Whilst many Portlanders spent their Saturday running errands, catching up on sleep or doing something else off-line, Memorial Coliseum defender Brian Libby
and city Commissioner Randy Leonard were busy e-mailing each other over the Coliseum
and copying the rest of us conflict-loving reporters. Here's their entertaining exchange:
Libby writes Leonard on Saturday morning to invite Leonard to tour the Coliseum, which Leonard has called 'ugly."
Dear Commissioner Leonard,
You have been a tremendous friend and ally to the architecture, green building, and arts communities in the past. That's why were so disappointed to see you call Memorial Coliseum ugly.
We're disappointed not just for us, but for you. We cringe when such a Portland patriot doesn't see the wood for the trees.
Let us walk you through Memorial Coliseum and show you the greatness this building has, from its panoramic glass view of the city to its elegant engineering.
You deserve to have the right information and understanding about architecture. The "ugly" comment is showing ignorance to your constituency, and we know you are a whip-smart guy. Smart enough to see historic preservation as being for us and not just our grandparents.
We would break any appointments to walk you through that building day or night. Please give the Coliseum a chance, and all the hundreds of thousands of Portlanders who love it too.
You have a unique position on City Council as the unofficial representative of the blue-collar everyman. We believe regular people outside the architecture world would marvel at the Coliseum if they could get a sense of what this sleeping giant really is.
You and the Mayor could also be heroes for saving this building. It's a landmark Portland building, and there will be the equivalent of blood on the hands of he or she who destroys it.
Can we find time in your schedule to take you on a tour of this great Portland work of architecture? Perhaps a few other members of Council might like to come along.
Think of it this way: If you're going to call a beloved Portland landmark ugly and call to destroy it, don't you want to be REALLY sure first? This could be a pain in the butt that you find out is your rip-cord.
On a personal note, I greatly appreciate all the comments you've made on my Portland Architecture blog over the years and thank you for being a part of so many conversations.
Leonard responds less than four hours later, taking umbrage at what Libby has previously written about Leonard on his blog:
Thank you for the invitation and for the kind acknowledgements of my work to preserve the historic John Yeon building.
After reading both your post and your personal email to me, I must say that your characterization of me as "whip-smart" and "a tremendous friend and
ally to the architecture, green buildings, and arts communities" in your email and then as the embodiment of "Arrogant Ignorance" in your post has my
head spinning. Calling me ignorant and posting a picture of "Ernest" (although you appear to have reconsidered the picture and have now taken it
down from your site) hardly inspires me to engage in a thoughtful discussion with you, Brian. And it certainly doesn't inspire me to take you up on your
offer to educate me with a tour. Asking me to go on a tour of the Coliseum because you are convinced that the benefit of your artistic insight will
cause me to change my mind about its aesthetic value is akin to trying to explain a joke so that the listener finally believes it's funny. I
appreciate straight talk and candid communication, but I don't tend to respond well to pretentious elitism. You might keep that in mind for future
I do believe the Memorial Coliseum to be ugly. That's my opinion. And while I appreciate the knowledge and passion architects and designers bring to
discussions of the city's planning goals, I also believe that you, as a small but vocal group, are failing to see the bottom line here: The building
that you believe to be an architectural gem and that I find displeasing simply isn't functional. It takes up a huge space in an area that needs to
be able to accommodate diverse needs. After years of discussions, no one has been able to come up with a viable use for the building. You called it a
sleeping giant. Unfortunately, I think of it as the fat white elephant sitting in the middle of my living room where ("Blue-collar Everyman" that I
am), I'd like to put my recliner, my television, my stereo and maybe even a TV tray or two.
As far as the Coliseum being a memorial to veterans, I can only tell you that I believe it to be more of an insult than a tribute to those who gave
their all to defend our country. Ask Portlanders on the street to name the city's memorials to veterans and I doubt that one out of one hundred would
mention the Coliseum. Veterans' groups deserve a true memorial park that raises awareness and speaks for itself. If it has to be explained, much as
your invitation for a tour suggests, than something isn't working.
Perhaps there are other options here that we have not yet entertained, including the possibility of moving some or all of the Coliseum's shell to
another location. In that vein, I'd be happy to talk with you about an idea I have had to save the Coliseum: You take it down and you can have it.
Libby's apologetic response comes less than two hours later
I apologize for the negative rhetoric. It was not helpful and I regret it. In fact, I will post an addendum to the blog saying so.
Sometimes when campaigning against members of City Council one can feel small and powerless, so much so that a person lets personal passion cloud the discussion. That was my mistake in the post, but I'm completely willing to stop bickering and find common ground.
However, the invitation was sincere and was indeed meant as an olive branch. It would be unfortunate for my words to prevent you from taking a good hard look at the Coliseum from the inside.
Ultimately this isn't about your architectural tastes or mine. But the men and women charged with protecting America's historic architecture, organizations like the National Trust and the US Green Building Council, are on the side of those seeking to save Memorial Coliseum.
Avoid the Coliseum tour if you want to spite me. Go on the Coliseum tour out of deference to those organizations.
Again, I'm sincerely sorry for the name calling. Let me be clear that I don't think you're ignorant. Obviously. I have voted for you numerous times. But when I read the "ugly" comment, I felt defensive towards all those I felt it was insulting.
Likely to go down in the pantheon of historic correspondences? Unlikely. But highly entertaining fare for a Saturday? You bet.