Together, two extraordinary women practice the art of transformation at the North Warehouse, a rustic, lofty, imaginative venue for parties and events as well as movie and photo shoots, and more. We caught up to them on a quiet day in between events to learn out more about their remarkable space and the intersection of their career paths.
Jen Baque is owner-manager The North Warehouse. Built in 1924, the cavernous interior overflows to a flat, outside lot. The combined 10,000sf interior and additional 5000sf exterior immediately calls for flexible, creative use. From what Baque has been told, the warehouse started as a flour manufacturing plant and in the 1930’s was owned by San Jose Steel. Following that it became a glass making factory. In the recent past it was used as a metal fabrication shop.
But Baque has also been told that as early as the 1990’s Dano from Showcall–aka Dan Nickelson, who has worked in the Portland event industry for years–hosted raves in the warehouse. Jen realizes, “I was not the only person who envisioned the space as the perfect venue for large events.”
Connie Wohn is the founder of Party Animal. She is the 'First Lady of Hustle,' and lives up to the title. For her, “becoming an event producer was no mistake.” After a short career in the music industry, she was lead to planning events. "It was a very organic shift.”
Jen: The potential for using the warehouse as an event space was there the day I walked in and I always kept the vision in mind. I co-owned a beer tank business that occupied the space for 7 years and during that time I took full advantage of the entire structure when throwing the very fun annual holiday parties for our customers and team members. The local brewing industry came to think of it as an event space as well. The Oregon Brewers Guild has hosted their event, Cheers to Belgian Beers at The North Warehouse for 5 years now. That event put us on the map.
Connie plans events up and down the West Coast, but feels a special attachment to the North Warehouse. “It’s a blank canvas. It can literally become anything you want it to be. Plus, I love a good, old warehouse; so much character.”
Connie is most often referred to as “Lady Connie.” From her quick mind and focused attention, to the energetic pace of her stride, she’s both in command and extremely generous. When asked how she became “Lady,” she replied:
“Remember when Gmail was invite only? I remember making my email LadyConnie@gmail.com. Little did I know it would become a moniker for me.”
Jen: “I met Connie through The Portland Mercury. She was producing Weed The People, an event celebrating Oregon’s cannabis legalization in 2015 (yes, that event has it’s own Wikipedia page. For images check out Facebook).
The North Warehouse was not even named yet, but the space had been used for brewing events and my plan to make it an official venue was starting to circulate in town. I don’t usually say these kinds of things, but meeting Connie was a little bit of fate at work. She entered my life at exactly the right moment and I guess I would call our meeting profound. There is a lot of respect and support of each other and our businesses.
I was almost derailed from my plans for The North Warehouse due to the unexpected dissolution of my last partnership, but Connie's faith in the vision for the space inspired me to keep going. Shortly after we met, I attended one of her events and was blown away by her talent in bringing a production to life. It's truly a pleasure to work with someone with her artistry and expertise. I'm extremely grateful to have met Connie when I did.”
Connie still doesn’t have a preference for any particular kind of event:
“It’s not a type or kind of event. It’s a feeling created by the folks involved. Some people treat you like you are doing their grunt work or that the role you play isn’t important. Others love to collaborate and trust you are on the team to make something amazing happen."
These experiences have reinforced the value of operating by the Golden Rule. Her ability to work seamlessly with everyone involved in planning and hosting an event, “has required years of being kind and treating all people the same. From the featured artist, to influencers who agree to attend an event, to the security team, everyone should be treated like a VIP. In fact, the three personal skills I rely on the most to strengthen my business are communication, organization and the ability create and sustain good relationships.
This isn’t a job. It’s a lifestyle! I don’t usually choose to work with people I wouldn’t consider being friends with and friendships form easily with this kind of work. It’s like you’ve been through something tough but worthwhile. The stress and excitement of events creates a bond.”
Connie has seen the long-term ripple effects of a successful event first hand:
“Hopefully,” she says, “the quality of the event mirrors the quality of the company or organization.” The positive, even if intangible, effects are a potent blend of, “buzz, sustained conversations about the experience, heightened awareness in the community or with a different group of people, and connectivity to the real, original things in this city.”
Jen looks forward to expanding creative uses for the venue:
“The North Warehouse is becoming appreciated in the local film and art community around town and I would love to have more of that work. Portlandia shot here a few weeks ago, then recently another local film company used the space. Yesterday I got a call for a yoga video shoot. Photography is happening more and more as well. The weathered warehouse walls make a great backdrop.”
The North Warehouse is in an industrial neighborhood between Mississippi, the Lloyd District and the N. Williams Corridor, with easy access to downtown via the Broadway Bridge. The whole area seems to be in the midst of a revival.
Jen: “North Tillamook Street has become an artist colony for the most part, with former industrial spaces housing everything from custom motorcycles, to professional music recording, to fashion design. I hope the The North Warehouse corner has helped and will continue to help rejuvenate the street and the district. Event promoters in town often tell me how great it is to have this kind of large-capacity venue in town. I’m happy to fill a niche in event planning for Portland.”
Last word from the First Lady of Hustle. We had to ask Lady Connie if she spends her nights out on the town in-between producing events because, after all, her business is named Party Animal:
“Not really any more. Dinner out or at a friend’s house is the main form of socializing. My social life is while I’m working. I get both at the same time.”
D. Larson, Editor