Oregon Jewish Museum finds spacious new home
By PAUL HAIST
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The Oregon Jewish Museum’s long search for a larger home has come to a successful conclusion.
The museum, which will celebrate its 21st anniversary next year, will move from its present 1,800-square-foot location at 310 NW Davis St. to a 6,400-square-foot former film distribution facility in the heart of Northwest Portland by mid-December.
Museum Director Judith Margles announced that the OJM has signed a lease of up to nine years for the single-story property at 1953 NW Kearney Ave.
“This building, with its long-term lease gives us the opportunity to grow the museum, said Margles, who added that the duration of the lease will also enable the museum leadership to “determine if this
building is the most suitable building, looking forward to the possibility of purchasing it at a future date.”
Alice Meyer is an OJM founding board member and the first chair of the committee charged with finding a new museum facility. She said, “I think this is going to turn out to be a more perfect building than any we looked at.”
She said the search for a more suitable facility actually began about 18 years ago when she and OJM founder Rabbi Joshua Stampfer began “an informal search and inquiry.”
OJM President Craig Wollner said, “In its new location, OJM will be better able to assert its place as one of Oregon’s premier cultural and intellectual destinations, with a far greater capacity for learning, conversation and exploration of our rich heritage than ever before.”
Stampfer called the move “a great moment in the history of the OJM.” Saying that the move holds “the promise of great development in the future,” the rabbi added, “A vibrant Jewish museum is truly a hallmark of a vital and creative Jewish community.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Executive Vice President Charles R. Schiffman toured the facility as renovations were beginning.
“I am pleased to say that finally this important organization is going to be housed in a facility that is truly worthy of it. The new building will meet every need of the museum for many years to come, and undoubtedly will become a landmark of Jewish life and culture in Portland,” said Schiffman. “I congratulate the foresighted museum leadership who brought this about, and I know that the community will enthusiastically support what will soon be a major flagship institution.”
Margles expanded on the theme. “Jewish museums have become some of the most compelling entities for evoking the Jewish past, for speaking to the Jewish present, and for envisioning the Jewish future, “she said. “The Oregon Jewish Museum looks forward to contributing to the vibrancy of our community by providing opportunities for a continuing conversation about Jewish art, history and culture. Our new building will offer many opportunities for programming and we look forward to welcoming the entire community through our doors.”
The new building will accommodate a large gallery, five offices for museum staff, a work room, two conference rooms, three storerooms, a break room and a 36-seat theater that can be expanded to accommodate approximately 50. The theater is the former screening room of the film distribution company that originally occupied the property.
There is also an adjacent parking lot and the property is close to the trolley line.
The OJM is partnering in the new facility with the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, which has subleased 600 square feet of the building.
“It’s a natural partnership,” said Margles, referring to the OHRC. “Being housed under the same roof will provide a community benefit and allow both organizations to become stronger through strengthening and fulfilling our individual missions.”
OHRC President Bari Gilbert said, “This partnership with OJM will only do good things. Working with OJM will give us the visibility and the accessibility to be a true resource center and fulfill our mission to use the lessons that come from the Holocaust to teach the true value of diversity.”
When Sondra Pearlman, the current facility search committee chair, stepped back from the process to address a health issue, the museum recruited Portland real estate developer Paul Schlesinger to their board to help in the final stages of the search for a new facility.
Schlesinger likened the difference between the current space and the new space to night and day.
“The new space is just perfect for the museum,” he said. “With what amounts to minor remodeling they’ll have a separate gallery that is as big as the entire space they’re in now. There’s the formal theater space, true office space and storage and archival space.”
Besides the pre-World War II-era screening room—little changed from that time, the building also includes three film vaults that will be adapted for secure archival storage.
Leah Faw is the museum’s National Council of Jewish Women education coordinator. She’s helping to develop what will become the museum’s core exhibit exploring the history of Oregon’s Jewish community. She was enthusiastic about the new space.
“This is a great laboratory space,” she said, looking forward to the development of the museum’s showpiece exhibit.
She said the increased exhibit space also will permit the museum to accept traveling shows for which it did not previously have room, while also permitting the museum to accept gifts to its permanent collection for which it also did not previously have room.
Ritchie Andler is the museum’s director of marketing and development. He pointed out that the larger facility will create new opportunities for volunteers.
Referring to the current small site he said, “On heavy volunteer days the room is packed—volunteers, scholars, interns, archivists—cheek by jowl. Having more space means not having to turn away volunteers.”
Plans are to be fully moved into the new space by mid-December, perhaps on the fifth day of Hanukkah, Dec. 16, which Margles called a “Hanukkah miracle.”
An open house and other opening events are being planned.
Follow progress on the move at ojm.org.