758 May Street, Raymond, Wash.
RAYMOND — The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 is etched in the minds of those who felt its fury. Many people still recall where they were at the time it hit and the subsequent effect it had on their lives. For Brian Skinner, who was living near Portland at the time, it was the beginning of a life-long effort to re-use building materials. Skinner’s father salvaged wood from the storm’s wind-damaged buildings; Skinner and his brother assisted.
Now in retirement, Skinner holds on to that ethic, “Our responsibility is to give wood new life.”
When Skinner was 28, he visited Scotland. He was impressed by the culture’s thriftiness. The Scots save everything, he said. There, even the lath from lath and plaster walls is saved and resold. This mentality had a lasting effect on Skinner.
Skinner also credits Eric Ladd, Jerry Bosco, Ben Milligan and Bill Hawkins of Portland for furthering his interest. These four men are among the Pantheon of Portland’s preservation movement.
In the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, when Portland was demolishing buildings through urban renewal, they salvaged architectural parts and entire buildings from the wrecking ball. These men understood the beauty and timelessness of not only the architecture but of the materials from which they were constructed.
Skinner worked among them and also collected architectural salvage.
The wood salvaged by Skinner is all old growth, a product that he believes will never be seen again. Its value is part aesthetic. During the Craftsman Movement, it was frequently cut flat-grained. Skinner is quick to add it to his collection. “You can’t find better wood, it’s beautiful stuff,” he said.
The value of old growth is also its superior quality as a building material. Old growth wood has tight grain; it is more insect and rot resistant than much wood grown today.
Skinner’s approach to reusing the wood is two-pronged. First, salvage can be re-purposed in its entirety within a building. A wood window or a set of wood spindles might be perfect for a home under restoration.
Second, the salvage can be taken apart and its wood re-used to create new architectural pieces. A five-panel door, for instance, can be disassembled and its wood re-cut and re-shaped for interior trim.
Skinner has worked on his own home for two years. When he purchased it, the house was the victim of benign neglect. Skinner started work on the roof, barge rafters and siding. These elements were in need of replacement or paint. His priority was to seal the building from the elements and protect its structural system. “Aesthetics can wait” in these situations, he said.
He described the house, constructed in 1904, as being “Plain Jane” when first built. Stylistically, he said, it’s now a “head scratcher.” As he works on the house, he tries to let the building speak for itself.
While constructing the wrap-around porch, Skinner let his design concepts “percolate.” Those concepts are also based on materials available to him at the time. The porch railing, for instance, is constructed from floor boards of a former transportation depot as well as wood from the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla.
“This house was waiting for me,” he said. “I have the skills, the wood and the willingness to do it.”
For more information about renovating an old home or commercial building, visit the Lower Columbia Preservation Society website at lcpsociety.org.