Portland Preservation Pioneer to Receive Historic Preservation McMath Award

For most of us, moving means simply packing up our belongings and relocating to another dwelling, but for Rick Michaelson—the year’s recipient of the prestigious George McMath Historic Preservation Award—it might require moving the house itself. Last year’s highly publicized relocation of the Morris Marks House drew attention to Michaelson’s extraordinary 40-year career as a preservation activist, design consultant, developer, and advisor. The three-story, 137-year-old example of Italianate architecture, now in the Northwest District of Portland, had to be cut into two large pieces to make the two-day trek to its new location fewer than 20 blocks away.

Rick Michaelson with manager Patty Cook and other residents of the emergency shelterAfter earning degrees in architectural history and architecture back east, Michaelson envisioned he’d follow a straight architectural path, but discovered that he was interested in being more hands-on after joining AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). And when the organization offered to pay his expenses if he moved to Portland, Oregon, he jumped at the opportunity.

“What I realized is that we don’t need more buildings in this country. Building new ones is really a waste of resources and not very ecologically sound,” Michaelson says. “I come from a family that moved to Long Island in the 1640s, so I have a long history of living in older buildings and enjoying them. I think the biggest motivation for me is that it’s challenging and it’s fun. I never really knew that this was going to be a career that I’d make. It was just one project at a time until suddenly I realized I’d been doing it for 40 years!”

Michaelson was honored with the annual George McMath Historic Preservation Award at a luncheon in the University of Oregon’s White Stag Building on May 11, 2018. Proceeds from the event benefited students in the Historic Preservation graduate program at the UO in Portland.

“Rick has had a direct impact on Portland’s built environment for decades—as a developer, as a public official, and as an advocate. He has demonstrated how this city can maintain its physical character through both careful planning and bold action,” says Jim Buckley, associate professor and director of the Historic Preservation program in the School of Architecture & Environment.

“The McMath award is the most important award I’ve received in my career,” Michaelson says. “People who have received this award in the past have been my heroes of preservation and it’s an honor to be joining that group.”

As an early participant in neighborhood revitalization, he has been instrumental in the rehabilitation and reuse of more than 50 historic houses and commercial properties, 40 of which are in the Northwest District of Portland. “Historic preservation is a tool for building better neighborhoods and making preservation count that way,” Michaelson says.

In addition to his work in adaptive reuse of historic resources and relocation of threatened buildings, as a developer, Michaelson founded Inner Cities Properties. He was an advisor on Portland’s 1980 Comprehensive Plan and served 16 years on the Portland Planning Commission. He sat on both the Historic Landmarks and Design Commissions. Currently, he is an advisor to the National Trust and is a board member at Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center/Bosco-Milligan Foundation.

Watch a time-lapse video of the 137-year-old Morris Marks House moving through downtown Portland.

lifting the Morris Marks House

Morris Marks House in transit

Morris Marks House in the final stretch

Morris Marks House at the new site


Story by Sharleen Nelson