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How to Lure MLB to Portland? An All-Wood Ballpark

Vaughn Street, Portland

The ever-enterprising Lynn Lashbrook has an intriguing plan for luring Major League Baseball to Portland: he’s pitching the idea of building an all-wood ballpark at the site of the old Vaughn Street Park, former home of the Portland Beavers (Pacific Coast League).

The idea — and it’s little more than an idea at this point — combines the modern with the nostalgic. Wood construction is in these days, with Portland approving the first wooden high-rise structure in the United States. The wood used in this construction is a little more sophisticated than the wood beams formerly used in construction. This wood is a high-tech cross-laminated timber (CLT) core that meets fire and seismic codes. It’s a project that’s received plenty of attention in the architecture press in the last six months.

And it caught the attention of Portland-based Lashbook, who has been working for years to bring MLB to the Rose City. He spearheaded the Oregon Baseball Campaign when the Montreal Expos were up for relocation and Portland was under consideration. His group, while making a financial argument for Portland as an MLB home, couldn’t land city support or even a viable ballpark site, and Washington ended up landing the Expos.

This time around, Lashbrook has a potential location for an MLB ballpark: the former site of Vaughn Street Park (shown above), which opened in 1901 and was home to the Bevos until 1956, when the team moved to Multnomah Stadium (now Providence Park, home to MLS’s Portland Timbers). Like all ballparks of the era, it was made from wood, and it was prone to fire damage. Groundskeeper Rocky Benevento was famous for his efforts to keep Vaughn Street Park from burning down, patrolling the ground underneath the wooden grandstand and bleachers to make sure a stray cigarette butt didn’t set the place ablaze. (He did not always succeed: the left-field bleachers burned down in 1947.) But the Vaughn Street Park site could potentially be used for pro baseball once more, reports KOIN:

Charles Swigert was one of two original financiers of Vaughn Street Park. His descendants have owned Esco Corp., a heavy manufacturing equipment maker, in the area surrounding Vaughn Street since the company’s inception in 1913.

Esco now is in the final phase of shutting down its plant. The area has been zoned for industrial and industrial-related use, which would include the possibile construction of a ballpark there.

The Swigerts haven’t placed the land for sale yet, and Lashbrook hasn’t contacted them about a potential purchase. But he thinks it would make a fitting home for a major league park.

Now, we don’t expect this to happen: wood may not be the right material to support 40,000 fans at a time, and more than likely there’s not enough potential development in Portland’s industrial area to attract investors. But it’s nice to think of Vaughn Street Park II rising at the site of the old ballpark.

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