Business History


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: 115 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.

 

Sign designer Brad Ellsworth has been busy. Replica design above, existing window below. Take a look:

Padrow Windows

AH readers have pledged $350 so far and we need about $1,500 in pledges before we can give Brad the green light to actually get the work underway. Additional pledges or suggestions?

 

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The old Padrow Pharmacy window at the former Wilshire Market has sparked plenty of conversation in recent weeks. We were visiting the building this week when one driver pulled to the curb to ask when the new pharmacy would be opening. Ahem, well, it’s been a few years…

AH readers and neighbors who have been following will know the pharmacy window was accidentally revealed a couple years back when the former market owners were doing some remodeling and exposed it under the siding. It was definitely a novelty, and they framed it out and let it be seen again as a kind of a community service, and out of respect for the past.

The window itself is a time traveler, and has known better days. It’s actually two panes of glass, joined in the center by a steel joint. The paint is badly faded and in some cases unreadable.

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A detail of the window showing the chalky, fading, peeling paint. The original paint was applied to the exterior of the window and hasn’t worn well over time.

 

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The window was tagged by a vandal in October.

Along the bottom of the glass, the ad seems to suggest hand-packed ice cream may have been sold by the pint, or possibly the quart. With a little imagination, you can fill in the blanks and guess that Padrow’s also sold cosmetics along with the cigars (by the box), sundries, and box candy. No question they sold Coca-Cola, that much is front-and-center in red paint. In fact, according to second-generation sign expert Brad Ellsworth, Coca Cola probably paid for the painted window advertisement.

Part of the reason the window is in such tough shape is that it’s painted on the exterior, exposed to all the elements. Over the years, the paint has flaked off and dried, lost its pigment, and is little more than a chalky substance on the exposed surface of the glass. It won’t last long.

Fast forward to the new owner, Jeff Smalley, who for the last six months has been transforming the former 1923 commercial building into the new Fire and Stone restaurant and bakery. Jeff is a local guy, operates out of a respect for history and for the neighborhood, and wants to do something to tip his hat to the past. He’s made sure other cool windows, discovered long buried inside the market’s walls, will have visible and prominent locations inside the restaurant. And he’s been wondering what to do with the Padrow window. We’ve been talking about it, and we’ve brought in some local sign expertise to consider the options.

And then, on an evening a couple weeks back, someone spray painted graffiti on the window. Because the new tag was painted directly over the crumbling old paint, that almost ended the discussion about trying to restore the window. Focused on all the other details of getting the business up and running, Jeff was ready to just pull it out and forget about trying to do something nice.

But that’s where we came in, and after the AH post about the tagging, we heard from several readers who offered to make a donation to help bring the window back from the brink.

Enter Brad Ellsworth of North Pacific Sign and Design. Brad and his brother Curt took the company over from their dad who started his sign business about the time the Padrows opened the pharmacy (early 1950s…the pharmacy was actually a stand-alone business that had its own address even though it was in the same building as Wilshire Market). Brad and Curt grew up in the neighborhood, sent their kids through Alameda and Beaumont, and have a relative who worked at the Wilshire Market in the 1970s. Brad even has a hunch who painted the original window way back when. Let’s just say they’re invested in trying to figure this out.

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Brad Ellsworth (left) and Jeff Smalley examine the Padrow Window.

So after having a good look at the window and considering the possibilities, here’s the plan:

Jeff wants to keep the Padrow reference even though the window is not long for this world. So Brad is working from the original design and will create as faithful a replica as possible on the same glass, painted on the inside this time to keep it safe from the weather. Jeff’s going to talk to Coca-Cola and see if they might be willing to help with the cost. And AH readers are invited to make a donation pledge if they’d like to help (just drop me a note and I’ll get in touch with you). Brad estimates the job is probably in the $1,800-$2,000 range. Once most of the funds are in hand, we’ll ask Brad to start work. He’ll actually do the work on site, starting with cleaning and preparing the existing glass and then painting it all back. Should be interesting to watch.

So, here’s the challenge, readers. Want to help bring back the Padrow Window? I’m taking pledges right now (and have made my own of $100). If you are interested, drop me a note or leave a comment here and I’ll be in touch.

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