History Walks


Alameda Blog readers will assume we’ve gone into retirement due to the slowdown in posts here. But not so. Research continues, as do daily musings and wonderings about the stories from Alameda’s past. It’s been fun to see the conversation among commenters here on the blog. We’re glad to provide a water cooler around which we can share stories and thoughts.

The outlet this month for our neighborhood history energy is a walking tour of Alameda that we’re leading through the neighborhood on Thursday night, August 9th. At last check, there are still a few open spots, if you’re interested. Click on over to the Architectural Heritage Center’s website for more information about how to register.

More posts to come this summer and fall, including a great story about the baseball rivalry between Alameda and Irvington; some thoughts about current infill and remodeling underway in the neighborhood; and a profile of early architect Ida McCain. Stay tuned.

Who hasn’t come across the time stamp of history on neighborhood sidewalks? If you’re paying attention, even on a simple stroll around the block, you’ll find yourself on the trail of the past.

Curbs and sidewalks under construction, from The Oregonian, June 3, 1910.

Curbs and sidewalks under construction, from The Oregonian, June 3, 1910.

On most blocks–typically near the corners–you’ll find the name of the contractor who installed the sidewalks and curbs, along with the date of their construction, and even the names of the streets. Think of it as a signature, and appreciate the irony that even though the prestigious builders of the big houses are long gone, the identity of the grunt-work done by  ditch diggers, form builders and concrete finishers has stood the test of time.

The curbs and sidewalks on my block–block 23 of the Alameda Park Addition–were built by Warren Construction Company in the summer of 1912. Warren Construction, like other companies, had contracts with the city to excavate, frame and pour many city blocks worth of sidewalks and curbs. Look carefully and you’ll find the printed names of Hassam Construction, Krieq, Elwood Wiles and others.

elwood-wiles-stamp

So, here’s some insight into two of the of the companies you’re going to bump into walking around the Alameda Park neighborhood, and some great factoids you’ll want to hang onto for scintillating dinner conversation. After you’ve paid enough attention to these names–and learned a little about the companies and when they operated–you can almost tell what era and corner of the neighborhood you’re in just by looking at the names on the sidewalks.

Warren Construction Company

This company once employed world-renowned chemist and Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling as its chief asphalt inspector. Pauling, born in Portland in 1901, was a young man when he worked summers for Warren, testing the quality of its asphalt production facility. Pauling recalled, years later, how company bosses didn’t want him to go on with his studies…they wanted him to stay put on quality control. In addition to giving one of the world’s greatest chemists his start, Warren Construction also made a name for itself building and installing all of the concrete decking on the Interstate Bridge (first opened in 1917), and applying the asphalt surface once the bridge deck was complete. They also worked on the Columbia River Highway as well.

 

Elwood Wiles

If you are a walker, this man is a household name. You see him everywhere on Portland’s east side. For years, I wondered about his identity, and after doing the research, I finally have a few answers. Wiles was born in Canada in 1874, and came to Portland in 1887. After high school he worked in a variety of jobs for a local harness maker before going into the sidewalk business. From 1903 til about 1917, Wiles held the majority of all city contracts for excavating, framing and pouring curbs and sidewalks. After the big building boom of these years, Wiles dabbled in timber speculation, concrete pipe manufacturing, stocks and bonds, and insurance. In his later years, he owned an illuminated traffic sign company. He died in Portland in December 1956. Be sure to check out this photo of Wiles and biography I’ve written in  The Builders section here on the site.

Interested in helping create an inventory of sidewalk contractors in Alameda? A couple of us are setting out to do some documentation, and we could use a studious person with some time to spare (and a digital camera) to help. If you’re interested in joining in, drop me a note: doug@alamedahistory.org.

Click here to see what’s been done in the Hawthorne neighborhood.

If this topic really piques your interest, check this out.

Here’s another history walk–a short one this time at .6 of a mile–that will take you around the perimeter of the Pearson Farm, one of the earliest settlements in this area, dating to 1875.

The starting point for this one is easy: the Pearson Pine at NE 29th and Fremont. Go stand under its broad branches and be prepared for time travel back through our neighborhood’s past. Before you walk the farm, though, there are a few things you need to know.

The Pearson Ponderosa Pine presides over the corner of NE 29th and Fremont.

The Pearson Ponderosa Pine presides over the corner of NE 29th and Fremont.

About the Tree: This old timer has seen it all-the farms and orchards south of Fremont; the deep forest on the ridge to the north and the flats beyond that give way to the Columbia; the slow but steady reach of the street grid; an explosion of home building; construction of nearby Alameda School; the steady tide of young families moving in, and older people moving out. Like a sentinel, this tree has watched our corner of Portland grow up.

Planted in 1885 by Samuel Pearson to mark the northeast corner of his 20-acre farm, this Ponderosa pine has had plenty of room to grow to its noteworthy circumference of 15 feet, and estimated height of more than 100 feet. According to a family story handed down the years, Samuel salvaged the young seedling from an area burned by wildfire and brought it home to his farm

About the Farm: The land was originally part of a Donation Land Claim granted by the U.S. Government in 1859 to William and Isabelle Bowering. Pearson bought the land in 1875 after it had gone through a quick succession of owners, and began to establish his farm. He was born in England, his wife Adeline in France, and together for the next 25-plus years, they tried to make a go of it milking cows on the edge of Portland. But it was not an easy existence. Cows grazed, were born, milked and died, right where today’s Alameda Elementary School sits. Contained elsewhere in the early Pearson landscape was a pond at the lowest part of the property, in the vicinity of today’s Northeast 29th and Siskiyou, with an operating sawmill nearby; pastures for the dairy cows; a large old locust tree (now gone) on Fremont at 27th; and what the Pearsons described as “deep forest to the north.”

pearson-detail

This detail from a much larger map shows the area of the Pearson farm in 1906. NE Fremont runs across the top of the frame. NE 33rd is the main road running vertically through the middle. NE 24th runs vertically on the far left side, along the edge of Edgemont. Look carefully and you can see Klickitat and Siskiyou streets. Note the Bowering Tract. The Pearson Farm is the empty lot east of Edgemont and west of the Town of Wayne. Note our proximity to the city limits: the pink vertical line on the far right shows the boundary. The large number “25″ is section 25 in Township 1 North, Range 1 East of the Willamette Meridian. Click the map for a large image.

Do you have that mental picture in mind now? OK, let’s walk.

  1. Start on Northeast 29th and Fremont, under the Pearson Pine, and head south on 29th for two blocks to Siskiyou. Along the way, you’ll note an empty lot on the right a few houses south on 29th…until two years ago, this held an original Pearson house.
  2. Turn right (west) on Siskiyou. You are now walking through what was a major wetland feature and pond, maybe a seasonal creek. If you look carefully, you can see what looks like a low spot in the pavement. Where they drained the swamp. You can also see the streets don’t line up just right here…a clue to the meeting of two developments.
  3. Continue on Siskiyou to Northeast 27th. You’ve just walked past a sawmill and small log yard. Can you hear the cows?
  4. Turn right (north) on 27th and appreciate the nice plaza and grounds at Alameda Elementary School. The pasture was off to your right where the playground is today. Check out the red farmhouse on your left as you approach Fremont. The third generation of Pearsons were born here and played on the porch. One of the Pearsons once said that porch was built extra large so the kids had a place to play outside that wasn’t in the cow pasture. In that day-1908-there was no school yet, no street, no sidewalk. Just a view of Mt. Hood and their pasture off the front porch to the east, and 20 acres of Scotch broom and dogwood out the back door.
  5. Turn right (east) on Fremont and set your sights on that big Ponderosa pine, back to where you started.

Much has changed in this place since the Pearsons first shaped the landscape. But the power of memory, and the silent witness of that tall pine, remind us all about our neighborhood’s connection to those early years.

Broadway Streetcar Walk-A 3.1 mile loop

Here’s an Alameda neighborhood walk that puts you on the pathway of the past: a history-hunt of sorts to see the clues and imagine a time when the Alameda Park Addition was young and connected to downtown courtesy of a clanky, drafty, dependable streetcar.

Broadway Streetcar, looking south from NE 29th and Mason, about 1948. Courtesy of Bill Hayes

Broadway Streetcar, looking south from NE 29th and Mason, about 1948. Courtesy of Bill Hayes.

You can enter this walking loop just about anywhere on the course of the streetcar’s roundabout transit through the neighborhood, and you can head either north or south. But, just to be orderly about it, how about starting at the end of the line: 29th and Mason. That’s where the Broadway streetcar stopped; where the motorman would step outside for a smoke and a look at his watch; where he’d flip the seat-backs around to face the other direction for the ride back downtown.

 

From 29th & Mason

From the end of the line walk south on 29th to Regents, where the streetcar passed through the “Bus and Bicycle Only” notch at Regents and Alameda. The streetcar turned right and went down the hill here, and you should too, following Regents to 24th, where you turn left on 24th for about a block and then right on Fremont. Continue a couple blocks west on Fremont, just like the train did, to NE 22nd Avenue. The train turned left (south) here. Continue south on 22nd and note just how wide the street is: a clue that you are on the streetcar route.

After a good, long straight stretch, when you hit Tillamook and 22nd, you’ll find a little “S” curve, where the streetcar zigged and zagged on its way south to connect with Broadway. Follow along just for fun. But once you hit Broadway, instead of turning west (right) like the streetcar did on its way downtown, turn left (east) on Broadway and walk back to NE 24th, where you turn left (north) and head back toward the neighborhood. Now you’re back on the path of the Broadway Car, and headed toward home. Continue north, cross Fremont and turn right (east) on Regents, where you go back up the hill on your way to the end of the line.

At the top of Regents, pass back through the bus notch again and go a few more blocks to Mason, and you’ve arrived at the end of the line. The photo looks south on NE 29th, from the southeast corner of Mason. See if you can line up in the footsteps of history 

Summarizing:

  • Start: 29th and Mason
  • Walk south on 29th to Regents, turn right and go down the hill.
  • At 24th, turn left (south off of Regents).
  • At Fremont, turn right and go two blocks west to 22nd.
  • Turn left on 22nd.
  • Walk south on 22nd quite a ways (through the zig zag) to Broadway, turn left.
  • Walk east on Broadway to 24th, turn left.
  • Walk north on 24th, crossing Fremont, and turn right on Regents.
  • Walk up the hill on Regents to 29th, turn left through the notch.
  • Walk north on 29th to Mason and you have reached the end of the streetcar line.
  • Tip your hat to the motorman and the generations of Alamedans who depended on this train.

Total distance traveled: 3.1 miles. You can do this at a nice pace in just under an hour.

 

Some things to look for on your walk…

Want to look for clues to our lost streetcar line? Notice how 29th narrows on the north side of the intersection. The wider stretch of street to the south was necessary to accommodate the rails and the traffic. Have a good look at Northeast 22nd and you’ll notice how much wider it is than any of our north-south streets. There are other clues to be found in the alignment of power poles, and in the remnants of rail unearthed from time to time during street repairs.

A little more history about our streetcar…

Two generations of our neighbors grew up here in Alameda relying on the Broadway streetcar to take them where they needed to go. Ever-present, often noisy, sometimes too cold (or too hot), but always dependable, the Broadway car served Alameda loyally from 1910 to 1948.

Sensitive to the transport needs of its prospective customers, the Alameda Land Company financed construction of the rails and overhead electric lines that brought the car up Regents Hill to 29th and Mason. Developers all over the city knew access was one key to selling lots, particularly in the muddy and wild environs that Alameda represented in 1909.

In 1923, a trip downtown cost an adult 8 cents. Kids could buy a special packet of school tickets allowing 25 rides for $1. In 1932, a monthly pass for unlimited rides cost $1.25. Alamedans used the streetcar as a vital link to shopping, churchgoing, commuting to the office, trips to the doctor. Some even rode the line for entertainment.

During the day, cars ran every 10 minutes, and Alamedans referred to them as “regular cars” or “trains.” During the morning and evening rush hours, additional cars called “trippers” were put into the circuit to handle additional riders. Trippers did not climb the hill to 29th and Mason, traveling only on the Fremont Loop to save time. At night, our line was one of the handful in Portland that featured an “owl car,” a single train that made the circuit once an hour between midnight and 5 a.m. Owl service was a special distinction. The downtown end of the line was Broadway and Jefferson.

The Broadway streetcar was replaced by bus on August 1, 1948. By 1950, all of Portland’s once ubiquitous streetcar lines were gone. In the early days of neighborhood life, our streetcar was indispensable. It was one catalyst that made development of Alameda possible. It linked us to downtown and to other neighborhoods near and far. To hear the stories of those who rode it frequently, it linked us to each other in a way too.

Let me know what you find as you walk the Broadway Streetcar Loop.

These fall evenings are great for a brisk walk. Leaves everywhere, woodsmoke in the air, raindrops. And local history ripe for the imagination.

I headed out tonight for a walk around the perimeter of the original Alameda Park subdivision. It makes for a good exercise walk, particulary if you do it counter-clockwise to enjoy the long hillwalk eastbound on Fremont. It’s about 2.45 miles all the way around, very doable in about 45 minutes. And there’s some history to point out on the way, but first, let’s put it in context with this plat map from 1912, which you may want to print and carry along with you:

Alameda Park Plat Map, c. 1912

Click on the map for a larger file you can print

The northwest corner of “The Park” (as in the Alameda Park subdivision) is a little confusing. Rather than trying to follow the zig-zag of the property boundary, I just walked Prescott to NE 20th to the shadow of the big water tower. Then south to Alameda Drive and around the corner to 21st, then west on Ridgewood to 20th, and then left down the hill. When you are on 20th above the ridge, from Prescott to Alameda, you can see the difference in the neighborhood plats, with Sabin to the west on one side of the street with smaller homes on smaller lots.

Turning left (east) on Fremont, you have the long straight south edge of The Park to walk, passing by where the streetcar ran up 24th and the busy commercial hub that included the Alameda Pharmacy, the old Safeway (now the bank) and what used to be two gas stations. I think of the northeast and northwest corners of NE 24th and Fremont as the gateway to The Park because that’s where the streetcar ran, and because of the business district here.

Next, you pass east by the school, built in 1921 after much lobbying by the locals and a few protests that the construction contract was awarded through some favoritism (future blog post, stay tuned). The plats off to your right are Waynewood, the Town of Wayne and Edgemont, names long forgotten.

Tip your hat to the Pearson Pine, the big old ponderosa pine tree on the southeast corner of NE 29th and Fremont. It’s been there since at least 1885.

Up the hill you go. As you pass the staircases that head up to the top of the ridge, keep in mind there are old water mains under those steps, placed when they were built in the teens. At one point, maybe in the 1920s and early 1930s, women from the Alameda Tuesday Club acted as ushers for young children passing up and down these stairs on their way to and from school.

The crest of the hill at Fremont and 33rd is Gravelly Hill, which was both a gravel pit and garbage dump for many years. The dump was under the southwest corner, where a fine house sits today.

As you walk north on 33rd, think about the 33rd street woods (today’s Wilshire Park), originally part of the Kamm Estate, which was a dense forest that played a large part in the memories of youngsters who grew up there in the 1930s and 1940s. While you’re enjoying the evening, you can also tip your hat to the home guard, made up of Alameda dads, who patrolled the neighborhood at night during the World War II years, enforcing blackout rules and making sure families kept blankets and light dampers up on their windows.

And then there are the thousands of stories that rise up from the generations who have lived in the homes you’ll pass. Lots to wonder about as you and the dog push on around the corner at Prescott and head into the home stretch. So nice to be out on a history walk on a brisk November night.

Next: Walking the route of the Broadway Streetcar.

 

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