Here’s a summer weekend morning neighborhood history walk idea for you.
Our friends at the Vernon Neighborhood Association have sponsored a series of walks in Vernon and in Woodlawn this summer that are free, fun and (we think) interesting.
I’m leading the Vernon walk this summer and there are two more scheduled: Sunday, July 31st from 10:00-noon, and Sunday, August 28th from 10:00-noon. During our two hours, we’ll turn the clock way back to explore the multiple layers of history in Vernon, the dynamics of change that have shaped the neighborhood and all of east Portland, and visit several time traveler locations during a one-mile walk. Registration through VNA is required for meet-up specifics. Both walks are capped at 20 people and have started to fill up. Learn more on this VNA registration page.
The Woodlawn walk is ably led by neighborhood historian Anjala Ehelebe, who will describe the character, stories and evolution of Woodlawn. Anji’s walks are Saturday, August 6th from 11:00-1:00 and Saturday, August 27th from 11:00-1:00.
Come join us as we connect past and present right here close to home.
We’ve been down enough amazing research rabbit holes to recognize a special gem when we see one.
This spring, AH friend Brian Burk completed a research odyssey that turned up fascinating clues about the Vanport flood, an extinct airfield, daredevil pilot Tex Rankin, and one particular old barn and house, all of it centered on North Portland’s Delta Park. He calls it A Mysterious Vanport Survivor.Truly worth 15 minutes of your time. Note that you have to scroll down from the main page to see all the good stuff.
Brian’s multi-media website weaves all these pieces together artfully—along with his history detective narrative —to provide a lens that will change the way you look at a local landscape and history you thought you knew.
Brian is a multi-media journalist, born and raised in Northeast Portland, who loves documenting the beauty of the world and its people through still and moving images. You can see more of his work here.
Our 1912 Arts and Crafts bungalow has been home to eight families in its 110 years and I’ve made a point of connecting with someone from almost all of them. Seeing the house through the eyes and experiences of others has allowed my family to know this place in a unique way during our 30-plus years here, to appreciate the changes in life, community and in the fabric of the house itself over that century.
During these pandemic years I’ve been busy with a special project to connect past and present that’s both tangible and personal. This week it all came to fruition when modern-day craftsmen carefully reinstalled the three original stained-glass windows—now restored—that were removed from the house almost 50 years ago.
As a lover of old buildings and a person who appreciates homecomings, it was a take-your-breath-away moment when Carl put the last panel in place this week. Here, have a look:
Tracking down these three windows, understanding the circumstance of their removal and their subsequent travels, and getting them back in shape to be reunited with the house has been a story marked by chapters of kindness, generosity, good luck and persistence. At the heart of this labor of love, it’s been a story about putting pieces back together.
In late 1911 and early 1912, builder William B. Donahue completed a lone bungalow on NE 30th Avenue, the only house on the block at the time, located just a half block east from the end point of the Broadway Streetcar line, right next to the temporary “tract office” of the Alameda Land Company. Donahue knew the house would be a demonstration of sorts to show what he could build for potential homebuyers. So even though it was just a simple bungalow, he added some nice touches, including stained-glass and beveled-glass windows in all the right places inside and out.
Donahue’s floorplan included a breakfast nook between the formal dining room and the kitchen, with full wainscot paneling and a plate rail. For this welcoming, family-friendly room he chose a bank of high window openings to install three rose-patterned stained-glass windows.
Which is where the windows presided as four families cycled through the house: wars, pandemics, business ventures, children, dogs, birthdays and deaths, leavetakings, joys and losses. All discussed and decided at the nook table under those three beautiful windows.
The family who lived here from 1961 to 1975 loved this house. And when it came time for them to leave, they wanted to bring a piece of it with them, a keepsake and reminder of all their good memories here. The daughters were fledging and they agreed to each take a window, a gift from their father, who removed the sash and replaced them with three plain sheets of glass. The stained-glass was removed from the old window frames and put into new oak frames for display. One went to Arizona. One went to Spokane, and one stayed with the parents in Milwaukie. The windows continued to bring the comfort of family memories from their old home. Time passed as four more families cycled through under the blank window-eyes of the breakfast nook. No one here knew anything different.
As I researched the story of this house, I sought out the families who lived here and I even found a relative of builder William B. Donahue. Through oral history interviews and letters, I learned about the view from the porch across empty lots clear to the 33rd Street Woods. Brothers playing on the roof. The goat and wagon that came for a visit. The upright piano that lived in the front hall. The life-long memory from the little boy sprawled out on the floor of the nook reading books while colored light streamed in around him, filtered through those stained glass windows. So many stories.
In November 2004, we hosted the Mom of the house from the 1960s on an impromptu visit when she dropped by the street to say hello to her old neighbors who still lived two doors down. When she walked through the house, wistfully, she mentioned the stained glass windows in the nook.
Because we had been dreaming about finding the old columns that were torn out of the living room in the 1940s by an earlier family (which we later faithfully rebuilt based on those I found still in existence in a similar Donahue-built house a few blocks away), her mention of stained glass windows in the nook was a very timely little bolt of lightning. Earlier that year we had restored the original front porch, which had also been demolished in the 1940s (a tough decade for old houses).
A few weeks after her visit, a photo and brief note arrived in the mail showing the old window she still had hanging in her kitchen. We almost couldn’t believe that rose-patterned window was once here.
Through conversation over the months and years that followed, it emerged that her daughters still had the other two which had become sentimental companions from their growing up years. I began to imagine bringing the windows back here where they started. That was 18 years ago.
In the last several years, with the thoughtful help of her son (now grown and with a family of his own), and through persistent friendly stories from me about the home’s history and our careful work of putting the pieces back together, a pathway began to emerge: when the family reached that point we all eventually reach of readiness to simplify our lives and possessions, the windows would be welcomed back home. Just as the family took solace in bringing them away when they left, we would find solace in their return.
Back and forth correspondence, phone calls, soul searching, acceptance and finally, readiness. Two of the windows came first: one of the daughters had passed away and the other was ready to release her window with her sister’s. Then a year later, the Mom of the house, now in her mid 80s, was ready to give us the third one. The day we met with her to receive it felt like an adoption.
By then, I had fortunately found Jakub Kucharczyk, the art glass master who runs The Glaziery based here in Northeast Portland. Jakub and his team are one of a handful of knowledgeable and capable artists and craftspeople nationally who know old glass like ours and more importantly have the expertise to restore it using old ways and original materials.
When Jakub examined our well-traveled windows he pointed out the hand-blown crackle glass from Germany that make up the tiles across the bottom, the subtle peach and rose colored Kokomo catspaw granite glass of the flower petals, the zinc channel borders that outline the shapes.
Most of the zinc joints were in pretty good shape but a few needed new flux and solder. One of the crackle glass panels needed to be replaced and Jakub had just the right old piece that looked like it came from the same batch. Even though a few pieces of the art glass were broken, we left them in favor of preserving the original materials, and Jakub made them as steady as could be. All the glass needed a good clean up, and all three panels were reputtied.
Working with glass like this has become a lost art. 110 years ago, most cities had a competitive art glass workforce and marketplace. Today, Jakub and his team service an international marketplace looking to them to restore worn out windows and to build fine new art glass. This winter, he and his team removed the oak display frames built in the 1970s and made our panels ready for the next 100 years.
Meanwhile Stephen Colvin and Carl Klimt at The Sashwright Co. came out to measure the openings and teach us about window stops, reveals and hardware. Dale Farley at Wooddale Windows (also here in northeast Portland) took those dimensions and built new Douglas-fir sash for our old glass just the way the old-timers would, another lost art.
Back and forth we shuttled, dropping off the windows with Jakub for restoration, retrieving the new sash from Dale and delivering it back so Jakub could install the restored windows. Once we had them home, we matched the stain to the existing interior window trim in the nook and Marie painstakingly painted and stained them. Marie is very good at painstaking work.
Fast forward to this week. Carl and his crew returned for the install. I believe they were as excited as we were to make this reunion possible. Out came the empty-eyed single panes. And very carefully one at a time the old windows, newly sashed, were fit and snugged back into the openings they once knew.
I still can’t quite believe they’re back. Every time we pass by, we stand and admire how these windows re-dignify that space, how they bring even more color and life back into the room. It’s still the place you want to sit in the morning with a cup of tea to contemplate the day ahead, or for friendly conversation at dinner.
But these time traveling windows now-come-home have made this space something more, a kind of shrine to the house itself, its builder, the craftspeople who have helped repair and restore it, and more than a century of friends and family who have passed through.
Those nice sweeping bends leading north from Knott Street between NE 29th and 31st in the Alameda neighborhood are not there by accident: they were put there on purpose to solve a very specific problem.
But there was a slow-moving accident that made them necessary and it involved bad the absence of planning, perhaps a measure of greed and too little communication, plus the passage of time. Figuring out this back story has been a bit of a puzzle, which is fine because it represented an historic puzzle on a scale never attempted back in the day, more than 100 years ago.
You know the bends we’re talking about. Take a look:
Google Earth image showing the area bounded by Siskiyou, 29th, 33rd and Knott which posed major challenges to developers in the 19-teens until the city came up with a simple idea but hard-to-achieve plan. Toward the bottom of the photo, note the curved streets leading north off Knott at NE 29th, NE 30th and NE 31st.
Understanding Plats and Subdivisions
To understand what happened here, it helps to know about plats and subdivisions, which are different than actual neighborhood names. Portland is made up of more than 900 plats. A plat is a localized engineering plan and legal survey for development of a subdivision that shows the precise location of streets and lots. Back in the day developers gave these plats names that would catch a prospective home buyer’s eye, or that meant something to the developer.
Today’s Alameda neighborhood, for instance, is made up of 23 separate plats, all filed at different times by different developers who were competing with each other and speculating on market conditions when they bought chunks of what had been old homesteads and farms claimed in the 1850s and 1860s. There was indeed an Alameda Park plat (filed in 1909 by the Alameda Land Company), but it’s only one piece of what the City of Portland today refers to as the Alameda neighborhood. 22 other subdivision plats—with names now lost to time except on property legal descriptions—make up today’s neighborhood.
Here in today’s Alameda we’re made up of the following plats: Alameda Park, Olmsted Park, Meadow Park, Linlithgow Park, Homedale, Irvington, Irvingdale, Irvingwood, Edgemont, Charleston’s Addition, Pearson’s Addition, Stanton Street Addition, Hudson’s Addition, Gile Addition, Town of Wayne, Town of Wayne Replat, Quinn’s addition to Town of Wayne, Waynewood, Dunsmeade, Hillside, George Place, Bowering Donation Land Claim Tract, Norton’s Subdivision, and Gleneyrie. Phew. All filed by different owners/developers with the county surveyor in the 40 years between 1882-1922.
Remembering the deep history of these lands
Going back in time, it’s important to remember that before these lands were claimed as homesteads by the first white Euro-American arrivals, the federal government forcibly dispossessed the area’s indigenous people from these lands. All of us in the Portland area live today on lands ceded to the U.S. by Chinookan tribes and bands; their former home lands since time immemorial. Read more about this deep history here.
This area was part of the City of East Portland until 1891
The east side wasn’t actually Portland until after 1891, it was East Portland, a separate city. Prior to that, we were three separate cities sharing some limited common infrastructure, but with different character and focus: Portland (on the west side of the river), East Portland and Albina.
In 1891—in an attempt to roll together the greater Portland area population into one number that would intimidate rival Seattle which was growing fast—the three towns consolidated into one (46,385 people in Portland + 10,000 people in East Portland + 5,000 people in Albina = 61,385 people total in the Portland “metropolitan” area). Take that, Seattle (total 1890 population: 42,837).
There had been a boomlet of development about the time the transcontinental railroad arrived in Portland in the spring of 1882, when some plats were filed in East Portland including “The Town of Wayne” plat in the heart of today’s Alameda. After the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905, which put Portland on the map, a bunch more plats were filed, and then again during the 1920s, after the pandemic.
But let’s get back to the bends.
Too many disconnected plats – a real estate collision
Think of this accident of time as a kind of real estate development collision. The helter-skelter nature of platting before we became part of Portland—fueled in part by spikes in the real estate market which drove owners to create small, disconnected parcels on paper that were never actually developed—resulted in plats with different types of street and lot layouts. As larger, newer and better-planned subdivisions spread out to divide up more territory, the patchwork northwest corner of 33rd and Knott became a vortex of confusion. The city coined a perfect term for it at the time: misfit platting.
Some plats had alleys, some didn’t. Some had many narrow lots. Some had fewer larger lots. There was only one through street and it had varying widths. Corners didn’t line up. There was no street naming protocol. In short, it was a mess.
But the area was still just multiple hopeful plans on paper—these were open fields well into the late 19-teens, even though more than 45 owners had already bought in—and people continued buying, holding and even trading lots as a speculative investment. Here’s what it looked like by about 1915:
This diagram from the Oregon Journal on May 20, 1918 shows the jumble of plats that used to occupy thearea bounded today by NE Siskiyou on the north, Knott on the south, 33rd on the east and 29th on the west. The plats include: Town of Wayne, (1882); Quinn’s Addition to the Town of Wayne, (1886); Hudson’s Addition, (1892); Fairview Addition, (1889); Meadow Park (1890); and Charleston’s Addition, (1895). A careful examination shows that each plat is organized differently.Note that the Fairview Addition even had alleys.
In the early 1910s, with construction and sales well underway in nearby Irvington, Alameda, Beaumont and Rose City Park, developers turned to the next nearby open lands in the pipeline for development and found this total mess.
There was only one real solution that came to mind: Go back to the drawing board and replat the whole area, something never done on this scale (and perhaps never since). But how you do that with specific lots already owned by dozens of hopeful investors in planned subdivisions that had been legally filed and on the books for as long as 30 years?
You see the problem now.
It first surfaced in the newspaper in February 1915:
From The Oregonian, February 12, 1915
The problem percolated among the property owners and the city engineering office for a while until they developed an ambitious plan about how to proceed:
From the Oregon Journal, June 20, 1915
Fisher’s meeting with the property owners went well and all but one got on board. A petition was signed a few months later to send a message of good faith to the city. The last line of the article summed up the problem nicely: the addition is said to be a perfect labyrinth.
From the Oregon Journal, January 9, 1916
The city engineers worked with the Title and Trust Company to do the necessary temporary title transfers to a holding trust that would allow a clean slate and then started drawing different lines, keeping everyone whole, eliminating the labyrinth, adding those curves, and retitling every single lot back out of the temporary trust. The result was a brand-new subdivision called Waynewood, a tip of the hat we suppose to the old Town of Wayne plat and the Irvingwood subdivision just to the north.
The official plat of Waynewood filed with the Multnomah County Surveyor on February 2, 1918 containing the brand-new retitled lots and redrawn streets. In addition to understanding how the curves came to be, the replatting process also explains the misaligned corner at NE 29th and Siskiyou.
A story in the Oregon Journal on May 30, 1920 explained the process and the benefits:
Today all of the energy and consternation that went into that process is completely invisible to us here in their imagined future (at least until now), our only clues the graceful curved streets that lead north from Knott Street. Those curves are reflected south of Knott as well, but they came later when the subdivision known as Dolph Park was platted in 1924, and that’s another story.
The AH blog has been quiet lately because it’s been a very busy winter on many research fronts: specific homes and their builders and people; intersections that are undergoing significant change; the incredible story of three very specific long-lost panels of ornamental glass and the wonder of window restoration and sash making; puzzling questions about everything from street alignments (why is that bend there?), to front porches (what happened to my front porch?). Some interesting things to share in the weeks ahead.
Meanwhile, here are four fresh photos to wake things up a bit, echoing through from our recent series on Sullivan’s Gulch and the arrival of the Banfield Expressway.
You’ve driven past these buildings a million times: part of today’s big U-Store complex on the north side of the Banfield (I-84) at NE 28th, just west of the Hollywood West Fred Meyer.
Here’s a link to the installment from our Sullivan’s Gulch series that references the Doernbecher Furniture Company buildings, which you can still find today if you turn east off of NE 28th at Sullivan Street, just south of the Banfield. Go down that hill, through the tunnel, cross the tracks and take a look. The crossing is in the same place as it appears in this 19-teens photo above, courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.
Here’s an even earlier westward view of the Gulch that we’ve come across, taken in the early 1900s just below where the State of Oregon office building is today on Lloyd Boulevard. The photo was taken to document progress on the trunk sewer that was constructed down the gulch (you can see it there in the bottom…the man is walking along the top of it). By triangulating the photo with old Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, our hunch is the houses on the brow of the gulch are at the corner of 7th and Irving. Look carefully, you can see the two towers of the Steel Bridge through the haze to the west.
The trunk sewer–and what went in it–was the source of legal wrangling between the various new subdivisions upstream that all wanted to dump their waste into it (but didn’t want to pay for it). The contents were still headed for open water in the Willamette River (not good), but the trunk sewer was an improvement over earlier more primitive ways of sewage disposal.
And our last gem below shows a 1930s view of the clubhouse at the old Lloyd Golf Course. This graceful building, now gone, sat near NE Irving at about 13th (across from Benson High School) and was the gateway to the old golf course.
Here’s more about the Lloyd Golf Course era, and one last photo below from AH reader Steve Goodman showing the building’s later days after the golf course was gone (and when Steve was learning to wash dishes in the dishroom of this very building).
We wonder what the future will think when it looks back at newspapers from 2021 attempting to gain a sense of what this life was like. We love newspapers, grew up reading them and had the good fortune to work for several actual newspapers back in our day. But these days, it’s way more interesting to read old newspapers, which we appreciate as an important part of our current occupation.
During a recent cruise through 1912, these Christmas items caught our eye which we thought you might like to see:
This next description of Portland’s Christmas floral business is priceless: “From the dozens of acres under glass on the hillsides skirting the city many truckloads of flowers are being brought to the city daily.” Perhaps you’ll recognize a version of your gift-giving self:
From The Oregonian, December 22, 1912.
And lastly, the ultimate Christmas gift: an eastside bungalow, $3,950.
From The Oregonian, December 27, 1922
Christmas flowers and happy holidays from our table to yours.
This week we’ve added a couple more biographies of eastside builders and lists of their homes to The Builders page, bringing the library of profiles there to 20 homebuilders who’ve left their imprint on our neighborhoods.
This week, meet William G. Bohn, whose second-wind career in the 1920s capped a career in the wood business that started in the upper Midwest. His work stands today along NE 18th Avenue near Sabin School and in Montavilla. He was one of many who blended homebuilding, finance, and salesmanship to take advantage of the heady building years of the mid 1920s.
The second profile this week is H.R. “Hallie” Kibler—Portland’s “Reliable Builder” who started his homebuilding business at age 22 in 1915 (the two sturdy Craftsman bungalows at the northwest corner of 33rd and Prescott were his first and second jobs and still stand today). Kibler served in France during World War 1 and returned to Portland to build in Alameda and nearby neighborhoods before moving to Eastmoreland.
More profiles to follow soon. Our research practice provides a steady stream of insights about local builders.
On an unrelated note, we’ve been out walking in the early evenings here at the bottom of the year—when it feels like it’s getting dark by 4:00 in the afternoon. This is a great time to appreciate the holiday lights and the glow of neighborhood homes and get some exercise. Here are some suggestions to get outside and explore the neighborhoods.
The former Prescott Fountain Building at 2903 NE Prescott has had many lives in its nearly 100 years: grocery store, soda fountain, butcher shop, antique store, barber shop, radio store, bakery, convenience store.
A 1955 photo looking northeast at the corner of NE 29th and Prescott. Photo courtesy of Historic Photo Archive.
Built for $6,000 in 1922 by grocer Thomas H. Cowley, an immigrant from the Isle of Man, the building has been a time traveler, reconditioned and repurposed many times over. Originally a grocery store and meat market, the building sold in 1927 and new owner Martha Sylvester reconditioned it to fill six different retail spaces within the 7,000-square foot building.
A 2009 photo taken from the same angle shows the former Food King Market in operation before it closed in 2020.
Today, most neighbors remember it as Food King Market, a handy place to pick up a gallon of milk or a missing ingredient without having to make the full trip to the big store a few miles away. Older residents will remember it simply as “Hunderups,” or the Prescott Fountain, where you could run a tab and get an ice-cold bottle of Coke.
As a retail location, it’s always been like that: providing convenience, a local touch and a sense of identity to its surrounding residential neighborhood. Former Food King owners David and Kaybee Lee—who opened Food King in the building in 1989—were likely to welcome you in with a smile. Over the years, those of us who lived nearby appreciated the Food King for its convenience, even as we noticed the building was showing its century of wear and tear.
In 2018, after 30 years running the store, the Lees decided it was too hard to compete with grocery stores that seemed to be moving ever closer to the neighborhood. For them, it was time to sell the business and the building, which they did in 2020 just before the pandemic hit. For the last 20 months, it’s been a sad sight, vacant, tagged with graffiti.
Recent construction activity at the site has piqued neighborhood interest as the building appears to be coming back to life. We’ve been glad to see it hasn’t been a tear down, and we’ve wondered what’s next. The transition to its next chapter is an interesting neighborhood story.
Prescott Fountain Building, 2903 NE Prescott, on December 1, 2021.
Christian Freissler, who lives just up the street and was a frequent shopper at Food King, was in for a convenient gallon of milk one day before the for sale sign went up, when he overheard the Lees talking about closing up shop and selling the building. Freissler is one of three founders of Evolve Collaborative, a Northeast Portland-based product design agency founded in 2014. He and his partners had been thinking about buying a building as headquarters for their 15-person design firm. After Freissler’s visit with the Lees, the seed was planted.
Evolve has moved office several times during its seven years of operation, occupying different rented spaces, but Freissler and partners felt owning a building would be an important investment in creating a secure and sustainable future for the business. When he began to consider the possibilities of the Prescott Fountain building, he and his team got excited.
“Living in the neighborhood, I’m quite sensitive to developers coming in, erasing buildings and putting up multi-story buildings,” said Freissler. “I’m proud of the fact that we’re going to keep the building and renovate it.”
Evolve hired architects Doug Skidmore and Heidi Beebe of Beebe Skidmore Architects. Skidmore describes the project like this: “We’re changing the function of a former mercantile building into creative office space and doing it in a way that is compatible with the neighborhood. It’s an exciting project in part because it is surrounded on all sides by residential neighborhoods.”
Architect’s rendering of the south side of the building facing NE Prescott Avenue. Courtesy Beebe Skidmore Architects.
Windows dominate the Prescott Street side of the building—reminiscent of a schoolhouse—and the historic awning-style roofline of the original building will remain, complete with the ornate brackets (though the tiles are gone). Three forward-facing larger windows are embedded above in that awning roofline: two facing Prescott and one facing NE 29th, pulling light into the interior space. Inside, exposed original roof trusses and structural members show the building at work. Exterior materials will be stucco and wood combined with the existing masonry.
The main entry to the building will be about where the door to the market was on Prescott. Once inside, there will be a common area, and then two spaces: a larger one to the right that will be home to Evolve on the east side of the building, and a second smaller space on the west side of the building in the area where the old Prescott Fountain was located. Freissler, Skidmore and team are still thinking about how that space will function, but Freissler has been imagining a gallery or some other community space.
The renovation conforms with zoning that favors low-density commercial use compatible with adjacent residential life, limiting each tenant to 5,000 square feet. “The idea is to not have a business that is any larger than a regular house lot,” said Skidmore. “It’s a way of scaling down and keeping the business size compatible with the neighborhood.”
Evolve hopes to be in its new quarters next spring.
During the Great Depression and the war years of the 1940s, Portlanders had more pressing things to think about than the future of Sullivan’s Gulch. If they thought about the gulch at all, it might have been about their jobs at Doernbecher’s furniture factory, or an escape to Lloyd’s golf course, or the sprawling Hooverville-shantytown at the mouth of the gulch.
Before the speedway: looking west down Sullivan’s Gulch through the Lloyd Golf Course, just west of the NE 21st Avenue viaduct, December 1947. The driving range fence and a corner of Benson High School are visible in upper left. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 91595.
Through those tough years, many families and small businesses struggled just to make ends meet. A quick look at the census shows how many homes on the eastside took in a boarder or two, or had extended family living under the same roof. And if you were a citizen of color or an immigrant, the Portland establishment was more about keeping you down than helping you up.
An influx of workers associated with shipyards and the World War 2 effort brought continued growth particularly on the eastside, and further industrialization along the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Between 1920-1950, our population increased by more than 115,000 people.
Many of those people had cars.
Completion of the Ross Island and Burnside bridges in the mid 1920s allowed direct access to downtown from the eastside. The Ross Island Bridge, completed in 1926, was the first major Willamette crossing that did not include a streetcar route, an important choice and signal of things to come.
By the late 1920s, automobile use had outpaced streetcar ridership and east-west arterials were increasingly clogged with car commuters morning and night. Between 1913 when the Broadway Bridge opened and 1928, the total number of automobile registrations in Oregon increased from 10,165 to 256,527. A powerful force had been unleashed that was going to re-make the landscape.
Another indication of our early car-related growing pains: in 1927 voters approved a street widening levy that literally remade Burnside Street by removing entire portions of buildings and adding street lanes to cope with increased traffic. Similar work took place on Northeast Broadway in the early 1930s.
Looking west at NW 6th and Burnside during the widening project. Buildings on both sides of the street were cut back to make way for more lanes and more traffic. This was not a popular move as Portland struggled with growing pains. Photo courtesy City of Portland Archives, image a2001-062-2
Despite these changes—or perhaps because of them—City Council received an increasing number of complaints about traffic on Fremont, Broadway, Burnside, Stark and Hawthorne. The writing was on the wall for a bigger traffic congestion “fix.”
In 1944, City Commissioner William Bowes brought up C.A. McClure’s earlier Planning Commission speedway vision. The State Highway Commission—chaired by T. Harry Banfield—was on board and suggested the city not grant any more building permits along the Sullivan’s Gulch right of way. If the speedway vision was going to come to pass, it was time to stop allowing development along the edges of the gulch. By agreeing, Portland inched closer to endorsing the project.
As the war years ended, the topic rose to the top of Portland civic life and news coverage.
From The Oregonian, February 24, 1946
City Council placed a money measure for the expressway on the May 21, 1948 ballot asking if Portland voters were ready to pass a $2.4 million tax levy for the city’s share of a $10.5 million project to build a gulch expressway that would theoretically ease traffic problems. Interestingly, also on the ballot that day was a city ordinance requiring the leashing of all dogs…council didn’t want to be alone with just its fingerprints on that explosive decision either.
The resulting public dialog and advertising campaign about the expressway levy produced fireworks as people and businesses chose sides:
From The Oregonian, May 20, 1948
From The Oregonian, May 19, 1948
Portland City Club added its voice and recommendation with a report considering the pros and cons of the expressway, including an awareness for Portlanders that construction would require demolition of more than 110 homes along the right-of-way.
The results of the vote were an unequivocal no: Portland was not interested. (Results of the dog leashing ordinance were far less clear: it was defeated by a mere 4 percent margin).
From The Oregonian, May 24, 1948
But the establishment was strong and within a week, the Oregon Transportation Commission went ahead anyway with survey and planning work to prepare for major right-of-way acquisition. Spurned by Portland voters, T. Harry Banfield and the commission decided to look elsewhere to fund the speedway vision.
During the week after the landslide vote, The Oregonian editorial board expressed its surprise about the Highway Commission’s decision to go ahead anyway, but endorsed the new highway as necessary for progress:
From The Oregonian, May 27, 1948
Soon, things began to happen, with tangible progress beginning to show on the eastern end of the project and then proceeding west toward downtown. Portions of neighborhoods were bought and houses moved or demolished:
From the Oregon Journal, August 21, 1949
Later in 1949, the Highway Commission had to revise right-of-way acquisition costs upward from $2.4 million to $4.8 million. In August 1950, T. Harry Banfield died while on a fishing trip in Gold Beach, but the vision was well on its way into implementation. By early 1952, the first construction contract for grading at the far eastern end of the highway in the Fairview area had been let for $400,000. In March of 1955, the Doernbecher factory in the gulch at NE 28th Avenue closed and its furniture-making machinery sold at auction. In January of 1956, seven of the Lloyd Golf Course putting greens were sold to Riverside Golf and Country Club for an undisclosed price.
Photos from the 1950s make it clear just how much gulch-widening and dirt moving would be required, particularly in the big bends between NE 21st and NE 37th.
On October 1, 1955, the highway opened between NE 42nd and Troutdale. Two years later, with funds from the major highway infrastructure bill signed into law by President Eisenhower, the final two miles were completed. By 1960, the Banfield Freeway was fully operational and a century of transformation in the gulch was complete, from natural area to homestead to manufacturing hub, golf course and shantytown.
Despite all the changes brought about by the speedway vision, some weren’t quite ready to embrace the gulch’s new identity. A grass-roots campaign that began (and ended) in Parkrose attempted to claim local history, reminding us once again about the importance of places and their names.
Today, it remains the Banfield. But some of us know it’s still Sullivan’s Gulch.
Portland’s planning commission of 1926 had dueling visions for what Sullivan’s Gulch could become. One commissioner believed heavy industry was not the right direction, advocating that what hadn’t already been industrialized should be turned into a park.
But C.A. McClure, leader of the planning commission, suggested something different:
“The plans as visualized contemplate an outgoing speedway on the right-hand side of the railroad tracks, an incoming lane on the left-hand side. The object would be to carry the speedway under all viaducts and to have only a few lateral streets, probably one every quarter mile, to feed the through highway.”
This was 1926, 30 years before McClure’s vision became reality. By then, car ownership was on the rise, 13 years after the Broadway Bridge opened when cars first became commonplace. But in 1926, streetcars still ruled ground transportation, just not for long: streetcar ridership had begun to decline.
Meanwhile, interesting things were happening in and around the gulch. In 1926, California oilman, millionaire and developer Ralph B. Lloyd bought hundreds of properties on both sides and was planning a small empire involving a nine-hole golf course and clubhouse, a hotel, and other developments.
Those who favored the gulch as park space had something to feel good about, as expressed in this short editorial in the Oregon Journal on October 1, 1926:
Making the gash in the earth an asset. The gulch, beautified.
Lloyd envisioned an integrated retail, entertainment and residential district that could move Portland’s center of gravity from downtown to the eastside. Among the projects he proposed for the area we think of today as the Lloyd District was a baseball stadium where today’s Rose Garden Arena is; a 400-room eight-story hotel and apartment building just east of Holladay Park; and a series of interesting beautification projects in the lower gulch.
Specifically, Lloyd envisioned a one-mile long linear park in the gulch between Grand Avenue and NE 12th. His preferred method to do this: cap the railroad, creating a long tunnel along the gentle slope to the Willamette River, a beautified park on top.
With the purchase of hundreds of lots in the area of today’s Holladay Park, Lloyd District, Kerns neighborhood and the gulch, Lloyd was well on his way, and he had support on the county commission and city council. But no one could know how the Great Depression, a world war and the car would intervene.
By 1932, Lloyd had changed the gulch from this bucolic view of the 1920s:
Looking southeast up-gulch from about NE 16th in the late 1920s. Click to enlarge. Note the gentle swale, and the older homes near the top of the ravine. The 21st Street Viaduct at far left. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 53652.
To this similar view from 1932, looking east from about NE 15th:
Note the railroad tracks; a service road and retaining wall on the south side of the gulch; houses in the neighborhood on the north bluff; and tons of fill recently trucked into the bottom for golf course greens. Don’t miss the smoke from Doernbecher there in the background. Source: Portland City Archives, image a2009-009-1458.
Lloyd’s lower gulch park never materialized, but a golf course did. In 1930, plans were drawn up and construction begun on a “sporty” nine-hole golf course and driving range in the bottom of the gulch and south slopes between NE 12th and NE 21st. Check out this map and early advertisement in the run-up to grand opening on October 1, 1932:
“Taking the unsightly Sulivan’s Gulch…a beautiful panorama of scenic beauty has been created,” from The Oregonian, September 30, 1932.
Big celebrations surrounded the grand opening and all of Portland was invited to come take a look. One round of golf cost 40 cents, or two for 75 cents. Here’s what John Rooney, manager of the new course, told The Oregonian:
“’Many times a private club member would like to play a round of golf before going to work in the morning, or at the noon hour, but the distance to the course is too great or the course is too long. But a foursome can easily traverse Lloyd’s in an hour and the clubhouse is less than five minutes’ drive from the center of the downtown business district.’”
One reporter wrote his own review of the course:
“Though the nine holes are laid out in a space of not more than 30 acres, the course measures 1,750 yards and there are four tees from which long wooden shots must be made. The greens are the best I have ever played on—they are just about perfect. Sullivan’s gulch only a few years ago was an eyesore. Today, under the magic touch of the landscape engineer backed by the Lloyd financial resources, the railroad ravine has become a thing of beauty.”
Here’s a great photo, by Herb Alden of the Oregon Journal from 1947 looking to the east that takes in the whole course and the surrounding neighborhood.
The 12th Avenue viaduct is at the bottom of the photo. To the right is the club house (designed by Charles Ertz), which outlasted the golf course by more than 50 years and was a beautiful building, needlessly demolished in 2017 after serving as Ireland’s Restaurant, Tibbie Dunbar’s, the Polo Club and Point West Credit Union. The fenced area beyond the club house is the driving range (the corner of Benson High School is visible across the street). The 21st Avenue viaduct is at the top of the frame. In the lower left you can see the corner of Holladay Park. A pedestrian footbridge specifically constructed for golfers spans the gulch at about NE 13th. While the grand opening drawing in the 1932 newspaper seems to suggest the train tracks magically disappeared, they were definitely there. No Ralph Lloyd Tunnel.
Here’s a similar view today. The underpass of NE 16th Drive (the yellow line) swings south of today’s Lloyd Center Cinema as it drops briefly into the gulch and travels across the former fifth hole.
Caption: Google Earth photo, circa 2020.
Lloyd died in 1953, but his daughters and business partners pursued his vision which eventually led to development of Lloyd Center in the early 1960s and the surrounding area we know today. The golf course lasted until January 1956, when a force second only to the floods unleashed 12,000 years ago by glacial Lake Missoula remade the gulch: the Banfield Expressway. But that’s for next time.
In the early 1930s—while Lloyd was building the golf course—the wheels had come off the American economy with 25 percent of the workforce unemployed during the worst of the Great Depression: more than 12 million people out of work. The lower gulch became home to a growing number of homeless people who built shacks out of foraged materials. Also called “Hoovervilles” in a sarcastic jab at the former president, Portland had several notable Depression-era settlements including in the gulch and around the Ross Island Bridge.
Looking to the north just west of the Grand Avenue overpass, the old Sears building above on the bluff, home to today’s Metro building. Source: Oregon Historical Society Negative COP 00152
Beginning in about 1932, unemployed men (mostly) began building shacks in the gulch, clustered at first under the Grand Avenue viaduct, and then eventually stretching up to the 12th Avenue overpass and then farther up-gulch under most of the viaducts.
Front page of the Sunday Oregonian, December 4, 1932. The photo in upper left of this spread is looking up-gulch, the trees of Holladay Park can be seen on the bluff to the left.Lower left is another view of the area under the Grand Avenue overpass.
As Lloyd corporation workers cleared brush in the gulch and maintained golf course landscaping, they also cleared parts of Shantytown by burning shacks. Residents persisted there until the last shack was burned in July 1941.
By then, engineers with the Highway Commission were preparing a plan to bring to voters…