Alameda Park


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.

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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:

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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.

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

Talk amongst yourselves.

1923 Frank Moore Photo DSC_0038

Here’s the Thomas Prince House, at 2903 NE Alameda Street, right at the top of Regents Hill. The then photo is from about 1922, taken by leaders of the Alameda Park Community Church who were out snapping several other photos of the neighborhood in those years, about the time the church was being built. The now view is from approximately the same location.

Some notable changes:

  • The landscaping has taken over;
  • More recently built houses now obstruct the view through to the next block;
  • The power poles (both of them) are gone;
  • The house is still in very good shape;
  • And, the house is for sale at $1.375 million.
  • (What else do you see?)

As long as we are focusing in on the Thomas Prince house, we should look at another photo pair, this time a view from The Oregonian on July 22, 1917. The caption of the 1917 story says the $25,000 house featured a “fountain room.”

Thomas Prince House 1917

Thomas Prince House 2014

We visited the house recently and didn’t see any sign of the fountain room, though we did note the beautiful almost 3-D woven tile in the upstairs bathrooms; the marble fireplace (and a signature etched into the hearth); and the beautiful and stately birch paneled entryway. See the photos below by Emma Decker. The house is worthy of its national register status (Here is a link to the nomination form filed in 1985 Thomas Prince House HNR Nomination complete with floor-by-floor drawings and descriptions).

Bathroom Tile Detail - Thomas Prince House

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Prince was an interesting person with at least two major careers behind him when at age 71 in 1912 he agreed to be the financial backer for Oliver K. Jeffrey and the Oregon Home Builders Inc. Jeffrey and his company built more than two dozen homes in Alameda and Olmsted Park—many of them unique, grand and built for wealthy clients—and as regular readers of the blog will recall, also built the building that now houses Gordon’s Fireplace Shop at NE 33rd and Broadway (check out the story if you haven’t read it. We know you’ve driven by this place and wondered what it’s all about). More soon about the Oregon Home Builders, a fascinating story that ends in a broken business model and bankruptcy.

Prince’s roots were in Massachusetts, where he was a founding partner in Reed and Prince, a manufacturer of nuts and bolts with national market share (still in operation today). Something happened in the Prince family in the 1890s, and Thomas, accompanied only by his developmentally disabled son Harold Thomas Prince, left on their own for Oregon, where the elder became a walnut and fruit grower near Dundee. When he died in February 1920 at age 79, Prince owned and operated the largest walnut orchard in Oregon.

Though it’s known today on the National Register of Historic Places as the Thomas Prince House, the elder Thomas didn’t spend much time here. He died in California in 1920 and his death set off a feeding frenzy among heirs and beneficiaries as his $2 million estate was divided up. A sad series of stories in The Oregonian in the three years after his death documents the infighting and finger pointing (as well as the occasional sale of property like Prince’s seven-passenger Pierce Arrow touring car sold at auction in 1920). Son Harold Thomas Prince lived in the house with his wife Marjorie until the 1950s.

As a bonus for reading all the way to the bottom, here’s an interesting tidbit about the house that turned up in the August 11, 1918 edition of The Oregonian:

Skunk 8-11-1918

After a pause in our ongoing quest and passion for Alameda history, we’re back on track in the New Year with a free program as part of the Oregon Encyclopedia History Night series, at 7:00 p.m., Monday, January 13 at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland. Consider yourself invited.

In pictures and words, we’ll track the early development of Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood, profile key builders and building styles, and share a social history of the homes, families and changing generations of this 100-plus-year-old neighborhood.

Come experience how these layers of local history add up to a deeper understanding of the neighborhood today. This updated presentation will touch on Alameda School, the Pearson Ponderosa Pine, Wilshire Park, the Subud Center/Alameda Park Community Church, the Broadway Streetcar and other institutions and businesses that have defined Alameda life over the years.

It’s free. The beer is good. You might see your neighbors and other history-inclined folks.

7:00 pm, Monday, January 13 at the Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan, Portland.

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We know change is all around us every day shaping our world, often at a tectonic and invisible pace. An exception this week here in Alameda was the rare, raw and rapid change associated with demolition of the William and Susan Illidge home at 3810 NE 28th Ave.

We knew it was going away, this graceful Frederic E. Bowman Mediterranean-style home built in 1922. Last summer we wrote about the plans to raze this vacant beauty and subdivide the big lot in two. We even shared a news story from 1922 noting its recent construction.

Still, there is a raw shock and sadness that accompanies demolition. Splayed out on the ground here at NE 28th and Hamblet—and in piles awaiting a truck—are bits and pieces from 90 years of construction and adaptation. Mom’s favorite tiles here and there. A door to the kids’ room. Tons of lath from the era of plaster.

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Gone now are the favorite places and spaces known by four generations of families. Which—as we stand on the sidewalk surveying the mess and trying to imagine two brand new buildings on this spot—makes us appreciate the time-honored aspects of our own home. And the complicated economics of change.

 

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Sorry to see you go, old time traveler.

We’ve come across a remarkable piece of propaganda recently that offers a unique look into the earliest days of Alameda Park. It’s a brochure, printed in 1910, that provides photos and some very creative narrative, all designed to get potential buyers into Alameda Park.

It’s different than the small brochure you might have seen. This is a three-color (black, yellow, green) glossy, multi-fold pamphlet.

Interesting to note how the photo/map view below right is facing east, with Mt. Hood in the distance, instead of the typical north-south orientation. See what other interesting details you can find, like all the steamships in dock. Be sure to check out the “Rustic Rest Resort” on the cover, which looks more like a coastal cabana than something you’d find in the woods and fields of this new neighborhood. We think it was a gazebo like “porch” perched somewhere along the Alameda Ridge.

Click on the image for a full-size look at the map and the text.

Text and images in the brochure go on to talk about the many virtues of the property—descriptions that are a bit ironic since when this went to print, the “Tuxedo” was little more than gravel streets, some concrete curbs, mud and brush.

Another distinctive feature is the way in which the proponents boldly benchmark and shamelessly rip off nearby Irvington, which was established, successful and featured solid property values. Check out this panel:

The green text is faded, but it’s pointing out that tiny patch of mud and trees at the far north end of this lovely Irvington street view, as if to say: “Alameda…it’s up there.” Throughout the brochure, Alameda Land Company boosters tried to build their own credibility on the back of Irvington (which was developed earlier and by a different company that didn’t much appreciate this kind of attention).

And here’s one that took some real initiative: calling the Irvington School the Alameda School. Just to be clear, this is the original Irvington School. There was never a school like this in Alameda. Period. It’s a bald-faced lie in black and white.

Don’t believe everything you read: there was never a school like this in Alameda…it’s the original Irvington School.

For us though, always in search of more information about the Alameda Land Company, the real gems of this brochure include the photo of the company’s tract office, which was located on the southeast corner of 29th and Mason. Check it out:

Looking east on Mason, just west of NE 29th Avenue. Note that the streetcar tracks have not arrived yet. A later photo taken from nearby looking north shows the railing and a banner that reads “Alameda Land Company Tract Office,” which appears to be on the roof too.

And saving the best for last: this view of NE Regents Drive, looking downhill, long before the neighborhood we know today. About as close as we get to time travel.

With thanks to our friends at the Architectural Heritage Center for sharing.

The first chapter of the Wilshire Park story…

 

Faithful Alameda History blog readers will know that protests were not uncommon in the early years of our neighborhood life, usually around schools and churches, and frequently about land use topics. Property owners had sought out this subdivision for many reasons, including a covenant that prohibited all but residential development within the Alameda Park plat proper. You couldn’t build a store or office. You could barely build a church, as we have seen.

Want to build a campground, or as they were known during the day, an auto camp? Forget it. This neighborhood was definitely not buying any such proposal.

Our timeframe for this vignette is the mid 1920s. We’ll remember that at this point, Alameda Park is experiencing exponential growth…the previous few years outpacing all other years combined. There was much new construction, but still many vacant lots, some brush fields, and a sense that while we were the “Tuxedo of Portland,” as claimed in the real estate development ads, we were still on the outskirts of Portland.

That’s when our predecessors first learned about a proposal to build an auto campground right here on our doorstep at 33rd and Mason.

The 15-acre wooded parcel that is today’s Wilshire Park was then part of the Jacob Kamm estate. Kamm (1823-1912) was one of Portland’s wealthiest residents, making his fortunes in the steam navigation business. He also dabbled in real estate investment and had strategically purchased parcels downtown and at the edges of Portland, including the 15 acres of woods just north of the Alameda Ridge. When he died in 1912, his estate was valued at $4 million. Sorting out the estate took years and was frequently in the press. Up here in Alameda, Kamm’s trees kept growing.

So when a plan came along to do something with the property, reported in an innocuous story in the September 12, 1920 edition of The Oregonian, some readers may have just looked at it as another business pitch. Commissioner Stanhope S. Pier was in charge of this idea:

 

Tourist parks or auto camps were not that uncommon here in Portland and elsewhere. The car was a new toy and tool, and as people traveled the countryside, they needed a place to land temporarily as they explored the area. Think of a KOA campground. Let’s just say that auto camps were in the public consciousness of the day: an enjoyable, convenient and necessary extension of car travel. Here’s a photo from the City of Portland Archives showing one such camp in 1925, somewhere on the Westside.

 

But after reading the September 12th story, it took Alameda residents only a matter of hours to get up a protest to Commissioner Pier, which eventually turned into a petition drive and then a forceful meeting with Mayor Baker and City Council. In The Oregonian story from October 7, 1920 below, be sure to have a look at the fourth paragraph and its description of Alameda as a “quiet, refined district, composed of a home loving people…”

 

Faced with a petition and local uproar, City Council had to schedule some time to let Alameda vent and make its case. Below, in the story the next day, October 8, 1920, check out the fourth paragraph, where a description of Alameda’s winding streets, considered an asset by some developers, is spun as a liability when it comes to serving the needs of the traveling public.

 

In the following day’s story, with some plausible deniability and backpedalling by Pier, City Council quickly reversed direction on the plan and endorsed the neighborhood notion of playgrounds and open parks.

 

The topic goes quiet then, resurfacing six years later in the September 10, 1926 edition of The Oregonian (below)as one of several city park needs being considered.

 

It would take another seven years until 1933—with the property still connected to the Kamm estate—that the city would seriously consider the idea.

Next Chapter: Conflicts about Paying for the Park

Walking through the neighborhood during these cold evenings at the end of the year always puts us in a mind to reflect on the passage of time. While we think we know this place, and that this is our neighborhood, there are so many stories and layers of history lurking around every corner here — most of which are lost to time, but a few of which we can find and examine.

When we find reference to a small tree planted more than a hundred years ago to mark the far corner of a farmer’s field, and can go to the actual giant today; when we find the place in the house where the first family gathered around the piano, and can stand in the room and imagine the music and laughter; when we learn about the orchards and tall trees atop the ridge, and can walk in the evenings appreciating where they once stood; experiences like these bring us in touch with our past and are about as close to time travel as possible. They are a fringe benefit of studying the history, and of paying attention to the small things that layer up and give meaning to the passage of time.

And they are a reminder to each of us of our temporary nature here: stewardship of these old homes and their histories is our responsibility at the moment, but in a blink this will be someone else’s story, just as it was for generations before us.

Here’s a little gem we found recently that we’ll pass along as a New Years treat for faithful readers. From The Oregonian on September 18, 1921, the story focuses on local “hermit” Joseph Albert O’Donaghue, who reportedly lived in a shack here in Alameda on Bryce Street. A grain of salt is probably helpful as you track old Joe’s story, travels and age. But even if it seems a long shot that he was hanging around the Alameda Ridge back in the 1880s, the fact is he had been living for a while in the brush near today’s Bryce Street when the reporter found him. That’s enough to reset our mental picture of the neighborhood we think we know, and to feed our imagination.

Think about this the next time you’re out on an evening stroll up Bryce on a cold night at the end of the year.

Click on the story above for a larger view of the file, or the link below to download a PDF copy.

9-18-1921 Hermit lives in woods near Alameda

We’re hosting a Sunday afternoon presentation of “The Alameda Neighborhood: It’s Founding and Early Life,” here in the neighborhood at the Subud Center, 3185 NE Regents, on Sunday, January 23rd from 3:00-4:15. The free program involves pictures, maps, and stories from past residents that provide a sense of neighborhood life from 1909 til the 1950s. We’ve presented the popular program recently for the Architectural Heritage Center and wanted to bring it home to the neighborhood so Alameda residents could learn more about their local history . To RSVP or for more information, drop us a note at doug@alamedahistory.org or on the phone at 503-901-5510.

Readers of the blog will know that the Subud Center was formerly known as the Alameda Park Community Church and was often used by the neighborhood for public activities, scout meetings, dances and other get-togethers. A Sunday afternoon gathering there to focus on neighborhood history seems fitting. If you haven’t been in the building before, this will be the perfect excuse to come and look around, say hello to neighbors, and appreciate our local history.

Coffee and cookies will be served. Drop us a note if you plan to come so we have enough!

Looking southwest at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, early 1920s. Note delivery bike visible behind power pole. OrHi 49061.

There was a time when the building we know today as the home of Lucca and Garden Fever—at the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont—looked after most of the neighborhood’s needs for grocery and personal goods. Alameda Pharmacy, Alameda Grocery, John Rumpakis’s Alameda Shoe Repair, even the dentist’s office, upstairs above the pharmacy, were neighborhood landmarks that everyone knew, shopped in, and pretty much took for granted (except the ice cream sodas at the pharmacy which were supposed to be legendary). The pharmacy and grocery even provided a delivery-by-bicycle option for homemakers who needed a few small items, but couldn’t get out of the house. It was a win-win situation for Alameda and for the local family-owned business during those early years.

To be sure, some shopping needs were taken care of away from the neighborhood. Even then, there were smaller markets or “convenience” style stores of the day located within walking distance (see this post on the Davis Dairy Store, one such locally-owned convenience market). Built in 1922 during the peak of neighborhood construction, the Alameda Grocery commercial building at 24th and Fremont quite literally had a corner on the market.

That is, until the mid 1930s, when a fully-built-out neighborhood with a growing population, combined with a slowly recovering economy and new trends in shopping, opened up new opportunities for big business which began to shape the corner.

Enter the Safeway Corporation: a publicly-traded rampant success story, with headquarters in Oakland, California and more than 3,200 chain stores nationwide. The company’s penetration of local grocery markets was so complete that by 1935, many states around the country were passing legislation—urged by local merchants who were getting slammed by Safeway chain stores—that taxed the huge company’s local operations to discourage competition.

But not in Portland. By 1937, Safeway had 54 stores here, including 46 stores located in eastside neighborhoods, and even one on the doorstep of Alameda at the southwest corner of NE 24th and Broadway (today it’s Brake Team, an auto service garage) built in 1936. Most of these stores were modest in size, and not like the sprawling stores we know today. Undoubtedly, the local Safeway on Broadway cut into the market share of Alameda Grocery. But nothing like what happened starting in 1938.

Click on the image for a larger view. This ad is from The Oregonian on September 13, 1940 announcing a remodel and reopening of the Alameda Safeway.

On July 16, 1938, Safeway opened a store in the building we know today as the home of Alameda Dental and Frontier Bank on the southeast corner of the intersection. The property had been leased from the Albers Brothers Milling Company, who incidentally also owned the Alameda grocery and pharmacy building across the street. Retail activity in the single-storey 50-by-100 foot concrete Safeway building began to take a big bite out of Alameda Grocery’s market share.

By 1940, Safeway expanded and remodeled, while Alameda Grocery across the street struggled to hold on. About that time, Safeway made plans to expand beyond the footprint of the existing store to take in the entire north end of the block. But as The Oregonian reported on March 20, 1942, the Portland City Council narrowly defeated a zoning change that would have allowed this major expansion. Despite voicing concerns about home values in the neighborhood, Mayor Earl Riley voted to expand the commercial zoning to permit the Safeway expansion:

From The Oregonian, March 20, 1942.

Safeway’s expansion into residential neighborhoods was not a phenomenon isolated to Alameda. Blog reader and longtime Grant Park resident John Hamnett writes that in nearby Grant Park, local residents fought a pitched battle with the City of Portland regarding a plan to build a Safeway adjacent to the Grant Park Grocery, a similar locally-owned market at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Knott. The vision for that zone change took in all of the southwest corner, and further considered zoning the entire intersection commercial at all four corners. In May 1942, City Council voted 4-1 to allow the Safeway development. Incredulous neighbors protested time and again concerned about their property values, but the City would not relent. Finally, in March 1943, neighbors filed suit against the city for allowing the zone change, and won in a clear decision handed down by Circuit Judge Walter L. Tooze.

Back at NE 24th and Fremont, two gas stations were added on the northwest and northeast corners—the true portal of the Alameda Park subdivision (today site of a parking lot, and Perry’s on Fremont). Generational and ownership changes were remaking the anchor businesses on the south side of the street as well. Eventually, as Safeway’s business model changed (fewer, larger stores instead of the 50-foot by 100-foot businesses sprinkled all over Portland), the former Safeway store went back to being a family-owned business, loved and known by a generation of Alamedans as Brandel’s. Nature’s Fresh Northwest (or simply “Natures”) eventually took over the Alameda Grocery building. And today, after a string of unsuccessful restaurant tenants, Lucca seems to have hit its stride.

Check out this story from The Oregonian on January 17, 1984, which is a snapshot as the corner transitioned from some difficult times in the 1970s to the place we know today:

From The Oregonian, January 17, 1984. Click on the image for a larger view.

We still miss Brandel’s and the ease of slipping into that old Safeway building for a gallon of milk on the way home. But every time we pass through that intersection, we pause for a moment to think about how our neighborhood geography could have turned out quite differently.

When it snows in Alameda—or more properly when we think about snow in Alameda—there are a few things that come to mind: When did we last fill the oil tank? Will the kids get a day off? Where did we put the sleds?

Which leads to the next thought: Deadman’s Hill.

Over the years we’ve sledded down, walked up and often wondered about the namesake Dead Man behind the slang name for Stuart Drive. In this case, it’s not just a myth, it’s a real story about a well-known and popular Portland businessman who died in 1917 in a freak accident that rattled the business community and shocked the young Alameda Park neighborhood.

Fred A. Jacobs, art collector, civic booster, real estate broker and owner of the Fred A. Jacobs Company, had set out with his employee J.P. Parker to drive through Alameda on their way to have a look at rental properties in the Vernon neighborhood. At the time—and well up until the 1970s, we’ve been told—Stuart Drive was a two-way street. On the morning of June 5, 1917, they started up Stuart Drive on their route north. Why they chose Stuart Drive over the gentler and wider Regents Drive is anyone’s guess. The car made it about half way up the hill, but then stalled out and started to roll backwards down the street. Unfortunately for Parker and Jacobs, the emergency brake did not hold and the car rolled to the far left side of the street, went backwards over the curb, bumped over the small sliver of property that goes with the lovely George A. Eastman-designed Craftsman home there on the hill, and then flipped over hard, landing on its side 25 feet below on Ridgewood Drive. Here’s what The Oregonian said the next morning:

From The Oregonian, June 6, 1917

Jacobs, age 47, left behind his wife Gussie and two children, Elizabeth, and Fred Jr. Pallbearers for the funeral—held with full Masonic rite honors—included Portland’s most powerful and successful business leaders. Services were held at home, and then again at graveside. No known plaque or marker was ever put in place in honor of Fred Jacobs. The real estate company bearing his name lived on for many years.

The same story that carried news of the fatal accident also described the hill as a perilous spot and the scene of other accidents. Indeed, an earlier news story, this one from April 19, 1912, described a serious but non-fatal collision between a motorcycle and a car near the top of the hill that ended up with the car over the side and smashed into a just-finished (and now much remodeled) house, and motorcycle driver and passenger pinned under the car.

Here’s The Oregonian’s description from April 19, 1912, and even a photo.

From The Oregonian, April 19, 1912. Click to enlarge.

Here’s some bonus information that we found fascinating: A later news story about the motorcycle vs. car accident, and the law suit that resulted, appearing on July 3, 1914, helps solve another mystery about the hill. Frequent readers of the blog will recall the post about “Hugby” Drive, which we now know was Rugby Drive. The July 1914 story refers to the accident as happening at Rugby Drive and Alameda Street. A search through the city’s street naming records shows the only “official” Rugby Drive as being on the Westside. References to Stuart Drive exist both before 1912 (including in the original 1909 plat) and long after, so we’ll have to continue wondering about the story behind this visible but extinct street name. Theory: the Alameda Land Company boys had it set in the concrete curb before the official naming protocol became clear.

One more item, for the record: the late Portland historian Eugene Snyder, author of the definitive Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origins, which we greatly admire, guesses incorrectly about who Stuart was. After researching E.Z. Ferguson, president of the Alameda Land Company, and understanding more about his social network, it’s clear to us that Stuart was Donald M. Stuart, Ferguson’s business partner, owner of the Spencer-McCain-built home on the northwest corner of 26th and Hamblet, (less than a block from Ferguson’s Craftsman mansion at the southeast corner of 26th and The Alameda). Long-time friends from Astoria, Stuart served as pallbearer at Ferguson’s funeral in July 1917.

Sled carefully please.

If you’re like us as we turn the corner into fall, we’re mapping out the next few months and trying to fit in all the family goings on, important programs and events we want to be sure to take in.

Here’s one for your calendar: We’re presenting a program on the history of the Alameda neighborhood at the Architectural Heritage Center on the morning of Saturday, October 23rd. It’s an encore presentation of a sold-out program we gave in January of this year, but with some added new research from the last nine months.

The program is entitled “The Alameda Neighborhood: It’s Founding and Early Life.” We believe all who attended enjoyed it, and we certainly enjoyed the many conversations it spawned afterwards.

The Architectural Heritage Center hasn’t posted their fall listing of programs yet, but when they do, you’ll be able to register for the Alameda program on-line. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, save the date.

Hope you can join us for a trip back through time…

We’ve been listening to a fairly heated conversation this last week about the location of the western boundary of what people think of as the Alameda neighborhood. The debate has been spawned by a pending proposal to create the Irvington National Historic District. The proposal has been in the works for several years and is about to be submitted to the federal list keeper back in Washington DC for final decision. But just recently, some residents in one portion of the neighborhood—known as the “Alameda-Irvington overlap” – have learned their blocks are to be included. Problem is—from the standpoint of some who live there—they aren’t part of Irvington, and they’re concerned about permit review fees and other constraints if they want to undertake exterior house projects. Reasonable concerns.

We won’t focus on the complexities of historic district status, building codes and permit review costs because that’s not our expertise or particular interest (we support the notion of historic districts and feel they are an important tool to conserve the historic integrity of a neighborhood), but we will explore the Alameda western boundary question. Some longtime residents of the neighborhood are more concerned about the historic identity of the area, which is also a reasonable concern. In their view, the proposal overreaches the more logical boundary at NE 24th, which we all know was the location of the Broadway Streetcar. The Irvington proposal would draw the eastern boundary to include the east side of NE 27th Avenue, directly across from Alameda Elementary School.

In the past, we’ve written about the difference between neighborhood boundaries (established by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement), and plats (established by the developer, typically many years ago). Sometimes plat names survive and are part of the identify of a place (as in Alameda). And sometimes they don’t. It’s not an exact science.

What does seem clear to us—and we think this is a compelling point—is that long-time residents we know who have lived in this overlap for 50 years or more have not thought of themselves as living in Irvington, but rather in Alameda.

Never mind that Alameda takes its name from the Alameda Park Addition, a whole other piece of real estate platted in 1909 and occupying the area north of Fremont, south of Prescott, west of 33rd and east of 21st (more or less…the western boundary squiggles around north of the ridge). The “Park” part of our name began to fade from usage in the 1950s (we’d like to see it revived, actually).

To get technical about it, as far as the city is concerned, the overlap area is part of the Alameda neighborhood. And it exists within several plats whose names have been lost to time: Edgemont, Pearson’s Addition, the Bowering Tract. Those plats have been around since the late 1800s, which would be more concurrent with development of Irvington than Alameda (platted 1909). On the other side of the coin, the vast majority of the houses in the overlap area weren’t built until the mid 1920s, much later than most of Irvington and more concurrent in style and feel with Alameda and other plats that people think of today as Alameda.

An hour spent browsing through real estate ads in The Oregonian from the early 1920s is less conclusive. The vast majority of advertisements for homes and lots in the overlap area actually do refer to the district as “Irvington.” Some refer to it as “Alameda Park” which is patently not correct. Some refer to “East Irvington.” Of course advertisements are designed to sell homes and both Irvington and Alameda had a certain cachet that any real estate agent might want to stand next to.

The upshot for us: pushing the eastern boundary of Irvington into an area that has been considered Alameda for generations, that has architectural similarities and patterns of life more connected with Alameda than with Irvington, and that claims a boundary directly across the street from Alameda School, does seem like a reach. Many of today’s residents of the overlap aren’t concerned with historical identity,  but are more focused on the costs and constraints of permit review, and about the public involvement process behind the proposal. Realistically, the proposal looks ready to sail through the final approval process.

Historic district status will help conserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood, no matter what it’s called. But a different neighborhood name that far into what most think of as Alameda does feel like pushing the envelope. Perhaps it could be the Alameda annex to the Irvington Historic District, or the first installment of an Alameda Historic District of its own.

Amazing, isn’t it: the power of a name, a place and a little history.

We’ve recently completed a survey through city building permits, collecting information on every home built here in the Alameda Park addition. It’s taken two years and more than a dozen visits to the Bureau of Development Services (which has been very accommodating and helpful), but time well spent, given the insight it offers into the development of the early neighborhood. Everything from the date of construction—it’s interesting to see what parts of the neighborhood were built first—to identifying the most prolific builders, and all of it helps paint a picture of how Alameda Park developed.

Original building record for Alameda School, taken out on November 7, 1921. Information from more than 1,025 Alameda Park building records were reviewed as part of the study.

When you aggregate the information from the permits, there are some trends and patterns that emerge:

The first observation has to do with the general timing of construction in Alameda Park, from just two homes built in 1909 to a peak of 139 built in 1922. One factor in the timing of this was the ebb and flow of the economy. Strong in 1910, but the infrastructure hadn’t yet caught up. Slow in 1918-1919. Explosive in the 1920s with both a strong economy and demand, and an infrastructure that was truly ready for development.

Building permits issued in the Alameda Park subdivision, by year, 1909-1934. From permit study by Doug Decker, 2010.

By 1934—the end of this graph—about 85 percent of the neighborhood had been built out (the late 1930s and 1940s are a mere trickle of a couple or three homes per year, if that). 1922 would have been an interesting time here in Alameda, with an influx of neighbors. If you haven’t read it, go back and look up our post about the Alameda Park Community Church and the pastor’s desire to bring together new neighbors who were strangers. That was 1922 here in Alameda.

Another observation from the permit study is to have a look at the spread of construction activity to see which portions of the neighborhood were built out first: the areas around 24th and Dunckley; 25th and 26th below the ridge; 29th and Mason; and 32nd Place (then called Glenn) from Mason to Hamblet. These highlighted areas below indicate in general the earliest construction from 1909 to 1912.

 

It’s also interesting to see who was doing the building during these years. A handful of builders built a large percentage of the homes. The list we’ve compiled below shows total homes constructed in Alameda Park by each of the most prolific builders. Many of these we’ve profiled here, others we’re still working on.

Builder Total Alameda Homes Built Building Activity
Oregon Home Builders 24 homes built 1914-1917
Ken Birkemeier 21 homes built 1932-1952
Harry Phillips 21 homes built 1921-1928
Matot Construction Co. 20 homes built 1921-1926
Frank Read 19 homes built 1923-1941
Nils O. Eklund 17 homes built 1916-1922
Grady Mahaffy 13 homes built 1922-1936
Wickman Building Co. 10 homes built 1921-1923

 

In addition to the general trends, there are specific sad stories: more houses than you might imagine have had fires (and fire repairs, hence the permit records). A couple of homes were actually struck by lightning. A fad of game rooms, recreation rooms and wet bars were put in during the 1950s, and even an exercise room way back when. Sadly, too frequent removal of trim, built-in shelves and other architectural details in a attempt at modernization (gasp). Interesting to note how many wooden front porches were rotting apart by the 1950s, and a spate of concrete porches and steps poured in replacement.

It’s also clear, when you look at the permits, why Portland’s addressing system was changed in the early 1930s. Some of our homes here in Alameda have had three addresses prior to the Great Renumbering (particularly on NE Bryce Avenue) as numbers had to be skootched over to make room for new houses built on empty lots. Let’s just say the original numbering system was less than scientific. You can see this on the actual building permits themselves, where one address has been scratched out and the new one written in. History in the making. It wasn’t scratched out in the example above, but you can clearly see Alameda School’s pre-address change number: 864 Fremont.

Another observation as we completed the study was just how many homes do not have an original building permit. Over the years, for whatever reasons, the City has lost perhaps as many as 20 percent of the original building permits, particularly in the early years. For these homes, we have to rely on original plumbing permits which always give the construction date, but can be sketchy with owner and contractor information.

Regardless, as you handle these permits, some 1,025 in all, you feel time passing through your fingers. You see the clerk typists punching in the details. You sense the contractors standing in line, waiting at a counter wishing they could be back on the job instead of in the permit office. You witness the many inspectors and their mostly neat observations, drawings, complaints and even sarcastic remarks in shorthand on the 4 x 6 manila cards.

And you can’t help but wonder what it will be like 100 years from now when someone wants to research the history of your house. What story will your house be able to tell?

We’ve just heard from our friends at the Architectural Heritage Center that there are still some seats left for the Saturday, January 23rd presentation about Alameda History. We’ll be taking a trip back through time to look at how the neighborhood developed, some of the key builders, and stories from across the years that help characterize the life and times of the Alameda Park neighborhood. The program runs from 10:00-11:30 a.m. at the Architectural Heritage Center, 701 S.E. Grand Ave., Portland.

Click here for more information about registration.

There are always at least two sides to any story (usually a lot more), and we’ve recently found a description of the events surrounding the neighborhood opposition to the Alameda Park Community Church that sheds further light on exactly what happened around here in the fall of 1921.

Let us whet your appetite with this clip, from the April 1923 edition of The American Missionary, published by the Congregational Home Missionary Society:

To help put this in context, if you haven’t already read it, we’d recommend reading the page on the church (today’s Subud Center) which you can find by clicking here. Be sure to have a good look at the photos too.

In order to appreciate what The Rev. Allingham is about to tell us, you have to know that some in the Alameda Park neighborhood were up in arms about the construction of the church at NE 30th and Mason. Several protests were organized, a petition got up, and a fair amount of consternation resulted, including relocation of a construction site. The story hits close to home for us because the leading petitioners were the folks who lived in our house for 50 years, and the original intended construction site are the two lots immediately north of us.

Let’s catch up with The Rev. Allingham: 

The turning of the other cheek. He continues:

The reference to the children from the homes that objected to the church: that’s probably Bruce and Jean Morrison who lived here and were probably some of those kids who snuck out the back door of home to check out Sunday mornings at the Bungalow Church. Hmm. And the church seems to have served the community up into the 1950s and early 1960s. We’ll continue looking for additional stories and articles that chronicle the building’s life and times. In the meantime, with The Rev. Allingham’s words in our minds, stroll past the building at Regents and Mason and listen for the echoes of all those children.

If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you’ll recall our piece on the controversy about construction of the Alameda Park Community Church (click here for that page). As a reminder, in the Fall of 1920, neighbors were not happy about plans to build the church on two lots at the southwest corner of 30th Avenue and Mason. The former owners of our house—Walter and Edith Morrison—led a campaign to oppose the building, and then to relocate the planned construction one block east to the island at the corner of Mason and Regents where it was ultimately built (but not before trying unsuccessfully to kick it out of the neigborhood altogether) .

While researching recently through building permits and related documents filed on microfiche, we came across the original drawings for the building, all filed for construction at 30th Avenue and Mason. Take a look:

Detail from elevation drawings filed with construction documents for the city’s permit process. Note that the building was designed by architect Edward G. Larson, working for Redimade Building Company (which was based in Portland).

The church building, now known as the Subud Center, is still going strong and a neat place for meetings, events and large family gatherings.

We continue to keep any ear out for stories, memories and photos of this building. Have something you can share?

Interested in learning more about Alameda? I’m doing an education program for the Architectural Heritage Center, which has been rescheduled to Saturday, January 23rd from 10:00-11:30 in the Center’s auditorium on Southeast Grand Ave. It will be a good opportunity to have a closer look at the evolution of Alameda, and specifically at several of the prolific builders and their design styles that have shaped the neighborhood we know today. It’s also a great excuse to drop by and get to know the Architectural Heritage Center a little better. And you might even meet a neighbor or two!

You can find more information about the program, and a link to registration, at the AHC website: http://www.visitahc.org/content/upcoming-programs

There aren’t many of these in the neighborhood, so they tend to stand out proud and clear: the Mediterranean, with its distinctive tile roof and stucco exterior, is a time traveler from a very specific period in Portland’s residential architecture history.

This home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in 1925 by Emil G. Peterson, is a classic example of the Mediterranean style in the Alameda neighborhood. Current resident Clayton France is underway with restoration work.

This home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in 1925 by Emil Johnson, is a classic example of the Mediterranean style in the Alameda neighborhood. Current resident Clayton France is underway with restoration work.

First beginning to appear with the housing boom of 19-teens and early 1920s, the Mediterranean style quickly became popular, with multiple grand homes built particularly in high-end Portland Heights and Willamette Heights neighborhoods, but also with more modest versions scattered through Irvington and Alameda.

While much of the surrounding housing stock of the time was clad with shingles, clapboards and the distinctive angular features associated with the Craftsman era, the Mediterranean style offered a more exotic and even romantic feel. Characteristic design elements tie to centuries-old classic materials and structures, including terra-cotta tile roofs, graceful archways, white-washed smooth stucco exteriors, and hipped-roof towers. Look for small porch-like tile-roofed entries (called loggias), and long narrow—often arched—casement windows.

All of these features conjure up romantic visions of Tuscan villas, rolling hills and established old settlements rooted in generations of storied history, which of course young Portland didn’t have a lot of in the 19-teens. But the appeal of this stylistic message, particularly here in a brand new neighborhood at the edge of a booming western city, was clear enough for some speculative home builders to give it a try.

A perfect example of the style here in Alameda is the home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in the spring of 1925 by local builder Emil Johnson. Johnson, and his younger brother Ernie Johnson (both Swedish immigrants, and both home builders) were busy in Alameda and Irvington during these years, but this is the only Mediterranean he built. Johnson designed and built this house, and likely took special care in its construction because it’s where he and his family lived (his daughter Eileen lived in the house all her life).

Look at the arched and roofed front entrance, the long casement windows, the terra-cotta roof tiles, the hipped-roof stair tower at the entry, and the wrought iron balcony railings: design elements that trumpet the Mediterranean-Italian connection.

Like so many aspects of American life that changed in the early 1930s, the Great Depression signaled the end to the popularity of the Mediterranean style as well. People went back to basics and the seemingly frivolous romance of the 1920s was seen as part of the problem. But this home, like several other Mediterraneans in the neighborhood, remain as a classy souvenir from the past, and a fine example of the diversity of architectural styles that make up our neighborhood.

Local service and social club has been doing good works quietly for almost 100 years

When you think about Alameda neighborhood institutions and landmarks, a few standouts come to mind: the school, the churches, the ridge, Deadman’s Hill, our particular grid of streets, the big ponderosa pine at Fremont and 29th. We all have our list.

Chances are, though, that you don’t think about—or maybe even know about—one of the longest-lived, active and engaged institutions our neighborhood has known: the Alameda Tuesday Club.

Members of the Alameda Tuesday Club gather in a local home in December 1963. Scrapbooks showing club activities are now in the collection at the Oregon Historical Society. Photo courtesy of the Metschan Family

Members of the Alameda Tuesday Club gather in a local home in December 1963. Scrapbooks showing club activities are now in the collection at the Oregon Historical Society. Photo courtesy of the Metschan Family

The ATC, as it is fondly referred to by its 36 members, is a social club with a service mission; a collection of active women from the Alameda neighborhood who are quietly carrying on a tradition that began at the dawn of the neighborhood itself. Since 1913, when the first homes were being built in the fields that are now our neighborhood, members of the club have been gathering on a regular basis in a different Alameda home each month for conversation, for learning, for tea and a meal, and to plan good works both close to home and far away.

In 1914, when a down-on-their-luck family was living rough in the 33rd Street Woods (a much wilder version of today’s Wilshire Park) and the Dad had tuberculosis, the club stepped in to provide food, coal, clothing and milk for the children.

When a well-known national suffragette came to town to advocate for a woman’s right to vote, the club boldly hosted an event with her as lead speaker.

When World War I soldiers from Portland were in the trenches in France, the ATC made and shipped bandages and other supplies overseas.

When the young neighborhood clearly needed a school, the Alameda Tuesday Club stepped up to help make the case.

You get the idea: These women are strong and know how to get things done. The list of charitable works over the years is long and generous. But they know how to have fun too: picnics, tea parties, an award-winning flower-bedecked float for the 1916 Rose Festival parade, fundraisers, costume parties.

These days, the club isn’t advocating for schools or building parade floats. But it does make generous gifts to charities, including most recently the West Women’s Shelter, Beaumont School Library, the Jefferson Dancers, the Oregon Food Bank, Friends of Children and SMART.

“When I first heard about the club, I thought it was such an anachronism,” says current president Kathie Rooney, who has been a member since 1986. “But when you are involved in charitable works and you get to know these women, the club takes on a whole different dimension. There is definitely an old fashioned social interaction. But we’re also talking about the issues of the day.”

Rooney explains that club bylaws have changed little since 1913, and still require members to live within the perimeter of the original Alameda Park Addition: from Fremont to Prescott and between NE 21st and NE 33rd. Membership in the club is by invitation only—as it has been from the beginning—and no more than 36 members are allowed. Monthly meetings rotate around the club, with a member hosting a lunch in her home on the second Tuesday of the month, nine months of the year. Some neighborhood homes have held multiple generations of ATC members and meetings.

And then there is the unwritten silver tea set rule: tradition has it that a silver tea set must be at every gathering of the club. Look back through the club scrapbooks (an amazing collection of images and notations set on black album pages now housed at the Oregon Historical Society) and you’ll see it there on a table, in the corner of a room, sometimes in use.

Terry O’Hanlon has been a member of the club since 1962 and has watched the neighborhood, and the club, change. When she joined, average club membership was a bit older than today, with most members between their early 50s and 80s (she was one of the youngest when she joined, in her 30s). Today, O’Hanlon is the eldest club member, and the youngest member is in her mid 40s. She also remembers Alameda filled with more young families and young children. Not so today, with plenty of two-parent working families.

“The pressures on professional women are different today than in my day,” she says, reflecting on the forces that have shaped the club over the years. “If you are working 40 or 50 hours a week, it’s hard to make it to an afternoon meeting like ours.”

Still, the friendship and camaraderie of the club—and its core philanthropic mission today—create a special sense of purpose that continues to fuel club meetings and activities. The tie to tradition, a respect for generations of Alameda women, and a real love for the neighborhood, distinguishes this special group.

-Doug Decker

A reader has asked about how the name of a neighborhood relates to the name of an addition, plat or subdivision.

The short answer is that there isn’t necessarily a relationship at all.

Neighborhood names are administratively determined by the Portland Bureau of Planning in collaboration with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement: the Alameda Neighborhood boundaries were last plotted on a map in June 2001.

Plat or subdivision names are filed on the date of platting with the Multnomah County Surveyor and are boundaries of surveyed property tied to the legal description of the land. The original Alameda Park Addition plat was filed with Multnomah County in February 1909.

Here’s a good example of a plat that has nothing to do with the name of any neighborhood. It’s Homedale, and it spans today’s Sabin and Alameda neighborhoods. Try telling someone you live in Homedale (or any of the other 21 named plats in our neighborhood) and you’re likely to get a blank stare.

Here’s a good example of a plat that has nothing to do with the name of any neighborhood. It’s Homedale, and it spans today’s Sabin and Alameda neighborhoods. Try telling someone you live in Homedale (or any of the other 21 named plats in our neighborhood) and you’re likely to get a blank stare.

Within the confines of what the city thinks of as today’s Alameda Neighborhood are at least 21 plats of all sizes, from the Alameda Park plat, to the Homedale plat (1922), to the Town of Wayne plat (1882). Probably the only one that will ring a bell for most residents is Alameda Park, the namesake for what is today’s larger Alameda Neighborhood.

And just to make life a little more confusing, the Alameda Park plat  (historic survey boundary) exists within both the Alameda Neighborhood and the Sabin Neighborhood (late 20th century neighborhood administrative boundaries).

Here’s the full list of plats inside today’s Alameda neighborhood boundaries: Alameda Park, Homedale, Olmsted Park, Irvington, Edgemont, Pearson’s Addition, Town of Wayne, Town of Wayne Replat, Waynewood, Irvingwood, Meadow Park, Dunsmeade, Irvindale, Hillside, George Place, Bowering Donation Land Claim Tract, Norton’s Subdivision, Stanton Street Addition, Gleneyrie, Hudson’s Addition and Meadow Park.

With 21 plats in just one “neighborhood” alone, no wonder the city has chosen to lump geographical areas into single neighborhood names. No plats were moved, changed or amended to coincide with our neighborhood’s name. Rather, the place name we all know today — and it’s corresponding map — was determined decades after the ink was dry on the subdivision (plat) names.

Just for fun, dig out the thick pack of papers you signed at closing, or look at your property tax statement: you’ll find the name of the plat that includes the block and lot where you live. Just remember: this name exists separate from the name of our neighborhood.

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