Master Builder

Legendary developer John Carroll’s newest apartment project, the Dianne

For the past 25 years, Portland developer John Carroll has been instrumental in shaping the Pearl District skyline. His latest gem, the Dianne (535 NW 11th Ave, 503-477-9559,, rises 15 stories on a quarter block steps from his prior projects: the Chown-Pella, the Edge Lofts, the McKenzie, and the Gregory and the Elizabeth, both named for his kids.

The Dianne, which he named for his wife, abounds with pleasing features. From the gold-flecked navy blue terrazzo floors to the lobby’s vintage brass furnace grates, the building captures the art deco vibe of the Jazz Age. Elegant streetlamps light the adjacent sidewalks. And a stacked-glass installation on the Hoyt Street exterior wall references Tanner Creek, the redirected waterway that runs under the Pearl.

Elevators open to large numerals, a humorous touch that eliminates any potential for floor confusion. A second-story community room opens to a private rooftop terrace, and some homes on this floor have coveted south-facing outdoor patios. At the Dianne, you can choose among studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom layouts, all with quartz counter and Bosch washer-dryer units.

When today’s Pearl was still mostly undeveloped industrial land, Carroll and a partner purchased what was essentially a blank canvas from Burlington Northern Railroad. The move presented a unique opportunity for the young developer.

“There was nothing going on then,” Carroll recalls, “and it was an evolutionary thing. We sold land, we explored.”

Master Builder John CarrollUnderpinning Carroll’s vision for the Pearl are longtime connections with TriMet and especially the Portland Streetcar, where he has served on the executive committee for 25 years. The Streetcar is a permanent link connecting past and present, he says. Maybe its resurgence is a bit of payback, too: Carroll has a photo of his grandmother riding an LA streetcar in the days before General Motors dismantled them.

Carroll notes that Oregon’s statewide planning bill, which established urban growth boundaries, provided an important framework for his vision. To this day, the Pearl remains a place people visit to see how a vibrant, walkable urban neighborhood works.

The Dianne pulls together elements of John Carroll’s prior buildings, which are often influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and channel 1920s and ’30s design. At night, it’s especially striking when it’s bathed in light from below.

Looking back over his career, Carroll acknowledges that the stars truly aligned for him. “I was so naive—I thought, if I do this I’ll lose everything. But I  didn’t have anything to lose.” As he pedals his bike around the Pearl District, Carroll continues to ask himself what’s next. About one thing he’s certain: he will never name a building for himself. “No one wants to spend the night in the John.” – Michaela Bancud | Photos by Ashley Anderson