The former Prescott Fountain Building at 2903 NE Prescott has had many lives in its nearly 100 years: grocery store, soda fountain, butcher shop, antique store, barber shop, radio store, bakery, convenience store.
A 1955 photo looking northeast at the corner of NE 29th and Prescott. Photo courtesy of Historic Photo Archive.
Built for $6,000 in 1922 by grocer Thomas H. Cowley, an immigrant from the Isle of Man, the building has been a time traveler, reconditioned and repurposed many times over. Originally a grocery store and meat market, the building sold in 1927 and new owner Martha Sylvester reconditioned it to fill six different retail spaces within the 7,000-square foot building.
A 2009 photo taken from the same angle shows the former Food King Market in operation before it closed in 2020.
Today, most neighbors remember it as Food King Market, a handy place to pick up a gallon of milk or a missing ingredient without having to make the full trip to the big store a few miles away. Older residents will remember it simply as “Hunderups,” or the Prescott Fountain, where you could run a tab and get an ice-cold bottle of Coke.
As a retail location, it’s always been like that: providing convenience, a local touch and a sense of identity to its surrounding residential neighborhood. Former Food King owners David and Kaybee Lee—who opened Food King in the building in 1989—were likely to welcome you in with a smile. Over the years, those of us who lived nearby appreciated the Food King for its convenience, even as we noticed the building was showing its century of wear and tear.
In 2018, after 30 years running the store, the Lees decided it was too hard to compete with grocery stores that seemed to be moving ever closer to the neighborhood. For them, it was time to sell the business and the building, which they did in 2020 just before the pandemic hit. For the last 20 months, it’s been a sad sight, vacant, tagged with graffiti.
Recent construction activity at the site has piqued neighborhood interest as the building appears to be coming back to life. We’ve been glad to see it hasn’t been a tear down, and we’ve wondered what’s next. The transition to its next chapter is an interesting neighborhood story.
Prescott Fountain Building, 2903 NE Prescott, on December 1, 2021.
Christian Freissler, who lives just up the street and was a frequent shopper at Food King, was in for a convenient gallon of milk one day before the for sale sign went up, when he overheard the Lees talking about closing up shop and selling the building. Freissler is one of three founders of Evolve Collaborative, a Northeast Portland-based product design agency founded in 2014. He and his partners had been thinking about buying a building as headquarters for their 15-person design firm. After Freissler’s visit with the Lees, the seed was planted.
Evolve has moved office several times during its seven years of operation, occupying different rented spaces, but Freissler and partners felt owning a building would be an important investment in creating a secure and sustainable future for the business. When he began to consider the possibilities of the Prescott Fountain building, he and his team got excited.
“Living in the neighborhood, I’m quite sensitive to developers coming in, erasing buildings and putting up multi-story buildings,” said Freissler. “I’m proud of the fact that we’re going to keep the building and renovate it.”
Evolve hired architects Doug Skidmore and Heidi Beebe of Beebe Skidmore Architects. Skidmore describes the project like this: “We’re changing the function of a former mercantile building into creative office space and doing it in a way that is compatible with the neighborhood. It’s an exciting project in part because it is surrounded on all sides by residential neighborhoods.”
Architect’s rendering of the south side of the building facing NE Prescott Avenue. Courtesy Beebe Skidmore Architects.
Windows dominate the Prescott Street side of the building—reminiscent of a schoolhouse—and the historic awning-style roofline of the original building will remain, complete with the ornate brackets (though the tiles are gone). Three forward-facing larger windows are embedded above in that awning roofline: two facing Prescott and one facing NE 29th, pulling light into the interior space. Inside, exposed original roof trusses and structural members show the building at work. Exterior materials will be stucco and wood combined with the existing masonry.
The main entry to the building will be about where the door to the market was on Prescott. Once inside, there will be a common area, and then two spaces: a larger one to the right that will be home to Evolve on the east side of the building, and a second smaller space on the west side of the building in the area where the old Prescott Fountain was located. Freissler, Skidmore and team are still thinking about how that space will function, but Freissler has been imagining a gallery or some other community space.
The renovation conforms with zoning that favors low-density commercial use compatible with adjacent residential life, limiting each tenant to 5,000 square feet. “The idea is to not have a business that is any larger than a regular house lot,” said Skidmore. “It’s a way of scaling down and keeping the business size compatible with the neighborhood.”
Evolve hopes to be in its new quarters next spring.