Thousands of hands have shaped our homes and surroundings here in the neighborhoods of Northeast Portland: designing, digging, building, crafting, selling.

The men and women who imagined and then built our neighborhood in the early 1900s are gone now, and mostly unremembered. But their work is durable enough that today, we take it for granted. Do many of us wonder about how the bones of our houses came together, or the people behind the construction? Probably not. But there are important stories to be told. Remembering them adds context to our own residency here. And tipping our hat to the builders is the right thing to do. 

A few things to keep in mind as you read through these pages:

  • The research behind these stories is ongoing and based on first-person interviews and information gathered from descendants of the builders and other primary sources. If you have information about any of these people, can offer a referral to someone who might, or have suggestions or tips about other builders, please drop me an e-mail: doug@alamedahistory.org
  • Many of these builders were Mom-and-Pop (or brother-and-brother) operations. So when I focus in on Frank Read, for instance, let’s not forget the contributions of his wife Mae, who undoubtedly helped with everything from keeping the books to applying for the building permits. The people who built these houses put their hearts and their hands into it. It was their life’s work.
  • Eventually, this section will be filled with stories and memories of the builders, but for now I’ve identified a handful of the most prolific builders and the addresses of their work. I have builder information for just about every home in the original Alameda Park plat. So this is going to take a while, and it’s going to be a long list. But check back often: I’ll add to the collection as I learn more.

 Click on the builder’s name to see the addresses of his work and a short biography.

Ken Birkemeier

Prolific mid-century builder of cottage, ranch and contemporary homes, often in unique and challenging building sites, 1932-1952.

William Donahue

Builder of bungalows in Alameda and Beaumont from 1911-1921.

Albert Irwin

A flare for Norman and Tudor styles, built in Beaumont, Dolph Park, Alameda, Portland Heights, Overlook and many other neighborhoods from the 1920s-1940s.

Arthur J. “Matt” Matot

One of Portland’s most prolific home builders of the 1920s and former Alameda resident.

Harry Phillips

His work defines the Gile Terrace and NE Ridgewood area.

Frank Read

Colonial revival style in Alameda both above and below the ridge, from 1923-1940.

Elwood Wiles

Portland’s busiest concrete sidewalk and curb contractor; Alameda resident.

16 Responses to “The Builders”

  1. Dawn Says:

    I am doing research on the builder on my home, Benjamin B. Brumwell. I am curious to if you found a consolidated resource showing builders per plat or if this was accomplished by a manual process. I live in the Rose City Park neighborhood and have searched deed records showing other homes that Brumwell built. However the majority are in SE. I would love to know of other resources to track down.

  2. Doug Says:

    Hi Dawn. Thanks for visiting. I’ve had a look back through my database and don’t find any homes by Benjamin B. Brumwell in the Alameda Park subdivision. I’m not aware of any resource that references builders by plat, since the construction period spanned so many years. The database I’ve built comes from examining by hand all of the building permits for this neighborhood. If you haven’t delved into the permits, I’m sure you would find that helpful (if a little tedious). I’m betting you’ve seen the book by the Rose City Park Association which sheds life on the early life of the neighborhood. Lots of history there. Good luck with your research and let me know if you find any higher-level tools like the one you’ve mentioned.

  3. Peter Brown Says:

    Hi Doug,

    I restored a 1930 English Cottage style house in Vancouver and researched the history of its builder, William P. Moore.
    Moore was born in Sweden and moved here with his parents to So. Dakota, then relocated to Vancouver as a young adult. He specialized in English Cottage homes, and
    I’ve identified about 50 here in the older part of Vancouver that appear to be his. He built from 1907 until his death in 1937.
    I’m guessing that he also built in Portland.
    I recognize his house design style on your side of the river! What I don’t know is whether he was the designer or perhaps his English Cottages came from a series of stock plans by yet another person.
    Any feel for that?

    Thanks.

    Peter

  4. teresa mcgrath Says:

    hi doug, thx for your insightful articles on home history. we’ve been researching off and on for a brief span of time, and appreciate all your tips. haven’t found the builder of our place yet, but the process is fascinating. the oregon historical society was a great 4 hour launching post in our quest. we’ll have to look up the building permits and deed info next. if you have any further tips, feel free to share thx, teresa and nat

  5. tobin teichgraeber Says:

    Hello –
    we’re researching the builder of our 1942 home at 2332 NE Alameda and have been told it’s a Birkemeier. I see on your list of Ken Birkemeier’s homes that there is a Birkemeier home at 2372 NE Alameda – but today, there is no home with that address on Alameda. Can you clarify?
    Is there any way for us to verify the builder of our home at 2332 NE Alameda?
    Thanks,
    Tobin and Danielle

  6. Dan Johnson Says:

    Hello. I am the Editor for the BWNA Newsletter, and I’ve been wanted to include an article on the history of the Beaumont-Wilshire area. Specifically, how was this area named Beaumont-Wilshire? Can you help us? The next issue will be distributed in January, so the middle of December is our deadline. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Dan.

  7. Linda Hayden Says:

    My next door neighbor and I were both told the builder of homes on our block lived in our homes. Do you know who built homes at 2734 and 2744 NE Bryce Street? My home has pocket windows, single panes that drop down into the wall, that I’ve only heard about in one other home on Alameda.

    1. Doug Says:

      Hi Linda. Thanks for dropping by the website. I’ve done some looking into these two addresses and will send you an e-mail with permit and census information that you’ll find of interest.

      I’m interested in learning more about the pocket window…

      -Doug

  8. Linda Hayden Says:

    Thanks again for your information about our neighborhood builders.

    Since the entire pocket window single pane goes down into the wall, I have great ventilation. There are four of them in my bedroom. Unfortunately, it’s a real pain when the sash cords break. I had to remove the casing and the window sill just to get the pane out to replace the sash cords. I’d gone to window and door places, hardware stores and Rejuvenation looking for advice after finding none online. No one had ever encountered that type of window before. Of course, the window and door places felt I should replace them, but I love the uniqueness and ventilation…let alone the history. Again, thank-you for all the info you provide…love the website.

    1. Ann Fink Says:

      Linda, My mom has these kind of windows and I am looking for information on them. Do you have any history on these windows? I love them.

      1. Linda Hayden Says:

        No, Ann, I don’t. I do know that my home was built by its first owner, a man from Scandinavia, so perhaps he brought the idea with him when he immigrated. When I was researching them online in 2010, I did not find any windows like mine. Nor did any of the hardware or home rejuvenation store workers know about them. I love them too.

  9. Erin Flynn Says:

    Doug,

    Hi there. We recently purchased a home at 2935 Hancock. You verified earlier for me that the house is a Birkemier. We are going to do some renovations and I’m wondering if you know how we might find the original architectural drawings for the house. Any ideas? Thanks for your help!

    1. Doug Says:

      Hi Erin. I’ve responded via e-mail. Good luck with the remodel.

      1. Anne Says:

        Hello Doug. I would love to find the architectural drawings for my Birkemeier house in Cedar Hills. Any ideas about how I might find them?
        Anne

      2. Doug Says:

        Hi Anne. It would be quite unusual if the City had copies of the drawings. The only repository I know of is at the Architectural Heritage Center in southeast Portland. Call and ask for Val…he can tell you which of the Birkemeier drawings they have in the AHC collection.

  10. Trevor Says:

    Hi. I’ve recently purchased a home on Siskiyou at the base of the ridge that was built in 1925. In two weeks of researching I’ve found a wealth of information including a complete ownership history, all of the deeds, renovation details and permits, and a line drawing and floor plan (it was a Universal Plan Service home) – but I have found only a few scraps of information about the builder, J. C. Meyers. Multnomah County tax records show that he purchased many lots, built homes, and then sold them. Have you come across any information about J. C. Meyers?

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