recently undergone a $2.4 million interior upgrade to better function as a theater. It also expands the theater company’s offices into the former fellowship hall in the basement and the former Shining Star Daycare, which was attached at the back of the church. While much has changed inside, the upgrade kept the bell tower, stained glass windows and much of the original flooring.
“We wanted to honor the history of the building,” Weaver said.
The play “Fences” shows there through June 10 with rave reviews.
Doug Decker initiated his blog AlamedaHistory.org in 2007 to collect and share knowledge about the life of old houses, buildings and neighborhoods in northeast Portland. His basic notion is that insight to the past adds new meaning to the present. If you have a question for him to answer in CNews, send it to CNewseditor@ConcordiaPDX.com.