Portland restaurant to replace antique doors that caused a stir over historic preservation rules

The antique doors from Puerto Rico at the entrance to Papi on Exchange Street caused a stir over historic preservation rules and will likely be replaced in mid-September. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The antique doors that caused a stir over historic preservation rules in Portland last spring will be replaced after all.

Papi, a Puerto Rican restaurant on Exchange Street, installed the 130-year-old hand-carved mahogany doors at its entrance last year, but did so without city approval and quickly found out that the doors violated historic district standards.

When the city ordered the restaurant to remove the doors, backlash ensued.

“People have really been going to bat, messaging me and showing up with petitions like, ‘What do you need? We already have 35 signatures,’” Papi co-founder LyAnna Sanabria said at the time.

The city said it would reconsider the decision, which originally called for the restaurant to remove the doors by Labor Day weekend.

City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Friday that in addition to the issue with historic district standards, staff also found the doors were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act or building and fire codes. And because they were installed without a building permit, those issues were not caught ahead of time, she said.

The city is working with Papi owner Josh Miranda on plans for their replacement.

“Once he submits a building permit, it will go through the review process and it should be pretty easy to just have everyone sign off since we’ve already had a lot of conversations with him,” Grondin said.

The antique doors, believed to date to 1890, were imported from Puerto Rico to mark the entrance to Papi, a new restaurant on Exchange Street. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The city cited historic district standards – the restaurant is located in the Waterfront (Old Port) Historic District – at the time of its decision last spring, but also said there were other compliance issues with the restaurant that they were looking into.

Grondin said the city is aiming to have the doors switched out by Sept. 15, but Miranda has encountered challenges securing a contractor. Grondin said the city is flexible as long as he continues to work with them. “He’s been keeping us updated and it’s not something that a few days will make or break,” she said.

Miranda said he holds no ill-will toward the city. “They’ve been very gracious with giving me time to figure this out and have the summer with (the doors), but I do need to get them changed,” he said. “I’m working with a builder to come up with a design the city will be happy with.”

The doors hail from San Juan and are believed to date to around 1890. The restaurant, which opened in March, installed them at its 18 Exchange St. entrance to reflect the culture and vibe of Puerto Rico.

The city has decided the doors violate fire and building codes and must be removed. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When the city said the doors would have to come down, people flocked to social media to express support for them. “It is one of the most gorgeous entrances in Portland,” one person wrote on Papi’s Instagram page.


However, Evan Schueckler, the city’s historic preservation manager, said that the doors provide “a false sense of history” and were not in compliance with historic district standards.

Miranda said the restaurant is considering repurposing the doors inside the restaurant once a new entrance is in place.

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