Like the rest of Portland, quiet, unassuming Sellwood is booming. David Schoellhamer, chairman of Sellwood Moreland Improvement League’s land use committee, says there has been a 21 percent increase in residential units in the Southeast Portland neighborhood since 2014. (For reference, Portland’s overall metro population has only grown about 1.72 percent since then.)
“The phenomenal growth is completely understandable,” says Schoellhamer. “Sellwood is a walkable neighborhood, it’s easy to get around, and the character of the neighborhood appeals to a lot of people—a lot of the homes are older, single-family craftsman-type buildings.”
And with the boom in population comes new retail.
Enter Milwaukie Way, two narrow retail and office buildings wrapped around one of Sellwood's staples, Relish Gastropub. The restaurant has doled out hand-cut pasta and handsome burgers slathered with onion jam for the past four years, but the stucco and terra cotta Spanish Colonial-style structure it occupies has been around for just under a century.
Ben Waechter of Waechter Architecture—a specialist in designing clean, modern, often boxy homes and apartment buildings—says he was contracted by the owners of the property to design an additional building around Relish to update the property without touching the original building. His idea? Choose a simple, elegant design.
“We didn’t want to create a faux-historic building, or a cheap imitation,” Waechter says. “We wanted to do something that was complementary to the existing building.”
What they came up with was Milwaukie Way: an intimate urban alleyway formed between Relish and two new buildings that wrap around it. Construction of the whole project, which also included an updated patio for Relish, was completed in July of this year. Since then, businesses such as Fairlane Coffee and boutique Perican Bing have moved in to the ground floor, and office space above is available for rent.
“Our answer was to create a quiet backdrop," Waechter says. "The black façade of the new buildings is made up of repetitive elements, and the texture is almost like fabric, or a ribbon.”
The narrow, peaceful path that Waechter may not quite evoke the alleyways of historic European cities, as Milwaukie Way's press materials claim, but they do succeed in defining a distinctive space.