Musician/Artist Helps Bring ‘New Life’ to Dolfinger Building in Portland Neighborhood

Photo Credit: Photos by Bill Brymer

When Danny Seim was touring the country with his Portland, Ore.-based band, Menomena, he came through Louisville for a gig, but he says the city didn’t make much of an impression on him. 

Skip ahead a few years, and Seim has moved with his family to Portland, the Louisville neighborhood, and works as a resident artist and building supervisor at The Dolfinger, the former Portland Christian School building that’s now home to several nonprofit organizations and small businesses.

“My wife had several cities on a list of choices for her medical residency, and Louisville was third on the list, behind Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont,” Seim says. “When we knew we were coming to Louisville, we researched the area on Zillow and ended up focused on Portland.”

Seim says his original plan was to join his wife here and be a stay-at-home dad to their 3-year-old son. But then he met Gill Holland, the developer who is leading a Portland resurgence.

Seim offered sweat equity – he says he cleaned muck from the floors of the former school building, and helped get it ready for tenants. In return, he got a second-floor gallery space he shares with fellow artist Noah Howard. He painted a visually striking stairway, crafted a custom sign for the front door, and eventually became an organizer of September’s Portland Art Fair.

“I found out I could relate to this area, even knowing it’s a place many would avoid,” he says. “And I could get in on the ground floor of what’s going on in Portland.”

To hear Seim describe it, The Dolfinger was in decrepit shape when he first saw it. The floors were muddy after the sprinkler system was left on for an entire weekend. It needed plenty of work on the HVAC system and lighting. But there were hidden gems to discover, such as the iron stove in the cafeteria and classrooms that were perfect for nonprofits.

Today, tenants include the World Affairs Council, Interfaith Paths to Peace, and Sister Cities, plus artists including Richard Sullivan and Megan Bickel.

And in the parking lot, Seim is working with Holland to create a huge, working sundial. The building includes a smokestack rising into the sky, which will serve as the sundial’s “gnomon,” casting a shadow on marked spaces painted on the pavement. That will create a learning opportunity for kids and adults in the neighborhood, Seim hopes.

“There are a lot of people in the neighborhood who went to school in this building,” he says. “It’s fun to hear their stories and see the building have new life.”

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