Memories


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.

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

If you are as captivated as we are about lining up clues from memory and the geography of the past as a way of understanding the present and thinking about the future, you need to read an excellent series of essays coming out of Rochester, New York in the last few weeks. At turns heartbreaking, insightful, maddening and maybe even hopeful, these posts by the architect and urbanist Howard Decker reveal what happens when a community loses its sense of itself, when it forgets its own stories. There is a cautionary tale here for all of us.

Check out the post on Franklin Square, but be sure to look around at the other posts. Howard’s message to us is that the form of our community tells a story about what’s important to us; that it reflects our values and the choices we make about who we are, what we want to be.

While we struggle with growth and change right here in our own neighborhood and city, a quick look elsewhere can remind us how lucky we are, and what’s at stake as we make choices about the future.

Full disclosure: along with being a terrific urban archaeologist and geographer, Howard is also my big brother. Nice work bro!

Here’s a neighborhood memory that brings together a couple of favorite topics we like to wonder about: The open spaces of the early unbuilt neighborhood, and the Broadway Streetcar.

Long-time Alameda Tuesday Club member Terry O’Hanlon checked in with us recently to share these memories. Part of her growing up years – and most of her adult life – has been spent right here in the Alameda neighborhood. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, she and her family lived in the bungalow at 4016 NE 28th.  Here’s a picture:

4016 NE 28th, taken about 1932. Photo Courtesy of Terry O’Hanlon.

The house, built in 1921 by the Wickman Building Company, looks much the same today. As a very young person, Terry remembers playing with the neighbor kids, romping out front with her little white dog, and adventuring around the open spaces and empty lots nearby.

She also has an enduring memory of the night her living room provided a convenient stake-out location for the Portland Police.

A spate of robberies had been plaguing the Broadway Streetcar. As Alameda History Blog readers will know, 29th and Mason was the end of the streetcar line, where the conductor stepped outside to switch the overhead electrical connection, flipped the seats so they’d be facing forward, and then took a break before the inbound trip back downtown to Broadway and Jefferson. 29th and Mason was a quiet, somewhat out of the limelight spot – perfect for a motorman’s momentary pause. But also perfect for a stick up. The car, and its accumulated collected fares, was a sitting duck out there in the dark at the end of the line.

That’s where Terry’s living room came in handy: at the time, it provided a perfect view to the end of the line—about one block east—so the good guys could keep an eye out for the bad guys. Look back at the photo: See that empty lot to the left (north)? 20 years later, Kenny Birkemeier would build a house on that spot, filling up that open view to the end of the line.

Here’s something to think about: Watching out your window as all around you a neighborhood is being built up. Elder Alamedans remember this phenomenon well, and some have even lamented the loss of their favorite empty lot, hiding spot, or fort location. It was one of the defining experiences of growing up in Alameda up until the late 1940s. A topic for some future post. But back to the living room and the streetcar stick up…

Terry remembers coming downstairs to a darkened first floor, into a room filled with cops all craning their necks to watch the streetcar when it finally came to a stop. The shock of it all seared that image into Terry’s memory banks for these many years. But don’t ask if her if Portland’s Finest got their man…she’s never been sure about that. The image of her darkened house filled with police soaked up all available memory-making bandwidth for the very young person she was at the time.

We’ve seen news stories from 1920s editions of The Oregonian about a burglar operating in the neighborhood, but have never come across any official telling of the streetcar stick-up to help us know how it all turned out. Chances are the Portland Traction Company, which operated the Broadway car during those years, would have wanted to keep a lid on the whole thing anyway so as to not put every carline in jeopardy.

There are other memories about the end of our car line: about the old man and his German shepherd who used to nap on the lawn of the house at the southwest corner of 29th and Mason, watching streetcars come and go. And the enterprising teenager who “hijacked” a driver-less streetcar parked momentarily at 24th and Fremont. And, what if felt like for some on the last ride of the last day.

So many memories to explore, so little time…

From time to time we like to plumb the depths of memory for stories about neighborhood businesses. This one is reaching a ways back, but we’re looking for a little help with any personal memories about this store, which operated out of the bustling commercial corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth.

The Davis Dairy Store, located at 5513 NE 30th, was operated by three generations of women from the Davis family, who also built and lived in the home at 2427 NE Dunckley here in the Alameda Park addition. A recent visitor to the blog—Teresa Roth—sent us some shards of memory from her mother Lucille, and some photographs to ponder. Here is Lucille’s mother Irene Davis, the matriarch of the store, standing near the open door in 1938, and the same spot today:

Left, Irene Davis at the Davis Dairy Store, 5513 NE 30th Ave., 1938. Right, the same doorway today. Historic photo courtesy of the Davis Family and Teresa Roth.

 

Irene’s daughter Lucille (far left) and cousin Isabel Buckendorf sitting out front in 1938. Note the words “bicycle shop” on the window behind them to the left, and the reflection of the power pole, which hasn’t moved much in 70 years. Historic photo courtesy of the Davis Family and Teresa Roth.

Irene and her husband Ernest built the Dunckley home and likely the business as well, though he was a machinist and she a stenographic secretary. The couple divorced in the mid 1920s. For as long as the couple’s daughter Lucille can remember, the store was just part of the family. Lucille, now in her mid 80s, and her daughter Teresa stroll through the neighborhood from time to time when they are in town together, remembering friends, cousins and happy moments.

After the divorce in the mid 1920s, Irene ran the store, with Lucille’s help during the summer, and likely with the help of her sister Mae, a piano teacher. Irene and Mae’s mother Martha LeFabre lived with them as well in the Dunckley Street house: three generations running the house and the business.

No one around today remembers exactly when the store opened or closed, but we do know it would have been popular with kids. Here’s an advertisement from 1938.

Flyer from Davis Dairy Store, 1938. Courtesy of the Davis Family and Teresa Roth.

The corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth has experienced a recent renaissance that echoes the vitality of the intersection in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, the area is officially known as the Concordia Neighborhood, though in those days it was known to both residents and customers as Irvington Park. Just for context, here’s a shot of the overall commercial building today, which features some very tasty restaurants, including DOC, which we recommend.

Any memories to share about the Davis Dairy Store or this bright and busy neighborhood corner?

According to the 1938 Polk City Directory, joining the Davis Dairy Store at 30th and Killingsworth were the following businesses:

5425 NE 30th             Serafino Boitano Shoe Repair

5425 NE 30th             Parrot Cleaners

5430 NE 30th              Jason Frost Grocer | Theo Larson Meats

5433 NE 30th             Anderson’s Food Market

5438 NE 30th              30th Avenue Pharmacy and Post Office

5501 NE 30th             The Ark Beer Parlor

5507 NE 30th             Irvington Park Variety Store (now Blackbird Tatoo)

5509 NE 30th             30th Avenue Bicycle and Hardware

5515-19 NE 30th        Twin Pines Barber and Beauty Shop

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

I’ve just posted the next builder biography, this one about Harry Phillips, who built many of the homes on NE Gile Terrace and Ridgewood in the 1920s. Phillips’ story is fascinating, tragic and indicative of his times. His work, appreciated and admired today, has clearly stood the test of time.

I’ve often wondered how builders weathered the storm of the Great Depression. I know Albert Irwin did only remodeling work in the mid-1930s. Others, like William Donahue, got out of the business altogether. Harry Phillips wasn’t as fortunate.

Phillips’ sons Jerry and Roger—now in their 80s—generously agreed to be interviewed about their parents, the work of their father, and their own growing up years. I feel very fortunate to have been able to gather their story in before it would have been lost to time.

Check out the biography of Harry Phillips on The Builders page.

Do you live in a Phillips home or have any insight to share about the family? Drop me a note.

A few months back, we came upon a photograph, taken on May 6, 1926, showing the nearly completed Alameda Theater, located at NE 30th and Alberta. Have a good look at it and soak up the details, and then look at an image from today. 

 

Alameda Theater, NE 30th and Alberta. Photo taken in May 1926. Note construction materials to the left. View looking southeast.

Alameda Theater, NE 30th and Alberta. Photo taken in May 1926. Note construction materials to the left. View looking southeast.

The same view today.

The same view today.

Remarkably, most of the original exterior is still intact. The corner entry and box office; the two prominent display cases that frame the opening; the ornamental trim along the building’s parapet; the box office just inside the entry portico; the spider web window and Georgian doorway just left of the theater entry which opens into a steep stairwell to the second floor; even the store fronts to the left of the main entry (the transom windows are still operational).

You can’t see it in the earlier photo, but the original Mediterranean style roof tiles are still in place. The marquee was removed some years back, but a 1926 time traveler would definitely recognize the building today, at least on the outside (they might ask about all those antennas on the roof). On a recent visit, the building was locked so we didn’t have a chance to look around inside.

The observant reader will also note the streetcar tracks making a sweeping left turn from Northeast 30th to Alberta Street eastbound…the Alberta Line, which operated from 1903 to 1949.

Here’s a snapshot of its history:

From 1927-1937, it operated as the Alameda Theater (even though it is a few blocks north of the Alameda Park subdivision proper).

From 1937-1964 it was simply known as the 30th Avenue Cinema.

From 1964-1969 it went by the catchy name of “Cine 30.”

From 1969 until it closed for good as a theater in 1978, it went back to its earlier name: Alameda Theater.

Since 1978, the building has served as the home of the Macedonia Church of God, and its current role as home to the Victory Outreach Church.

Along the way, trips to the movies entertained generations of our neighbors, and provided some enduring memories, particularly for a couple of brothers who grew up here in the neighborhood in the 1950s. Steve and Marshall Turner talk about the theater in the same breath as Hunderups, the other neighborhood hang out at NE 30th and Prescott (see the earlier post about Hunderups). We’ve been in touch with Steve and Marshall, and they’ve shared these memories of a misspent youth:

We have fond memories of the 30th Ave. Theater. It was a place where kids could go with their friends and act like kids and generally misbehave without too much chance of parental repercussion.

We looked forward to the Saturday matinees which cost $0.25 cents as I recall. We would usually make a stop at Hunderup’s Drug Store on the way to “buy” candy because it was cheaper to charge it all to our account at Hunderup’s than to actually pay for it at the theater.

Matinees usually consisted of a cartoon such as Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Porky Pig, Casper the Ghost, or Daffy Duck. Cartoons were followed by a News Reel and a short serial such as Flash Gordon, The Rocket Man, The Three Stooges, Spin & Marty, or Abbot  & Costello.

The main features always seemed to be a Sci-Fi film such as House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price, It Came From Beneath the Sea; Them (a movie about ants that became gigantic through atomic radiation); The Attack of The 50 Foot Woman; The Day The Earth Stood Still; It Came From Outer Space; Forbidden Planet; The Blob War of The Worlds; This Island Earth; and Monster on The Campus, starring Arthur Franz, just to name a few.

Sometimes management would feature a local personality to entertain the kids. We remember seeing Mr. Moon and Addie Bobkins too.

The manager would sometimes get up on stage before the movie started and remind us to be on our best behavior. But, of course, as soon as the lights were dimmed 5,000 pieces of candy would be flying through the air. Experienced movie viewers would never sit directly below the balcony as they were easy targets for “spilled” soft drinks and wads of chewed up juicy fruits, dots, or jujubes. If we had to sit on the main level it was always to the rear so as to not be in the line of fire from the viewers above.

The screen itself was even a target and since we didn’t like the black colored dots very well these made good ammunition. Every once in a while you could hear a loud “whump” against the screen.  Mr. Moon himself took a black dot in the temple. Once in a while we took pea shooters or squirt guns with us if we really felt mischievous.

In the movie Monster on the Campus, an actor who resembled Ralph Wampler, our Alameda Grade School Principal at the time, got killed. One of the neighbor kids yelled out “hey, they just killed “Wampie,” which got all the Alameda kids laughing and shouting.

Once the movie was over it was a good idea to hustle out of the balcony quickly to avoid being recognized by one of our targets below. We would then stop by the Blue Bird Ice Cream shop next door to buy an ice cream cone with the money we saved by charging our candy at Hunderup’s.

One of the last movies they showed was the Beatles’ film A Hard Days Night, but we didn’t see it.

Once the church is done with the building, somebody should buy this place, restore it, and start showing old monster movies. But they should consider shutting down the balcony.

What do you remember about the old 30th Avenue Theater?

Alameda Theater Box Office, today a spot for the greeters at Victory Outreach Church.

Alameda Theater Box Office, today a spot for the greeters at Victory Outreach Church.

I’ve embarked on a line of research that involves trying to understand the businesses that have served Alamedans over the years, with a focus on the smaller shops that existed around the perimeter of the neighborhood. Here’s one that will bring back some memories for those who knew it, and will intrigue those of us who didn’t.

Prescott Fountain, 1955

 prescott-fountain-1955

This view is looking northeast from the corner of NE 29th and Prescott. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson, Historic Photo Archive. Below is the same place, 54 years later.

 

Food King Market, 2009

food-king-2009

We live not too far from Food King and drop in from time to time, almost always in the evening after other stores are closed, to get a gallon of milk for the morning. When I found this 1955 picture, I stopped in to see if the owners knew anything about the building, but they don’t, so I turned to others I know (thank you Steve Goodman and John Hamnett) who do.

The building was built in 1922, so there are a couple of generations who shopped here before this early picture was taken, and about which we don’t know much (yet). But here’s the lowdown on this place from the vantage point of the mid- to late-1950s.

I’ll let Steve Goodman tell this story from here:

First, this is actually four businesses. The left door (about one-quarter of the total building), was the Prescott Fountain. But no one called it that. From the late 50′s until it closed (sometime in the mid to late 60′s), it was know as Hunderups, for its owner (we kids pronounced it “Hun-drups”).

It was not what you might envision.  Likely in earlier days it was a modern, clean, well respected establishment, but that’s NOT how we knew it. Adults would never go in there.  It was a dingy hang-out for kids. Emphasis on dingy. It was dark (seemed like only about  two lights lit the whole place), dirty (old Mr. Hunderup, who resembled Charley Weaver, let the store go into disrepair and never cleaned it). The product on the shelves was all old and never sold. Items you’d expect in a old drug store, hot water bottles, etc.

But it did have an old fashioned counter and stools where grade school and high school kids (boys — never a girl) would gather.  He’d have candy behind the counter, but we hardly ever bought it, as fresher was available next door.

The attraction was the iced Cokes in a bottle. I don’t remember, probably a nickel or dime each.  He’d keep them in a “too cold” refrigerator, and kids would go there to socialize in an “adult free” zone, and drink the Cokes from the bottle with a straw. Sometimes Mr. Hunderup would have to break thru the ice with his ice-pick so we could get the straw in.

Rumor has it that someone once saw a rat running thru the store.  Maybe yes, maybe no – but in this dark, dirty establishment it wouldn’t surprise anyone.

My mother went in Hunderup’s once (once) looking for some item, and I think she disallowed me from going in there again — or couldn’t figure out why we’d want to.

I got the feeling that before it was the run-down place we knew, Mr. Hunderup might have owned it when it was nice and new(er), but just let it get run-down.  Looking back, he loved seeing us and chatting with us while we kept him in business.

Mr. Hunderup passed away in the late 60′s. They cleaned it all out (and we joked about how much they probably had to fumigate the place), and it soon became part of the store next door.”

Steve explains that the second door from the left was a thriving, clean, well-lit family owned neighborhood grocery called Hume’s Foods…you can see it on the awning in the photo. It sold in 1963 to the Brandel family (which later owned Alameda Foods at 24th and Fremont).

Steve remembers…

It was unlike the convenience stores of current.  They had a large produce section on the east side of the store. In the back was a large butcher case, well stocked and staffed by a real butcher. While this wasn’t a “supermarket,” it’s where many in the neighborhood did their weekly shopping; always busy. And it had several adults working there – back when they could support a family with that type of job.  No turnover, but the same people.  Mr. and Mrs. Brandel would always be in.  I can remember their faces like it was yesterday.  They kept ledgers behind the counter where some customers ran a tab.”

On the east end of the building, down beyond Brandel’s, was a beauty shop and a barber shop, complete with the twirling red and white barber pole and a row of hair dryers against the wall.

What do you know about this place? Care to share a memory about another neighborhood business?

Post Script| March 28, 2009: Thanks to the helpful memory of blog reader Steve Turner, we know that the proprieter was named August Herman Hunderup. I’ve done a little genealogy on Mr. Hunderup and learned that he was born in 1891 in Minnesota. In the 1920 census, he’s living with his parents on SE 87th Avenue and is listed as a “minister” at a Catholic Church. Death records show he passed away on September 3, 1970. I’d love to hear from any family members, or others, who have a memory of Mr. H and his quirky, memorable shop.

I’ve just finished a history study on a two-story 1912 Craftsman in Beaumont, located on NE 41st Avenue. The story of the house is fascinating: four owners and one default in the first three years, with the title flowing from the original builder, to another contractor to a developer and back to the bank all in short order. The house itself is of interest too, with an unusual gambrel roofline dropped onto a Craftsman body.

But the pieces that will stay with me on this one are the memories of past owners. I was fortunate to find one of the children who grew up there in the late 1920s and early 1930s — now in her 80s — who shared some family stories, memories and photos. The one that sticks with me is the scent of memory, which goes something like this: in the summers, families all up and down NE 41st had wood delivered and stacked in the parking strip between the curb and the sidewalk where it cured in the summer sun. You could look up the street and see firewood stacked everywhere.

Twenty years earlier, the developers of Beaumont bragged that a dozen rose bushes would be planted in front of every lot in the new subdivision. But by the 1930s, residents had become quite practical about their parking strips, which were now a great place to dry firewood for the coming fall and winter.

So our young Beaumont girl, about eight years old at the time, always loooked forward to August because that’s when men started in to split the stacked wood. She remembers the sweet sappy smell of pine and fir permeating all corners of the neighborhood, and the house itself. You could smell it from Beaumont School, she remembers.

Amazing how the power of memory and smell intertwine. What scent do you remember from your old neighborhood?

Winter 1936

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason.

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason. Click for a larger size image.

Winter 2008

Winter 2008. Looking north on Northeast 30th toward Mason.

Winter 2008, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason. Click for a larger size image.

There’s a great Billy Collins poem called “A History of Weather” that I’ve been thinking about all week. We’ve had a lot of snow here in Portland, not record-breaking, but still more than anyone has seen around these parts for 40 years. Right now we have about 15 inches on the ground and the city has been at a virtual stop for the last couple days. We started to thaw today, but another 4-8 inches of snow are in the forecast for the next couple days.

In the poem, Collins creates a funny, wistful elegy for atmospheres of the past, and contemplates weather as a common human bond across the ages. Contemplating what a weather history poem should include, Collins writes, “There will be a section on the frozen nights of antiquity…” I’ve been thinking about the frozen days and nights of the past, the transforming quiet and joy visited on the kids of this street and neighborhood over the years.

So after shoveling the front walk yesterday, I dug into my Alameda archive and found a picture taken a few doors south of my house in 1936, the year Portland received about 35 inches of snow. The photo has been passed down to me by the family of the little boy who grew up here in the teens and twenties. He was fledged by 1936 (family members were in the house til the late 1950s), but the photo stayed in his family because it depicted remarkable conditions.

Being obsessed with lining up past and present for clues, I prowled around this morning hunting — camera in one hand, old photo in the other — for the original photographer’s footprints, which are not entirely available today due to some landscaping changes down the block. 

The big house on the corner (white in 1936, blue today) is the Copenhagen House, built in 1912 by the family of Les Copenhagen. Today’s big beech in the sideyard is just a start of a tree in 1936. Power poles have thinned out a bit, though still an eyesore. The gable end of the house facing the camera up the block can be seen in both images. A little closer in, if you squint at the 1936 image, you can see Walter Morrison out shoveling the front walk of my house. Farther up the block and across the street, today’s yellow Dutch colonial was just a vacant lot. Other vacant lots allow a view off into the distance.

Families in 1936 probably took pictures of their unusual winter weather event, just like we have this week. Unfortunately, most of those images are lost to time. We’re lucky to have this one , 71 years old. Makes you think about the pictures you take, the pictures you save, the pictures you decide to throw. I’m always on the lookout for old pictures of Alameda…

To cap off this entry about the history of snow, thought I’d share a very interesting info-graphic from The Oregonian today that clearly indicates that our predecessors knew a lot more about snow than we do. Check it out:

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08. Click for a larger size image.

Merry Christmas to all!

In the last week, I’ve spoken with three men — three Alameda boys — who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s. None of them live here any longer, though fragments of memories from their growing up years are crystal clear.

We’ve been concentrating on overlapping memories about a single person and situation. Even though these three were all here, living just a couple blocks from each other, it’s interesting to see what has been remembered and what hasn’t.

Our point of focus has been an elderly man who lived near NE 33rd and Shaver. Our timeframe is the 1930s. This man owned a dog — which is an important part of the memory — and was reportedly quite a character. One of our Alameda boys remembers him as living in an old home in the 33rd Street Woods, which was what everyone called Wilshire Park when it was just a wild patch of trees and brush. Another remembers him living in the big Craftsman (now painted yellow) near 33rd and Shaver, or possibly in a boarded-up house at 39th and Shaver, and that he owned the chunk of land south of Shaver from 33rd to 35th. Maybe he was here before all the commotion of development beginning in about 1910. Those fragments are not particularly clear. The third boy doesn’t remember him at all. 

1220-wilshire-park.jpg

Here’s the Sanborn Map from 1924 that shows the 33rd Street Woods (now Wilshire Park). Note the outhouse situated in the northwest corner, and “Campaign Street” (now Skidmore). Marguerite Avenue is now NE 37th. This is a detail from Sanborn panel No. 1220. Click for a larger view.

Here’s the story we’ve been reassembling from memory fragments: Reportedly, this old man used to walk through the neighborhood with his big dog, which one of the boys remembered as a “police-type dog.” He didn’t drive, so when he needed to travel somewhere, he would walk to the end of the streetcar line at NE 29th and Mason and wait for the Broadway Streetcar. Sometimes during these intervals, he would lay down and nap on the grass of the home at 29th and Mason (the turquoise one, which is a special house for other reasons…a subject for a future post).

So — operating from reassembled memory fragments here – as the man slept sprawled out on the front yard, passersby grew concerned for his health and attempted to wake him, prompting the dog to bark and to bite. This apparently happened a good few times…enough that the police knew about the sleeping man and the big dog, and avoided being pulled into the situation. Was he Mr. Volk? Mr. Volkman? Mr Wilshire? His name was in the air, but not something that stuck with these 10-year-old boys.

It’s been an interesting contrast this week. A good portion of my Alameda research centers on what has been documented in black-and-white: building permits, census data, newspaper clippings, plats. The human dimension — the memories and stories — is much more malleable, often more difficult to track down, and way more precious.

Time is of the essence to capture these memories.

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