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.

More on the Garfield telephone exchange, with thanks to frequent Alameda History blog visitor John Hamnett for inspiration…

We remember the time—which seems not so long ago—when our phone numbers began with two letters (and a word associated with those two letters), and then a number.

We grew up in the Alpine exchange and our number was AL1-2820, which eventually became 251-2820 (get it?…A=2, L=5). When asked for our number, we really did use to say “Alpine 1 2-8-2-0.”

Here in Alameda and in other nearby neighborhoods in Northeast Portland, our phone numbers used to begin with GA. And that’s not by accident. It’s because our neighborhood was served by the GArfield Exchange. If we had grown up here, we would have given out our number as Garfield 2-8-2-0.

A “numbercard” from an old Western Electric style phone bearing the GArfield exchange name and number

Check out this clipping from The Oregonian on September 1, 1955 which charts the evolution of a local business’s phone number. Keep in mind that behind these changes were corresponding changes in technology at places like the Garfield Exchange Office.

The spoken word “Garfield” would have been ubiquitous in our old Alameda homes in years past. And anyone passing by the building at 24th and Stanton would have thought about it as “our” exchange. The Garfield Exchange.

If you look closely as you travel the city, you might find evidence of these old telephone exchanges, and the days in which we referred to our numbers with a word. Alpine. Garfield. Check out this blog entry from a fellow local historian in New York who has made a practice of collecting these references. Pretty neat. Let us know if you find similar references here in Portland.

And if you are captivated by the idea of exchange names, you must check out this website, which has an incredible collection of information about early telephone exchanges (you can even search your old exchange name). We appreciate the reason given for why remembering these things is important: “Exchange names helped foster a sense of place…

Looking southwest at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, early 1920s. Note delivery bike visible behind power pole. OrHi 49061.

There was a time when the building we know today as the home of Lucca and Garden Fever—at the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont—looked after most of the neighborhood’s needs for grocery and personal goods. Alameda Pharmacy, Alameda Grocery, John Rumpakis’s Alameda Shoe Repair, even the dentist’s office, upstairs above the pharmacy, were neighborhood landmarks that everyone knew, shopped in, and pretty much took for granted (except the ice cream sodas at the pharmacy which were supposed to be legendary). The pharmacy and grocery even provided a delivery-by-bicycle option for homemakers who needed a few small items, but couldn’t get out of the house. It was a win-win situation for Alameda and for the local family-owned business during those early years.

To be sure, some shopping needs were taken care of away from the neighborhood. Even then, there were smaller markets or “convenience” style stores of the day located within walking distance (see this post on the Davis Dairy Store, one such locally-owned convenience market). Built in 1922 during the peak of neighborhood construction, the Alameda Grocery commercial building at 24th and Fremont quite literally had a corner on the market.

That is, until the mid 1930s, when a fully-built-out neighborhood with a growing population, combined with a slowly recovering economy and new trends in shopping, opened up new opportunities for big business which began to shape the corner.

Enter the Safeway Corporation: a publicly-traded rampant success story, with headquarters in Oakland, California and more than 3,200 chain stores nationwide. The company’s penetration of local grocery markets was so complete that by 1935, many states around the country were passing legislation—urged by local merchants who were getting slammed by Safeway chain stores—that taxed the huge company’s local operations to discourage competition.

But not in Portland. By 1937, Safeway had 54 stores here, including 46 stores located in eastside neighborhoods, and even one on the doorstep of Alameda at the southwest corner of NE 24th and Broadway (today it’s Brake Team, an auto service garage) built in 1936. Most of these stores were modest in size, and not like the sprawling stores we know today. Undoubtedly, the local Safeway on Broadway cut into the market share of Alameda Grocery. But nothing like what happened starting in 1938.

Click on the image for a larger view. This ad is from The Oregonian on September 13, 1940 announcing a remodel and reopening of the Alameda Safeway.

On July 16, 1938, Safeway opened a store in the building we know today as the home of Alameda Dental and Frontier Bank on the southeast corner of the intersection. The property had been leased from the Albers Brothers Milling Company, who incidentally also owned the Alameda grocery and pharmacy building across the street. Retail activity in the single-storey 50-by-100 foot concrete Safeway building began to take a big bite out of Alameda Grocery’s market share.

By 1940, Safeway expanded and remodeled, while Alameda Grocery across the street struggled to hold on. About that time, Safeway made plans to expand beyond the footprint of the existing store to take in the entire north end of the block. But as The Oregonian reported on March 20, 1942, the Portland City Council narrowly defeated a zoning change that would have allowed this major expansion. Despite voicing concerns about home values in the neighborhood, Mayor Earl Riley voted to expand the commercial zoning to permit the Safeway expansion:

From The Oregonian, March 20, 1942.

Safeway’s expansion into residential neighborhoods was not a phenomenon isolated to Alameda. Blog reader and longtime Grant Park resident John Hamnett writes that in nearby Grant Park, local residents fought a pitched battle with the City of Portland regarding a plan to build a Safeway adjacent to the Grant Park Grocery, a similar locally-owned market at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Knott. The vision for that zone change took in all of the southwest corner, and further considered zoning the entire intersection commercial at all four corners. In May 1942, City Council voted 4-1 to allow the Safeway development. Incredulous neighbors protested time and again concerned about their property values, but the City would not relent. Finally, in March 1943, neighbors filed suit against the city for allowing the zone change, and won in a clear decision handed down by Circuit Judge Walter L. Tooze.

Back at NE 24th and Fremont, two gas stations were added on the northwest and northeast corners—the true portal of the Alameda Park subdivision (today site of a parking lot, and Perry’s on Fremont). Generational and ownership changes were remaking the anchor businesses on the south side of the street as well. Eventually, as Safeway’s business model changed (fewer, larger stores instead of the 50-foot by 100-foot businesses sprinkled all over Portland), the former Safeway store went back to being a family-owned business, loved and known by a generation of Alamedans as Brandel’s. Nature’s Fresh Northwest (or simply “Natures”) eventually took over the Alameda Grocery building. And today, after a string of unsuccessful restaurant tenants, Lucca seems to have hit its stride.

Check out this story from The Oregonian on January 17, 1984, which is a snapshot as the corner transitioned from some difficult times in the 1970s to the place we know today:

From The Oregonian, January 17, 1984. Click on the image for a larger view.

We still miss Brandel’s and the ease of slipping into that old Safeway building for a gallon of milk on the way home. But every time we pass through that intersection, we pause for a moment to think about how our neighborhood geography could have turned out quite differently.

When it snows in Alameda—or more properly when we think about snow in Alameda—there are a few things that come to mind: When did we last fill the oil tank? Will the kids get a day off? Where did we put the sleds?

Which leads to the next thought: Deadman’s Hill.

Over the years we’ve sledded down, walked up and often wondered about the namesake Dead Man behind the slang name for Stuart Drive. In this case, it’s not just a myth, it’s a real story about a well-known and popular Portland businessman who died in 1917 in a freak accident that rattled the business community and shocked the young Alameda Park neighborhood.

Fred A. Jacobs, art collector, civic booster, real estate broker and owner of the Fred A. Jacobs Company, had set out with his employee J.P. Parker to drive through Alameda on their way to have a look at rental properties in the Vernon neighborhood. At the time—and well up until the 1970s, we’ve been told—Stuart Drive was a two-way street. On the morning of June 5, 1917, they started up Stuart Drive on their route north. Why they chose Stuart Drive over the gentler and wider Regents Drive is anyone’s guess. The car made it about half way up the hill, but then stalled out and started to roll backwards down the street. Unfortunately for Parker and Jacobs, the emergency brake did not hold and the car rolled to the far left side of the street, went backwards over the curb, bumped over the small sliver of property that goes with the lovely George A. Eastman-designed Craftsman home there on the hill, and then flipped over hard, landing on its side 25 feet below on Ridgewood Drive. Here’s what The Oregonian said the next morning:

From The Oregonian, June 6, 1917

Jacobs, age 47, left behind his wife Gussie and two children, Elizabeth, and Fred Jr. Pallbearers for the funeral—held with full Masonic rite honors—included Portland’s most powerful and successful business leaders. Services were held at home, and then again at graveside. No known plaque or marker was ever put in place in honor of Fred Jacobs. The real estate company bearing his name lived on for many years.

The same story that carried news of the fatal accident also described the hill as a perilous spot and the scene of other accidents. Indeed, an earlier news story, this one from April 19, 1912, described a serious but non-fatal collision between a motorcycle and a car near the top of the hill that ended up with the car over the side and smashed into a just-finished (and now much remodeled) house, and motorcycle driver and passenger pinned under the car.

Here’s The Oregonian’s description from April 19, 1912, and even a photo.

From The Oregonian, April 19, 1912. Click to enlarge.

Here’s some bonus information that we found fascinating: A later news story about the motorcycle vs. car accident, and the law suit that resulted, appearing on July 3, 1914, helps solve another mystery about the hill. Frequent readers of the blog will recall the post about “Hugby” Drive, which we now know was Rugby Drive. The July 1914 story refers to the accident as happening at Rugby Drive and Alameda Street. A search through the city’s street naming records shows the only “official” Rugby Drive as being on the Westside. References to Stuart Drive exist both before 1912 (including in the original 1909 plat) and long after, so we’ll have to continue wondering about the story behind this visible but extinct street name. Theory: the Alameda Land Company boys had it set in the concrete curb before the official naming protocol became clear.

One more item, for the record: the late Portland historian Eugene Snyder, author of the definitive Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origins, which we greatly admire, guesses incorrectly about who Stuart was. After researching E.Z. Ferguson, president of the Alameda Land Company, and understanding more about his social network, it’s clear to us that Stuart was Donald M. Stuart, Ferguson’s business partner, owner of the Spencer-McCain-built home on the northwest corner of 26th and Hamblet, (less than a block from Ferguson’s Craftsman mansion at the southeast corner of 26th and The Alameda). Long-time friends from Astoria, Stuart served as pallbearer at Ferguson’s funeral in July 1917.

Sled carefully please.

We’ve written in the past about Alameda School and the portable buildings that preceded it. To be clear, there is much more to learn and write about the school itself, but recently we’ve come across some information that will make you want to go stand at the corner of NE 25th and Fremont and imagine a different reality (that’s a big part of what history is all about for us…trying to reassemble the pieces).

And since it’s the start of the school year, what better time to pause for a moment to think about our favorite local school?

We’ll remember that in 1914, the Alameda Park neighborhood was a blank slate with streets and curbs in, but less than 80 homes built. Still, there were kids, and parents who organized to push for the School Board to build a local school.

On September 3, 1914, the Board heard from a delegation of Alameda parents, and received a promise for further action:

From The Oregonian, September 4, 1914

Construction of Kennedy School on NE 33rd was underway which may well have just served to irritate Alameda parents, who felt there should be a school here too. By October, the Board was ready to provide a temporary solution, leasing a 200-foot by 500-foot lot on the northeast corner of 25th and Fremont for several temporary buildings:

From The Oregonian, October 2, 1914. Interesting unrelated note: the writer refers to the “overlap” area (see post from August 24th) as Alameda Park.

By Thanksgiving week 1914, the buildings were in and so were the kids:

From The Oregonian, November 24, 1914

Over the next several years, the portables multiplied into a compound of buildings and by October 1919, Alameda parents (there were more of them by now) held a rally of sorts, signed a petition and expressed their readiness to levy a tax against themselves to build a building:

From The Oregonian, October 29, 1919. Note that additional portables had been added to the mix since the first two in 1914.

On an interesting side note, Dr. C.J. Smith was a notable Alamedan who while serving as the President of the State Health Board was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for Governor against James Withycombe in the election of 1914. The Smith family was very active in Alameda community affairs. Despite his pleas and the voices of the community, when school started in 1920, the Alameda portables were bursting at the seams with nearly 150 students. Something had to be done. By mid-October 1920, School Board Director W.F. Woodward had been to see the hardships, and parents submitted more petitions.

From The Oregonian, October 15, 1920

Which is exactly what they did. A bond issue was passed and school construction began to catch up with the growing student population across Portland. One year later, on October 27, 1921, the School Board selected a contractor and construction soon followed leading to the school we know today (the building of which is another story for another day).

The following year, homes were built on the property where the portables stood. In fact, there may be a few missing pieces to the story about the location of the portables. The northeast corner of 25th and Fremont has had a house on it since 1919. Perhaps the reporter meant the northwest corner of 25th and Fremont, though we’ve seen multiple references to that northeast corner. Possibly by the early 1920s, the portables were moved onto the current school site–which was a dairy pasture–as the neighborhood expanded.

Regardless, it’s an inspiring story about neighbors making a difference. And it still makes us wonder what the corner of 25th and Fremont looked like with six portable buildings and 150 students. And tip our hat to the parents of the day who helped make it happen.

If you’re like us as we turn the corner into fall, we’re mapping out the next few months and trying to fit in all the family goings on, important programs and events we want to be sure to take in.

Here’s one for your calendar: We’re presenting a program on the history of the Alameda neighborhood at the Architectural Heritage Center on the morning of Saturday, October 23rd. It’s an encore presentation of a sold-out program we gave in January of this year, but with some added new research from the last nine months.

The program is entitled “The Alameda Neighborhood: It’s Founding and Early Life.” We believe all who attended enjoyed it, and we certainly enjoyed the many conversations it spawned afterwards.

The Architectural Heritage Center hasn’t posted their fall listing of programs yet, but when they do, you’ll be able to register for the Alameda program on-line. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, save the date.

Hope you can join us for a trip back through time…

We’d like to recommend a great local website that will feed your curiosity about Portland history:

This excellent site, which launched last November, features a steady parade of high resolution photos that you’ll want to look at close-up for clues to the past and the present. We like to download the photos and then explore them in detail. Look closely and you might see the person in the upstairs window. Or the guy in the distance staring at the photographer from under his fedora. Or the amazing wolf’s head frieze on the cornice of the downtown building.

Taken together they offer a sense of just how much we’ve inherited from the past, how much has been lost, and the importance of recognizing the stewardship role we have at this moment in time to be a bridge between past, present and future.

Keep an eye out there and you might even see a shot or two from the Alameda Park neighborhood! For future reference, we’ve added a link to Vintage Portland on the links sidebar in the lower right side of this page.

We’ve recently completed a survey through city building permits, collecting information on every home built here in the Alameda Park addition. It’s taken two years and more than a dozen visits to the Bureau of Development Services (which has been very accommodating and helpful), but time well spent, given the insight it offers into the development of the early neighborhood. Everything from the date of construction—it’s interesting to see what parts of the neighborhood were built first—to identifying the most prolific builders, and all of it helps paint a picture of how Alameda Park developed.

Original building record for Alameda School, taken out on November 7, 1921. Information from more than 1,025 Alameda Park building records were reviewed as part of the study.

When you aggregate the information from the permits, there are some trends and patterns that emerge:

The first observation has to do with the general timing of construction in Alameda Park, from just two homes built in 1909 to a peak of 139 built in 1922. One factor in the timing of this was the ebb and flow of the economy. Strong in 1910, but the infrastructure hadn’t yet caught up. Slow in 1918-1919. Explosive in the 1920s with both a strong economy and demand, and an infrastructure that was truly ready for development.

Building permits issued in the Alameda Park subdivision, by year, 1909-1934. From permit study by Doug Decker, 2010.

By 1934—the end of this graph—about 85 percent of the neighborhood had been built out (the late 1930s and 1940s are a mere trickle of a couple or three homes per year, if that). 1922 would have been an interesting time here in Alameda, with an influx of neighbors. If you haven’t read it, go back and look up our post about the Alameda Park Community Church and the pastor’s desire to bring together new neighbors who were strangers. That was 1922 here in Alameda.

Another observation from the permit study is to have a look at the spread of construction activity to see which portions of the neighborhood were built out first: the areas around 24th and Dunckley; 25th and 26th below the ridge; 29th and Mason; and 32nd Place (then called Glenn) from Mason to Hamblet. These highlighted areas below indicate in general the earliest construction from 1909 to 1912.


It’s also interesting to see who was doing the building during these years. A handful of builders built a large percentage of the homes. The list we’ve compiled below shows total homes constructed in Alameda Park by each of the most prolific builders. Many of these we’ve profiled here, others we’re still working on.

Builder Total Alameda Homes Built Building Activity
Oregon Home Builders 24 homes built 1914-1917
Ken Birkemeier 21 homes built 1932-1952
Harry Phillips 21 homes built 1921-1928
Matot Construction Co. 20 homes built 1921-1926
Frank Read 19 homes built 1923-1941
Nils O. Eklund 17 homes built 1916-1922
Grady Mahaffy 13 homes built 1922-1936
Wickman Building Co. 10 homes built 1921-1923


In addition to the general trends, there are specific sad stories: more houses than you might imagine have had fires (and fire repairs, hence the permit records). A couple of homes were actually struck by lightning. A fad of game rooms, recreation rooms and wet bars were put in during the 1950s, and even an exercise room way back when. Sadly, too frequent removal of trim, built-in shelves and other architectural details in a attempt at modernization (gasp). Interesting to note how many wooden front porches were rotting apart by the 1950s, and a spate of concrete porches and steps poured in replacement.

It’s also clear, when you look at the permits, why Portland’s addressing system was changed in the early 1930s. Some of our homes here in Alameda have had three addresses prior to the Great Renumbering (particularly on NE Bryce Avenue) as numbers had to be skootched over to make room for new houses built on empty lots. Let’s just say the original numbering system was less than scientific. You can see this on the actual building permits themselves, where one address has been scratched out and the new one written in. History in the making. It wasn’t scratched out in the example above, but you can clearly see Alameda School’s pre-address change number: 864 Fremont.

Another observation as we completed the study was just how many homes do not have an original building permit. Over the years, for whatever reasons, the City has lost perhaps as many as 20 percent of the original building permits, particularly in the early years. For these homes, we have to rely on original plumbing permits which always give the construction date, but can be sketchy with owner and contractor information.

Regardless, as you handle these permits, some 1,025 in all, you feel time passing through your fingers. You see the clerk typists punching in the details. You sense the contractors standing in line, waiting at a counter wishing they could be back on the job instead of in the permit office. You witness the many inspectors and their mostly neat observations, drawings, complaints and even sarcastic remarks in shorthand on the 4 x 6 manila cards.

And you can’t help but wonder what it will be like 100 years from now when someone wants to research the history of your house. What story will your house be able to tell?

We’ve just heard from our friends at the Architectural Heritage Center that there are still some seats left for the Saturday, January 23rd presentation about Alameda History. We’ll be taking a trip back through time to look at how the neighborhood developed, some of the key builders, and stories from across the years that help characterize the life and times of the Alameda Park neighborhood. The program runs from 10:00-11:30 a.m. at the Architectural Heritage Center, 701 S.E. Grand Ave., Portland.

Click here for more information about registration.

There are always at least two sides to any story (usually a lot more), and we’ve recently found a description of the events surrounding the neighborhood opposition to the Alameda Park Community Church that sheds further light on exactly what happened around here in the fall of 1921.

Let us whet your appetite with this clip, from the April 1923 edition of The American Missionary, published by the Congregational Home Missionary Society:

To help put this in context, if you haven’t already read it, we’d recommend reading the page on the church (today’s Subud Center) which you can find by clicking here. Be sure to have a good look at the photos too.

In order to appreciate what The Rev. Allingham is about to tell us, you have to know that some in the Alameda Park neighborhood were up in arms about the construction of the church at NE 30th and Mason. Several protests were organized, a petition got up, and a fair amount of consternation resulted, including relocation of a construction site. The story hits close to home for us because the leading petitioners were the folks who lived in our house for 50 years, and the original intended construction site are the two lots immediately north of us.

Let’s catch up with The Rev. Allingham: 

The turning of the other cheek. He continues:

The reference to the children from the homes that objected to the church: that’s probably Bruce and Jean Morrison who lived here and were probably some of those kids who snuck out the back door of home to check out Sunday mornings at the Bungalow Church. Hmm. And the church seems to have served the community up into the 1950s and early 1960s. We’ll continue looking for additional stories and articles that chronicle the building’s life and times. In the meantime, with The Rev. Allingham’s words in our minds, stroll past the building at Regents and Mason and listen for the echoes of all those children.

Alameda School, 1923. Picture taken looking southeast from the corner of NE 27th and Fremont. OHS image OrHi 105623.

We received word last week from Portland Public Schools that they’re sharing an inventory of their many historic properties, including our favorite Alameda Elementary School, and nearby Beaumont Middle School.

You can find these reports and many others at this link, which is interestingly housed within the Office of School Modernization.

Looks like Alameda faired well in the analysis in terms of its historic integrity, but Beaumont–due to many alterations made over time–did not. Both buildings were designed by George Jones, the one-man Portland school architectural institution (actually two man institution, his father Thomas had also been architect for the Portland School District years earlier).

The good news for Alameda Elementary School is that it scores well as a candidate for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps a small group of interested parents and historic building fans might be up to the task…? Count us in if we can find a quorum.

Be sure to have a look at these other posts related to Alameda School.

In the midst of the communication technology that has come to define our busy lives—mobile everything and 24/7 communication—we thought a little historical context might be of interest. During a recent session with The Oregonian microfilm, we came across this little nugget from January 11, 1911.


From The Oregonian, January 11, 1911.

Just wanted to make sure you caught that: the Home Telephone & Telegraph Company, working at a very busy pace, installed 2,460 phones in calendar year 1910, bringing the total number of working phones in Portland to 12,254. Just for interest sake, Portland’s total population in 1911 was 212,290. Between 1910-1911, more than 13,000 building permits were issued in Portland, a record that made the City Building Department (formerly located in City Hall) a very busy place. Construction in Portland, and in our brand new neighborhoods here in the Northeast quarter of the city, was taking place at a pace which we can hardly imagine today.

In our 1912 bungalow, the first phone was hidden away in a box tucked into the wainscot in the breakfast nook. A later version had its very own table mounted to the wall in the hallway outside the master bedroom. Not sure when the “twisted pair” arrived here, but our hunch–based on what was a growing trend both in homebuilding and telephone business–is that we were wired from the beginning. What’s the history of the phone in your house?

At a time when we take wi-max, wi-fi, cell phones and the internet for granted, the notion of 12,254 working phones in Portland makes us want to slow down a bit, and wonder if people were actually better connected then.

I’ve just finished a research project on a century-old house in the Boise neighborhood, an area known in earlier years as Albina. The house, on North Borthwick, was a rental for many years that held at least 17 different families and dozens of occupants of all ages. The research task was to track down all of the past residents and to learn something about their lives. What a fascinating pleasure it was to unearth the stories from newspaper clips, Polk directories and a handful of remaining public documents.

The part of the neighborhood I was focusing on was a Scandinavian stronghold in the early years: the house was built by a Swedish immigrant and for the first 40 years of its rental life, the house knew only immigrant families.

In the course of the research, I had occasion to read and enjoy a great book by former Northeast Portland resident and author Roy Roos, The History of Albina, which I recommend to readers of this blog.

The back of the book contains a thumbnail history of many properties in the Boise, King, Humboldt and Piedmont neighborhoods. You’ll recognize some of these buildings, particularly the ones up and down Martin Luther King Boulevard. But it’s the front part of the book—the narrative that describes how neighborhood geography has changed over time, and particularly the maps—that will haunt you. So much has been lost in these neighborhoods. Virtually all of Albina has been altered by development of Emanuel Hospital, construction of Interstate 5, and construction of the Fremont Bridge and its various ramps and fly overs. Overlay the map of old Albina on the geography of today and you can get a sense of just how much is gone.

If you are haunted by layers of history and enjoy seeking clues that link today with the past, read Roy’s book and then get out there on the ground, maps in hand, to imagine what must have been. You can find his book at Powell’s and many other booksellers locally and on the internet. Here’s a link to a neat story that ran in The Oregonian following the book’s publication.

Hat’s off to Roy for keeping these stories and places alive.

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.

We see this morning that a recent interview with The Oregonian has turned into a very nice story, which ran in the Thursday, March 26th edition of the paper. Feature writer Larry Bingham wrote the piece out of an interest in old house history, and in keeping with the paper’s focus on Oregon history during this susquicentennial year. You can find the story here at this link. Thanks Larry!

A collection of images relating to Ken Birkemeier. Top left, Ken and his wife of 50 years Marge. Photos and drawings courtesy of Dan Birkemeier.

A collection of images relating to Ken Birkemeier. Top left, Ken and his wife of 50 years Marge. Below, homes he built in the neighborhood. More pictures in The Builders section. Photos and drawings courtesy of Dan Birkemeier.

After a very interesting few weeks of research, correspondence with the Birkemeier family, and lots of walking around the neighborhood looking at dozens of houses he built, I’ve posted some background on local architect and builder Kenneth L. Birkemeier. You’ll find the details (and some more photos) over in the new section called The Builders (click here). It was great to hear memories from various family members, particularly the story from his grandson Dan, who is today an architect in Seattle.

You’ll note that I’m inviting your stories or photos of Birkemeier homes, so let me hear from you and I’ll share them here on the blog.

The new section is up to four major builders now, with dozens more to go. One thought that occurred as I walked around the neighborhood this week is that Irwin, Read and Berkemeier must have known each other. Between the three of them, they designed and built dozens of houses here in the neighborhood…they must have been bumping into each other along the way.

Next on my list is Harry Phillips, who designed and built many of the homes along Ridgewood and Gile Terrace in the late 1920s. I also want to delve into the history behind the reference to the “Town of Wayne,” which is a small plat south of Fremont and between 32nd and 29th.

Inquiring minds want to know: Who was Wayne?

As the Alameda Neighborhood approaches its 100th anniversary, I thought it might be of interest to turn the clock back for a sense of what people were thinking about this part of the city in those days. I’ve done a comprehensive review of The Oregonian from 1909 to 1929 and have hundreds of articles and advertisements that shed light on the life of Alameda, Beaumont, Rose City Park and other Northeast Portland neighborhoods. Here’s one, an advertisement from 99 years ago: Sunday, October 24, 1909:


10-24-09 Advertisement for Alameda Park Neighborhood, from The Oregonian

10-24-09 Advertisement for Alameda Park Neighborhood, from The Oregonian


Plenty of food for thought here. The cartoon-like drawing showing a few houses (note the front porches) scattered on open blocks; the serpentine Alameda leading off toward Mt. Hood; street trees planted in orderly fashion. And the car. The text extols the affordable nature of the lots here in Alameda Park, the amenities, including flowering shade trees, telephone, electricity and sewer. The “Tuxedo” of Portland. Hmm.

Ninety-nine years ago this month, the streets were in, but not yet hard-surfaced (that was still almost three years off, completed in the spring of 1912). Curbs and sidewalks had not yet been framed and poured, nor was there any gas or electric installed. The only sounds of home construction were coming from Concordia and Vernon–neighborhoods to the north–where building was fast and furious. But here in Alameda, despite what the ad might have you think, it was a quiet place at the far northeast edge of the city limits. The first boom of Alameda construction was still a year or more away.

As we enter the 100th anniversary phase, in 2009-2011, I’ll be sharing clippings on a “real-time” basis. You can read all the Alameda news that was fit to print on the day it ran, exactly 100 years ago. What better way to learn about our history…no such thing as old news.

Grant Park Grocery and Market, about 1933. Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffelner

Grant Park Grocery and Market, NE 33rd and Knott, about 1933. Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffelner. The man in the first row, second from the right with the blue “x” penned onto his apron, is Jerry’s dad, George Hoffelner. The other men have yet to be identified. Can you help?

I’m researching a very old house near 29th and Knott. One of the many people who lived in the house over the years worked for a while at the Grant Park Grocery and Market, which we know today as the Family Medical Group office on the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Knott.

The image above, taken about 1933, shows the grocery staff decked out in their white aprons ready for action. Like many small stores, these guys often delivered the groceries direct to your door…an idea recently picked up on by some of the modern mega-grocery stores.

This image is taken on the east face of the building (facing 33rd). The original entrance for the market was not on the diagonal at the corner like it is today, though it seems there was always an entry there. My hunch is that was the entry to the pharmacy and fountain that used to be there. The grocery business was owned and operated by Ernest Bjorklund. Next time you are stopped at the light there, have a good look at this interesting building and tip your hat to Mr. Bjorklund and his squad of helpful grocery clerks.

I’m looking for any help with memories, stories, photos or information about either the Grant Park Market or the pharmacy and fountain.

Here’s a shot of that same spot today. The door appears to be an “emergency exit” today. The graceful lights are gone, as is the cool curved doorway and the sidewalk ramp leading to the door (it’s now just part of the garden bed).

Grant Park Grocery and Market building, June 2008

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. 


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.

A recent visitor to this blog asked if there was anything he could do to help with capturing the history of the Alameda neighborhood. Absolutely.


Bruce Morrison, the little boy who grew up in my house, remembered the day his younger sister Jean and brother Robert took a ride on the goat and cart out in front of the house. You never know what might turn up in an oral history interview!

There’s no time like the present to be reaching out to long-time residents to gain their insight and memories about what it’s been like to live in Alameda over the years. I’ve done dozens of oral history interviews with Alamedans and have developed a template of questions over time (which you can access by clicking here) that may be helpful.

Put on the coffee pot and invite your elder neighbor over for a trip down memory lane. Or better yet, bring a snack over to their house, where they might be more comfortable. Grab a tape recorder so you don’t miss anything. Start general and get specific. And fight the instinct to fill the silence. Just ask the question and listen. I’ve learned some interesting stories that would otherwise simply be lost to time.

Let me know if there is something I can do to support your oral history endeavor…sometimes it’s helpful to have a map of the neighborhood or old photo. I can send you something, if you like.

In fact, I’ll even offer to help conduct and transcribe the interview if you’ll help set it up. Just say the word. Personal memories are a non-renewable resource. Time is of the essence.

I’d be glad to post any oral history interviews you conduct here on the blog for neighbors to read and enjoy.

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