Portland Turns Historic High School into Event Venue

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Washington High School
Washington High School, Photo Credit: Ashley Forrette

Portland, Ore., doesn’t say goodbye to its historic high schools; it transforms them into event spaces. Almost three decades since students last filled Washington High School’s corridors and classrooms, the historic building reopened in April 2015 as a center for entertainment and business.

Although the building underwent an extensive renovation, it maintained the same historic allure that made it an icon in the community, with past graduates including Chef James Beard and Nobel Prize Winner Linus Pauling. The school was originally founded in 1906 as Eastside High, was renamed to Washington High in 1909 and later moved to the current brick building in 1924 after a fire destroyed the original facility. 

Designated a Portland Historic Landmark, the building features Classical Revival architecture and was built entirely of concrete and red brick—fire-proof construction technologies for the time. The classical detailing, such as the lion’s heads on the parapet, are made of glazed terra cotta.

At the heart of the complex is Revolution Hall, an 850-seat auditorium with a state-of-the-art sound system for local musicians and touring acts, along with tech-savvy groups. The music venue is programmed by the same people behind Eastside venues—Mississippi Studios and the Aladdin Theater—named two of Portland’s top 10 live music venues by The Guardian in 2013. When shows are not in session, it serves as an ideal event space, and meeting planners have the opportunity to bring musical acts into the space.

“While Revolution Hall is primarily a music venue, hosting a full schedule of national touring acts throughout the year, some other types of events such as TEDx and Live Wire, for example, also include music as part of their event programming,” says Ned Failing, director of marketing and public relations for Revolution Hall. “We’ve also had several private events that incorporate music in the venue.”

Attendees will love the vintage details—lockers, slate chalkboards, mounted pencil sharpeners, intercoms and IBM clocks—that were restored and retained throughout the building to revive that historic-school feel. In addition to the auditorium, the high school building features a conference space, two bars, a green room, a 2,680-sf rooftop deck and wide hallways, which can be used in a variety of configurations to fit the needs of the group. Failing added that the venue recently hosted TEDx, which used the exterior parking lots for food carts in addition to every available space within the building.

The ground-floor space will also soon welcome a restaurant and retail tenants.

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