Address: 1601 NE Martin Luther King Jr, Blvd.
Year built: 1921
Square footage: 10,320
Market value: $2.25 million
Owner: OB Portland Properties II LLC
How long it’s been empty: More than a decade.
Why it’s empty: The safe company needed more space back in the day.
Rita “Bo” Brown was known as the “Gentleman Bank Robber” because she dressed like a man while she plied her trade in the Pacific Northwest. As a member of the Seattle-based George Jackson Brigade, an anarcho-communist group that aimed to overthrow the U.S. government, she held up at least seven banks in the 1970s.
To thwart Brown and her gang, bankers likely shopped for safes at a building on the corner of Northeast Weidler Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There were a lot more banks back then, and a lot more bank robbers, and Allied Safe & Vault, founded in Spokane in 1948, sold the banks the stuff they needed to protect their deposits.
All that remains of that once-bustling business is a small sign that says, “Gary Safe.” Portlanders have been driving by it for decades.
Allied Safe & Vault bought Gary Safe, a Los Angeles company, in 1981 and put a sign advertising the brand on its building, says Allied president Jay Hunt. Allied operated a locksmith and safe business there until it needed more space. Hunt, whose grandfather started the business in 1948, said he didn’t know what year it moved.
Allied sold the property in January 2005 for $820,000. It changed hands again in April 2006 for $1.4 million. OB Portland Properties LLC paid $9.9 million in September 2015. OB was organized by Michael O’Brien, owner of the O’Brien Auto Group, which has car dealerships in Oregon and Washington, including Audi of Wilsonville Subaru of Portland. The only evidence of O’Brien at the site is a sign saying, “O’Brien Auto Group.”
James Aiken, a lawyer listed on documents from the LLC, said the owner didn’t want to comment. Aiken declined to identify the owner, sign or no sign.
“I spoke with the owner who has no desire to share any information,” Aiken said in an email.
OB owns the block bound by Weidler, Broadway, 3rd Avenue and MLK. Beyond putting up the sign, it’s done little with it. OB applied for a demolition permit in November 2021. The city asked for more information about its plans for the site but hasn’t heard back, says Ken Ray, a spokesman for the Bureau of Development Services.
“As such, the demolition permit remains under review,” Ray said in an email.
A lot has changed in Portland since O’Brien Auto bought the property in 2015. Stealing cars has become a cottage industry in the city. Whether O’Brien Auto ever planned a car dealership for the site is unclear because Michael O’Brien wouldn’t talk to WW, but a car alarm shop might make more sense in the old Gary Safe building.