The Melvin Mark Story
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When New York-based Melvin Mark, Sr. first visited the area in 1945, it was nothing more than a quick visit to look at commercial real estate opportunities — which included purchasing the Loyalty Building. In 1948, he sent his son, Melvin “Pete” Mark, to meet with building tenants, suggest potential building improvements and investigate other potential properties for sale. Pete was enchanted by the remarkable beauty of downtown and the friendliness of the citizens. As each week went by, he found an excuse to stay longer and didn’t return to New York City for several months.
In 1951, Pete Mark married Mary Kridel. He brought his new bride to Portland to show off the city. Together, they decided Portland was the perfect place to live and raise a family. It was also the perfect time to buy three of the area’s most historic buildings — Cascade Building, Yeon, and Builder’s Exchange (now known as the Oregon Pioneer Building). This investment in historic downtown properties laid the foundation for the company’s growth.
During the decade of peace, love and upheaval, Pete Mark implemented one of the biggest projects of the decade to great acclaim— an upgrade to the company’s Oregon Pioneer Building. Nicknamed “Project Cinderella,” the building was repainted in a San Francisco-style three-color scheme and relaunched with a clever open house event. Due to the project’s overwhelming success, his interest in making the city even more beautiful was cemented.
It was during this time that he also learned how taking a risk could have its reward, building Portland’s first privately-owned high-rise parking garage in Central Plaza.
In 1965, Melvin Mark Sr. passed away and Pete Mark became managing partner. Before long, the company developed a relationship with the Goodman Family and developed Crown Plaza, a 280,000 square foot building in south downtown. A groundbreaking project for its time, Crown Plaza helped revitalize an urban renewal district.
The 1970s saw the development of Pete Mark’s favorite project, Columbia Square. Built in 1979, this became the corporate headquarters of Melvin Mark — and one of its most energy efficient and environmentally friendly office properties. Melvin Mark also purchased and renovated the Hamilton Building at 520 SW Third, and placed it on the National Historic Landmark Registry.
In a decade that began with the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and ended with the falling of the Berlin Wall, Melvin Mark created a unique business model that began to flourish. As Melvin Mark’s footprint began to expand, so too did the market demand for their services. Creating separate companies for specific services — all under a single umbrella company — allowed them to meet the needs of the market and manage the quality of commercial real estate services in-house, rather than outsourcing to others. Melvin Mark’s Brokerage, Construction and Development Companies were all created during the ‘80s.
During this time Pete Mark began decades worth of downtown revitalization, energizing other business and civic leaders to join the cause. Building purchases continued, including the Willamette Building and the Mayer Building, both in downtown Portland. They also purchased their first suburban property on Barbur Boulevard and properties in the John’s Landing area, which expanded their influence outside the downtown core area.
The ‘90s were remarkably busy and saw a variety of historic records and firsts for Melvin Mark. In the first half of the decade, they were selected by a Japanese investor to negotiate the purchase of what is now Umpqua Bank Plaza — spearheading the leasing and management, while reducing the vacancy to 5%. This was the largest broker sale in company history. It was also during the 1990s that Melvin Mark earned a $30 million federal contract to build One Oak Plaza, which became Robert Duncan Plaza.
Purchases and expansion took place throughout the decade. They purchased the State Office Building downtown, which they renovated and turned into the Fifth Avenue Building, plus the Auditorium Garage Block for much-needed additional parking.
In the second half of the decade, the company took a look at a changing portfolio and sold their historic properties to take advantage of new opportunities in the region.
In downtown, they purchased the Union Bank of California Tower with the Goodman Family. They also purchased the Hayden Island Commerce Center.
By purchasing properties in the Sunset Corridor, Melvin Mark expanded west. They partnered with Standard Insurance to develop office land in Hillsboro. Building 1 at Sunset Center at Tanasbourne was completed. And they began development of Evergreen Corporate Center in Hillsboro to take advantage of growth in the technology hub locating in suburban Portland.
Closer to downtown, Melvin Mark Development Company completed KPTV Oregon’s headquarters in the central eastside, paving the way for future development in this area. And they developed a new headquarters building for the Port of Portland in the city’s Old Town neighborhood, bringing new life to a neglected area.
In 2000, the company’s leadership was turned over to son Jim Mark, with Pete Mark assuming the role of chairman of the board. The Melvin Mark Companies was introduced as the umbrella for the interconnected company of services and presidents were named for each of the individual companies.
Building-wise, they purchased the historic Water Tower building in John’s Landing and revived its reputation as an excellent location for doing business. In addition, they redeveloped the old Greyhound Bus Station — an eyesore in the center of downtown — into a new Hilton Executive Tower and parking garage, transforming a key retail corner of the central city.
It was during this time that Melvin Mark received the Green Building Institute’s 4 Globes Award for Columbia Square, the first existing office building in the nation to earn this highest award for energy efficiency and environmental performance. This was the opening salvo in what has become a legacy of sustainability accolades and awards.
While times have changed, this locally-owned company’s commitment to Portland’s downtown and surrounding communities is as strong today as it was in 1945.
Today, Melvin Mark has been consistently named one of Oregon’s Most Admired Companies by other Oregon CEOs, they’ve received awards for their work in sustainable real estate practices and they’ve been honored as one of the state’s leading corporate philanthropists. Jim Mark has carried on his father’s commitment to development and growth by founding Greater Portland Inc., a regional effort to expand economic development opportunities.
Now 50 employees strong with more than 3.1 million square feet of commercial space under ownership or management, the Melvin Mark companies are uniquely qualified to provide a catalyst for growth — livable, sustainable, quality growth — for generations to come. And are proud to have a continuing voice in shaping the city that is home.