The North Coast Seed Building is actually three separate warehouses constructed over a thirty year period, starting in 1911.
The oldest, a four-story brick building, anchors the corner and opens its freight doors to the railroad track. Until recently, a rope and cable freight elevator served the upper floors. In 2001, automatic controls were finally installed. Previous to this modernization, riders had to pull down on a quarrelsome wire-rope cable to start the elevator up, and lift the cable up to start the elevator down. The grumpy cables often tangled, bringing the lift to a sudden halt. It was not unusual to see nervous artists scrambling out of the lift, stuck half-way between floors. The second warehouse, a two story wood structure on the north side also opens its doors to railcars and shares floor grades and the elevator with the older brick building. The third warehouse, a three-story wood frame structure to the west, completed the 47,000 foot complex in the 1940s. Built seven feet short of the lot line, the construction of a neighboring building in 1958 created a 100 foot long enclosed alley. In recent years, designer-tenant John Amato and his wonderful friend Erin Lynch have transformed this narrow wasteland into a delightful hidden retreat.
For seventy years these buildings housed various feed and seed companies including Acme Seed, The Bad Seed, and the now defunct North Coast Seed Co. In 1983 Carton Service purchased the property to warehouse its surplus inventory. A short time later it began informally renting out extra space to artists, who transformed various rooms and corners into artist studios, as well as "bootlegged" living quarters. Before long, a community of artists spontaneously erupted into a lively creative entity which gave root to the forty plus 'work only' studios that exists today. During much of the 1990s, "Photoworks", a non-profit fine art photography group carried on this Bohemian tradition, largely inspired by their artistic guru, Cherie Hiser.
The Seed Co's original artist enclave of the mid 1980s, though not legally sanctioned, became the quintessential loft home to a dozen artists, and a large quantity of corrugated boxes. Building events and activities included: movie night, jam sessions, a wedding, a suicide, and the birth of Sophie, Julie Keefe and John Klicker's first-born girl. In 1992, an unexpected visit from the Fire Marshal brought this unstructured chaos to a screeching halt when he issued a 48 hour eviction notice to all illegal residencies. Portland's zoning laws were not ready for the North Coast Seed Co.
Thanks largely to the compassionate intervention of Suzanne Vara from the City of Portland's Bureau of Buildings, permits were issued when, for what may have been the first time, an artist's work was interpreted as a manufacturing process and therefore an allowable occupancy in an industrial zone. This sensible and generous reading of the code helped provide the legal footing for all future artists' studios in the City's industrial zones. With these permits in place, The Seed Building finally became a code-compliant site for artists to work.
- Ken Unkeles