Eliot Circular

Reed’s First Building Slated for Demolition

Reed's first building

Reed's first building in 1911

The sturdy brick building that housed Reed’s first classes is slated for demolition this summer, to be replaced by a 15-story apartment tower.

Located at the corner of Southwest 11th and Jefferson, the building was erected in 1911 in a mere three months. Here the first Reed students—24 women, 26 men—sweated over their studies under the baleful eye of the first professors (including the formidable President William T. Foster [1910–19], who also taught English).

The developer, the Molasky Group of Las Vegas, Nevada, has purchased the building from the city of Portland and plans to build 196 market-rate residential apartments, 13,000 square feet of commercial space, underground parking, and a roof deck. 

The old building—known as the Jefferson West—had many adventures during its long life. In addition to hosting Reed’s first classes, it was home to several colorful Portland institutions, including the Cordova Hotel, the Mural Room, the Jazz Quarry, and the Jefferson Theater, which in later years showed porno movies. (There is some irony in this juxtaposition, since President Foster led an effort to stamp out vice and prostitution in Reed’s early years, triggering a neuralgic reaction in downtown business circles.)

On the first day of class, September 18, 1911, students, faculty, and three trustees “picked their way through building debris to the small assembly room which their number filled to overflowing,” according to a first-hand account by Jean Wolverton, class of 1915. The Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot gave an invocation and President Foster addressed the first-ever crop of Reedies.

“This day is pregnant with meaning,” he declared. “The future of this institution is, in a peculiar sense, in our hands . . . Our sense of the future committed to our care and our devotion to worthy ideals should create for Reed College a deathless spirit.”

Then the speeches were over and it was time to crack the books.