Not everyone dreams of a 1912 Craftsman bungalow or Pearl loft. Sometimes, the coolest domiciles are the product of a little creativity. Check out three of Portland's weirdest, most innovative "houses":
"Moth Loft" Hollywood District
Thanks to some bitchy neighbors bent on ruining the fun, the "Moth Loft" and its four enterprising residents must remain anonymous. But the place is cool enough to inspire, nevertheless. Four women—Jo, Gunvar, Laurel and Supersport—were living together in a North Portland house when they decided to find a commercial space so they could legally host art shows and performances. Eventually, they found an office building zoned for commercial and residential uses. The owners were supportive. So the women moved in and set to work.
And it was a lot of work. "It was so stressful," Jo says. "We didn't have a shower for like two months." The space, formerly a theater troupe's practice spot as well as an office, was essentially two giant rooms and a bathroom—no kitchen, no storage, yucky office carpeting and drop ceilings with fluorescent lights. The women showered at a nearby gym and shuffled a whole house's worth of possessions around while putting up drywall to divide half of the space into bedrooms. And it's not like they knew how to put up drywall. They invited friends to work parties, split the cost of a shower with the landlords and found appliances like a stove and a fridge on Craigslist.
"Everything took way longer than expected," Laurel says. But the women ended up with a cool space, a handsaw, a fancy new drill and a lot of know-how. "It's been an awesome experience," Supersport says, "especially as a house of four women."
Kaye-Smith House (former KXL transmitter building) Council Crest Drive
Nobody who saw the sad, corrugated-metal box on top of the hill would've pictured it being reborn as luxury housing. Well, nobody except Gray Haertig. He'd had his eye on that little tin box for years.
"I probably first walked into this building in 1972, '73," says Haertig, a consulting radio engineer. "I've known this building forever."
The place, now in pink stucco and practically unrecognizable, was built in 1947 as the transmitter building for KPRA, Portland's third FM radio station. Through the years, it served various TV and radio functions. It was the KXL transmitter building until Kaye-Smith sold the station to Paul Allen in 1998. The building sat vacant for two years, and the 300-foot transmitter tower had to come down. Luckily for Haertig, the price tag fell, too.
Haertig bought the place in 2002 and spent two years and about $150,000 renovating it. Though he doesn't have formal training, he did most of the design work himself (including a really cool wood-slat fence around a patio). His contractor, Mike Mallon, did the rest. The renovations were complete by 2004.
Haertig's current tenants, Larry and Kathy, fell for the stunning views of the city and Mounts Hood and Adams. Proximity to work helped, too: "It's a 20-minute commute for my wife," Larry says, "but walking." Haertig is proud of his "baby," pointing out art deco details in the bathroom and several references to the building's history, such as tiny electrical zigzags in a kitchen tile or the "On air" sign that became the house number. Radio never looked so good.
The Funky Church Ladd's Addition
Living in a church has all manner of implications, but we'll focus on the architectural for now. The so-called Funky Church, a carpenter-Gothic structure whose front-door plaque says "Mizpah Presbyterian Church, 1891," is listed as a Building of Local Significance on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a lovely little building even on the outside; indoors, it practically glows. The place functioned as a church until 1968, when it was sold to Arthur Lind, a toy maker. Lind, a mysterious figure largely obscured by time, converted the building to residential space, adding personal flourishes along the way. Carved-wood flowers decorate a podium near the entrance, and elaborate handmade door handles turn up everywhere.
There are four rooms on the main floor, two of which have huge stained-glass windows. A raised loft-type floor divides the main room horizontally, creating a stage area with a bedroom underneath. Stairs up to the stage and elsewhere in the building are made of old wooden pews from the church. A disco ball hangs, incongruous but awesome, over the stage. A ladder leading up to the bell tower provides access to a rooftop space that's nothing less than water-balloon heaven.