Neighbors Complained for Months About a Stretch of Hawthorne Where a Dog Attacked a Jogger

Developers had relinquished a pair of vacant buildings to vandals. Then squatters moved in.

ADDRESSES: 4516 and 4511 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

YEARS BUILT: 1976, 1968

SQUARE FOOTAGE: 2,544, 1,480

MARKET VALUE: $1.1 million, $3.1 million

OWNER: Blue Merced R 1414 LLC, Hawthorne 45 LLC

HOW LONG IT’S BEEN EMPTY: 2 years and a few months

WHY IT’S EMPTY: Developers, developers, developers

Among the biggest stories in Portland in the past week was that of Cheryl Wakerhauser, a pastry chef who was jogging past a vacant parking lot on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard on April 17 when a pit bull sprang through a hole cut in a chain-link fence and mauled her. The attack sent Wakerhauser, the former proprietor of Pix Pâtisserie, to the ER. She told her story on Instagram, and coverage by The Oregonian amplified civic frustration with urban blight and crime.

Neighbors say they’ve complained to the city, elected officials, and the building’s owners about the property, called Hawthorne Center, for months. Its tenants were replaced by squatters earlier this year, despite efforts by the developer to secure what was once two stories of medical offices.

First, a homeless encampment sprouted up behind the building during the pandemic, and a man known for terrorizing passersby with rocks moved in, neighbors say.

Then, after the building’s tenants moved out earlier this year, vandals coated the building with graffiti. Jason Hill was walking by one night when he saw a group of youth in action, armed with aerosol cans. One turned out to be a can of bear spray. Hill was sprayed in the face and forced to stumble home in the dark after being nearly blinded, he tells WW.

For years, the office complex was filled with dentists, chiropractors and therapists. Killian Pacific, a Portland real estate developer, purchased the building in 2016 for $3.9 million. It has done little with it since, even as tents surrounded the doctors’ offices.

The company has been mum about its plans for the building. As early as last year, a spokesperson said it had no definitive plans to demolish it, according to emails shared with WW by Jamie Smith, a member of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association at the time.

Something changed earlier this year, however. The doctors’ offices all picked up and moved, and Killian Pacific hired security to patrol the property and put up a fence.

It did little to deter squatters and vandals. “It’s a joke. I’ve watched teenagers jump [the fence] every week,” says neighbor Theresa Beck van Heemstra, who adds that her efforts to force action by city officials now amount to a part-time job.

Michael Parker, who recently pitched a tent on a patch of dirt between the sidewalk and the parking lot, tells WW he’s seen a man coming and going from the building, “looking like a coal miner.” Inside, the building is filled with feces and black mold, Parker says.

When WW visited the property last week, large holes had been cut in the fence in two places. Neighbors have called Portland Fire & Rescue after spotting fires inside the perimeter, and Beck van Heemstra worries the building might burn down like several other vacant properties WW has profiled in recent months.

To make matters worse, that stretch of Hawthorne is blighted on both sides of the street. There are few eyes on Hawthorne Center because the 7-Eleven across the street closed early in the pandemic. It’s unclear why—a local franchisee says it’s against the rules to talk to the media, and corporate never responded to a request for a comment. The building has been vacant since, meaning joggers like Wakerhauser are running a gauntlet of chained-up properties in the 4500 block.

“It’s frustrating living in Little Detroit,” a neighbor bemoaned on Nextdoor.

Winn Wright moved into the ground floor of an apartment building across the street in 2020, and says conditions on the block have deteriorated in recent years as drug dealers have begun operating on the curbs and sidewalks. He’s not sure why the 7-Eleven closed abruptly, but he’s not surprised. “I don’t know how a business could thrive there, given how bad it was getting,” he says.

In 2021, 7-Eleven sold the convenience store to California developers, which surrounded it with a chain-link fence last year. The fence has been repeatedly scaled, and sometimes toppled, by vandals.

A man suffering from mental illness moved in to a tent under its eaves last year and began leaving crudely made Molotov cocktails on nearby porches and yelling through the night, Wright says.

Blue Merced R 1414 purchased the property for $710,000 in 2021. It shares a name and address with a California LLC controlled by Blake Megdal, a Los Angeles real estate scion who has bought up convenience stores up and down the West Coast.

Recently, the former convenience store has shown signs of life. Permit applications have been filed with the city to upgrade its HVAC system and close off one of its driveways. Nancy Chapin, the administrator at the local business association, says an upscale massage studio soon plans to move in.

Meanwhile, Killian Pacific is trying to solve its squatting problem for good. It told neighbors it plans to send in cleanup crews in late April to board up the building as it figures out how to demolish it. “Due to the level of damage from trespassers, there is cleaning and fortification work that needs to be done first,” a spokesperson tells WW.

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.

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