City Will Tear Down 117-Year-Old Church Gutted by Fire

It’s arson, says the fire bureau.

Church Fire (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Four days into a new year, Portland is down one vacant building.

Portland Fire & Rescue announced this afternoon that the City Engineer’s Office has approved the immediate demolition of the former Portland Korean Church, which stood from 1905 until last night, when it was gutted by a three-alarm fire.

“This structure poses a danger to the surrounding area and is affecting surface street travel along with the Portland Streetcar operations,” the fire bureau wrote in a statement. “The removal project is slated to begin tomorrow, January 5, 2023, with the goal of removal of enough of the structure to open up the streets and return the Portland Streetcar to normal operation as soon as possible.”

Shortly after 8 pm, the fire bureau announced an arrest for setting the fire. A 27-year-old suspect, with multiple names listed, was charged with first-degree arson, second-degree arson and second-degree burglary.

The building at Southwest 10th Avenue and Clay Street caught fire shortly after dusk Tuesday. It had been damaged in a 2020 fire, and the structural damage from that blaze prevented firefighters from safely entering the building. The fire bureau noted that the latest fire proved especially treacherous: It threatened to spread to a house just 10 feet away, and the bureau poured so much water into the sanctuary that the wooden building threatened to burst and collapse.

The decision to tear down the church came swiftly. “The height of the steeple is such that a collapse would potentially reach the overhead powerlines that serve the Portland Streetcar,” the fire bureau explained.

The house of worship began in 1905 as the First German Evangelical Church. It was purchased by the Portland Korean Church midcentury, but that congregation moved to Beaverton in 2011, according to The Daily Journal of Commerce.

“The building is relatively small, only 6,046 square feet, so the cost per square foot is $140.42,” the DJC wrote then. “It includes vaulted ceilings, a main-floor sanctuary, a theatre floor, balconies and offices. A lower garden area has a kitchen, a large meeting room, classrooms and restrooms.”

Whatever’s left comes down tomorrow.

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