Throw together a couple dozen scattered and growing neighborhoods, at least five incorporated towns with their own municipal governments, a public transportation system owned and operated by a handful of different authorities and private companies, a real estate market on fire, and an expanding network of streets and main arterials running across the whole complicated map. Sounds like an administrative headache, doesn’t it?

That was the challenge facing local leaders in 1931 when Portland decided it needed a new addressing system. The old way just wasn’t working: letters, visitors, homebuyers and even deliverymen were getting lost.

By the mid 1920s, Portland’s east side neighborhoods were booming. Research we’ve done into building permit history shows Alameda’s heyday of construction was 1922. In those early years, some homes started out with one address, but had to be renumbered—some several times—as lots were developed and new homes built.

A remnant of Portland's early addressing system

If you look carefully when out walking, you might find clues to our old address system. This artifact was cast into a neighbor’s front steps when the street was East 30th Street North.

By 1926, the city engineer recognized the need to change our address system. Except for the alphabet district in northwest Portland, where streets were (and still are) alphabetical, there was no numerical or organizational logic about how we told each other where we lived or worked. No baseline starting point for address numbers like today’s use of the Willamette River and Burnside. No predictable and sequential set of numbers that go with each block (i.e. the 2400 block of any particular street being 24 blocks north or south of anywhere else). No primary districts (northeast, northwest, north, southwest and southeast). Just cardinal directions and a pack of numbers. By the late 1920s, Portland Postmaster John M. Jones reported that 2,000 pieces of mail were going astray each day because of the confusing and random addressing system.

After all, the fraying system in place had been cobbled together in the early 1890s when the cities of Portland, East Portland and Albina merged. In the intervening years, both the population and the territory of the city more than doubled.

Reflecting on our system’s need for help, one reporter for The Oregonian wrote: “Many a city planner and civic engineer had thrown up his hands or uttered oracular warnings at the antiquated way in which our city was numbered.”

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More evidence of Portland’s early addressing system when all east side streets had two cardinal directions. Most of these early cast-in-place curb identifiers have been lost to modernizing curb cuts. Another name frequently cast into our sidewalks is builder Elwood Wiles. Click here for a photo and short biography of Mr. Wiles.

City Commissioner Asbury Lincoln (A.L.) Barbur recognized the problem and assembled a group to look at other cities for examples and to assemble a system that fit Portland’s needs. Barbur, whose name you will recognize from the southwest Portland boulevard named to honor him, was one of Portland’s most civic-minded early leaders. Elected five times to two-year terms as city auditor between 1907-1917, Barbur ran successfully in 1920 for commissioner (his election slogan was “Let the People Rule”). Read the reporting from the day and you’ll find him a pragmatic, smart, get-it-done elected leader who was almost single-handedly responsible for the business model that resulted in the paving of Portland streets, as well as the push to change the address system. Barbur’s street paving model is worthy of its own story: with so many new gravel streets in need of work, Barbur led the city to buy and operate its own paving plant rather than contract it all out, which saved the city millions of dollars, got the job done, and attracted the ire of local contractors who branded him a socialist.

In early 1930, Barbur’s addressing committee looked first at the system in Philadelphia, and then at Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ideas. As they did their scoping work, they also held public meetings in Portland neighborhoods to hear ideas and build support. By December 1930, Barbur’s committee had crafted a plan and received unanimous support from 18 different community organizations.

The essential framework was the system we know today: Divide the city into five sectors: NE, NW, SE, SW and North (owing to the bend in the river). Burnside was to be the new baseline north and south; the river was already an effective east-west baseline. Blocks would be divided into sets of 100 numbers. And some substantial renaming would add continuity and order. Here’s an editorial from The Oregonian on May 13, 1931 that endorses specifics of the plan and makes the case for change.

5-13-1931 Editorial


On September 2, 1931, city council unanimously and enthusiastically passed the plan, including $10,000 to pay for ceramic number tiles for every house and building, and it created a workforce of unemployed men to get the job done. Here in Alameda, renumbering and renaming resulted in a numeric transformation, and the changing of at least two street names, Glenn became NE 32nd Place; Laura Avenue became Edgehill.

Work is done photo

From the July 16, 1933 edition of The Oregonian. Click on the image to read the full story.

From the fall of 1931 through the summer of 1933, crews of workers fanned out across 66 square miles of Portland pulling wheeled carts filled with ceramic numbers, aluminum trays to hold the numbers, and hammers and nails to anchor them to every Portland house or business. It took 23 months. Not everyone was happy: some were superstitious if assigned anything with a 13 in it. Others who operated certain established and illegal businesses out of their homes took down the new numbers so as to not confuse their loyal customers. But most Portlanders embraced the new system and caught on to its logic quickly.

A ringing endorsement from The Oregonian on July 16, 1933, coinciding with completion of the renumbering, summed up how the community responded to the transformation:

“To the business man, the hundred and one small tradesmen and to the ordinary citizen, this new and uniform numbering system meant a logical and simple way out of a puzzling network of miscellaneous addresses.”



Painting a new address on the curb in Portland’s Elliott neighborhood following the Great Renumbering. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

Our friend Irene wrote the other day to share a picture of her grandparents’ home on SE Hawthorne: a beautiful, three-story Crafstman, built in 1910. She had the original street address (797) from before Portland’s Great Renumbering, which took place between 1931-1933. And she had a picture. That’s more than we often get to begin our old house history detective work, so it didn’t take much digging before we were ready to set out in the rain to connect past and present.

Here’s the photo pair:

FullSizeRender (4)2445 SE Hawthorne Close

Kind of hard to line up exactly in the footsteps of the photographer. Hawthorne has definitely been widened over the years and the traffic in that stretch today is not interested in slowing down. Plus, the trees and bushes have pretty much taken over the house. You have to look hard for the graceful lines. The distinctive overhanging eaves, the row of dentals at the top of the second story, the columns and robust brick pedestals, the porch baluster. All are still there, but fading. When we visited recently, we noted a large group of young men exiting the house heading out in the neighborhood, which made us think it might be a group home. Chances are the interior has been divided up into many small apartment rooms.

Irene’s mother Phyllis Jones was born into the house, which at the time was occupied by two generations of the Jones family—both shipbuilders and real estate investors. The elder: Rome Volti Jones and his wife Lulu Bennett Jones; the younger: Robert V. Jones and his wife Luella (this sounds like a researcher’s minefield with multi-generational names so similar). The Jones family moved to Pasadena in 1921, and sold the house to Peter Connacher, a lumberman, from Yacolt, Washington: a Pacific Northwest logging family name we definitely know.

Mystery solved. Next?

Ken Birkemeier, the prolific Alameda neighborhood designer and homebuilder, always remembered the first house he ever built: a cute little English storybook style home at 829 NE 41st.


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829 NE 41st Avenue. Ken Birkemeier’s first homebuilding project. Photograph is from a 1932 story in The Oregonian about the sale of unused public property. The lot, located on a small peninsula just across the street from Laurelhurst School, had been kept in reserve in case the city needed it for school purposes, but was eventually purchased and developed by Birkemeier.

Birkemeier, whose work has come to signify the best of the Mid-Century Modern movement in Portland, built more than two dozen homes here in Alameda alone, often on steep or challenging lots.

According to homeowner and AH reader Gary Groce, Birkemeier dropped by one day during his later life, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, like a salmon returning back to where it all began. Groce wrote us recently with this account of his impromptu visit with the Mid-century Master.

As I recall, I was outside the house working on something when this largish car pulled up with an older couple inside. They were looking at the house. I walked over to the car and he introduced himself. My impression was that he had recently married this charming woman and wanted to show her the first house that he built. We invited them in and showed them things we had done to restore the house as close to original as possible including the re-acquisition of original art-deco slipper shade lights, etc.

I vividly remember him telling me as he looked at the mahogany beamed ceiling… “when we got the garage up, I used that as a shop and I remember cutting those brackets for the beams on my band saw in the garage.”

I remember him saying, “I used the best materials I could find because I wanted it to be right.”

I lamented to him that the original fireplace façade in the living room had been changed at least twice and that someday, I hoped to restore it to original. He very graciously invited me to his home in the west hills as he thought he might have blue prints, and sketches of the fireplace. I took him up on his offer.  I remember his home being this unbelievable, sprawling mid century modern with a fantastic view.  In retrospect, that home was undoubtedly of his own design and build. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to find anything of interest on our house so we just spent our time visiting.

I came away with the impression that this was a very successful, intelligent man who never lost the common touch. Very warm and personable.

In the years following the passing of his wife of 50 years (Marge), Birkemeier married Ramona, who he evidently wanted to see where all the homebuilding work began. Birkemeier died in 1996. The last house he built in Alameda is at 2830 NE Regents Drive (1952).

To read more about Birkemeier’s life and work, check out the profile here on the blog.

With thanks to Gary for sharing this memory.

We’ve received word this week of another pending tear-down in the neighborhood: the 1928 Tudor located on multiple lots at 3416 NE Alameda, just east of 33rd.

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3416 NE Alameda, slated for demolition this summer.

We’ve walked past this home and noted the exceptional landscaping the high peaked-ceilings and the new roof. We’ve also noted that it contains several lots, which increasingly means it’s a sitting duck target for developers seeking tear-downs and rebuilds of multiple homes. Last week, we received a letter from the Bureau of Development Services letting us know of the impending tear-down, and that under Portland’s new demolition delay period, an appeal by a qualified organization (like a neighborhood association) is possible until July 6th.

The home has a for sale sign up at the moment, with a sticker that says pending, but the correspondence we received from the city indicates it has been purchased by Everett Custom Homes.

If you’d like to appreciate this fine example of Tudor revival, you’d better look fast.

Still more than a month off, but plenty of time left to sign up for an Alameda neighborhood walking tour we’re leading on the morning of Saturday, July 25th for the Architectural Heritage Center. Here’s a link to more information and to sign up. 10:00 a.m. to noon on what we hope will be a sunny day.

The blurb says “moderately strenuous,” but the trickiest part is walking up Deadman’s Hill, where we pause halfway up anyway to appreciate the George A. Eastman Arts and Crafts style home on the south slope. We’ve led tours like this in the past, both for the Architectural Heritage Center and for interested neighbors. We love to explore the neighborhood with like-minded participants, and to share the many interesting history stories we’ve gathered up over the years. And of course you know our mantra: that understanding the past is the key to appreciating the moment and to shaping the future.


We know that change is our constant companion, and we believe that change and design diversity can be invigorating and even inspiring in the right context and range. But that doesn’t mean we don’t regret seeing a time traveler removed from its prominent spot on the Alameda Ridge.

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2122 NE Alameda, May 24, 2015.

This week, wrecking crews demolished the lifetime home of the late Maryon Lewis Kinsey at 2122 NE Alameda. You’ve seen it: a blue blend of Cape Cod and English Cottage, just before you turn down the hill on NE 21st. Maybe you’ve read our post about Maryon, which you can find here. We recommend it: a short read to understand what it was like to grow up in Alameda.

Here’s what the house looked like when it was built and put on the market in 1928.

726 The Alameda

It’s an advertisement from a 1928 edition of The Oregonian that attracted Maryon Lewis Kinsey’s parents, who bought the house brand new to raise their family in, and the house where Maryon and her husband Lloyd raised their family until her death in 2013.

Here’s a picture of the house, with Maryon on the steps, from our visit there a few years back:


We know the house and its foundation had serious structural problems, and that the current owners have reportedly wrestled with the idea of taking it all the way down. We appreciate that. We’ve struggled ourselves with the economics of restoration vs. new construction. Of course, we always lean toward restoration and are always ready to make the case for conserving the historic fabric. But not everyone does.

Now that the original house is gone, the really hard part for us has to do with the plans for its replacement. Here’s the rendering:

2122 NE Alameda New

The new and improved 2122 NE Alameda, from a news story that ran in the Portland Chronicle on May 10, 2015.

Not sure what exactly to say about this. The beautiful brick tudor style house immediately to the east (built 1932) and the Colonial to the west (built 1928)–and all of the 1920s-era houses up and down the Alameda Ridge–will have some adjusting to do.

There’s been an active discussion about the demo and the reconstruction plan on the Nextdoor website, which is a social media conversation place for the neighborhood. Roughly speaking, the comments are running against the design, but some neighbors (we bet not the exact next door neighbors) are endorsing the design.

What do you think?


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Third of three parts: Bringing a great old building back from the brink

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In 2002, with much of its south-side clapboard replaced with T-111 siding, a clear southward slump, rotted floors, and replacement aluminum sliding windows, the bungalow-grocery at NE 27th and Going was crumbling and weeks away from being torn down. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

It’s been a while—regrettably, a very busy spring—but just to refresh from Part 1: In 1910, the Alberta District was at the edge of a very fast-growing Portland. As real estate values and more people caught up with the region north of Prescott and south of Killingsworth, a booming residential and retail area began to grow.

One particular building at the northwest corner of NE 27th and Going merged both residential and retail. In Part 2, we covered how the modest bungalow storefront opened originally as a men’s furnishings store, and was adapted over time and changed hands through the generations, closely integrated with neighborhood life until it went out of retail use in the mid 1960s.

Deferred maintenance began to catch up with the building, and when it was sold to a developer in 2002, the property was well on its way to becoming a vacant lot. Fortunately for the building, an adventurous fixer-upper couple named Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bought it four months later and began to bring it back to life.

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Missing siding, aluminum sliders and a rotting back porch were the least of the worries. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

“I was attracted to its unusual live-work facade which I thought was very handsome, unique, and proportionally graceful,” remembers Crouch. But he also remembers that it was in very sorry shape. The southeast corner was rotted and sinking. The foundation and the floor of the store had to be completely replaced. The residential kitchen was a disaster.


kitchen untouched

The worn-out kitchen in the residence area, looking out the back door toward the porch. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

While it had been almost 40 years since being an active retail store, Crouch and Eckrich found two clues, including a Franz Bread ad and the word “LIPTON’s” etched into window glass. Other than that, the store space held no clues to generations of retail activity. “It was very spare: plaster walls and painted wood floors.  Florescent shop lighting.  No original fixtures, stencilling, or noteworthy mouldings. There was a wood stove taking up a lot of floor space.”


new concrete floor

Inside the store space looking toward the front windows. Note the new foundation wall on the right (the building had to be lifted by jacks and the new foundation poured underneath). The new floor shown here is a poured concrete slab piped with warm water to keep the floor toasty during the winter. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.


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One of the few clues to the building’s earlier retail life. An advertisement for Franz bread. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.


Crouch and Eckrich invested sweat equity and financial capital in the restoration, and did so in a creative way. “We used some of the original wood flooring in a step-up elevated dining platform and perimeter bench in the main room.  It turned out to be more work than it was probably worth, as the planks had been compressed by traffic patterns of 100 yeas of foot traffic. Some hand planing was required to work out the refinishing.  We put up salvaged tin ceiling tiles on the new span joists we ran to accommodate a master bedroom in the 1/2 story above.”



A view of the finished store space (front doors and windows are on the left). Note the fireplace, salvaged ceiling tiles, new hydronic slab, and built-in perimeter bench in the former store space. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.


A gallery of photos was posted on a real estate website when the building was sold in November 2013, so click around and take a look. Chad and Sheryl have done a great service to the future and to the past with their careful, thoughtful restoration. The Smythes, the Coulters and the other proprietors–plus the generations of families and neighbors who bought their groceries and necessities here–would definitely recognize the building and think it’s in fine shape for being 105 years old.

Today, Alberta’s bungalow-grocery is an attractive and vibrant old building that serves as a kind of time capsule for the neighborhood, showing just how nicely old buildings can be restored and repurposed instead of razed and replaced. In a neighborhood where change is the common denominator, this success story holds hope for the future.




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