One builder, Harry Phillips, shaped the northwest edge of the Alameda Park addition, building 19 homes within a three-block area between 1924-1928. Many of Phillips’ trademark Tudor-influenced homes were designed to capture classic city views as they straddle the Alameda Ridge on NE Ridgewood, Gile Terrace and Edgehill Drive. Phillips also built an undetermined number of homes throughout Portland’s West Hills as well as several prominent and high-design gas stations.
Phillips was born April 16, 1886 in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Irish and English immigrants. His father, Harry Phillips, Sr., was a machinist for the railroad, and when an opportunity came up in the early 1900s for a company-paid relocation from Cleveland to Portland, and a special price on a home in the Sellwood area, the family jumped at it. Phillips found his natural talent for the homebuilding business in 1916 when he built a home in the Sellwood area for his future brother-in-law Harry Johnson. A series of homes followed in the Lair Hill neighborhood of Southwest Portland.
Phillips’ son Jerry (Henry G. Phillips), now in his late 80s and living in California, remembers how those first homebuilding projects set the stage for the future.
“It was always the same,” remembered Jerry in a recent telephone interview. “Dad would build a new house and we’d live in it for a while, and then he’d sell it. He’d use the proceeds to build another house.”
Phillips’ first project in the neighborhood was a modest bungalow built on Northeast 28th, six blocks north of the Alameda Ridge. But a few years later, he was working with more ambitious designs drawn by Portland architect George M. Wolff (an early founder of today’s ZGF Partnership), and working on ambitious hillside sites.
The Gile Addition was platted in 1921, and by 1923, Phillips and Wolff were busy. Most of the houses perched on the Alameda Ridge between Gile Terrace (at the top) and Ridgewood (at the bottom) were built by Phillips.
By then Phillips, his wife Dorothy, and his young family had moved to Alameda, and were living in the home he built at 2414 NE Ridgewood. The second Phillips son, Roger, was born in that house in 1924. By 1925, the time-tested build-sell-move process was underway again and the family was on the move into a new house. But this one was special.
“My mother used to complain about living in houses that were never really finished,” remembered Jerry Phillips. “But when she got into the house at the top of the hill, she was home.”
The house at the top of the hill is the prominent home at 2624 NE Alameda, located at the upper end of the intersection between NE Stuart Drive, Alameda and NE 26th. The two-storey house with daylight basement has commanding views to the south, and appears to float above the Alameda Ridge as NE Stuart Drive drops off down the hill.
“Mother loved the view from that house,” said Jerry. “She settled right in and eventually became part of the social life in Alameda.”
As a boy always ready for adventure, Jerry remembers prowling the unfinished homes his dad was building along the ridge, often on the lookout for lead because it made great ammunition for slingshots. The lead came in sheet form and was used in flashings and to create exposed roof valleys. There were always left-over chunks which the kids would shape into pellets.
Roger Phillips, now 85, remembers proudly riding along with his dad to the job sites, and watching as his father worked with his crew.
Both boys recalled plenty of shenanigans back and forth through the vacant lots and under- construction homes along the Alameda Ridge, including grass fires in vacant lots, and stern scoldings from firemen. Both boys, and their older sister Betty Lou, attended Alameda School. Life was good. Phillips’ homes here in Alameda were built on speculation from 1926-1928, and they all sold.
But the crash of 1929 and the following years of the Great Depression changed everything. In 1929, Phillips was underway with up to a dozen homes in Portland Heights and the Westover area, built on speculation and financed by an investor friend who was also an Alameda neighbor. The financial crisis put incredible pressure on Phillips, who was completely leveraged to fund construction of the homes, which weren’t selling. Son Roger remembers his father’s health beginning to fail. On April 16, 1935, Harry Phillips, age 47, died from a hemorrhaging ulcer. The family was crushed: Betty Lou was 16; Jerry was 13; Roger was 10.
In short order, it became clear the family would lose the house at the top of the hill to cover the construction debts. Roger remembers the banker friend breaking the news to his mother about the foreclosure.
Dorothy and her children moved to the boarding house at 2424 NW Lovejoy, which Dorothy soon took over as manager. The brothers remember earning a few cents by doing odd jobs and errands for the lodgers. Workers from Harry’s construction crew helped refurbish the house as the family struggled to make a living.
No one was prepared for the double blow of tragedy: Dorothy was killed in a car accident the next year. Betty Lou married young and moved down the Willamette Valley. The boys were taken in by their uncle Harry Johnson, finished their schooling, served honorably in World War II, and went on to productive and successful lives.
Despite the tragic series of events, Roger and Jerry have fond memories of their time in the neighborhood, and are proud of the legacy left by their father, Harry Phillips. And whenever they’re back in Portland, they always drive by the house on the hill.
Here is a listing of Alameda homes built by Harry Phillips, compiled from building permits:
3603 NE 22nd June 1924 $6,000
3512 NE 23rd August 1924 $6,000
3633 NE 24th January 1923 $5,000
4323 NE 28th September 1922 $4,000
4071 NE 32nd Place May 1925 $6,000
2952 Edgehill Drive February 1924 $6,000
2100 NE Regents Drive February 1924 $6,000
2114 NE Regents Drive February 1924 $5,000
2207 NE Ridgewood February 1928 $10,000
2225 NE Ridgewood February 1928 $10,000
2226 NE Ridgewood May 1924 $7,000
2301 NE Ridgewood March 1926 $6,000
2325 NE Ridgewood March 1926 $6,000
2414 NE Ridgewood July 1923 $7,000
2208 NE Gile Terrace January 1928 $12,000
2218 NE Gile Terrace February 1926 $8,500
2234 NE Gile Terrace January 1926 $8,500
2320 NE Gile Terrace February 1926 $8,590
2624 NE Alameda Street July 1925 $9,000 (his personal residence)