The Simon Benson House is a familiar landmark on campus, and home of the Alumni Association. But this beautiful, century-old home didn’t always reside in the South Park Blocks.
The house is named after logger and civic philanthropist Simon Benson, who built the grand Queen Anne style house just after 1900 on the corner of SW 11th and Clay in downtown Portland across from the historic Old Church. The interior of the house featured rich detail and decoration, and each room was paneled in a different kind of wood.
The Simon Benson House remained there for nearly 100 years. The home fell into disrepair and was condemned in 1991 but it couldn’t be torn down because of its designation on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Over the years, many people tried to save the historic home and to find new purpose for the architecturally significant building. At long last and under the direction of late City Commissioner and PSU alumna Gretchen Kafoury, the Friends of Simon Benson House was founded to create awareness for the project and ultimately raise the $1.6 million dollars needed to move and restore the home. Kafoury partnered with alumna Pat Squire, then Executive Director of the PSU Alumni Association, and the two got to work to relocate the house to campus, with the intention it would become the home of the Alumni Association and serve as a visitors’ center for campus.
With financial support from more than 1,000 individuals and businesses, the house was moved to its new location on the Portland State University campus on Jan. 16, 2000. The renovation of the house took nearly a year and was done with care to replicate the significant architectural elements. Today the Simon Benson House is once again listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
At the front of the house, you can find an iconic Benson Bubbler. As the story goes, Simon Benson donated $10,000 in 1912 to buy and install bronze drinking fountains around the city, now known as Benson Bubblers. The Portland Water Bureau maintains more than 50 of the four-bowl fountains throughout downtown Portland.
The Simon Benson House is now home for the university’s greatest assets — its alumni — and a visible presence to students to encourage their lifelong relationship with PSU. Visitors are welcome!
Rediscovering Campus is a weekly series that highlights the stories behind popular spaces at Portland State University, as we gear up for a return to in-person learning.
One thought on “Simon Benson House, jewel of the park blocks”
What was the building on this site before the Benson building arrived?
What happened to the earlier building?
It was a boarding house in the early 60s. What happened to it.
Thanks, Jim Morse