A Puckish Developer Has Second Thoughts About His Ambitious Plans in St. Johns

Kevin Cavenaugh bought the building that once held Pattie’s Home Plate Cafe.

Address: 8501 N Lombard St.

Year built: 1923

Square footage: 7,478

Market value: $1.2 million

Owner: Kevin Cavenaugh

How long it’s been empty: Nearly 3 years

Why it’s empty: Second thoughts about a New St. Johns

Pages of ink have been devoted to the folksy charm of Pattie’s Home Plate Cafe, a greasy spoon that anchored the main drag of St. Johns. Packed with used DVDs, wigs and a sign over the counter reading, “No sniveling,” Pattie’s could have emerged from the mind of David Lynch, from the evening sock hops to the monthly meeting of the Western Bigfoot Society.

In November 2019, Pattie Dietz closed up shop. She said her landlord, Barbara Leveton, had kicked her out, telling her the building had been sold.

The commercial eviction disappointed Dietz. “It didn’t matter that this was a comfortable little community, as long as the money comes in,” she told WW at the time. “Money talks and BS walks.”

But property tax records show Leveton still owned the building until last year. In September, she sold it to a company controlled by real estate developer Kevin Cavanaugh. (He also owns a retail development a block west, which contains an optometrist and a ramen shop.)

Cavenaugh is known for the idiosyncratic names and quirky designs he gives his projects, like the Fair-Haired Dumbbell and Jolene’s First Cousin. He planned both for this space: The company he used to purchase the property is named Patty’s My Mom LLC. (His mom is indeed named Patty, but it’s a different Patty.) Blueprints posted on the building’s window show him overhauling the property to include a hidden courtyard and a speakeasy.

But Cavenaugh tells WW he’s having second thoughts about such an ambitious redevelopment, which would require him to charge $2 a square foot in rent. He’s considering simply renting out Pattie’s and the Man’s Shop next door to new tenants for $1 a square foot.

“The architect in me loves the new design,” he says. “The neighbor in me thinks that it’s inappropriate right now. But nothing fits worse than a vacant building, so I’d better make up my mind pretty quickly.”

Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. Send addresses to newstips@wweek.com.