Throw together a couple dozen scattered and growing neighborhoods, at least five incorporated towns with their own municipal governments, a public transportation system owned and operated by a handful of different authorities and private companies, a real estate market on fire, and an expanding network of streets and main arterials running across the whole complicated map. Sounds like an administrative headache, doesn’t it?

That was the challenge facing local leaders in 1931 when Portland decided it needed a new addressing system. The old way just wasn’t working: letters, visitors, homebuyers and even deliverymen were getting lost.

By the mid 1920s, Portland’s east side neighborhoods were booming. Research we’ve done into building permit history shows Alameda’s heyday of construction was 1922. In those early years, some homes started out with one address, but had to be renumbered—some several times—as lots were developed and new homes built.

A remnant of Portland's early addressing system

If you look carefully when out walking, you might find clues to our old address system. This artifact was cast into a neighbor’s front steps when the street was East 30th Street North.

By 1926, the city engineer recognized the need to change our address system. Except for the alphabet district in northwest Portland, where streets were (and still are) alphabetical, there was no numerical or organizational logic about how we told each other where we lived or worked. No baseline starting point for address numbers like today’s use of the Willamette River and Burnside. No predictable and sequential set of numbers that go with each block (i.e. the 2400 block of any particular street being 24 blocks north or south of anywhere else). No primary districts (northeast, northwest, north, southwest and southeast). Just cardinal directions and a pack of numbers. By the late 1920s, Portland Postmaster John M. Jones reported that 2,000 pieces of mail were going astray each day because of the confusing and random addressing system.

After all, the fraying system in place had been cobbled together in the early 1890s when the cities of Portland, East Portland and Albina merged. In the intervening years, both the population and the territory of the city more than doubled.

Reflecting on our system’s need for help, one reporter for The Oregonian wrote: “Many a city planner and civic engineer had thrown up his hands or uttered oracular warnings at the antiquated way in which our city was numbered.”

FullSizeRender (5)

More evidence of Portland’s early addressing system when all east side streets had two cardinal directions. Most of these early cast-in-place curb identifiers have been lost to modernizing curb cuts. Another name frequently cast into our sidewalks is builder Elwood Wiles. Click here for a photo and short biography of Mr. Wiles.

City Commissioner Asbury Lincoln (A.L.) Barbur recognized the problem and assembled a group to look at other cities for examples and to assemble a system that fit Portland’s needs. Barbur, whose name you will recognize from the southwest Portland boulevard named to honor him, was one of Portland’s most civic-minded early leaders. Elected five times to two-year terms as city auditor between 1907-1917, Barbur ran successfully in 1920 for commissioner (his election slogan was “Let the People Rule”). Read the reporting from the day and you’ll find him a pragmatic, smart, get-it-done elected leader who was almost single-handedly responsible for the business model that resulted in the paving of Portland streets, as well as the push to change the address system. Barbur’s street paving model is worthy of its own story: with so many new gravel streets in need of work, Barbur led the city to buy and operate its own paving plant rather than contract it all out, which saved the city millions of dollars, got the job done, and attracted the ire of local contractors who branded him a socialist.

In early 1930, Barbur’s addressing committee looked first at the system in Philadelphia, and then at Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ideas. As they did their scoping work, they also held public meetings in Portland neighborhoods to hear ideas and build support. By December 1930, Barbur’s committee had crafted a plan and received unanimous support from 18 different community organizations.

The essential framework was the system we know today: Divide the city into five sectors: NE, NW, SE, SW and North (owing to the bend in the river). Burnside was to be the new baseline north and south; the river was already an effective east-west baseline. Blocks would be divided into sets of 100 numbers. And some substantial renaming would add continuity and order. Here’s an editorial from The Oregonian on May 13, 1931 that endorses specifics of the plan and makes the case for change.

5-13-1931 Editorial


On September 2, 1931, city council unanimously and enthusiastically passed the plan, including $10,000 to pay for ceramic number tiles for every house and building, and it created a workforce of unemployed men to get the job done. Here in Alameda, renumbering and renaming resulted in a numeric transformation, and the changing of at least two street names, Glenn became NE 32nd Place; Laura Avenue became Edgehill.

Work is done photo

From the July 16, 1933 edition of The Oregonian. Click on the image to read the full story.

From the fall of 1931 through the summer of 1933, crews of workers fanned out across 66 square miles of Portland pulling wheeled carts filled with ceramic numbers, aluminum trays to hold the numbers, and hammers and nails to anchor them to every Portland house or business. It took 23 months. Not everyone was happy: some were superstitious if assigned anything with a 13 in it. Others who operated certain established and illegal businesses out of their homes took down the new numbers so as to not confuse their loyal customers. But most Portlanders embraced the new system and caught on to its logic quickly.

A ringing endorsement from The Oregonian on July 16, 1933, coinciding with completion of the renumbering, summed up how the community responded to the transformation:

“To the business man, the hundred and one small tradesmen and to the ordinary citizen, this new and uniform numbering system meant a logical and simple way out of a puzzling network of miscellaneous addresses.”



Painting a new address on the curb in Portland’s Elliott neighborhood following the Great Renumbering. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

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

store (corner view) (1)

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.

porch exterior-untouched

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.


kitchen untouched

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.”


new concrete floor

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.


guest room walls stripped (1)

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.”



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.



Second of Three Parts: The life and times of a neighborhood store and its people

You get the picture from Part 1: In 1910, the Alberta District feels a bit thrown together and rough-and-tumble. But investment and expansion are impressive. A strong sense of neighborhood identity is emerging (thanks in part to business booster H.D. Wagnon other early business owners, early residents and real estate developers). People are coming from near and far because property is cheaper here than in other eastside neighborhoods and there’s a new streetcar that provides dependable service.

Plus, plans underway for a new Willamette River crossing that in 1913 would become the Broadway Bridge were changing the way people thought about living and working in Portland.


Built and Run by the Smyths

Enter Michael and Mary Jane Smyth, shopkeepers from Ireland who were running a mom-and-pop grocery near 79th and Southeast Stark (then known as Baseline Road). Michael was born in Ireland in 1842 and immigrated to the US in 1864. Mary Jane was born in 1850 and arrived in the US in 1875.

By 1910, the Smyths had run several small retail shops in Portland and at least one in eastern Oregon. The couple never had children and may have seen the Alberta District investment as setting themselves up for retirement. At ages 68 and 62, they were starting their new venture at NE 27th and Going somewhat late in life.

The original plumbing permit for the building shows construction complete at the end of September 1910, three years before the curbs and sidewalks were installed by local contractor Geibisch and Joplin, and well before the streets were even paved. According to the Polk City Directory, the Smyths opened their business in 1911 as a men’s furnishings store. By 1914, the listing had changed to dry goods and the Smyths were living six doors to the north, with the residence side of the new building rented out.

Mary Jane died on October 12, 1917 and her funeral mass was held at St. Charles Catholic Church, which was then located near the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, two blocks south of today’s Concordia New Seasons (the parish church relocated to NE 42nd years later following a devastating fire and financial hardships). After Mary Jane died, Michael took a rented room in the neighborhood and continued to run the dry goods store on his own until 1921 when he sold it for $3,375. Michael died on February 20, 1922.


The Coulters Take Over: Alameda Park Grocery

William and Isabella Coulter, immigrants from England via Canada, bought the business from Michael Smyth, having seen it advertised in the March 2, 1921 edition of The Oregonian as a “very fine bungalow-grocery.” They had shopkeeping experience from several years in Missoula, Montana. It’s unclear if they gave the store its name, or if they adopted the name used by the Smyths, but there it is, listed in the 1928 Polk Directory as the Alameda Park Grocery.

This is unusual for a couple reasons: 27th and Going is near but not actually inside the Alameda Park plat; and, there was a much more prominent store on the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont known as the Alameda Grocery. This must have been confusing, at least. No word about what that rivalry may have been like, but the 24th and Fremont business advertised widely with its name, and the bungalow grocery with its slight variation never shows up in any newspaper advertising or any other annual Polk Directory.

While the naming convention might have been confusing, we know it to be fact thanks to a photograph from David White, grandson of the Coulters, that clearly shows the name Alameda Grocery painted in big black letters on the side of the store. You can see the store and the letters here over the shoulder of these two best friends: William and Isabelle’s daughter Agnes is on the right and her friend Marjorie Ellis is on left. Taken about 1926, looking east on Going a few doors west of 27th. Photo courtesy of David White.

Looking south toward 27th and Going, 1926

William Coulter passed away in the mid 1920s, and Isabelle took over the business on her own, with help from daughter Agnes, until 1943. This 22-year period was probably the best era for this little building and its business: Isabelle ran a tight ship and took good care of the place.

Somewhere during the Coulter years, this incredible photo was taken, which we have paired with the same view today (spoiler alert for Part 3).

Isabelle Coulter, about 1930, 4601 NE 27th

Isabelle Coulter in front of her store, about 1930. Photo courtesy of David White. Click the photo for a larger view (there’s so much to see here you better take a closer look). Below, that same view today.

Alameda Park Grocery


From Retail to Church to Artist Studio

Charles and Vera Fiebke bought the property from Isabelle Coulter in 1943 and sold it on June 20, 1944 to Henry and Ruth Rieckers, who owned the business until 1953. During this time, the business was referred to as “Rieckers” and as “Rieckers Grocery.” A classified advertisement in The Oregonian on March 3, 1953 indicated the Rieckers were retiring and putting the business up for sale, asking $6,500.

On June 24, 1953, the property was purchased from the Rieckers by John Henry Moad and his wife Lucy Jane Moad. They operated the store—as Moad’s Grocery—until 1961 when it was sold to Robert A. and Louise M. Klatke, who changed the name to Bob’s Quik Stop Market. But not for long.

An article in The Oregonian on June 29, 1962 reports a robbery at Bob’s Quick Stop. Robert, age 56, was robbed with a knife to his throat. A few months later, he and Louise put the store back on the market, selling it to Agnes Martin on November 2, 1962. Sometime during the mid-1960s, the building ceased functioning as a store.

As we know from earlier posts here on the blog, this was the beginning of a tough time for mom and pop neighborhood grocery stores. The whole retail grocery business was changing and local grocery stores were quickly becoming convenience rather than primary shopping locations.

The Martin family owned the property for the next six years and at least one reference to the building shows it as the Mt. Zion Church of God in Christ. The Polk Directory for 1965 shows the building as vacant, and in 1967, it is listed simply as L.S. Martin. On September 17, 1968, the Martins sold the property to Carl E. Bass (son) and Viola Matheson (mother). Bass, who was a potter, turned the space into an artist’s studio and lived in the property until his death in April 2001 at the age of 73.

The property was purchased from the Bass estate by investor/developers George and Isabelle Zitcak, who held it for just four months before selling it in April 2002 to Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich. This is where the story gets interesting, which will be the subject of Part 3.

To whet your appetite for the next chapter of the bungalow grocery, we’ll leave you with this photograph, which shows just how far down the building had faded during its later years and why it was a leading candidate for the wrecking ball by 2002.


The bungalow grocery at low ebb, about 2002. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

Suffice to say that Mary Jane and Michael Smyth, and Isabelle Coulter, would probably have cried to see it in this shape.

Next up: Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bring the bungalow grocery back from the brink.






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

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.

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