Architect for a Golden Age
The Reed College Hall of Arts and Science, now Eliot Hall, under construction in 1912. A temporary railroad track was laid on the great lawn to haul supplies to the site.
Overnight, Doyle became one of Portland’s most prominent architects. The Meier & Frank building remains one of Doyle’s best-known structures, yet Doyle felt that a later addition, for which he added a second “cap,” or top to the building, was too ornate and a mismatch with the first cap. Instead, Doyle preferred his second department store, the Lipman Wolfe building (1912). Though the Lipman Wolfe building is smaller, with less ornamentation, it still features the same white-glazed terra cotta. In the interior, Doyle used mahogany for cabinets and counters, and marble for staircases, and the northeast corner featured French-style fitting rooms for evening gowns. It was also Portland’s first department store to have elevators, securing bragging rights for Lipman and Wolfe. Today, the building is home to the Hotel Monaco.
Competition for the contract to design Reed College was intense; the city’s top architects all made bids. But on January 5, 1911, the board of trustees announced that Doyle & Patterson had been elected unanimously. Doyle’s success was probably assured from the beginning because the key figure on the board, and the spiritual architect of the college, was Thomas Eliot—the man he had so impressed in Florence.
After “exhaustive conferences” with President Foster, Doyle planned a large university of Gothic dormitories and grassy quadrangles. These initial plans led to two of Doyle’s most famous buildings: the Reed College Hall of Arts and Science, now known as Eliot Hall, and the “Boys’ Dormitory,” now known as the Old Dorm Block (Doyle originally envisioned a separate dorm for female students). After all his years of research, Niles still considers the Old Dorm Block his favorite Doyle building. “I like the way it sits,” he says. “No two rooms are alike. It’s so charming. Compact and domestic, yet grand and elegant.”
While Doyle was concerned with the beauty, refinement, and historical tradition of his completed buildings, he placed equal emphasis on a building’s function and its ability to fulfill his clients’ needs. When Doyle undertook the Portland Central Library project in 1911, he wrote that his library plans made no “compromises for the sake of architecture,” but instead met all the “practical requirements of the building.” It was, in his words, a “librarian’s library.”
The Central Library is a handsome Georgian Revival building of limestone and red sandstone, with three floors, soaring archways, a domed skylight on the third floor, and a grand staircase with 92 granite steps. Stone benches along the sidewalks outside the building bear the names of classic authors, such as Jane Austen, meant to inspire Portland readers. (In 1997, former Reed president Paul Bragdon spearheaded an extensive renovation of the library to restore Doyle’s splendid vision.)
“The library was preserved lovingly for its beauty, but Doyle loved how cheap it was [to build],” said Niles. “Doyle did appreciate the beauty of his work but was also concerned with other things.”
Though Doyle’s buildings represented a new kind of architecture in Portland, they did so by borrowing the architectural language of classical Europe. When Doyle built Eliot Hall, one of his favorite buildings, he essentially copied the exterior of St. John’s College at Oxford, to place Reed within a rich tradition of educational architecture as well as to express the ambitions of the new college. In downtown Portland, Doyle’s classical themes lent an air of sophistication to the department stores that turned downtown Portland into a commercial center. In all of his work, Doyle borrowed from history to legitimize, enhance, and further the visions of his clients.
Later in his career, during Portland’s second development boom in the 1920s, Doyle abandoned his earlier style for a “Renaissance Palace” style, which he incorporated in some of his bank and skyscraper projects, such as the Bank of California building and the Public Service Building. Home to two utility companies, the 16-story Public Service Building was Portland’s tallest skyscraper until the 1960s. It included a red clay tile roof, and a mixture of gray terra cotta and brick, and its moldings featured a stylized wave motif. While Doyle’s later Italianate buildings reflect a dramatic change in style, they still demonstrate Doyle’s deep interest in European history.