Douglas Lynch-Portland Designer

“When Van Bailey built you a house he joined your family and moved in. When John Yeon built you a house you moved in and acceded to his ascetic precision and refinement; you became a custodian of a Yeon house. When Belluschi built a house you became aware of 2000 years of civilized transaction.”

The above was written by Douglas Lynch who was a long time Portland graphic artist and a contemporary of Van Evera Bailey, John Yeon and Pietro Belluschi. The quote is taken from a collection of notes that Lynch prepared at the request of Walter Gordon who was putting together a lecture entitled “Van Evera Bailey, A Northwest Architect.” His presentation was part of a series of lectures at the University of Oregon called Oregon Architects-The Modernists which took place in February 1984.

One Bailey, one Yeon, one Belluschi. Each of these houses was eventually used by the architect as his own home
One Bailey, one Yeon, one Belluschi. Each of these houses was eventually used by the architect as his own home
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Lynch, who died in April of 2009, taught at the Portland Museum School and as he mentions in these notes for Gordon, “[I] was there and a part of that period and very close to Van and good friends with John and regarded as part of the group by Pietro.” The notes were jotted down by Lynch in a beautiful caliagraphic handwriting over several evenings and were, as he put it, an effort at a “non-conscience stream” [of thought].Lynch states at the beginning of the notes that the form of the lecture series correctly implies a significant reality of the period: Pietro, Van and John really were an interacting trio:

“They were also, I think, a first generation of inheritors, and extentions of their immediate predessors: Doyle, Wentz, Brookman, Jamie Parker, Wade Pipes and others. … and also [of ] the promoters, [the] clients who built the Portland Hotel, hired Doyle to build Downtown, Reed, etc. Pietro and John are directly formed by that matrix, and Van came to fit very compatibly in that tradition.”

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Mr Lynch provides some thumbnails of the three men, each labeled by a large capitalized letter. Interestingly, along with comments on the person there are also comments on the local civic and cultural context.
Pietro, European, Italian, influenced by centuries of ancient & Renaissance culture, artworks, buildings brought this experience, his civility and memories to, of all places, the edge of the Western migration, the frontier, Portland, a fifty year old (1870-1920) barely-urban trading center.For all its brief history, Portland was populated by proud energetic and self confident people: first generation sons with Eastern University education bringing back elegant and cultured women from their contacts with east coast experiences & influences. Some, of course, were were indigenous. These citizens obvioulsly had strong convictions about creating a civilization in this logging camp and trading post. Early on they started the Art Museum, Symphonies, Library Association, Park System, Reed College, U of P et.al. (Examples from my own observations and experience: Wm. Brewster Sr., Dick Steiner and his “New England Unitarian forebears, the Elliotts, the early Reed College faculty which was then a strong force in civic attitudes; the early City Club,; assorted individual personalities like McNaughton, Roy Bessie etc. All of course, urged on their enlightened ladies yearning and lobbying for their version of the civilities and the refined life in this rough country.

John is I think a kind of personification , an expression, and epitome of all this yearning for frontier refinement, for this view of indigenous culture. The Old Columbia River Highway! John’s father was among those tough “Empire Builders” who with pride & vigor built the highway.(Here Lynch puts in a personal anecdote of his travels as a young boy with his father along the highway).

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Wentz cottage by A.E. Doyle

So there is Pietro, product of centuries of European civilization; There is John, a product two generations of frontier vigor ad yearning for refinement; and there was H. Wentz, A. Crocker and associates who in some miracuous way almost with religious insight, perceived and promulgated the western Oregon mystique. Mist, waterfalls, mountains, meadows wild flowers, the oriental parallels and of course the indigenous buildings: barns, shed roofs, chicken coops, homestead housing, and naturally sawmills, grading sheds etc. All buildings of necessity: max economy, and functional requirement. Culminating in the Doyle, Wentz Neahkahne community which as we all know, had influences which affected us all.

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Van Evera Bailey showed up in Portland about ’35 to build a house for his sister, Fay Bailey Von Schmidt. The house is on the heights overlooking Lake Oswego from the west. It was, and probably still is, a startling structure for that particular moment in local history. Van was a natural…a genuine original.Van (so far as I know) did not have formal university training and wasn’t very interested in the theoretical and intellectual games that go along with that kind of study and thinking. But he had apprenticed with and worked for Wm Purcell who was a member of the Chicago group of designers of whom Frank L Wright is the most publicized. Van had worked his way around the world working in assorted architectural offices , notably in Australia. So, while he was not academically conditioned, neither was he some simple-minded homegrown talent. He had his own kind of sophistication; he was very knowledgeable of the movements and fashions of the period; he could discuss them, but he just wasn’t very concerned with their application to his own work. He was the builder architect, or more precisely, I think, Builder Designer.I’m trying to place Bailey firmly in the context of Belluschi and Yeon. I think it also important to place all three of them in the context of that time period: right in the middle of the Depression. Along with all the discussion of the “Modern Movement” and its possible interrelation with the Northwest Mystique […] was the question as to how to afford any house building anyway. So this unheard of fellow shows up in Portland and without much notice or fanfare builds this house on the bluff which seemed to embody or resolve all the questions of directness, economy, honesty and modernity as expressed through the NW Mystique. In short, all the theories and intellectual preoccupations of the local design establishment.

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The notes that Lynch put down contain further interesting commentary on Van Evera Bailey as well as Yeon and Belluschi. I’ll be posting more as time permits.