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Have you noticed that one of the large and beautiful maples near the top of Regents Hill succumbed to old age this week?

You had to be up and out early Monday morning to see the big branches down on the street, and the significant amount of decay in the trunk and branches of the tree that led to its downfall. You can definitely see how a family of raccoons could live inside that cavernous trunk. And upon close examination, it’s amazing the tree held up through last winter’s storms. Fortunately, there were no cars or people underneath it when it let go this week.

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By the time we returned to the neighborhood in the evening, it had all been cleaned up.

Our best guess–knowing a little bit about construction of Regents Drive and the surrounding homes–is that it was one of the original trees planted during the earliest days of Alameda Park. That tree witnessed a lot of Alameda life, from streetcars to sledding. Thanks for four generations of shade!

It’s been a quiet few months here on the Alameda History blog, but work has continued and the history radar has been tuned in to several topics and stories.

Like you, we have been watching with dismay as the trend of tear-downs has swept across the eastside. A changing market has meant that the value of the actual lot has eclipsed the value of some older homes, allowing developers to demolish and build new, and still make a profit margin. The result is typically larger, less historically appropriate homes shoe-horned into lots never designed to hold such large buildings. We’ve written a bit about this trend here in Alameda.

Clearly, this is a living and changing neighborhood—which we imagine few would object to. It is the prerogative of the present to redefine, reinterpret and reuse what the past has provided. Still, there are implications. And in our view there is the obligation we owe to the future to be thoughtful with the current and historic character of this 100-year-old-plus neighborhood.

The city is hosting a gathering to discuss this tear-down trend, existing pertinent ordinances, and where these trends may lead. We encourage our neighbors to participate. Here are the details:

Wednesday, June 11 2014, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Concordia University’s Luther Hall, 2811 NE Holman.

Guest speakers from the City’s Bureau of Development Services, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, home builders, housing and community organization will address:

  • What are the City’s regulations around residential tear-downs and new construction?
  • How do these trends affect neighborhood affordability, stability, and equity?
  • What are the environmental issues around the demolition of building?
  • What is attracting home builders?

This is an important topic that deserves attention and consideration.

Shaver House ThenShaver House Now

Here’s a photo of a house you’ll recognize at 3119 NE Alameda Street, built by Captain Delmer Shaver and his wife Nellie. Shaver spent his life (1867-1950) working with his father and brothers to create and operate the Shaver Transportation Company, which started out as a steamship company on the Columbia and Willamette rivers and has become a leading tugboat and barge company still on the waters today. Delmer and Nellie had three children (James, Ellen and Doris) who grew up in this house, and attended Alameda School and Grant High School.

The then photo is from the August 9, 1914 edition of The Oregonian. The caption described that construction (which cost $10,000 which was a fair amount in 1914) began in February, was nearly complete in August, but the house would not be occupied until late fall. The second floor included a sleeping porch (which can be seen on the far right), and service quarters on the third floor. The unusually large lot was described as being a “park,” and the garage being large and “commodious.”

Not necessarily related to the house, but of note in the Shavers’ life in August 1914 was a gathering to mark their 25th wedding anniversary, held at the couple’s other home near Cannon Beach, which was poetically described in a brief article that appeared in the August 24th edition of The Oregonian.

Captain and Mrs. Shaver celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary early this week at their country place. An elaborate dinner was served at tables arranged on the lawn. In the evening Japanese lanterns lighted the grounds and added dashes of color most effective among the deep green of the trees. The tables were decorated attractively. A bonfire followed the supper. Congratulations and good wishes were extended to the host and hostess.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Once they moved in, the Shavers hosted similar gatherings at the Alameda home, some of which also made it onto the pages of The Oregonian, including soiree-like block parties that shut down The Alameda (as the street was known then) with lanterns hung across the road, music and other entertainments, and neighbors coming from throughout Portland to enjoy summer evenings.

We think Captain Shaver would definitely recognize the house today, and would be pleased with its upkeep and the recent landscaping work that has been completed.

1-31-14 Demo Progress 1

It’s been almost a year now since the Frederic Bowman house at the corner of NE 28th and Dunckley was demolished, and here’s what’s being built in its place. You may remember the graceful fixer-upper that sat far back on the big corner lot one block north of the Alameda Ridge. The classic 1922 Mediterranean style villa was originally home to the William and Susan Illidge family.

The house was demolished and the lot subdivided to make room for two new houses. We’ve been watching construction of one of them. Here are a few views. Hmm. Wonder what the neighbors think: it’s awfully close.

1-31-14 Demo Gallery

We embrace many architectural styles and traditions (the neighborhood is filled with variety), but we do have to say that it’s still hard to lose the classic Bowman style, and to clutter that formerly open corner with two new houses. That’s right, there’s another house yet to go in between the old stairway (above) and the new house in the background. I’ve heard neighbors refer to this first new house as a “big barn.” Others think it looks more like a space ship settling in next door to its Dutch colonial neighbor.

In the last week, we’ve had a chance to walk every street in the original Alameda Park plat (and nearby) and can report a handful of other tear-downs or major remodels that have replaced original homes. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve seen.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 1

This little cottage above is on NE 29th, just north of Siskiyou. Will watch to see what it becomes.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 2

The only original components of this house above, located on NE 32nd Place just north of Shaver, are the columns and some of the front porch archway, but the rest of the new house behind it actually fits in quite well with the neighboring homes in terms of scale, design and material choices.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 3

Here’s a tear-down at NE 21st and Ridgeview that expanded the overall footprint of the house on the lot and that now dwarfs the neighbors with its large scale.

The tear-down trend, driven by an improving economy, is increasingly visible in Portland’s eastside neighborhoods. We’re always glad to see sensitive restorations and renovations done (and to know that this economy has some resources to invest in upkeep of our older homes) but the tear downs do alter the sense of place. An organization called Restore Oregon is helping to raise the profile of this trend and offer some considerations and solutions. Check out RO’s recent post on the topic, which features a photo from Alameda.

Strolling the neighborhood, we’ve also noticed another trend: building new homes on formerly vacant lots (of which there aren’t many in Alameda, but there are a few). Here’s a new house on what has been an open side lot on Dunckley between NE 29th and Regents. A couple of views:

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 4 2-1-14 Demo Gallery 5

Below is another one that is going to come as a surprise (at least it did to us): The new driveway installed this week on the south side of Alameda Street just west of Alameda Terrace provides new access to the existing older home that faces Alameda Terrace (3251 NE Alameda Terrace, built in 1913). And the existing driveway will now serve two more houses that will be built on the remaining lots. Up until this week, the Alameda Street side, pictured below, was a tall laurel hedge.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 6

Will welcome some discussion about all of this: upside/downside, examples and observations from neighbors.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Eastman House Then Eastman House Now

Here’s the home of Portland architect George Asa Eastman, photographed 100 years ago to illustrate a story in the May 5, 1914 edition of The Oregonian about how the Alameda Park neighborhood was “forging ahead.” The subtitle to the headline was “Few districts enjoy more substantial growth than suburban park. New homes are sprinkled over many handsome streets.” Eastman designed this home and supervised its construction in 1912.

While the story didn’t recognize Eastman’s contribution to local construction trends, he was a principal architect for the Oregon Home Builders, which built more homes in Alameda Park and Olmsted Park than any other builder.

You’ll recognize this house today at 2628 NE Stuart Drive, where some recent major changes in landscaping have enabled a full appreciation of the Craftsman style home and the unique site on the sidehill of Alameda Ridge. For a short time after construction, NE Stuart Drive was known as Rugby Drive, a name that is still visible if you know where to look. An accident on the property in 1917 gave rise to the name–still in local usage–of Deadman’s Hill.

A careful look at then-and-now will reveal that the top floor open porch of the house has been enclosed; many windows have been replaced and a couple have been added; a new deck and walkway have been added along the lower level; trees have come and gone (but appear in similar locations); a power pole has been added in the foreground.

Eastman was active in Portland from about 1909 until he moved to Detroit in 1916. He died in 1920. Stay tuned for more on Eastman and the Oregon Home Builders: both are the subject of current inquiry and research.

Zion Church Then and Now

We’ve been watching a significant transformation underway these days at the former Zion German Congregational Church, once also known as the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, just across from Irving Park at 831 NE Fremont Avenue. Maybe you’ve driven by in the evenings like we have, and seen the lights on in the sanctuary or the steeple tower.

Activity here is a switch. It’s been dark and quiet for years: one of those buildings whose future you worry about when you pass by. Not so today. Owned by Gresham Baptist Church, the building (built in 1914) and its adjacent parish house are coming back to life through a renovation by the Door of Hope Church, which plans to open its bright red doors early next month.

The building has a long and vibrant history. Part of the Volga German community in Portland, it was once teeming with Russian-German families engaged in worship, committees and community service, for a half a century, pretty much from its dedication on November 8, 1914.

Zion Church Cornerstone

Cornerstone of the Zion German Congregational Church, set on July 19, 1914. The building was opened in November 1914 and was in full and active use by the Russian-German community until the early 1970s.

In fact, only German language was allowed in the building up until the late 1950s when an English language service was first offered, a change that signaled the changing demographics in the Russian-German community that ultimately led to their departure from the building in 1967 1972 . In the mid 1980s, the building was home to the Zion Baptist Church.

For a fascinating and highly detailed examination of Northeast Portland’s Russian German community—including information on this and other churches in the neighborhood built and used about the same time—be sure to check out Steve Schrieber’s excellent website www.volgagermans.net where you can also find specifics on this church.

And as long as you’re clicking around, here’s a link to the Door of Hope Church community, which plans to move in full time in early February. During our recent visit to the building, we learned there are about 1,000 members in this church, and that there will be four services each Sunday. Here’s one more link: to the Sabin neighborhood website which does a nice job of reporting on developments in the neighborhood and is actively engaged on land use and historic building topics. The church building is actually in the King neighborhood.

Any time a dejected old building comes back to life, it’s worth having a look, so we dropped in recently for a visit, and toured from the ground up to the steeple. Here’s what we saw.

The basement, once a large, single, dark and open space, now holds multiple brightly painted classrooms designed with kids in mind. The new press-board floors have been treated with a clear Swedish finish, making them glow with warmth and light. Interesting and attractive flooring material, almost like cork.

Basement Rooms

In the far southeast corner of the building, you pass by the twin doorways that lead out onto Fremont and climb the stairs into bright light entering through the south gothic windows, and enter directly into the sanctuary, where more work becomes immediately evident: newly refinished stairs, floors and wainscot; repaired and painted walls; repaired stage area; restored lighting fixtures. It’s clear this has been a busy place lately. Prior to renovation, the floors were covered with a very worn red carpet and the walls were pink to match. Years of deferred maintenance was visible wherever you looked. Not so today: seemingly every surface has been stripped, finished and renewed.

Stairs

At the top of the stairs, you enter onto the main floor and become aware of the balcony overhead. Many of the pews here are original, but Door of Hope has brought in many chairs as well, creating a somewhat less formal and more flexible feel.

First Floor

The center of attention on the main floor (below) is the arched alcove area and stage, rimmed by lights and framed by the three windows. You can also see the new sound system, and glass railing added to the balcony edge. Electrical and other system updates are evident.

Stage

The stairs to the second floor are lit by bright light coming in through the window walls on the south side of the building making the newly refinished stair treads, railings and banisters glow.

Going Up

Top of Stairs

From the Balcony

The view from the balcony (above) provides a great vantage on the stage below, and a good look at the restored ceiling lights.

Crow's Nest

One of the most intriguing and comfortable spaces in the building (above) is the pastor’s study and office, which are located in the bell tower and provide a commanding view out on Irving Park and Fremont. The ladder at far right leads to additional office/study space above with desk, bookshelves and more great views. When the lights are left on in these rooms at night, the steeple tower glows, signaling the transformation that is happening to this building.

With the rising number of demolitions in the neighborhood and a growing pressure to redevelop properties (have you been watching the small abandoned 1930s service station at 7th and Knott, which probably won’t be around much longer?) it’s satisfying to see a once vibrant old icon of the neighborhood that shaped so many lives and memories come back from the brink.

Zion Church Night

Our neighbors Rob and Marti are carefully and heroically remodeling their 1923 bungalow kitchen. They’re doing a great job. We’ve been following their progress and in a recent driveway conversation, Rob held up an old house part (the square frame in the photo below) and asked a kitchen archaeology question we thought other old house readers might be interested in reading about too. Recognize this?

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It’s the face of a vent removed from an outside kitchen wall, one of two that were part of an early and natural cooling method known as a “California Cooler.” In a time before refrigeration—and borne out of the bungalow ethic of keeping things simple and natural—these indoor cabinets were the next best thing and were built into many eastside kitchens and homes.

Here’s another look, showing the frame in the original clapboard siding, which was shingled over in the 1950s (thanks to Rob Donnelly for the photos):

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Here’s how they worked: the vents were stacked vertically one at the bottom of the cabinet and one near the top, and always placed on an outside wall. Maybe you have seen the exterior evidence: two small frames with screen or mesh on an outside kitchen wall. Here’s what they looked like from the inside. The old cupboard has been removed showing just the vents.

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Inside the kitchen, the vents led into a cabinet with shelves, which were often just slats with space between to promote ventilation. The cabinet or cupboard had a door on the front, just like any other cupboard in the kitchen.

But the physics of convection made this cupboard different: warm air would escape through the top vent, which acted like a chimney, and cooler air was drawn in through the bottom vent. The result was a measurably cooler space that kept foods fresher longer, and promoted cooling for just-baked items.

The extremes of summer and of winter obviously weren’t optimal (“honey, why is it so cold in the kitchen?”). But they did work, and were omnipresent in the older homes we love. Today, some kitchen designers and builders interested in sustainability and energy efficiency are even recreating this old technology for the same reasons they were first installed a century ago.

Now that you know what to look for, keep your eyes peeled when you are out and about in the neighborhood for twin openings on an exterior kitchen wall, and chances are you are seeing evidence of a California cooler. Do you have one? Send us a photo.

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