For all its celebrated urbanity, Portland is short on one mainstay of a great city: classic diners and coffee shops. Sure, we have the odd Fuller's and scattered old-school eateries with flapjacks and chicken-fried steak served into the wee hours. But these establishments are becoming scarcer every day.
Just off I-5 at Jantzen Beach lies one survivor: Waddle's. Perhaps you've seen its commanding "Eat Now" sign protruding above the freeway's northbound lanes. A quintessential mid-20th-century coffee shop, Waddle's offers a bevy of items from French toast to a trademarked chicken basket (I like the corned-beef hash). This is a place for regulars, where waitresses chat with patrons like old friends--a "Cheers" for the Sanka set.
Waddles opened in its current location on Sept. 1, 1945, the day before Japan surrendered to end World War II (a previous downtown site dated to 1938). But now, after 58 years, the old coffee shop is being forced to wave the white flag.
Recently, owner Russell Waddle (son of founders Gene and Natha Waddle) failed to negotiate a new lease with landlord Dirk Koopman, who sought to raise the rent. "We were already paying more than it was worth," says Waddle. Considering the restaurant's prime location adjacent to numerous Jantzen Beach retail outlets, however, it was probably a simple matter of market forces.
Krispy Kreme has signed on as the future lessee and is taking over in April of next year. Although there is perhaps no more popular chain in America these days, Krispy Kreme faces a dilemma at the Waddle's site. Not only is it replacing a beloved local diner, but the building itself is also of significant architectural value.
Waddle's was designed by Portland's only internationally renowned architect: the late Pietro Belluschi. His Equitable Building on Southwest 6th Avenue and Stark Street (now known as the Commonwealth) was called the world's first modern office building for its pioneering aluminum-glass exterior cladding, for which the United Nations headquarters gained greater fame a few months later. Belluschi also designed the Portland Art Museum and a host of wood-festooned local churches and houses, which (along with the work of John Yeon and a few others) exemplified the "Northwest Style" of '40s-'50s modernism. While serving as dean at the MIT School of Architecture, Belluschi also co-designed the Pan-Am Building and Juilliard School in New York.
Former colleague Joachim Grube of Portland's Yost Grube Hall Architecture commends Belluschi's buildings for "their simplicity and perfect union between design and structure. Whether it was residential work or churches or office buildings, he had an exceptional sense of space." Although it doesn't rank among Belluschi's most significant buildings, Waddle's is particularly attractive for a coffee shop: With latticed wood stretching along its outer ceiling and a long counter wrapped around the kitchen (which Belluschi originally placed on a raised pedestal, to gently emphasize its magnitude). The place is inviting in a way only restaurants of a couple generations ago could be: at once elegant and unassuming.
To date, no Krispy Kreme franchises in America have set up shop in historic buildings. But according to Gerard Centioli of Icon, the Washington development company that is behind the Krispy Kreme to be built at the Waddle's site (his company broke ground earlier this month on a Clackamas franchise), a decision has not yet been made whether to renovate Belluschi's building or demolish it in favor of a new facility.
"I love the architecture of Waddle's," Centioli says. "But it's a question of whether or not our operation can function in that configuration. We will be building a donut factory, and that has some very stringent requirements." Interesting how willing Americans are to loot their own heritage for deep-fried treats.
According to Peter Meijer, chair of the Historic Resources Committee for the American Institute of Architects' Portland chapter, no efforts have yet been made to obtain a landmark listing for Waddle's that would require its preservation. Still, Meijer says, "a number of fast-food chains, when they get into an urban environment, adapt to the existing building. It's quite possible to imagine that the infrastructure of a restaurant could be compatible to the making of donuts."
Meijer also points out that Waddle's historic sign could be an advantage to Krispy Kreme. "You no longer can put advertising signs along I-5 in the state of Oregon," he says, "but something that exists there now could remain and be adapted." An example would be the giant neon Made in Oregon sign overlooking the Willamette River, adapted from a sign for the defunct White Stag company.
In the meantime, those who treasure those last vestiges of old Portland had better head out to Jantzen Beach soon, for regardless of whether Belluschi's building is preserved, there are mere months remaining to, as the restaurant's slogan goes, "Walk In, and Waddle Out."
Want to register your complaint against the Waddle's building being torn down? Write Icon LLC/ Kremeworks, 2822 Rainier Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98144.