An Old Saw Shop’s Second Life Was Delayed by Seismic Regulations

Historic real estate isn’t for the faint of heart in a city along the Cascadia subduction zone.

Blaisdell Saw Shop (Anthony Effinger)

ADDRESS: 4040 SE Division St.



OWNER: Bristol Equities Apartment Investors LLC

HOW LONG IT’S BEEN EMPTY: Since at least 2022

WHY IT’S EMPTY: A conversion to more retail triggered seismic regulations.

Blaisdell Saw Shop (Anthony Effinger)

It’s easy to see why someone would buy the commercial building at Southeast Division Street and 41st Avenue. The long, narrow structure takes up half a block, offering ample frontage onto Division, a street brimming with bars, restaurants and retail shops.

Sure enough, in March 2022, the property attracted a seasoned developer. Bristol Equities Apartment Investors LLC bought the place for $1.15 million that month, according to property records. A permit from 2022 shows that he planned to renovate it, making space for four retail tenants, up from one: the family-owned Blaisdell Saw shop.

Bristol Equities is controlled by Steve Rose, a developer who’s been doing business in Portland since 1990, when he moved up from California and started prospecting for classic old apartment buildings, according to a real estate podcast he did in 2021.

“I was really attracted to historic real estate,” Rose told the hosts. Indeed, Portland apartment shoppers know Rose for Bristol Urban Apartments, which owns 37 vintage buildings across the city, according to its website.

Rose says his secret to success is networking. When he started in the business, he got to know Barry Brenneke, founder of Guardian Management Corp., an apartment management company. He also became a founding member of the lobbying group Multifamily NW.

“Its first location was in my office,” Rose says. “I got so much out of that experience.”

But historic real estate isn’t for the faint of heart in a city along the Cascadia subduction zone. Soon after the purchase, Rose learned the remodel constituted a change of use, and that meant he had to make extensive seismic improvements, his daughter Marnie Rose tells WW.

“The city’s ask was way too onerous,” Marnie says. “Right now, the project doesn’t pencil.”

So, the old Blaisdell Saw shop sits empty, gathering graffiti. On a recent weekday, a man camped in the doorway, stringing up a blue tarp and parking his bike on the sidewalk.

Peter Champ has a real estate office nearby. The Roses paint over the graffiti often, he says, but it’s not enough. One day he caught a guy lighting a fire right next to the gas main. Champ also manages a building nearby that’s rented mostly to psychotherapists.

“Walking through a war zone doesn’t help their patients,” Champ says.

For decades before the Roses bought it, a couple named Ted and Geraldine Wille ran a saw shop on the site. They sharpened blades in the back and had a small retail shop in front. Ted died in 2008, and Geraldine passed away in 2016. Property records show that their son, Tad, proposed building 38 new apartments on the site in 2017.

The redevelopment sputtered, and the Roses bought the property from Tad Wille in 2022, property records show. They, too, considered apartments but decided against them in the end.

Now, the Roses aren’t sure what the building will become. “We may have to sell and move on to something else,” Marnie Rose says. “The building code is just insane.”

The structure is on the city’s list of unreinforced masonry buildings, spokesman Ken Ray of the city’s Bureau of Development Services said in an email. “Any reroofing of the building, as was discussed with one of our plans examiners, would require seismic strengthening of the parapets,” Ray said, adding that even without the URM listing, Portland city code would likely require a seismic upgrade given the changes in use.

(Correction: A previous version of this article said that Barry Brenneke was the founder of Guardian Real Estate Services. That company is owned by his son, Tom Brenneke. Barry owned Guardian Management Corp., a different firm. WW regrets the error.)

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

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