Lead paint sinks Billy Rowe’s wall mural

We’ve heard from the property owner working on restoration of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern building (recently known as Bernie’s Southern Bistro) at the southeast corner of NE 29th and Alberta.

Unfortunately, the mural on the west wall must go.

We’ve been watching this week as an amazing wall-size advertisement from the 1940s has resurfaced during restoration, and as we’ve learned more about Billy Rowe.

O’Cardinal Properties—the current building owner—was as amazed with the find as the neighborhood was, and intrigued with the possibility of incorporating the original material of the painted wall into the renovated space. But testing for lead late last week returned results that have ruled that out.

“We love the signs and would like to preserve it,” wrote O’Cardinal’s Property Manager Monica Geller in a weekend e-mail exchange.

“However, last week we got the paint tested for lead and it came back with extreme lead paint ratings that will not allow us to retain the mural as is, even with a strong clear coat intended to contain the lead paint.”

Geller and her colleagues are disappointed, especially given their interest and track record of adaptively re-using and renovating older buildings. In southeast Portland at SE 14th and Stark, O’Cardinal updated the 1929 Luxury Bread Building, carrying forward aspects of its history—including old siding, photos of the old bakery operation and family photos and stories from the former owners. Here’s a photo from inside Luxury Bread showing how O’Cardinal used a former painted mural there:

Repurposed wall siding inside the Luxury Bread Building recently restored by O’Cardinal Properties, 1403 SE Stark. Due to high levels of lead found in the Billy Rowe’s mural, something like this is not possible, according to O’Cardinal.

“We have a plan to take a hi-res photo and reproduce the image to use on the building to retain some of the heritage, “Geller continued.

“I know it is going to be hard for the neighborhood to see the boards come down,” she acknowledged, “but there is no feasible way for us to keep the mural in place, so it will be removed.”

3 responses

  1. Great photos, but in following this up a couple of weeks ago, I was bothered by the photo from Portland Transit Company (1947) purporting to have those two vehicles on Alberta Street, in front of Billy Rowe’s. Just doesn’t work, for lots of reasons (I grew up on the block across the street): background doesn’t match what used to be, and not be, there; height of windows on North side of Billy Rowe’s doesn’t match West side of the same upstairs room (as seen in other photos of Coca Cola sign); presence of Irvington Bus on a route that—at least by 1951-52 was the Killingsworth Bus route?! Most problematic with the photo, however, is that Billy’s was a tavern. The building in the photo advertises “cakes” on the window, and the vertical sign—theoretically on the corner of 29th & Alberta—is blurry, but certainly says “restaurant.”

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