More History of Snow

In honor of the recent heavy snowfall here in Portland (about 13 inches here at our house so far, with up to five more inches on the way), we’re going to reprise and slightly update one of our favorite posts from the AH blog archive, “A History of Snow,” written in December 2008 after Portland received more than a foot of snow. Yes, we have a lot of snow on the ground at the moment, but for perspective, 67 years ago on this date, Portland was in the process of receiving 44 inches of snow, one of its heaviest snowfalls in recorded history. Enjoy this look back as we celebrate how a heavy snowfall is timeless and brings quiet to the neighborhood.

DD

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Winter 1936

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason.

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason. Click for a larger size image.

Winter 2008

Winter 2008. Looking north on Northeast 30th toward Mason.

Winter 2008, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason. Click for a larger size image.

 

Winter 2017

january-2017-snowstorm

Winter 2017, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason.

 

December 23, 2008–There’s a great Billy Collins poem called “A History of Weather” that I’ve been thinking about all week. We’ve had a lot of snow here in Portland, not record-breaking, but still more than anyone has seen around these parts for 40 years. Right now we have about 15 inches on the ground and the city has been at a virtual stop for the last couple days. We started to thaw today, but another 4-8 inches of snow are in the forecast for the next couple days.

In the poem, Collins creates a funny, wistful elegy for atmospheres of the past, and contemplates weather as a common human bond across the ages. Contemplating what a weather history poem should include, Collins writes, “There will be a section on the frozen nights of antiquity…” I’ve been thinking about the frozen days and nights of the past, the transforming quiet and joy visited on the kids of this street and neighborhood over the years.

So after shoveling the front walk yesterday, I dug into my Alameda archive and found a picture taken a few doors south of my house in 1936, the year Portland received about 35 inches of snow. The photo has been passed down to me by the family of the little boy who grew up here in the teens and twenties. He was fledged by 1936 (family members were in the house til the late 1950s), but the photo stayed in his family because it depicted remarkable conditions.

Being obsessed with lining up past and present for clues, I prowled around this morning hunting — camera in one hand, old photo in the other — for the original photographer’s footprints, which are not entirely available today due to some landscaping changes down the block.

The big house on the corner (white in 1936, blue today) is the Copenhagen House, built in 1912 by the family of Les Copenhagen. Today’s big beech in the sideyard is just a start of a tree in 1936. Power poles have thinned out a bit, though still an eyesore. The gable end of the house facing the camera up the block can be seen in both images. A little closer in, if you squint at the 1936 image, you can see Walter Morrison out shoveling the front walk of my house. Farther up the block and across the street, today’s yellow Dutch colonial was just a vacant lot. Other vacant lots allow a view off into the distance.

Families in 1936 probably took pictures of their unusual winter weather event, just like we have this week. Unfortunately, most of those images are lost to time. We’re lucky to have this one, 71 years old. Makes you think about the pictures you take, the pictures you save, the pictures you decide to throw. I’m always on the lookout for old pictures of Alameda…

To cap off this entry about the history of snow, thought I’d share a very interesting info-graphic from The Oregonian today that clearly indicates that our predecessors knew a lot more about snow than we do. Check it out:

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08. Click for a larger size image.

 

Some notable observations from this 2017 storm:

  1. NE 33rd Avenue is closed up Gravelly Hill (from Knott to Fremont).
  2. Deadman’s Hill is jammed with skiers, snowboarders and sledders of all ages.
  3. Pretty much everything official is closed and the city is requiring chains on all Portland streets.
  4. 33,000 PGE customers are without power.

What’s your snow story today?

Alameda History Lecture at Architectural Heritage Center | January 28

Stories of Alameda’s founding and early life will be topics of a presentation we’re making at Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center on Saturday morning, January 28, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. Here’s a link to more information and how to register (registration through AHC is required).

church-1923

Students pose in front of the Alameda Park Community Church in 1923, one year after its construction. Located near the corner of Northeast Regents and Skidmore, the building is known today as the Subud Center and looks much like it did then. The upcoming presentation at AHC will explore the history of this building and many other Alameda institutions.

Through maps, photos, stories and memories, we’ll explore how the pre-neighborhood landscape evolved, how it was developed by the Alameda Land Company, and then how architects, builders and families shaped it into the neighborhood we know today. We’ll also examine neighborhood institutions including our business district, the streetcar that served the neighborhood, schools, churches and parks. This is an encore presentation that will bear a resemblance to other programs we’ve done for AHC, but with significant updates based on ongoing research.

We’re always glad to consider requests for group programs or guided neighborhood history walks. Just drop us a line.

 

Backstory of a favorite local fire station

Picking up the local fire station thread where we left it: here’s a story about how the siting of public facilities in the early days was more about administrative prerogative and less about public input. Portland Fire Station 14 as we know it today is one such story.

station-14

Portland Fire Bureau Station 14, NE 19th and Killingsworth

In 1958, with the closure of the old fire station on NE 33rd and with a new fire chief in place, Portland set about reconfiguring its overall fire response network. Several of the older smaller stations across the city were closed. New stations were planned. A $3 million bond levy passed by popular vote, and seven new stations went into development across the city, serving (and changing) the neighborhoods where they landed.

Fire officials wanted something more central to the Concordia neighborhood, and they didn’t mind something that would also be expedient. Those criteria focused planners on a parcel the city already owned: a quarter-acre at the southwest corner of the popular 16-acre Alberta City Park, bounded by Killingsworth on the south, Ainsworth on the north, NE 19th on the west and NE 22nd on the east. It’s a great park.

From an expediency standpoint, this made sense: lots of surrounding housing that needed fire protection; it was near a school that would also benefit from quick response; it was on a major east-west thoroughfare for good access. Not quite like building a tennis court or swimming pool, but doable.

Problem was, there wasn’t much conversation with the neighbors.

3-4-1959-construction-men-enter-park

The back-and-forth between the city and the neighborhood that followed would give even the most veteran city PR person the heebie-jeebies. Articles in The Oregonian from July 1958 until March 1959 describe how the neighbors opposed construction at first politely, which ratcheted up to petitions signed by 400 neighbors and sit-in protests against the station by the Vernon PTA, letters from the pastor at the Vernon Presbyterian Church, formation of a lobbying group called “Save Portland Parks,” a strident letter writing campaign by neighbors, and—after the city decided to go forward with the project even in the face of local opposition—an arson attack on the construction site on the night of March 3, 1959. Yes, you read that correctly.

The opposition group leader eventually gave up when the city persisted: “We don’t like it, but we can’t do any more,” Dorothy Rapp told The Oregonian on March 5, 1959. “It’s fruitless to fight city hall any longer. There’s no sense in beating our heads against the wall.”

Today, Station 14 has become part of the fabric of the neighborhood, welcomed and appreciated by all, or at least taken for granted. The engine and four personnel stationed there respond to 2,500 calls for service each year.

We’ve overcome this particular history (and hopefully learned from it), but as we know, it’s always insightful to remember how things came to be.

It’s Snowing on Deadman’s Hill

Whenever it snows, Alamedans of a certain age and desire for adventure turn to Deadman’s Hill at the top of Stuart Drive for some enjoyable downhill adventure. It’s also a reasonable time for us to remind ourselves of the dead man for whom our hill is anonymously named.

6-6-1917 Fred Jacobs PhotoFred Jacobs. The dead man behind Deadman’s Hill. From The Oregonian, June 6, 1917.

He was Fred Jacobs and his tragic death at the foot of the hill on a sunny June morning in 1917 sent shock waves through Portland’s social and real estate communities, as well as the Alameda neighborhood.

You can read our full story behind Deadman’s Hill on this earlier AH Blog post.

While you’re at it, you might check out a post we did on historic snowfall a few years back.

Stay safe out there!

Fire stations and our changing neighborhoods

Long-time AH readers know about our focus on trying to better understand neighborhood institutions and the legacies they’ve left. Over the years, we’ve looked closely at things like Mom and Pop grocery stores, local schools, the Broadway Streetcar, Wilshire Park, local churches, business districts.

Here’s another institution that has left a legacy: our local fire stations.

12-3-2016-concordia-fire-station

In the 1920s, single-engine fire stations blended in to east side neighborhoods. Here’s Station 18, at 2200 NE 24th Avenue, built in 1912 to look like its bungalow neighbors and in active use until 1964. Nice fountain!

If you like to look at old buildings, you’ve probably noticed the red brick building on the east side of NE 33rd near Alberta Court, now home of the Oregon Stamp Society (4828 NE 33rd). If you’ve thought there’s something institutional about it, you’d be right.

attachment-1-3

Here’s the former home of Engine 34, 4828 NE 33rd, in the early 1960s, not long after the Oregon Stamp Society purchased the building. We’re on the lookout for earlier photos showing the station in active use.

Opened on November 1, 1928, with Captain Dan Shaw in charge and R. Mitchell as junior captain, the station was originally the home of Engine Company 34.

Over the years, the station also served as neighborhood polling place, toy drop-off during Christmas charity drives, and the focus of summer community barbecues and open houses.

During the teens and 1920s, several similar small fire stations housing just one engine and known as “three-man stations” were constructed in the heart of Portland’s residential neighborhoods. They were designed to fit in: have a look at similar stations in Irvington at 2200 NE 24th Avenue, and in Sellwood at SE 13th and Tenino (both of which were also decommissioned in the late 1950s and early 1960s). Portland Fire Chief Lee Holden (1925-1927), who was also an amateur architect, designed these stations. Holden’s attention to details—on NE 33rd, the choice of red brick, the wide and inviting gables and exterior columns, the operating multi-pane casement windows, the interior boxed-beam ceilings and classic interior wood trim—all speak to popular residential design elements of the period.

Much of the original station interior on NE 33rd has been remodeled over the last 50 years to serve the needs of the stamp club, but a recent visit turned up clues to its earlier life: The fire station kitchen in the basement is original, with a bank of lockers to hold firefighters’ food; the entry and waiting area (including fireplace, mantel and built-in inglenook bench); the captain’s office; the roof dormer, which was once the top end of a tower for drying wet fire hose. Mechanical systems, according to OSS President Eric Hummel, have been replaced several times since the society acquired the building in 1960. The original garage door for the fire engine was on the front right of the station, but a casement window from the south side was transplanted to the front and the remainder was bricked over in the early 1960s.

The station was functional until August 1959, when fire operations for the area shifted to the new station at NE 19th and Killingsworth (more on that in a future post…it’s an interesting story), and Engine Company 34 was sent to serve the St. Johns neighborhood. The closure was the result of a reorganization of the Portland Fire Bureau by City Commissioner Stanley W. Earl and a $3 million bond measure passed by voters in 1957 to build seven new stations across the city.

The Oregon Stamp Society purchased the decommissioned building in 1960 for $13,500.

One aspect of its original siting is a coincidence worth observing: the station was sited one block north of one of Northeast Portland’s memorable conflagrations of the 1920s: the former St. Charles Catholic Church, which was located at the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Webster. The wooden building, constructed in 1916, was significantly damaged by fire late on the night of June 27, 1924. In November 1950, the parish relocated to its current site on NE 42nd (we’ve often looked for photos or memories of that original building, by the way, in case you know of someone who might have one, or a memory of what it was like).

No connection between the station and the church. Just clues and food for thought about how much NE 33rd Avenue has changed over the years. Not so long ago, it was the far eastern edge of Portland’s city limits.

Next: More fire station changes for Northeast, this time in the 1950s near Alberta Park.

The End of History

While we know change is actually the default setting of the universe, and we appreciate the economic complexities of restoration and development, there’s no getting away from the gut punch that happens every time we see these forces collide in our neighborhood.

We’ve been exploring this lately here on the blog as a witness to the coming changes at the corner of NE 30 and Skidmore. We’ve lived here almost 30 years and have walked by that house hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But we’ve never lived there, and don’t know anyone who has. It’s not part of our personal story, per se.

We’ve wondered what it might be like, or how objective we could be, if it was a place integral to our family history. If we thought of each demolition in this way, would it become more impactful? Would there be another set of calculations to make that could lead to other options?

We had an inkling of that this week when we learned one of the iconic homes from our family history, a modest Queen Anne bungalow on Diversey Avenue on Chicago’s north side where our father was born, has been demolished and replaced with a condominium. We wrote about the Diversey house here on AH some time back when we asked you to share a picture and story about your favorite house. Here it is, from one of the hundreds of pictures taken during earlier days:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago (on the left). Taken about 1918.

 

Here’s the visual on this recent change, thanks to Google streetview. It’s the blue house on the right.
1038-w-diversey-parkway-before

Before

1038-w-diversey-parkway-after

After

We won’t go into detail about how many stories and memories went down with those two houses. Dad was born there, delivered by the doctor who lived next door. Neighborhood picnics were held in the backyard. First day of school pictures on the front steps. Photos of uncles coming and going from the Great War. That house anchored the family as it grew, and it showed in the pictures that flowed from that experience.

During our own growing up years in the Chicago area, decades after the house passed from the family’s hands, whenever we were anywhere near, Dad always took us by, told a story, fed our imaginations with a sense of times past. Maybe our visits and the house’s presence in stories and pictures helped Dad stay oriented in his own family landscape. That’s the thing about our old houses: they become a kind of navigational aid for a family in its journey from past to present to future. After Dad died, we made the pilgrimage back on our own, the pictures of the uncles, the big snow, the sled on the porch burned into our hearts.

That’s where the gut punch comes from. Today, it’s all erased: not a single clue about those houses, those lives.

Clearly, we can’t “save” every old house or building. Our communities are growing and changing and a new infrastructure, informed by the past, is necessary for the city of the future. But we have to find a better way, to build on our strengths and on our past rather than erasing all traces.

 

A memory of chestnut trees

We’ve been out in the neighborhood on foot and bicycle recently and have seen the tremendous drop of chestnuts building up on sidewalks and streets. Thousands of smooth, rich, ebony gems inside prickly green coats falling from branches and being crushed underfoot.

Chestnuts 9-10-16

Chestnuts gathering at the curb.

Seeing all these beauties puts us in mind of a question asked recently by a reader about a handed-down memory of chestnut trees along Alberta Court from NE 33rd to NE 42nd, in an area some remember as property owned by Joe Bennard and his brothers.

We really like questions like this, which require us to do some genealogy, some geography and some general asking around.

Joe Bernard was actually Joe Bennard (who was born in 1901 as Joe Bennardo). Joe ran a real estate company based in an office (now gone) that he built facing Alberta Court directly behind today’s Doggie Business at 4905 NE 42nd Avenue.

Joe built the Doggie Business building in 1937, originally a tavern and restaurant. Joe and and his brothers (the brothers kept the original family name Bennardo) lived in the neighborhood, and one brother built the house three doors north on the west side of NE 42nd. But we weren’t able to verify if the Bennardos actually owned a farm, or what extent it may have covered.

The American chestnut (castanea dentate) was a common tree in all American cities, but suffered a major disease outbreak that drastically reduced its numbers by the mid-1930s. It seems unlikely that enough of these great old trees would have been left mid-century to have lined Alberta Court. And of course it was called Alberta Street then, and traveled along through open fields and forest stands.

And here’s an interesting note: Alberta Street was renamed to Alberta Court after a vote of residents on the street in the summer of 1940 and a city ordinance passed on August 28, 1940. On August 11, 1940, The Oregonian reported that “Multnomah County suggested the city change the name of the street within the city limits to avoid confusion and a survey of sentiment of the property owners was taken. Most of them approve the change to avoid confusion.”

We pulled up a series of aerial photos from the 1920s and 1930s that show the western stretch of the street, and we don’t see a line of trees in this area. We did connect with former neighborhood paperboy and AH reader John Hamnett, who delivered newspapers along Alberta Court in the late 1940s and while he remembered homeless camps there along what was the city limits, he didn’t recall seeing any orchard or line of chestnuts.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t chestnuts along Alberta Court, just that evidence is scarce. In fact, it does appear there is a lone survivor of what was remembered: you can find a beautiful old chestnut tree today at the northeast corner of NE 41st and Alberta Court, reminding us they were indeed in the neighborhood. We’ll keep digging on this, and welcome any information from AH readers.

Chestnut tree at 41st and Alberta Court

Get out there and enjoy this beautiful fall weather!

2933 NE Skidmore | Still standing, for now

Those of us paying attention to the trajectory of the doomed 95-year-old Craftsman bungalow at 2933 NE Skidmore are surprised to note that it’s still standing. We’ve asked why, since the plan was to be done by late August, and the folks at developer Green Canopy explained the contractor they had scheduled for the lead-based paint abatement is contracted on a large job and is booked out until November. That means Green Canopy is rebidding the work and demolition will be delayed by anywhere from two to four weeks.

2933 NE Skidmore taken on 9-8-16 2933 NE Skidmore, photographed on September 8, 2016

During our recent exchange with the company, we also had a chance to pass along a question from one of our readers about how building materials will be salvaged during the demolition. Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto explained that the process will be a mechanized demolition not a deconstruction, and that the wood will not be salvaged. Ryan writes:

“We are not planning on a full deconstruction of this structure, which is what would be required in order to salvage the dimensional lumber. Just to clarify, even if we were to salvage the lumber, in order for it to be reused for framing purposes it would likely need to be milled down to true nominal size.”

Ryan did point out that certain building components, as well as landscape features, have already been salvaged.

We asked about drawings: Green Canopy is still working with city permitting officials and is not ready to release plans or drawings at this point. Ryan did point out that the earlier reference to the roof peak being at 45 feet (as surmised from the sketchy photo of an early plan set) was incorrect and the roof height is more like 33 feet above ground.

Once demolition begins, the process will take about five days. We’ll let you know in advance when demolition is scheduled. In the meantime, take a last walk by and tip your hat to this time traveler.

Figuring out the Prescott Jog

AH readers know we like nothing better than a good history mystery, so we were intrigued when a reader asked recently about why NE Prescott makes a jog south between NE 33rd and NE 37th. In this case there is no one single reason: it’s multiple reasons related to changes in surveying proficiency, the passage of time, the helter-skelter nature of developers operating at the edge of the city limits in 1900, and a complete absence of planning in our turn-of-the-last-century city.

The Prescott Jog near 37th

The jog at NE Prescott and 37th

Let’s look at the basic ingredients:

The Grid: Back in 1850, surveyors used a grid to map Oregon and to organize our landscape into big boxes and small boxes, known as townships, ranges and sections. In Northeast Portland, our main east-west streets are organized on section or half-section lines. Prescott (all but the four-block stretch we’re talking about here) rests on a half section line.

The Plats: Portland has more than 900 of these: a plat is basically a plan that divides the land into lots and streets. Developers were in charge of their own plats, and gave them unique names, some of which are pretty interesting. A plat called “Willamette Addition,” drawn and filed in 1888, contains the area from Skidmore to Killingsworth and from NE 33rd to NE 37th. Of particular note: running along the bottom of that plat is our mystery stretch of Prescott between 33rd and 37th.

So here’s what happened:

The Willamette Addition was anchored on the south boundary to what in 1888 was thought to be the half-section line (the future Prescott). Actual development of the Willamette Addition didn’t happen until the 1920s, and in many cases much later.

Our maps pages shows both Alameda Park (the neighboring plat to the west, 1909) and Wilshire (the neighboring plat to the east, 1921), which were laid out decades later by different developers using different survey technology. And guess what: the location of the real Prescott (in alignment with the more-recently-surveyed half-section line) moved about 75 feet to the north.

But meanwhile the Willamette Addition was still just a drawing and raw land owned by different developers, with it’s weirdly offset four-block southern boundary, which was referred to as Columbia Street, stuck on the grid of 1888 and quickly becoming irrelevant. The developers of Alameda and Wilshire weren’t in control of the Willamette Addition, but they had to build streets around it and needed to tie their new neighborhoods into the actual half-section-line-based street we know today as Prescott. So, build they did, marooning this yet-to-be developed four-block stretch of “Columbia Street” 75 feet to the south, and necessitating eventual construction of the s-curve jogs we know today when development of the Willamette Addition finally followed years later.

There’s a story behind everything. That’s why we love history!

The Countdown Begins at Skidmore and 30th

The Alameda neighborhood received notice last week from developer Green Canopy alerting us that demolition of the 95-year-old home at NE 30th and Skidmore will begin on Tuesday, August 30th, and will probably take five days. Click here for background on what’s coming and the context behind this demolition. And here’s a link to an earlier post we wrote that includes a photo of the house from 1921, the year it was built by the Wickman Building Company for the George Kelleberg family.

FullSizeRender (11)

2933 NE Skidmore

We know the date with the wrecking ball is coming, so we dropped by in the early morning light to have a last look around, seeking clues to the generations of families and neighbors who have know this place. Here are some photos that document what we found. If you are inclined to send us a photo or two, or your own recollections of the house, we’ll post them here. Might be a nice way to capture some stories and perspectives.

Stairs facing NE 30th, 2933 NE Skidmore

Stairs from the back door facing NE 30th Avenue.

Looking west, 2933 NE Skidmore

East side of the house from NE 30th.

 

Living room, dining room and reflection, 2933 NE Skidmore

Through the livingroom window (and a reflection) toward the dining room and kitchen.

 

Chimney and vinyl siding, 2933 NE Skidmore

Chimney on the east side of the house.

 

Mailbox, 2933 NE Skidmore

Front porch mail slot, boxed out by siding material.

 

From kitchen looking to front, 2933 NE Skidmore

Looking through the back porch, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room (basement stairs on the right). The demo crew has already removed the asbestos flooring from the kitchen.

 

Back door and enclosed porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door and enclosed porch. Note the close proximity to the house just to the west.

 

Back porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door, basement door.

Garden hose valve, 2933 NE Skidmore

Garden hose valve.

 

Original numbers, 2933 NE Skidmore

Original address tiles from the post 1930s address change. The original address was 915 Skidmore Street.

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