Grad student wants to keep Portland historic and interesting

Growing up in Ohio, Jeremy Ebersole witnessed a shift in how buildings were used, and he didn’t like it.  

“A lot of my experience growing up in the Rust Belt was seeing the downtowns emptying out with old, interesting buildings sitting empty, while we kept building giant suburbs with big expensive strip malls,” said Ebersole, a graduate student in the historic preservation program at the University of Oregon Portland. “That was boring to me because everywhere you went it looked the same.”

After graduating from Elizabethtown College in Central Pennsylvania with a degree in communications and peace studies, Ebersole worked as an admissions counselor. He would visit different towns to recruit students, and he ended up spending a lot of time seeking out historic sites and buildings in those towns.

That’s when he knew his true passion was keeping historic buildings in use and thriving, and he was attracted to the Pacific Northwest and the urban setting of Portland. The historic preservation program in the UO’s School of Architecture & Environment is the oldest program of its type on the West Coast.

“It’s in a city that’s dealing with real-life implications and questions of how to make a case for preserving historic buildings with the pressure of dealing with rising costs,” Ebersole said.

He said the UO in Portland also appreciates the cultural heritage of the area, including in Chinatown and the Albina neighborhood, and that it considers how to preserve buildings in an equitable, inclusive way.

James Buckley, associate professor and Venerable Chair of Historic Preservation, called Ebersole one of the program’s most charismatic students.

“He is very thoughtful and has a lot of interesting ideas about why historic preservation is important, and he works on interesting topics like roadside commercial architecture and neon,” Buckley said. “Students in the UO historic preservation program get to work on real projects in the community while studying the rich physical and social heritage in Portland and the region.”

In his first term, Ebersole explored why Portland has more operating historic theaters per capita than any other city in the country. In a different class, he wrote a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the “Sandy Jug” building and is currently trying to go through the official nomination process. Shaped like a jug, the building on Sandy Boulevard harkens back to a time when buildings were constructed to look like the objects sold inside them.

For his architectural history class, Ebersole created vintage-look postcards of mid-century buildings in Beaverton. His postcards were displayed in an art gallery in Portland, raising awareness about the importance of preserving the buildings.  

Ebersole is starting to work on his thesis project, which will be about neon signs in the area. He plans to graduate from the two-year program in 2020.

By Emily Lindblom, University Communications