New Builder Bios: Edward R. McLean and Earl A. Roberts

In our continuing quest to learn more about the people who designed and built homes here on Portland’s eastside, we’ve just published two new profiles: Edward R. McLean, who was an active and prolific homebuilder between 1922-1970; and Earl A. Roberts, who ran a residential design-build company with his dad and brother from 1908-1910 before his break-out success as an architect of high-end westside homes that vaulted him into a successful commercial architectural practice in Seattle between 1918 until his death in 1939. He also designed several prominent buildings in the Roseburg, Oregon area.

A listing of homes designed and built by the two men appears at the end of each biography. If you live in Beaumont, you better check out the list of McLean’s homes because you might live in one: he built quite a few in Beaumont. If you know something about a McLean house or the McLean family, drop us a line.

Interested in the story of who built your home or commercial property? Research Services.

Albina’s Williams Avenue, 1909

The loss and complete transformation of what was once a vital Albina main street will always haunt this North Portland neighborhood, in so many different ways. Important chapters of Portland history have played out here, from the early days of being its own city before becoming part of Portland, through waves of immigration, to Civil Rights protests and the vibrancy of African-American owned business, life and culture.

Today, if you don’t know this history, you might drive north on Williams past Emanuel Hospital and not know you are traveling through a kind of sacred ground.

To help us imagine this lost place, here’s a pretty amazing photo from AH photo friend Norm Gholston, and a then-and-now shot we matched up during a recent outing. Norm shared this great old pic recently: it’s the image side of a “real photo” postard, popular in this era. Click to enlarge and take a good look.

Taken from just north of the intersection with Russell Street, the 1909 photo features a look at the Kennard and Adams department store on the left, which carried a little bit of everything. The first intersection in the distance is Knott Street. That’s the Immaculate Heart Church steeple at Williams and Stanton you can see in the distance, the only common denominator that really jumps out at you from the two photos (known back in the day as St. Mary’s Church, not St. Mark’s as the Sanborn implies).

Here’s a composite of several Sanborn maps we put together to be able to visualize where Norm’s 1909 photo was taken. The red box indicates the approximate photo point. Click to enlarge.

Details from Sanborn plates 268, 273 and 274, from 1909.

If you ride, walk or drive this way—or if you didn’t know the history of this amazing stretch of street—take a moment to check out the following  multiple sources of insight about what this neighborhood meant during its heyday, and how its loss has affected the people who knew it:

Historic Black Williams Project

An article about Albina in the Oregon Encyclopedia

A nice rewind that looks back across the years by The Oregonian

Time for a walk

With so much on our minds, it’s time to go for a walk.

Can you believe how many walkers, runners and bikers there are out there on our spring-weather streets? We were out this afternoon with the dog and were impressed with all the friendly neighbors out and about, and how ready we all are to say hello to actual in-person people.

Harriet Lesher and her dad on The Alameda at about NE 22nd, about 1930. Courtesy of the family.

You might be looking for somewhere to walk close to home or a little adventure to take the kids on, maybe something even a little educational. How about a history walk?

You could visit the Pearson pine—a 125-year-old tree that has lived through a lot—and the nearby Pearson dairy farm that exists only in written memory beneath Alameda School. A walk around the dairy is a nice, easy .6 mile.

Or re-trace the route of the old Broadway Streetcar that was once an institution people could not live without, and couldn’t imagine ever changing; it makes a good 3.1 mile loop.

You might survey the entire Alameda Park Plat perimeter, while imagining the forests and fields that once blanketed this area back in 1909. Bring the plat map along (or check it out on your phone).

If you’re walking around the Beaumont area, be sure to stand in the footsteps of these photos from the 1920s and see what looks different today. There are plenty of clues that connect across these nearly 100 years.

Simple pleasures, which mean a lot at a moment like this.

Reflecting on 1918

With many of us home for a while—as life slows down in deference to the social distancing required to reduce spread of the coronavirus—we’re taking stock of just how many interesting blog posts we have on the drawing board, from the history of the Vernon Standpipe to some incredible photos from our history friend Norm Gholston to three new profiles of neighborhood builders and more. Might just as well make good use of this time, right?

But before we do that, it’s appropriate and necessary to make note of this unusual moment in our world (and in the neighborhood) in the midst of a global pandemic. For the record, in March 2020 Portland has come to a stop: schools closed, sports leagues cancelled, workplaces shuttered or greatly limited. Empty grocery store shelves signal our collective desire to get ready for what feels like the leading edge of a slow-moving blizzard about to descend for a while on our city, state, country and beyond. The rhythms of our day-to-day lives now feel uncertain.

Because we often like to look back as a way of seeing our way forward, we’ve been reading news coverage of the 1918 flu pandemic when it descended on Portland. We thought you might be interested in seeing a few clips.

The first mention in the papers in early October 1918 was a simple sentence buried on an inside page: “Seattle thinks it is getting the flu.” At first, the news percolated in conversation and people weren’t sure what to make of it. Jokes were made in small talk:

But on October 10th, Portland Mayor George Baker implemented an order that required downtown businesses to close by late afternoon each day, and completely closed “schools, churches, lodges, public places of meetings, and places of amusement.”

From The Oregonian, October 11, 1918

Needless to say, this was very unpopular and most of the ink we saw in local papers was about the disruption to sporting events. Tensions in the community as people sought “social distance” were captured by W.E. Hill, an artist for The Oregonian who captured this scene on a streetcar in late October 1918. The caption reads: “With all this Spanish influenza around, it was not time for the delivery boy at the other end of the car to choke on a chocolate almond and start coughing.”

From The Oregonian, October 25, 1918

 

A near daily recitation followed in November about the number of new cases diagnosed, and the number of deaths, with victims and addresses named. Auditoriums and gyms were converted to makeshift hospitals. Coos Bay ran out of coffins.

From The Oregonian, October 24, 1918

 

But by mid-November–more than a month after Baker’s complete shutdown–the ban was lifted and life seemed to get back to “normal.”

 

 

From The Oregonian, November 17, 1918

 

There were false starts with plenty of ups and downs–and more deaths–as localized outbreaks continued to be reported through November and December and into the new year. This article from December 1918 indicates school was back in session and the city had progressed to locally specific quarantines when cases of the flu were diagnosed. Signs were put up on individual homes.

From The Oregon Daily Journal, December 12, 1918

 

It was well into 1919 before local newspapers stopped writing about the flu on a daily basis and the former rhythms of life in Portland resumed.

We know the 2020 outbreak is its own thing and the world has changed in the last 100 years. We’re making history right now, which is an unpredictable business. There’s solace, we guess, in knowing our homes and neighborhoods have endured these uncertainties before, and that spring and warmth (despite this morning’s snowfall) are right around the corner.

Now, back to the life of old buildings and neighborhoods. Stay tuned.

More about kit homes and standardized house plans…

The recent discovery of the Sears Roebuck Argyle home just up the street—which is maybe more of a realization than an actual discovery…it’s been there for 100 years—got us to thinking about and looking around in search of other Sears Roebuck cousins.

There are plenty of them, which should not come as a surprise. Here’s a helpful field guide to identification.

In the same way that all art is derivative of other art, so too with residential architecture, defined by the period, the market, the ways of living at the time. As we’ve discussed in the profiles we’ve written about eastside builders, most used widely available sets of building plans.

Page through any of the catalogs from the early years and you’ll see lots of familiar designs, including maybe your own house. For a time during the building boom of the 1920s, The Oregonian actually published sets of plans of example houses, many of which were indeed built on the eastside.

A page from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes Catalog.

Here’s a link to the best repository of old house plans we’ve found (with many thanks to the folks at Antique Home Style). If you haven’t seen this, it’s going to be a rabbit hole you’ll want to go down, there’s so much to see and think about here. Even the marketing language from the catalogs will make you smile. The Wikipedia piece on Sears Modern Homes is actually pretty good as well.

And here’s another good local source of information about mail-order homes, and all things related to older buildings in our fine city.

Here’s the invitation and challenge: Next time you’re out for a walk (good for you and a great way to experience neighborhood history), see if you can find built versions of any of these plans. We’ll welcome any insights or photos of matches you find.

Adaptive reuse on NE 30th: A viable alternative to teardown

When the dumpsters and porta-potty arrived a few weeks ago out in front of the old house, we presumed the worst. We’d seen the 1921 Craftsman bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore decline as bags of garbage piled up on the front porch, bushes grew up over the car in the driveway and the electricity was turned off.

This compact 1921 bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore in Alameda is being revived from what looked like a sure path toward teardown. March 2, 2020.

Taken with its slow descent over the last couple of years, the recent signals seemed clear enough the property had changed hands and would be torn down to make way for another quickly-built three-story unit (or two) that maximized lot lines and financial returns. We’ve seen this story play out before, including for the old bungalow that used to stand right next door to this unlikely survivor.

But this story is headed in a different direction.

The 1,000-square-foot 1921 Alameda bungalow that looked like the next candidate for a teardown is now being revived, restored and repurposed by a nearby neighbor couple who couldn’t bear to see another teardown / big box happen and who wanted to make room for their extended family (they’re adding an addition to the back of the old bungalow to give the modern family a bit more space).

Harry Ford and Amy Garlock, who live in the house directly across the backyard lot line, watched back in 2016 as the former house kitty-corner across the backyard did get torn down and replaced by two three-story semi-attached boxes which sold for almost $1 million each. When it looked like the bungalow directly behind them was headed down the same path, they began to wonder if there was something they could do.

“We bought it partly so that there wouldn’t be another giant duplex in our backyard,” says Ford.

But Ford also explains the house—which will share a big now-open backyard with their own place on NE 29th—will help meet a very real contemporary need: a quality place to live for their aging-in-place parents.

It’s interesting to note that back in the day, a similar multi-generational family-as-neighbor arrangement was in place just around the corner with the family that once lived in the now-gone bungalow and their in-laws who lived right next door. Former residents of that house remembered dinners that went back and forth, the sharing of tools, supplies, grandparents helping with babysitting. It worked out great for everyone.

Today, Ford is looking forward to having his in-laws just across the backyard, and to interrupting the teardown trend by keeping—and adapting—the historic fabric of the neighborhood. He acknowledges that pretty much any other purchaser of the very run-down house would have razed, rebuilt and sold high to repay the construction loan, then moved on to the next project.

For his family though, the ability to acquire an existing older home at a reasonable price literally in their own backyard, combined with the ability to meet the families’ needs at the moment and for the foreseeable future, made this a reasonable thing to do. Ford and Garlock look at the investment in restoration as a good long-term proposition given the multiple types of “bottom lines” it helps them achieve: economics, quality of life, aesthetics and sustainability.

The origin of the house has an interesting story: when AH started exploring the home’s history this week, we determined that it’s a Sears Roebuck house, built in 1921 by builder Albert W. Horn. The floor plan is pure Sears Argyle, one of the company’s most successful kit homes, sold from 1917-1925. Here, take a look:

The Argyle page from a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908 through 1940, Sears sold more than 70,000 kit homes that were built in almost every major US city by homeowners, their friends and in some cases like this one, actual home builders.

 

1921 Sears Roebuck Argyle floor plan, from the catalog. A solid match with the NE 30th Avenue bungalow.

 

On a recent visit, the scope of the work necessary to bring back the 1921 bungalow was evident: Heating, plumbing, electrical, all interior walls, kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, chimney, exterior siding, finishes, window trim. The 100-year-old foundation and framing are solid. Everything else needs attention.

Standing in the kitchen looking toward the front door through the dining room and living room. There’s a bedroom in the front right, a bathroom down the hall and a bedroom in the back, just to the right in this picture. Turn 90 degrees to the right and there’s a stairway into the full basement. March 2, 2020.

“Sometimes, going down to the studs in an old house like this is just easier because you know exactly what you’re working with,” said Craig McNinch of McNinch Construction who is running the project utilizing drawings by Lynn Harritt. He also restored Ford and Garlock’s current bungalow on NE 29th. “This place has great bones,” says McNinch, gesturing to the full dimension 2 x 4 framing lumber, the solid oak floors and the foundation.

From the dining room looking into the living room. A portal wall framed the opening between the two rooms and came down to meet the columns that are atop the built-in cabinets. Behind the sheets of pressboard material on the left is a fireplace. Just like the historic Argyle plans. March 2, 2020.

McNinch has worked on many restoration projects in the area and acknowledges this one is indeed a challenge. But he likes the vision of restoring what was once a new and exciting home for a young family, the backyard connection of the two houses and families, and the constant stream of positive comments he’s had from neighbors and passersby who are happily surprised with the work. During a recent afternoon, we heard McNinch and his crew loudly encouraged to “keep up the good work” by a passing driver calling from a rolled-down window.

Asbestos abatement contractors recently removed the asphalt shingles revealing the original brown cedar shingle siding. March 2020.

Ford and Garlock’s project to revive the old place reminds all of us that there are alternatives to demolition; that it’s ok to adapt something old to meet current needs; that the grace and history of an old place adds its own kind of meaning to family life.

Stay tuned for updates and more on Sears Roebuck homes.

Parlor stories

It’s been a quiet year so far on the AH blog, in deference to a busy batch of research for home owners and architects, several presentations, and ongoing exploration of our standing lines of history inquiry. We’ve been saving up some favorite old photos sent our way by history friend and photo collector Norm Gholston. Here’s one you’re going to want to take a close look at: the interior of a home in the vicinity of North Albina and Webster just after the turn of the last century.

Click in for a good look and then let’s take it apart in the way we like to do with Norm’s great old photos.

Part gallery, part living room, part library, apparently part dining room, this room is dressed to the nines. These picture rails are fully engaged with local art: Mt. Hood, the Coast, maybe the Columbia River.

The mantlepiece tells multiple chapters of the family story and serves as home for the heirloom clock (and the rabbit). Our very favorite thing in this whole picture is the yawning baby on the wall.

Formal table setting, with two forks at each plate, cloth napkins, the good china. Are the flowers silk or the real thing?

The texture of the plaster—and the various cracks and wear marks—make us think this house has seen a few years. And interesting fireplace: we’ve never seen a wooden fireplace surround quite like that one with corner trim that steps back following the line of bricks.

Bookcases filled. Thin carpet. Painted antlers. Victorian parlor lamp. So much to see.

The actual location of the house remains a bit of mystery. Norm tells us that on the back of the photo is written the address “5021 N. Albina,” which is curious for several reasons:

The address format is post-address change, meaning someone wrote that on there after 1931, which certainly could have happened. But the photo appears earlier than that to us.

The current building at that address is a mid-century brick duplex at the southwest corner of N. Albina and Webster…definitely not this place.

A look back at aerial photography of that corner in 1939 and in 1925 shows a vacant lot, as does the 1924 Sanborn map.

Could be that this is the interior of a house that stood there but was demolished before the 1925 aerial photography, but why would someone write 5021 Albina on the back given that it was never known as 5021? Hmm.

So we’re glad to consider this the interior of a house in the neighborhood from the turn of the last century and leave it at that. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. We like to solve them, but we’re glad just to continue contemplating too.

Another neighborhood goodbye: Food King Market

We know change is the only real constant in our neighborhood life, but it seems we’ve been saying goodbye to businesses and buildings more frequently than usual these days.

Today is the last day of business for Food King Market, located at 2909 NE Prescott. The building has recently sold and the family that has met the neighborhood’s convenience store needs for the last 20-plus years is closing up shop. There most certainly is a story here about owners David and Kaybee and their own history in the place and where their path leads from here. The neighborhood will miss them and the convenience of having a small market nearby for last-minute needs.

For the building, it’s unclear where the path will lead. The new owner is in conversation with the city regarding permitting and here’s what the official status of remodeling plans says:

“Remodel and change the use of the existing structure (which is now consisting of three units: a grocery store, a residence, and a current vacant unit), to either 100% office or a combination of office and retail sales and service. Also proposed is to convert approximately 500-800 sq ft of existing footprint into covered or partially-covered outdoor areas.”

The silver lining at this point for the neighborhood appears that this is not a multi-story Airbnb hotel or condominium. It seems the new owners are considering repurposing aspects of the original building.

Which leads us to this photo, which accompanied this post we wrote 11 years ago describing the history of the stores that have operated on the site, and shared memories of some of the “kids” who dropped by for iced cokes on credit.

1955, looking northeast from the corner of NE 29th and Prescott. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson.

Thanks David and Kaybee. We’ll miss being able to zip over for the missing ingredient at the last moment, and we wish you well. And we’ll continue to follow remodel plans for this building which has been a neighborhood institution of sorts for almost 100 years.

In 1911, it’s snowing

With thoughts about snow in the air, let’s turn back the clock to 1911.

From time to time, AH reader and Portland photo collector Norm Gholston sends along a gem or two from neighborhoods we know well—and some we’re still learning about. Here’s a killer image Norm shared recently, a “real photo” postcard from 1911 that shows a mom and pop grocery from Killingsworth Avenue at the southern edge of today’s Arbor Lodge neighborhood.

There’s so much to see and think about in this photo. Click in for a good look and we’ll share some insights:

Photo courtesy Norm Gholston

Snow! Those four-legged traction devices look pretty steady, don’t they?

As the writing on the wagon to the left says (and the numbers on the window to the left of the front door suggest), this is 155 Killingsworth Avenue, which before Portland’s Great Renumbering was actually 155 West Killingsworth. When you map that out today, it takes you to 2225 N. Killingsworth, located on the north side of the street just east of the N. Omaha Tree Way, a four-block-long Arbor Lodge boulevard.

Here’s where this is today, first by map, and then by Google Streetview

 

In this contemporary Google Streetview image, the horses and wagons would be parked near the utility pole in front of the white gate.

 

Detail from Sanborn Plate 521 shows the area in 1924. Arrow indicates location of Ockley Green Groceries and Meat.

Interestingly enough, there must be some remnant of the old market building underneath the existing structure of the auto shop that exists at that address today, because a plumbing permit still on file for that address tracks back to construction of the market building in July 1909, and tells us it was indeed a store.

The wagon on the right, with the grinning driver in his great gauntlet gloves, buttoned-up tunic and basket of greens, is driving for Pierson Brothers Grocery, also housed at 155 W. Killingsworth (look very carefully at the writing on his wagon). What was in that drinking jug on the far right next to the kerosene can?

Neither the Pierson Brothers nor Ockley Green Groceries and Meat appear in any of the Polk city directories either side of 1911 when this photo was taken, but don’t tell these guys that. We’ve scoured through newspapers and other business listings of the era and don’t find reference to these businesses either, though the grocery operated for years after the photo was taken. Help wanted ads from 1910 sought an experienced meat cutter to come in on Saturdays. Perhaps that’s when the fresh meat arrived from the nearby Portland Union Stockyards.

Be sure to appreciate the school girls: the younger girl on the right pulling a sled; both are layered up in their wool coats and hats and good winter boots.

Some clever volunteer editor has scratched out the words under the sign near the stairs, readable between the two utility poles. Yes, we can read “Grocery & Meat Market.” No, we can’t read whatever you crossed out. Was it a person’s name? The scratch-out edits were applied directly to the postcard, not to the actual Foster and Kleiser sign. Why?

Thanks to the 1910 census, we know who is living up those unpainted stairs, behind the open screen door. It’s Frank B. and Margaret Ford, who built the building. Ford was a real estate speculator dealing primarily in grocery stores like this and other simple first-floor commercial properties. Frank and Margaret bought and sold many properties on the eastside over the years and when things got tight, Frank took some liberties with certain documents, which got him arrested in 1929 for real estate fraud. But in 1909, he knew the right place to build a market with the new and booming Overlook neighborhood all around.

Frank B. Ford and his partner Theil also built the commercial block across the street which now houses the Milk Glass Market (which is well worth a visit by the way for a coffee and look around at the neat old market building insides). Back to the photo, look carefully at the reflection in the market window panes and you might even be able to make out the form of the building across the street and its clapboard siding. Check out the Sanborn plate again (and the streetview) and you can see the Milk and Glass Market building directly across the street.

Be sure to note the rails running east-west on Killingsworth, visible in the far left bottom of the photo. This is the St. Johns car line. In the 1890s,  somewhere nearby behind the photographer was the re-load point where the steam train came and went to St. Johns and riders transferred to the electric trolley line that ran east and then south toward Portland. A station was built here–at the corner of Killingsworth and Omaha on the south side of the street–and it was called the Ockley Green Station; later it served the electric trolley that went all the way through to St. Johns. You’ll find dozens of references to it in early newspapers of the day. Real estate ads selling houses or renting apartments all say “near Ockley Green Station.” No need for an address or even a cross-streets, everyone knew where Ockley Green Station was (though, thankfully, some did explain Omaha and Killingsworth was the spot).

There’s another mystery we’ve been puzzling over that will remain unsolved for the moment (we’re not without our hunches): the name Ockley Green taken by the station and the market, and eventually the school.

Here’s what we know for sure:

  • Ockley Green was the name of the station from early days. It was not named for a person. There is no person in any of the Portland decadal censuses during that time or in any city directory of that era that we examined with that name.
  • The school that exists today at Ainsworth and Interstate (10 blocks to the northeast) built in 1925 takes its name from the Ockley Green Station. Documents from the Portland Public School archive tell us this fact. The original building was actually built as “Multnomah Public School” in 1893 at N. Missouri and Shaver, but was moved to Interstate and Ainsworth about 1901, and its name changed to Ockley Green (for the station) in about 1909. The first building was demolished and the one we know today built in 1925. But that’s another story.
  • There is no underlying plat or development plan with this name, no streets or other features. It was more of a “district” than a specific place.
  • Ockley is a picturesque town in Surrey in southern England with a much-written about commons or “green.” Even today, Surrey’s heritage authority reports the most important feature of little Ockley town…”is the long, broad green, which is said to be one of the most impressive in southern England.” Both the green and the town were celebrated in writing and in art during the 1800s. Here’s an example:

From London News, 1851.

We’ve had a good look around on this naming mystery, talked to the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, consulted all of our usual helpful print and public document sources and even stumped a few research librarians. The definitive story behind origin of the name Ockley Green has apparently slipped away, at least for the moment. We have our hunches: immigrant Portlanders with roots in Surrey saw something about the open landscape of the early neighborhood that reminded them of home, and it was comforting to have the place and the memory with them. We completely understand this.

Meanwhile in 1911, it was snowing at 155 West Killingsworth and the grocerymen were still delivering, the kids ready for adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another View | 30th and Emerson

Recently we’ve written about the adaptive reuse of a former neighborhood grocery store located at the northeast corner of NE 30th and Emerson. Its rebirth as a health clinic and neighborhood coffee shop is as inspiring as another story is disappointing: the impending loss of the Logan Grocery at NE 33rd and Alberta.

Today’s post provides a 40-year look back at NE 30th and Emerson and is the fruit of time spent at one of our favorite places, Portland City Archives, where we’ve been recently working on several research projects (the Vernon water tank is in the pipeline, so to speak, and we’ve found some great photos of that giant coming soon).

While searching for views of some former local grocery stores we’re tracking, we came across this gem from 1980. Click in for a good look.

Looking northeast at the corner of NE 30th and Emerson, 1980. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, image A2011-028 APF/15624. A quick look back through newspapers and directories from the 1980s confirms that Premier Real Estate Services, owned by Wayne Jacox, operated from this storefront.

Here’s a similar view today:

NE 30th and Emerson, January 2019.

No telling when the thin clapboard siding went on (or the T-111 siding came off) and the transom windows were removed. Upstairs windows haven’t changed, nor has the utility pole out front with the stop sign on it. The corner entry is gone, as is the 30th Street entry to the upstairs apartment. Gas meters are still in the same place as 1980. And from the 1980 picture, you can see the two distinct storefronts from the way-back past that align with what the 1924 Sanborn map shows at 1122 and 1124 East 30th Street North.

Definitely worth 1,000 words. Thanks City Archives!

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: