Old Photos


Ken Birkemeier, the prolific Alameda neighborhood designer and homebuilder, always remembered the first house he ever built: a cute little English storybook style home at 829 NE 41st.

 

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829 NE 41st Avenue. Ken Birkemeier’s first homebuilding project. Photograph is from a 1932 story in The Oregonian about the sale of unused public property. The lot, located on a small peninsula just across the street from Laurelhurst School, had been kept in reserve in case the city needed it for school purposes, but was eventually purchased and developed by Birkemeier.

Birkemeier, whose work has come to signify the best of the Mid-Century Modern movement in Portland, built more than two dozen homes here in Alameda alone, often on steep or challenging lots.

According to homeowner and AH reader Gary Groce, Birkemeier dropped by one day during his later life, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, like a salmon returning back to where it all began. Groce wrote us recently with this account of his impromptu visit with the Mid-century Master.

As I recall, I was outside the house working on something when this largish car pulled up with an older couple inside. They were looking at the house. I walked over to the car and he introduced himself. My impression was that he had recently married this charming woman and wanted to show her the first house that he built. We invited them in and showed them things we had done to restore the house as close to original as possible including the re-acquisition of original art-deco slipper shade lights, etc.

I vividly remember him telling me as he looked at the mahogany beamed ceiling… “when we got the garage up, I used that as a shop and I remember cutting those brackets for the beams on my band saw in the garage.”

I remember him saying, “I used the best materials I could find because I wanted it to be right.”

I lamented to him that the original fireplace façade in the living room had been changed at least twice and that someday, I hoped to restore it to original. He very graciously invited me to his home in the west hills as he thought he might have blue prints, and sketches of the fireplace. I took him up on his offer.  I remember his home being this unbelievable, sprawling mid century modern with a fantastic view.  In retrospect, that home was undoubtedly of his own design and build. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to find anything of interest on our house so we just spent our time visiting.

I came away with the impression that this was a very successful, intelligent man who never lost the common touch. Very warm and personable.

In the years following the passing of his wife of 50 years (Marge), Birkemeier married Ramona, who he evidently wanted to see where all the homebuilding work began. Birkemeier died in 1996. The last house he built in Alameda is at 2830 NE Regents Drive (1952).

To read more about Birkemeier’s life and work, check out the profile here on the blog.

With thanks to Gary for sharing this memory.

Third of three parts: Bringing a great old building back from the brink

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In 2002, with much of its south-side clapboard replaced with T-111 siding, a clear southward slump, rotted floors, and replacement aluminum sliding windows, the bungalow-grocery at NE 27th and Going was crumbling and weeks away from being torn down. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

It’s been a while—regrettably, a very busy spring—but just to refresh from Part 1: In 1910, the Alberta District was at the edge of a very fast-growing Portland. As real estate values and more people caught up with the region north of Prescott and south of Killingsworth, a booming residential and retail area began to grow.

One particular building at the northwest corner of NE 27th and Going merged both residential and retail. In Part 2, we covered how the modest bungalow storefront opened originally as a men’s furnishings store, and was adapted over time and changed hands through the generations, closely integrated with neighborhood life until it went out of retail use in the mid 1960s.

Deferred maintenance began to catch up with the building, and when it was sold to a developer in 2002, the property was well on its way to becoming a vacant lot. Fortunately for the building, an adventurous fixer-upper couple named Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bought it four months later and began to bring it back to life.

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Missing siding, aluminum sliders and a rotting back porch were the least of the worries. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

“I was attracted to its unusual live-work facade which I thought was very handsome, unique, and proportionally graceful,” remembers Crouch. But he also remembers that it was in very sorry shape. The southeast corner was rotted and sinking. The foundation and the floor of the store had to be completely replaced. The residential kitchen was a disaster.

 

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The worn-out kitchen in the residence area, looking out the back door toward the porch. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

While it had been almost 40 years since being an active retail store, Crouch and Eckrich found two clues, including a Franz Bread ad and the word “LIPTON’s” etched into window glass. Other than that, the store space held no clues to generations of retail activity. “It was very spare: plaster walls and painted wood floors.  Florescent shop lighting.  No original fixtures, stencilling, or noteworthy mouldings. There was a wood stove taking up a lot of floor space.”

 

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Inside the store space looking toward the front windows. Note the new foundation wall on the right (the building had to be lifted by jacks and the new foundation poured underneath). The new floor shown here is a poured concrete slab piped with warm water to keep the floor toasty during the winter. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

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One of the few clues to the building’s earlier retail life. An advertisement for Franz bread. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

Crouch and Eckrich invested sweat equity and financial capital in the restoration, and did so in a creative way. “We used some of the original wood flooring in a step-up elevated dining platform and perimeter bench in the main room.  It turned out to be more work than it was probably worth, as the planks had been compressed by traffic patterns of 100 yeas of foot traffic. Some hand planing was required to work out the refinishing.  We put up salvaged tin ceiling tiles on the new span joists we ran to accommodate a master bedroom in the 1/2 story above.”

 

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A view of the finished store space (front doors and windows are on the left). Note the fireplace, salvaged ceiling tiles, new hydronic slab, and built-in perimeter bench in the former store space. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

A gallery of photos was posted on a real estate website when the building was sold in November 2013, so click around and take a look. Chad and Sheryl have done a great service to the future and to the past with their careful, thoughtful restoration. The Smythes, the Coulters and the other proprietors–plus the generations of families and neighbors who bought their groceries and necessities here–would definitely recognize the building and think it’s in fine shape for being 105 years old.

Today, Alberta’s bungalow-grocery is an attractive and vibrant old building that serves as a kind of time capsule for the neighborhood, showing just how nicely old buildings can be restored and repurposed instead of razed and replaced. In a neighborhood where change is the common denominator, this success story holds hope for the future.

 

 

Research can be so satisfying sometimes because often when you are not looking for something, you find something else of interest. That’s kind of the case here, in this other view of the Grant Park Market, slightly different than the last post. Here we’re looking due west up Knott. Check out the cars, houses and all those utility poles (click for a closer look). Taken on January 4, 1932. We’re always hungry for early views in the neighborhood and consider this one a gem. With thanks to the City of Portland Archives and their very cool website called Vintage Portland which you should bookmark.

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Remembering that during the last week of the year we are encouraging readers to share photos and memories of their favorite houses, wherever they may be. Son of Alameda, old-house fan and sometime AH correspondent Brian Rooney sends the following celebration of the Rooney family home on Dunkley. Thanks Brian!

This photo-in-a-photo is nice example of how fond memories influence decisions. In 1965, when recent Portland arrivals Bill and Kathleen Rooney went looking for a house to raise their small but growing family. Their search was over as soon as they drove past 3215 Dunckley.

3215 Dunckley & 1846 Sunnyside

The portico on the Alameda house struck my mother’s heartstrings as it reminded her of the house she grew up in on the banks above the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa (seen inset here). The Iowa house was originally a square brick structure believed to have been built around 1850. It was Kathleen Rooney’s grandfather who saw great potential, purchased the house and added the grand portico with pillars (and complimentary side porches) to the brick box transforming it into something special.

The Dunckley house is also very special in that it is one of the last remaining double lot homes in the Alameda neighborhood. It was wonderful growing up with a large yard to play in, countless hours having been spent digging, swinging, climbing, sliding and getting muddy there. I dearly hope the house holds onto its own small park so that future families and children can continue to enjoy it forever.

3215 Dunckley is having two anniversaries in 2015: it’s 100th birthday and the 50thanniversary of the Rooney family having called it home. Let the celebrations begin!

-Brian Rooney

Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago, Illinois. About 1918.

We always think of the last couple weeks here at the bottom of the year—with a little more time and space for reflection—as a good time to flip back through some of our favorite old photos and memories. Since we are a blog dedicated (mostly) to old houses, we’d like to open it up for AH readers to share a favorite old house picture or story, from Northeast Portland or far beyond.

To get us started we’ll offer these two gems, taken in 1918 on the steps of the Chicago home where our Dad was born. This is one of our favorite old houses, probably because it was the first old house picture we ever saw, and one we grew up with. Look at the dentals, the Palladian window, the oversize lintel moulding creating its own gravity. We’ve been back to this house many times, and even knocked on the door (no one home). Definitely recognizable 100 years later. We have lots of other photos of this house we’d be pleased to share with the owner. Like this one:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

Aunt Vivien and Dad, Diversey Parkway Steps, about 1918.

OK readers, this is your chance to share a picture or story of your favorite old house. Drop us a note. Time to appreciate old homes!

Shaver House ThenShaver House Now

Here’s a photo of a house you’ll recognize at 3119 NE Alameda Street, built by Captain Delmer Shaver and his wife Nellie. Shaver spent his life (1867-1950) working with his father and brothers to create and operate the Shaver Transportation Company, which started out as a steamship company on the Columbia and Willamette rivers and has become a leading tugboat and barge company still on the waters today. Delmer and Nellie had three children (James, Ellen and Doris) who grew up in this house, and attended Alameda School and Grant High School.

The then photo is from the August 9, 1914 edition of The Oregonian. The caption described that construction (which cost $10,000 which was a fair amount in 1914) began in February, was nearly complete in August, but the house would not be occupied until late fall. The second floor included a sleeping porch (which can be seen on the far right), and service quarters on the third floor. The unusually large lot was described as being a “park,” and the garage being large and “commodious.”

Not necessarily related to the house, but of note in the Shavers’ life in August 1914 was a gathering to mark their 25th wedding anniversary, held at the couple’s other home near Cannon Beach, which was poetically described in a brief article that appeared in the August 24th edition of The Oregonian.

Captain and Mrs. Shaver celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary early this week at their country place. An elaborate dinner was served at tables arranged on the lawn. In the evening Japanese lanterns lighted the grounds and added dashes of color most effective among the deep green of the trees. The tables were decorated attractively. A bonfire followed the supper. Congratulations and good wishes were extended to the host and hostess.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Once they moved in, the Shavers hosted similar gatherings at the Alameda home, some of which also made it onto the pages of The Oregonian, including soiree-like block parties that shut down The Alameda (as the street was known then) with lanterns hung across the road, music and other entertainments, and neighbors coming from throughout Portland to enjoy summer evenings.

We think Captain Shaver would definitely recognize the house today, and would be pleased with its upkeep and the recent landscaping work that has been completed.

Eastman House Then Eastman House Now

Here’s the home of Portland architect George Asa Eastman, photographed 100 years ago to illustrate a story in the May 5, 1914 edition of The Oregonian about how the Alameda Park neighborhood was “forging ahead.” The subtitle to the headline was “Few districts enjoy more substantial growth than suburban park. New homes are sprinkled over many handsome streets.” Eastman designed this home and supervised its construction in 1912.

While the story didn’t recognize Eastman’s contribution to local construction trends, he was a principal architect for the Oregon Home Builders, which built more homes in Alameda Park and Olmsted Park than any other builder.

You’ll recognize this house today at 2628 NE Stuart Drive, where some recent major changes in landscaping have enabled a full appreciation of the Craftsman style home and the unique site on the sidehill of Alameda Ridge. For a short time after construction, NE Stuart Drive was known as Rugby Drive, a name that is still visible if you know where to look. An accident on the property in 1917 gave rise to the name–still in local usage–of Deadman’s Hill.

A careful look at then-and-now will reveal that the top floor open porch of the house has been enclosed; many windows have been replaced and a couple have been added; a new deck and walkway have been added along the lower level; trees have come and gone (but appear in similar locations); a power pole has been added in the foreground.

Eastman was active in Portland from about 1909 until he moved to Detroit in 1916. He died in 1920. Stay tuned for more on Eastman and the Oregon Home Builders: both are the subject of current inquiry and research.

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