Business History


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

store (corner view) (1)

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.

porch exterior-untouched

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.

 

guest room walls stripped (1)

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.”

 

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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.

 

 

Second of Three Parts: The life and times of a neighborhood store and its people

You get the picture from Part 1: In 1910, the Alberta District feels a bit thrown together and rough-and-tumble. But investment and expansion are impressive. A strong sense of neighborhood identity is emerging (thanks in part to business booster H.D. Wagnon other early business owners, early residents and real estate developers). People are coming from near and far because property is cheaper here than in other eastside neighborhoods and there’s a new streetcar that provides dependable service.

Plus, plans underway for a new Willamette River crossing that in 1913 would become the Broadway Bridge were changing the way people thought about living and working in Portland.

 

Built and Run by the Smyths

Enter Michael and Mary Jane Smyth, shopkeepers from Ireland who were running a mom-and-pop grocery near 79th and Southeast Stark (then known as Baseline Road). Michael was born in Ireland in 1842 and immigrated to the US in 1864. Mary Jane was born in 1850 and arrived in the US in 1875.

By 1910, the Smyths had run several small retail shops in Portland and at least one in eastern Oregon. The couple never had children and may have seen the Alberta District investment as setting themselves up for retirement. At ages 68 and 62, they were starting their new venture at NE 27th and Going somewhat late in life.

The original plumbing permit for the building shows construction complete at the end of September 1910, three years before the curbs and sidewalks were installed by local contractor Geibisch and Joplin, and well before the streets were even paved. According to the Polk City Directory, the Smyths opened their business in 1911 as a men’s furnishings store. By 1914, the listing had changed to dry goods and the Smyths were living six doors to the north, with the residence side of the new building rented out.

Mary Jane died on October 12, 1917 and her funeral mass was held at St. Charles Catholic Church, which was then located near the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, two blocks south of today’s Concordia New Seasons (the parish church relocated to NE 42nd years later following a devastating fire and financial hardships). After Mary Jane died, Michael took a rented room in the neighborhood and continued to run the dry goods store on his own until 1921 when he sold it for $3,375. Michael died on February 20, 1922.

 

The Coulters Take Over: Alameda Park Grocery

William and Isabella Coulter, immigrants from England via Canada, bought the business from Michael Smyth, having seen it advertised in the March 2, 1921 edition of The Oregonian as a “very fine bungalow-grocery.” They had shopkeeping experience from several years in Missoula, Montana. It’s unclear if they gave the store its name, or if they adopted the name used by the Smyths, but there it is, listed in the 1928 Polk Directory as the Alameda Park Grocery.

This is unusual for a couple reasons: 27th and Going is near but not actually inside the Alameda Park plat; and, there was a much more prominent store on the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont known as the Alameda Grocery. This must have been confusing, at least. No word about what that rivalry may have been like, but the 24th and Fremont business advertised widely with its name, and the bungalow grocery with its slight variation never shows up in any newspaper advertising or any other annual Polk Directory.

While the naming convention might have been confusing, we know it to be fact thanks to a photograph from David White, grandson of the Coulters, that clearly shows the name Alameda Grocery painted in big black letters on the side of the store. You can see the store and the letters here over the shoulder of these two best friends: William and Isabelle’s daughter Agnes is on the right and her friend Marjorie Ellis is on left. Taken about 1926, looking east on Going a few doors west of 27th. Photo courtesy of David White.

Looking south toward 27th and Going, 1926

William Coulter passed away in the mid 1920s, and Isabelle took over the business on her own, with help from daughter Agnes, until 1943. This 22-year period was probably the best era for this little building and its business: Isabelle ran a tight ship and took good care of the place.

Somewhere during the Coulter years, this incredible photo was taken, which we have paired with the same view today (spoiler alert for Part 3).

Isabelle Coulter, about 1930, 4601 NE 27th

Isabelle Coulter in front of her store, about 1930. Photo courtesy of David White. Click the photo for a larger view (there’s so much to see here you better take a closer look). Below, that same view today.

Alameda Park Grocery

 

From Retail to Church to Artist Studio

Charles and Vera Fiebke bought the property from Isabelle Coulter in 1943 and sold it on June 20, 1944 to Henry and Ruth Rieckers, who owned the business until 1953. During this time, the business was referred to as “Rieckers” and as “Rieckers Grocery.” A classified advertisement in The Oregonian on March 3, 1953 indicated the Rieckers were retiring and putting the business up for sale, asking $6,500.

On June 24, 1953, the property was purchased from the Rieckers by John Henry Moad and his wife Lucy Jane Moad. They operated the store—as Moad’s Grocery—until 1961 when it was sold to Robert A. and Louise M. Klatke, who changed the name to Bob’s Quik Stop Market. But not for long.

An article in The Oregonian on June 29, 1962 reports a robbery at Bob’s Quick Stop. Robert, age 56, was robbed with a knife to his throat. A few months later, he and Louise put the store back on the market, selling it to Agnes Martin on November 2, 1962. Sometime during the mid-1960s, the building ceased functioning as a store.

As we know from earlier posts here on the blog, this was the beginning of a tough time for mom and pop neighborhood grocery stores. The whole retail grocery business was changing and local grocery stores were quickly becoming convenience rather than primary shopping locations.

The Martin family owned the property for the next six years and at least one reference to the building shows it as the Mt. Zion Church of God in Christ. The Polk Directory for 1965 shows the building as vacant, and in 1967, it is listed simply as L.S. Martin. On September 17, 1968, the Martins sold the property to Carl E. Bass (son) and Viola Matheson (mother). Bass, who was a potter, turned the space into an artist’s studio and lived in the property until his death in April 2001 at the age of 73.

The property was purchased from the Bass estate by investor/developers George and Isabelle Zitcak, who held it for just four months before selling it in April 2002 to Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich. This is where the story gets interesting, which will be the subject of Part 3.

To whet your appetite for the next chapter of the bungalow grocery, we’ll leave you with this photograph, which shows just how far down the building had faded during its later years and why it was a leading candidate for the wrecking ball by 2002.

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The bungalow grocery at low ebb, about 2002. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

Suffice to say that Mary Jane and Michael Smyth, and Isabelle Coulter, would probably have cried to see it in this shape.

Next up: Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bring the bungalow grocery back from the brink.

 

 

 

 

 

First of three parts: Understanding the neighborhood’s early beginnings

We’ve been working on a fascinating property in the Alberta Arts District, formally known as the Elberta Addition (that’s not a typo, that’s an actual plat name).

It’s a store and home built by Irish immigrants and operated for several generations, eventually running out of retail energy in the 1960s when it became a church and then an artist’s studio before nearly collapsing from years of deferred maintenance and decline. We’re eager to share the fascinating story of this sweet little building—which has been lovingly restored—and an incredible photograph from the pinnacle of its retail life.

But first, we have to provide some context about the area that today might like to be known more for its hipness than the complicated polarity of change underway through gentrification, though both are present.

To be clear, the geography of the area in mind actually holds three of today’s neighborhood associations: King, Vernon and Concordia, and the business district known as Alberta Arts (which technically resides mostly within the Concordia neighborhood: think MLK to NE 33rd and Alberta to Killingsworth). But back in 1909, this area was a muddy, brushy flat that existed outside city limits and beyond what Portlanders thought of as their city.

If you lived up here in 1909, you were probably either a dairyman or the advance guard of development, and you could see the city creeping your direction. After the Lewis and Clark Exhibition, Portland was booming with new residents and new construction, and hungry for relatively close-in developable land.

Here’s a hopeful word picture from H.D. Wagnon, Alberta’s number one promoter, in January 1910 that picks up the story from the perspective of a man on horseback riding through brush thickets in the area that helps provide proper context for our bungalow grocery story.

Alberta District Thrives, 1-9-1910

From The Oregonian, January 9, 1910

 If you opened up the real estate section from any Sunday edition of The Oregonian during these early days you’d find a flurry of advertisements for these desirable lots. The new streetcar provided access, the lots were affordable compared to other new subdivisions elsewhere in town, money was relatively available to loan during the rising economy of 1910, and people were flocking to the area.

Of course, this caused its own problems, documented a few months later in the June 26, 1910 edition of The Oregonian:

Alberta District Grows, 6-26-1910

From The Oregonian, June 26, 1910

 And by the end of 1910, Alberta was becoming so populated, neighbors were calling on the city to build a school.

School demanded, 12-25-1910

From The Oregonian, December 25, 1910

 The problem of education infrastructure lagging behind neighborhood development was a trend across the eastside, which was successfully raised and driven by active and engaged parents (particularly moms). One might think this equation would be clear enough for neighborhood developers (homes + kids = need for schools), but their focus was on business and the sales of lots represented profit while the construction of school buildings represented only cost. Secretary Wagnon, a promoter through-and-through still preferred to focus on the immediate positives:

“One cannot get beyond the sound of the hammer or the sight of piles of lumber in this district.”

We like that sound-picture and can absolutely imagine what it must have been like on a weekday morning, closing your eyes anywhere along Alberta and hearing hammering and construction in every direction. That little details tells its own story.

Against this backdrop of growth and growing pains, local residents started some new traditions with unintentional echoes in the life of the district today. Market fairs for produce and hand-made products were springing up mostly as a matter of necessity for local residents.

Market Opens Today, 6-20-1914

From The Oregonian, June 20, 1914

 The open-air markets were a temporary fixture, but steady retail was shoring up its presence in the district. That’s where our bungalow grocery story will begin: construction of a store connected to a house at the northwest corner of NE 27th and Going, right in the heart of the construction boom.

Next up: In Part 2, 105 years ago, an older Irish couple moves to the neighborhood and opens a men’s clothing shop, which quickly becomes a neighborhood grocery.

Recent photos of the Grant Park Market have conjured up memories for AH readers who recall the screen doors, the corner entry, the friendly help behind the counter, the dependable cold Coke when walking home from Grant High School. One of our frequent correspondents and Alameda export Brian Rooney sends us this memory map of the store (click to enlarge), that may bring back a memory or two for readers.

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Other memories or insights to share about the Grant Park Market and Grocery?

We like memory maps. You can find another one here, that touches on the story of Wilshire Park, both the first part and the rest of the story.

Research can be so satisfying sometimes because often when you are not looking for something, you find something else of interest. That’s kind of the case here, in this other view of the Grant Park Market, slightly different than the last post. Here we’re looking due west up Knott. Check out the cars, houses and all those utility poles (click for a closer look). Taken on January 4, 1932. We’re always hungry for early views in the neighborhood and consider this one a gem. With thanks to the City of Portland Archives and their very cool website called Vintage Portland which you should bookmark.

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The Grant Park Grocery and Market crew in the 1940s. David Lewis Photo.

We like to think about change as our constant companion in life: always right there with us, frequently a silent partner guiding and shaping our habits and pathways. But sometimes not so silent, as when things change suddenly and dramatically.

From a neighborhood history standpoint, one form of sudden change lately has been the rash of tear downs in the neighborhood, where the physical landscape we know shifts, almost overnight.

Sudden change is easy to see. But slower changes can be invisible unless you hold them up and examine them from time to time. We’ve been busily researching several buildings in and around the neighborhood that have made some of these slower changes visible because they’ve left behind some clues: the old buildings. We thought you might be interested.

Consider for a moment how shopping patterns have changed. In 1931—a time when almost all of the homes in our neighborhood were well established and occupied by young Alameda families—Portland’s business directory listed more than 750 individual grocery stores, most of them owned and operated by families. Butcher shops, fish markets, general grocery stores, bakeries, candy stores. It’s where Portland shopped, and also where neighbors met neighbors, information was exchanged, neighborliness happened.

Here in the Alameda Park Addition, commercial development was prohibited. But just beyond our borders, small business was booming. Here’s a round-up of 10 nearby businesses that once served our neighbors. We’ve written about most of these before on the blog, but this post brings them all together into one place. We’re always looking for more information on these or other stores (my short list of other Mom and Pops to look into includes these ghosts: Spellmans at 15th and Fremont; the grocery at 15th and Knott. And these two going concerns: Beaumont Market; Justin’s Market at 42nd and Failing. Others?

There was Alameda Grocery (3433 NE 24th), located on the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont, built in 1922 at the height of homebuilding in Alameda. You could phone in your order and have your needs delivered by bike, even if it was small as a pint of ice cream. Next door was John Rumpakis’s shoe repair, and upstairs was the dentist. Today this is Lucca.

Believe it or not, 24th and Fremont was also home to a full-fledged Safeway Store, located in the building that now houses Alameda Dental and Union Bank (2416 NE Fremont). Built in 1938, this was the site of a major land use battle in 1942 when Safeway wanted to expand to include the entire block (they lost). Later this became Brandel’s Alameda Foods and Deli, which we miss.

There was the Prescott Fountain (2909 NE Prescott, also known as Hunderup’s) at Prescott and 29th where you could run a monthly tab and just drop in for an iced Coke, or maybe get your hair cut or styled at the barber in the back corner of the shop. Built in 1922 for T.W. Crowley. Today it’s still a market: Food King.

Wilshire Market (3707 NE Fremont) at 37th and Fremont—now a restaurant known as Fire and Stone—was known for its friendly service. We’ve spoken with many Alameda families who did all their grocery shopping there. Padrow’s Pharmacy located in the same space added an extra level of convenience. Built in 1923, three years before Beaumont School opened.

Bradford’s Market and Serv-Us Grocery (3133 NE Prescott) at 31st and Prescott is now a clinic, but note the parking area west of the building. Plenty of neighbors would drop in here for grocery items on the go. It looks a bit like a residence, but this building was purpose-built in 1921 as a grocery store.

A couple blocks over was the tiny Thirty Second Street Grocery (4518 NE 32nd), built in 1910 and later known as Smith’s Cash Grocery and simply as Doc’s. This sweet little building is the epitome of the small neighborhood grocery, recently converted into an artist’s studio.

This building was a bright shade of purple for a while but has recently been painted all black when it was converted into an artist’s studio and print restoration business, but the Marble Palace Market and Grocery (3587 NE Prescott) really looks the part of the old neighborhood grocery, built in 1924. Grace and Earl Dickerman were the long-time proprietors here from the 1940s well into the 1960s.

Just to the north was the Alameda Park Grocery (4601 NE 27th), later known by several names including Coulter’s, Rieker’s, Moad’s, Bob’s Quick Stop Market and even the Mt. Zion Church of God in Christ. Built in 1910 as a “men’s furnishings” shop, the building has recently been fully restored and is notable for the connection with its adjacent residence. A perfect example of a “bungalow market.”

Alameda Park Grocery

This shop at NE 27th and Going started out as a men’s furnishings store in 1910 and finished its commercial life as a church in the 1960s. In between it went through five owners. Stay tuned for a more detailed look at its life in a future post.

The Davis Dairy Store is still further north, at the Fox Chase corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth (5513 NE Killingsworth), built in 1926. The Davis family lived in Alameda at 24th and Dunckley, and some of our neighbors undoubtedly shopped there.

Grant Park Grocery and Market (shown at the top of this post) on the southwest corner of 33rd and Knott (2647 NE 33rd), built in 1925. This attractive grocery, now a medical office, had sleek-looking panel vans and a staff of white-aproned help who would deliver your phoned-in order to your door. Here’s a link to another photo taken on the same day, and some further information about the store.

100 years later, our shopping patterns (and the things we’re buying) are quite different. The infrastructure that developed around those earlier patterns has been reconfigured into the convenience stores, restaurants, banks, and artist studios of today.

Which is a good lesson about the importance of being flexible and responding to changing conditions. And also about respecting and understanding the past by bringing some of the original pieces along with us as we build the neighborhood and community we envision for the future.

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The transformation is complete.

We had a sneak preview dinner last night at Fire and Stone (3707 NE Fremont), which opens today, and can testify that the transformation of Wilshire Market is now complete. We’ve been watching this Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood building for about a year now, and appreciating its history in the neighborhood: built in 1923 and operated as the Wilshire Market and Grocery by Solomon Barrigar and Albert Mumler, this business served local families and provided sweets and sundries for generations of school children walking to and from nearby Beaumont School. In its early years, it was one of more than 750 small markets where Portland shopped for its groceries.

Today, it’s an attractive bakery and restaurant with a menu that features full dinners like roast chicken, ribs and roasted fish, wood-oven pizzas, salads and bread. During the sneak preview dinner, attended by hundreds of curious supporters and business partners, the building came alive and many remarked about remembering Wilshire Market. There are some clues to its former life:

  • Check out the transom windows preserved by owner Jeff Smalley and now displayed on an interior wall. These windows once ran the length of the south and west sides of the building and many of the panels served as advertisements. Jeff has saved some of the nicest examples.
  • Speaking of windows, of course there is the Padrow Pharmacy window, which we’ve been investigating for Jeff. Additional pledges continue to arrive (thank you) and we’re submitting a grant to Coca-Cola (the original window’s sponsor) to help with the restoration. You can read more about the window here and here.
  • The new doorway at the southwest corner returns the building entrance to its original position. Nice touch.
  • Exposed structural and building systems inside let you see back in time. There’s plenty of new framing material, ducts and electrical wiring, but some of the work from 1923 is still visible.

Can you find other clues?

During a time when many developers start their work by demolishing an existing old building to make way for the next big thing, we’re pleased to see one business that has kept the historic structure and even built part of its identity on its history and character. This is a trend Portland needs to support.

 

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