Neighborhood 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.

grant-park-grocery-ne-33rd-knott-c1940

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.

It’s been quiet here on the blog lately because we’ve been busy working on several studies of homes and businesses in northeast Portland. Each time we do a study—which involves becoming immersed in documents, maps, photos, archives, and family stories—we focus in on connecting past and present, which is what this work is all about.

These connections allow generations of owners—the people who have lived in, shaped and loved these buildings—to listen to each other, to learn, and sometimes to nod their heads in common understanding and amazement. What an honor and privilege to be able to help make those connections, to learn those stories and to understand and visualize the passage of time. And each time we take on a project, we learn more about the neighborhood as a whole.

As we’ve zeroed in on this work in the last month (to the exclusion of the blog), it has occurred to us what we’re really doing is taking a hold of time that has already passed and trying to slow it down long enough to look around inside for understanding and for answers. Frequently, that’s what we get. Sometimes we just get more questions.

With the completion of this latest handful of studies, we’re going to have some room to focus on some new (old) projects and studies. Interested?

Meanwhile here on the blog, stay tuned for something new soon about Mom and Pop grocery stores

AH reader and fellow old-picture lover Chris Wilson has shared this photograph, found last year at a yard sale near Rocky Butte. Click on it for a close-up look. Lot’s of detail, including the original pre-address change address of 605 (on the column above the dad’s head).

2835 NE 55th

Our only clue: written on the back is “Dad & Lois at home place.” We love mysteries like this. With a little digging we’ve found this house in the Rose City Park neighborhood (not too far from Archbishop Howard School) known today as 2835 NE 55th Avenue. This stately Portland four-square was built in 1910. Apparently, Chris Wilson may have offered it to the current homeowners, who reportedly weren’t interested. So he wrote us, knowing that we love photos of old houses (especially with people in them), and that we love to solve old house and old picture mysteries.

Here it is today:

2835 NE 55th Today

After looking back at building permits, census records and a little deductive reasoning, our hunch is that this is Christopher J. (Dad) and Lois Schmiedeskamp. In the teens and early 1920s, the family owned and operated a grocery store and meat market at 7224 NE Sandy Blvd., right next to Fairley’s Pharmacy (home today to Berni’s Beauty Salon). Later, CJ went into real estate and mortgage banking.

Also at home around the time of the old photo were mom Mildred, brothers Charles and Karl, and sister Edith.

A quick look at the phone book today suggests the Schmiedeskamps are still in Portland. We’re guessing they could be interested in seeing this yard-sale-salvaged photo of their old home place.

Bring on the next mystery!

9-20-14 Storefronts 1

The former Marble Palace Grocery and Market building (later known as Prescott Foods), 3587 NE Prescott, has recently been restored and is now alive and well as an art studio.

While looking into the history of the Wilshire Market building, we’ve become interested in the grocery and market world of years gone past.

In a day when large supermarkets did not exist, mom-and-pop stores were everywhere on the eastside. So were butcher shops, bakeries, and candy stores. A quick look at Portland’s business directory for 1931 lists more than 750 individual grocery stores, most of them owned and operated by families.

Here in the Alameda Park Addition, commercial development was prohibited. But just beyond our borders, small business was booming.

In past posts here on the blog, we’ve explored a few of those places, including Hunderups, at NE 29th and Prescott (today’s Food King Market); Alameda Grocery (today’s corner of NE 24th and Fremont); Davis Dairy Store at NE 30th and Killingsworth; and Grant Park Grocery at NE 33rd and Knott.

Here’s a look at three more markets, all of them clustered close together near NE 33rd and Prescott. We’re interested in hearing memories about these places or finding photos from the past. Can you help?

 

3133 NE Prescott (Bradford’s Market; Serv-Us Grocery)

9-20-14 Storefronts 2

Today it’s the Community Health Center, an acupuncture and Chinese medicine office, but it started out as a store. Ever noticed the parking lot just west of the building, making it perfect for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread on the way home? Built in 1921 as a grocery, this building was known for most of its life as Bradford’s Market, operated by Paul and Bernice Bradford from the mid-1920s until the mid-1950s. The Bradfords lived in Alameda at NE 30th and Mason (nice commute). Following its long run as Bradford’s, the store was known briefly as the Serv-Us Grocery, owned by Roy and Hazel Turnbaugh. From the early 1960s until the late 1970s, the building was the dental office of Dr. Herman Reisbick. Most recently, before becoming an acupuncture office, it’s been a barber shop and hair salon.

 

3587 NE Prescott (Marble Palace Grocery; Prescott Foods)

9-20-14 Storefronts 4

This is a notable building today with its fresh coat of black paint and recent makeover as an arts studio (Affiche Studio). And it’s been memorable in the recent past, as an upholstery business with a bright blue paint job.

This handsome one-story brick structure was built in 1924 by Joe Dellasin, and was operated in its early years as the Marble Palace Grocery and Market by George A. Peters, who owned another market by the same name near NE 15th and Fremont. Several proprietors ran it through the 1930s and 1940s before it became Prescott Foods, the name that stuck with the business through multiple mom-and-pop owners up until the mid 1980s (Loomis, Breshears, Dickerman, Patrick and Wallis). Grace and Earl Dickerman ran the business from 1948 until 1966 when they sold it and bought a small hardware store on SE Hawthorne. By 1985 the building had succumbed to the changing grocery shopping patterns of nearby residents (like most other small neighborhood groceries), and it became an upholstery shop, which it served as until 2012 when Affiche Studios moved in and fixed it up.

 

4518 NE 32nd Ave. (Thirty Second Street Grocery; Smith’s Cash Grocery)

9-20-14 Storefronts 3

This one is an oldie: 1910. We haven’t yet been able to determine its business name prior to 1930, but by then it was known as Thirty Second Street Grocery, operated by Henry C. Parker. In the 1930s, it was owned by the Skoog family, which owned and operated other markets in Portland. In 1940, it was well established as Smith’s Cash Grocery, a name that stuck into the late 1950s.

One local resident remembers this place in the 1950s as Doc’s Market, and can recall going in as a very young person saying “Hi Doc!” to the shopkeeper (who he remembers as having a flat-top haircut and a big smile). Grove M. Smith was the proprietor all those years, and probably was the “Doc” behind the counter.

City directories show the building as being vacant from the 1960s until recently, when it was transformed into an arts studio called FalseFront Studio.

We’d love to learn more about these buildings, see pictures of their earlier selves, or connect with family members of past owners. We’ll share what we learn, and will keep plugging along with research on several other storefronts nearby.

We’ve been watching with interest as the remodel work progresses at Wilshire Market (3707 NE Fremont). The term remodel might be a bit modest for the amount of work going on there, stripping the building back to its barest bones, but keeping some of its most interesting aspects.

9-13-14 South Face

Remodel might also imply that it’s going to continue being Wilshire Market, which we know not to be the case. Business owner Jeff Smalley is in the process of transforming the building into Fire and Stone, a wood-fired bakery and café. As a nearby neighbor, we’re looking forward to that part, as well as being able to see and appreciate some of the original components of the building.

We dropped in for a visit with Jeff this week and were amazed at what we saw, and at his vision for the new business.

First, about the building.

Built in 1923 as the Wilshire Grocery and Market Inc. by partners Solomon N. Barrigar and Albert P. Mumler, the business name has essentially stayed the same, but the building has had a few facelifts.

The front door, which we believe originally faced the corner, has moved around a bit. When deconstructing, Jeff and his carpenters found clues to other doorways: one in the middle of the south wall; the one that has been most recently used near the southeast corner; and a separate entrance in the northwest corner associated with a small pharmacy.

9-13-14 Corner

The once and future entrance at the corner of NE Alameda and Fremont. What was the original entrance to Wilshire Grocery and Market, will be the main entry to the new restaurant Fire and Stone, opening this fall.

The pharmacy has left another big clue: the window on the west side of the building, which you can see to the far left in the photo above. The former owners preserved the window and put it on display for passersby during work completed a few years back.

Padrow’s Dispensing Pharmacy shows up in newspaper advertisements and city directories from 1950-1960 as a business owned by Western Drug Company and in operation at its own address (3701 NE Fremont). How it related to Wilshire Market has so far been beyond anyone’s memory that we’ve spoken with (can any AH readers please shed light on that?), but by all accounts it had its own door–just to the right of the window–and its own identity separate from Wilshire Market.

A fascinating feature of this building buried for at least 50 years is a full set of transom-type windows running the length of the south and west walls above the main windows.

9-13-14 Inside looking south at windows

Looking at the south wall. Note the transom windows above the main windows: 36 panes in all.

They were covered up sometime in the 1940s or 1950s (educated guess) when other things were rearranged in the building (more on that in a moment). 36 of these transom windows tiled the entire south face of the building, prompting Jeff Smalley to observe that it must have been downright hot in the building during the summers. Maybe that’s why they were covered up long ago. Some of the transom windows on the west side had advertisements painted on them like this:

9-13-14 Ice Cream

 

Smalley has saved the hand-painted windows and will be displaying them inside the business. As for the transom windows, Smalley is liberating that space and opening it up again to light, though the original framing had to be replaced due to damage done during the rearranging a half-century or more ago.

Other rearranging done over the years included an addition to the north side of the building that added a residential apartment and storage area. In fact, the last proprietor of Wilshire Market lived on the premises. Smalley will utilize some of that space for storage and for employee break room space.

Do you have photos or favorite memories from Wilshire Market? Send them along and we’ll share them here.

Now, about the new business: Fire and Stone.

Jeff Smalley at the bar, Fire and Stone

 Jeff Smalley, owner, Fire and Stone.

First things first: Jeff Smalley has a history with bread. He spent seven years as a manager at Grand Central Bakery. He worked at Portland French Bakery, where he launched a new line of bread. And most recently, he was the bakery manager at New Seasons for the last seven years. Jeff knows his bread, and he knows good food. As a plus, he’s also learning a lot about old buildings.

Fire and Stone will feature a large wood-fired oven that is at the heart of the whole operation. A bakery and take-out area with its own entrance will reside at the southeast corner of the building. When you walk in the door—and from just about everywhere inside—you’ll be within sight of the big oven. Seating for 70 in the dining room and 10 seats at the bar should hold a good crowd, and during the summer, tables and chairs will be out on the sidewalk and large sliding windows along the south and west side will be open to the air. Jeff is adamant about being a good neighbor and about wanting the business to be a place where the neighborhood enjoys getting together for good food and conversation. He lives here too: the Smalley family has lived in the Cully neighborhood for 12 years, where Jeff and his wife have restored an older home.

A few other details Jeff pointed out during our recent visit: the tables, chairs and booths (under construction off-site right now) are all being made of seasoned, beautiful wood salvaged from a 100-year-old barn and fashioned in Prairie School and Mission style. The floors will be polished concrete, lending a slightly industrial feel. The exterior will be painted stucco. Inside, expect to see photos of Wilshire Market from the past, in-progress remodeling photos, and maybe even some history about the Beaumont and Alameda neighborhoods (ready when you are, Jeff).

Now for the $64 question: When will Fire and Stone open?

Jeff has been shooting for Labor Day all summer but with that come and gone, has readjusted his sights on the end of October. As an observer and participant in construction projects over the years (and as a lover of good bread), we hope he’s right but are thinking it’s looking more like Thanksgiving.

Whenever it’s ready, the business will add an attractive new venue for a get-together and good food, and serve as a place to remember and appreciate how the past has shaped today and the future.

When it comes to tangible Alameda history, few things are closer to the heart than the Broadway Streetcar. It defined our neighborhood for two generations, and linked us with friends, family and business across the city.

So it is with great interest that we have been watching the sewer upgrade work underway this week on Regents Hill. It’s been dusty and a little clunky with traffic control and lots of big equipment up and down the slope. But it’s also been revealing.

9-9-14 Top of Regents

This week, we stopped to visit with some of the workers, who are just as tuned into history as others of us are, in fact maybe more so. One of the guys told us, appreciatively, “we get a good look at history every day.” And when they find it, as in the case of the streetcar track and the fine brick work between the rails, they take note too. And take pictures. They know something special when they see it.

9-9-14 Rail and brick

 

Photo credit: Aaron Johns

Standing there near the top of the hill watching the equipment scrape off the asphalt revealing the fine brick work and rails, you can’t help but feel the nostalgia, the wonder about who crafted that stretch of street, all the stories that rolled over the top along those rails for almost 50 years. A kind of post-card from the past.

9-9-14 Rails

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 173 other followers