Historic News Clippings


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

Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, 3300 NE Broadway. Home of a former aircraft manufacturing plant owned by Oregon Home Builder’s President Oliver K. Jeffrey.

One of Alameda’s most prolific home building companies—The Oregon Home Builders, Inc.—is also responsible for building an aircraft manufacturing facility in the neighborhood that endures to this day.

You probably know this building as Gordon’s Fireplace Shop on the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway. But in the late 19-teens, after serving as a workshop for house parts and domestic carpentry projects that now reside as built-in cabinets in homes across Northeast Portland, the building moved into full aircraft production mode and began churning out spruce struts, beams and braces for “flying machines.”

First a little context about Oregon Home Builders and its president Oliver K. Jeffrey…

There is much to be written about Oregon Home Builders, Inc.—and we’ve been on their trail for several years now—but suffice to say its owners had a big vision. They founded the company on a business model that involved selling shares of stock at .25 cents each to investors at large, and building and selling homes. They also built some of Alameda’s prized national register houses, including the Oliver K. Jeffrey House at Regents and Shaver, and the Thomas Prince House at Alameda and Regents. Others, including the George Eastman House on Stuart Avenue—designed and built by Oregon Home Builders—should be on the register.

In 1914, the company built 45 houses here in northeast Portland, and drew plans for many more. As a base of operations for this big vision, Oliver K. Jeffrey and his colleagues needed a workshop and warehouse near the market they were serving, and near transportation. So in 1915 they set out to build a warehouse on the Oregon Railway and Navigation Line in Sullivan’s Gulch, today’s Banfield corridor. Here’s a snippet that’s a tad fuzzy but readable from the January 17, 1915 pages of The Oregonian.

From The Oregonian, January 17, 1915.

But by 1917, O.K. Jeffrey’s passions—and the Oregon Home Builders warehouse—were focusing more on airplanes. A flamboyant character in Portland business and social life, and a man of means, Jeffrey received much coverage in the pages of The Oregonian during these years, whether in his role as a top Rosarian, his very public divorce proceedings, or his role as a brave tank commander during World War I. The story below in the August 1, 1917 edition focuses on the airplane factory building at 33rd and Broadway.

Click to read full size. From The Oregonian, August 1, 1917.

The O.K. Jeffrey story takes several more interesting turns, including bankruptcy for Oregon Home Builders by 1918, further innovations in aircraft design and operation, and his untimely death due to blood poisoning from a freak accident in December 1934.

Much more to come about Mr. Jeffrey, his company, and the homes they built, but back to the airplane factory in our midst.

Perhaps like us, you’ve driven by the building a million times and wondered about it. Following on that curiosity, and hoping for clues to the company that might have been forgotten in some nook or cranny in its upstairs floors, we dropped in for a visit over the weekend and can offer the following observations:

The folks at Gordon’s are helpful, and interested in the history of their building (which they’ve been in since 1990), but their collective memory of the building can’t see back around the corner of time. They do have a story here and there about a pasta manufacturing company that once inhabited the building. Some sense of the retail furniture company that operated there for 30 years. And a fabulous picture from 1929 that was first and foremost a portrait of Union Pacific Engine 17 coming around a bend in the track, but secondarily a picture of the building. See the distinctive brick pattern along the parapet? Look also how the building extends quite a ways east around the bend of the gulch.

Looking east in Sullivan’s Gulch on January 20, 1929 at Union Pacific Engine 17. The “Beaver State Furniture” building is no longer an aircraft parts factory. The building wraps around the rim of the gulch. Note also how much narrower the gulch is…widened in the 1950s to make room for the Banfield Freeway, requiring replacement of the viaduct. Photo courtesy of Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

Check out this image below as well, which shows our aircraft factory building in 1956 as Erickson’s Furniture. The new viaduct associated with construction of the Banfield freeway (I-84).

Looking south on Northeast 33rd at Broadway. Construction of a new viaduct. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives. 

During our visit this weekend, we learned that the building houses the second oldest freight elevator in Portland, and it’s big. Like a two-car garage that levitates between the first and third floors. It doesn’t take much imagination to see it filled with furniture or spruce airplane parts. But pasta? Hmm.

A detailed look at aerial photography of the area over the years (with thanks to Ed McClaran), confirms that the building did indeed once extend east across what is today’s parking lot, and connected up with the building that now houses Rose City Furnishings in the 3400 block of Northeast Broadway.

The view from the top floor is impressive: both up and down Sullivan’s Gulch to the east and west. North across the busy intersection toward the Dolph Park neighborhood. But there are no hidden nooks or crannies with artifacts from Oregon Home Builders. It’s a tidy and well-organized warehouse on the upper floors. Here and there you can tell from marks on the floor where heavy machines and equipment may have been anchored, or workbenches secured to the walls.

No aircraft machinery to be found here. Just a warehouse for Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

But the aircraft heyday of the building has passed and it stands on the north rim of Sullivan’s Gulch as an artifact itself while the busy intersection below surges with traffic and big development plans are underway for the blocks to the west. In the midst of the shuffle and change, it’s a time traveler with stories to tell.

You’ve driven by it a million times: the reddish brown brick building on the northwest corner of NE 24th Avenue and Stanton. As I’ve researched this building and its history over the last two years, I’ve spoken with neighbors who’ve thought it was once maybe a school, a brewery, a home for wayward youth: all understandable given its institutional look and size.

Originally referred to as the Garfield Telephone Exchange, or the “Garfield Office,” this building is still functioning today for its original purpose: making sure telephone calls get connected to the right place at the right time.

When it went into full operation in 1924, the building housed telephone operators at switchboards plugging incoming and outgoing calls to and from individual circuits that served homes in Irvington and Alameda. One operator remembered that some of her colleagues and supervisors wore roller skates to help them move quickly from switchboard to switchboard.

Today, the hallways and rooms are quiet except for an omnipresent electrical hum, the quiet clicking of switches doing the job of the former operators, and the soft buzz of fluorescent lights. No roller skates, no operators, in fact it’s uncommon to find anyone in the building at all anymore.

Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company first rolled out the need for a telephone exchange building in 1919, and chose the location at NE 24th and Stanton because of its strategic location in this growing area of Portland. But early residents did not like the idea of a semi-industrial/commercial building being located in the heart of a residential neighborhood. Building codes and land use ordinances at the time were permissive and allowed the project to move forward. But influential residents of Irvington petitioned Mayor George Baker and Portland City Council to tighten restrictions, which they did on January 14, 1920, throwing a monkey wrench into project planning for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph.

Engineers for the company were stung by the new restrictions—which allowed residents to object to projects—and complained that the new public involvement processes were going to set back development of the new technology.

The Oregonian reported on January 15, 1920:

The action of the city council yesterday, according to W.J. Phillips, commercial manager of the telephone company, will upset the entire plan of development outlined for the next 20 years in Portland…he fears that the entire future service may be impaired.

Forced into reckoning with the neighborhood, the telephone company reluctantly agreed to work with a committee of neighbors to refine designs for the telephone building. Noted Portland architect A.E. Doyle, an Irvington resident, helped lead the committee and eventually won design restrictions which were reported in the April 15, 1920 edition of The Oregonian as follows:

With these restrictions in place—and with designs emerging that showed the attractive architectural details we see today—the neighborhood dropped its opposition and the project proceeded. Building permits were issued and construction followed, completed by Portland building contractor J.M. Dougan and Company at a cost of $123,690.

Trying hard to reach out to the community with a message of progress, Pacific Telephone purchased an advertisement in The Oregonian touting the new facility and mentioning the $1 million total project cost, which included the complicated and costly miles of phone cable buried throughout the area that culminated at and connected into the building.

As Portland’s housing boom produced more demand for phone service, complaints began to mount against Pacific Telephone and Telegraph about the speed at which they were responding to the growing need. In several news stories in 1921 and 1922, phone company officials were quick to point the finger of blame for these complaints at the Irvington neighborhood for slowing down progress on the Garfield Exchange and causing a ripple effect of delay throughout Portland. The building finally went into full operation in January 1924.

Even after construction, and the cables installed, residents still needed to be trained how to use the new phone equipment. The blizzard of news stories about the Garfield office and the Irvington delays (more than 15 news stories on the subject from 1920-1924) finally quieted down in late 1925 when everyone settled into using their phones, and trying to keep up with the changing technology.

Several minor additions have been made over time, and obviously complete technical overhauls have been made inside. Two houses to the north of the building were razed to make room for today’s parking lot. Despite these changes, the conditions outlined in the 1920 terms pretty much hold true today.

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

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