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Bowling Green
Bringing back the bowlers (both real and plaster)

By Angela Valdez (Willamette Week)

It took two sets of developers, nearly a year of chasing permits, and much sweet-talking of skeptical bankers, but the project to redevelop the former Grand Central Bowl in inner Southeast Portland has finally begun.

John Plew, president of Foresight Development, says the final product, Grand Central Market, will be a mixed-use adult destination when it opens next summer, with 10 or so "urban retailers" (like coffee shops, bakeries and places to buy hand-printed T-shirts) ringing a 12-lane bowling alley complete with a full-scale restaurant and two bars.

Foresight bought the building for $3 million in November 2005, after Gerding/Edlen Development gave up on a similar scheme for the property at Southeast 8th Avenue and Belmont Street.

Hard-hatted contractors entered for the first time last week, sinking hammers into plaster to restore Grand Central’s past glory. Not the glory most Portlanders remember—the bowling alley that flourished from the 1950s until it closed in 2004—but an even more distant heyday, when the building housed a public market beginning in 1929, Plew says.

The $6.3 million redevelopment project will let developers win a place for the project on the National Register of Historic Places—and thus keep breaks on its Multnomah County property taxes. But tearing down some of the alley’s vestiges risks angering locals who place the structure right up there with the Lovejoy Columns on their list of Portland landmarks.

Some of the sacrifices won’t be missed—like the aluminum siding used to "modernize" the building in the 1960s. But if Plew can’t find a way to save the plaster-and-paint bowlers who adorn the entrance, there may be hell to pay. The figures—brightly colored 3-D silhouettes—are not exactly beautiful. But to many, they qualify as art.

Author Katherine Dunn lovingly characterized them in a 1985 WW article as "Portland’s answer to the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the mosaics of Pompeii."

Plew says he wants to remove the bowlers and install them inside the lanes, but he’s unsure how to manage the task.

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