100-year-old photos offer a fresh look at the Willamette River in downtown Portland

We’ve been helping a long-time Northeast Portland family sort through their 100-year-old photo albums to identify some mystery locations and develop context about important family places. We love working with old photos (there’s a whole category here on the blog called Photo Detective dedicated to the topic which we think makes interesting reading and looking).

100 years ago, this family loved to play outside and one of their favorite places was the Willamette River between Swan Island and Oak Grove. Like so many young Portlanders of that era, their key to exploring these places was a canoe.

Departing from The Favorite Boathouse under the west end of the old Morrison Bridge, a swing bridge built in 1905 that was replaced in 1958 by the bridge we know today. In the photo above looking to the east, the eastern span of the old bridge is swung open to allow heavy river traffic to pass.

Along with front-porch moments of young families, babies and World War 1 soldiers returning home to Northeast Portland, the albums contain pages and pages of river adventures from the summer of 1919. Since we are frequently in the same waters by kayak and canoe, finding these glimpses struck close to home and got us wondering about the connection between Portlanders and the Willamette 100 years ago. These young people clearly were connected with their river, which looks to have connected them with each other in the special way that rivers do.

A boathouse on the west bank of the Willamette just south of the Morrison Bridge seemed to be at the heart of many adventures, a place appropriately called “The Favorite Boathouse.”

A look through the Oregon Journal and The Oregonian during these years opens a window into just how many young Portlanders took to local waters by canoe. At the time, Ross Island and Swan Island were outposts for recreation (and Swan Island was still very much an island). In 1916, both were destinations for organized outdoor recreation.

From the Oregon Journal, April 20, 1916.

From The Oregonian, April 25, 1921

A popular destination for Willamette paddlers in the late 19-teens and early 1920s was Windemuth, a giant floating swimming pool and dance pavilion anchored in the river off the northern tip of Ross Island. By day, Windemuth featured swimming competitions and all manner of water play. By night, hundreds of paddlers arrived to dance on the floating dance floor.

From the Oregon Journal, July 14, 1923

The Favorite and other boathouses rented canoes for couples and groups to paddle upstream to Windemuth for the summer evening dances. If you didn’t want to paddle, you could pay to ride a scheduled “motor launch” from downtown. Or from the eastside, you could take the Brooklyn Streetcar to the foot of Woodward Street and catch a short boat ride across to the floating pavilion.

Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) there were frequent swampings of canoes from the wakes of the many steamships active in Portland harbor, and regular drownings, often at night, coming and going to the islands.

From The Oregonian, May 14, 1923

On Swan Island north of downtown, the beach in summer was filled with canoes that brought young Portlanders over the waters to sunbathe, picnic and camp.

Looking toward downtown from near the beach on Swan Island. Note the Victrola record player in the front of the canoe. The Victrola and its records, picnic boxes, bags of clothes and camping gear show up as payload in multiple photos. Summer 1919.

Handed down family stories describe young people swimming among and playing on the many rafts of logs that were tied up along the Willamette banks awaiting use by local sawmills. During these years, log rafts lined both shores from the Sellwood Bridge to St. Johns.

Taken on the western shore of Swan Island looking to Portland’s west side, with two canoes. The sawmill on the far side of the river is the Northern Pacific Lumber Company mill located in the vicinity of today’s Terminal 2 on NW Front Avenue. The very large building in the background is the old St. Vincent Hospital located on Northwest Westover. A log raft is visible anchored just off the near shore behind the canoes. Summer 1919.

Family members enjoyed paddling farther south, around the Milwaukie bend at Elk Rock Island and upstream under the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge at Lake Oswego to the vicinity of today’s River Villa Park, a nice six-mile paddle from the northern tip of Ross Island.

Elk Rock Island, Summer 1919

Looking north toward the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge at Lake Oswego (built in 1910), which is still in use and marks the northern edge of today’s River Villa Park in Oak Grove.

But by the mid 1920s, Portland’s recreational relationship with the river was about to take a major turn, due to health concerns resulting from the reality that the city’s raw sewage went straight into the river.

From the Oregon Journal, July 31, 1924

The shutdown relegated moonlight canoe trips to wistful memories a generation later. Below, from the Oregon Journal, May 5, 1946.

Next: More about The Favorite Boathouse, Windemuth and Willamette River water quality in 1924. Special thanks to Steve Erickson and the Schaecher family for allowing us to share these amazing photos.

An exercise in seeing

It’s been a busy fall around here with work on national register nominations, house history studies completed and underway, guided history walks and some river time. But not a lot of blog posting…time to get back in that groove.

We’ve just wrapped up the study of a 1911 “Colonial revival” style home in Irvington that reinforces the importance of looking at a thing long enough to actually see it. This is an important lesson whenever it arrives, and we appreciated it as such. We thought you might too.

Maybe you’ve seen this house: the stately white two-plus story home at the southwest corner of NE 21st Avenue and Knott. It’s just come on the market.

Viewed from Knott Street looking south, this house wants you know it’s in the Colonial Revival style, complete with the Georgian style doorway, bay window and upstairs shutters. Photo courtesy of Lulu Barker.

Below, the same house, viewed from NE 21st looking west, and in context with the house just to the south—which as it turns out is actually its twin, built at the same time by the same builder.

A good way to gauge the magnitude of change is to stand east of the two houses and compare, knowing they were built as Arts and Crafts twins originally in 1911. Photographed October 2022.

The two houses were built between November 1910-March 1911 by brothers-in-law James E. Coleman and Robert J. Ginn doing business as Coleman & Ginn. Both men were farmers with ties to Moro in Sherman County and had been drawn to Portland by its booming real estate business. The house to the south sold quickly, but the corner house with its front porch and entry facing NE 21st didn’t sell, so the Coleman family moved in for a few years until departing Portland for Moro during the economic downturn of the late 19-teens.

The next family—George and Hulda Guild—made some big changes. For the first few years, all their documents of record used the NE 21st Avenue address (which was 555 East 21st Street North, in the taxonomy of Portland’s pre-Great Renumbering address change).

But in the fall of 1920, all of the official documents for this house and the newspaper social listings stop reciting the NE 21st address and begin orienting to Knott Street. The formal entrance to the house had been shifted from the east-facing front porch entry of the original Arts and Crafts house on NE 21st Avenue, to a new Colonial Revival front entry facing north toward Knott Street.

This choice may have been driven in part by the rising popularity of the Colonial Revival style. By the early 1920s, large three-story Arts and Crafts homes were slipping out of vogue in favor of multiple revival styles. Another factor may have been the prestige of having a Knott Street address. Irvington homes facing Knott Street are typically grander than many of the homes on numbered streets, and perhaps George Guild, as president of Columbia Paper Box Company, would rather have resided on Knott Street than on 21st.

Whatever the reason, conversion would not have been simple. The distinctive Arts and Crafts dormers (on the north side) overhanging eaves and other architectural details were removed and the interior configuration and floor plan dramatically changed to accommodate entry from the north side of the house. There’s no documentation of this work on file with the city, so no record of date or extent, though a reasonable guess is the summer of 1920 when the Guilds started using their new Knott Street address.

Being able to see this transformation is all in how you look at it, where you look at it from, and the clues that history can bring, reminding us in a helpful way to question our perceptions and the things we think we know.

In an interesting post-script, this was also the home of Alfred Powers, one of Oregon’s best known authors, Dean of Creative Writing and Publishing for the Oregon university system, editor at Binford & Mort, and author of 18 books. During the years Alfred and wife Molly lived there (1942-1961), this house also held one of the largest private libraries in Oregon.

Alameda’s C.J. and Lillian Smith House: Setting the record straight on C.C. Rich

When Dr. Charles Johnson Smith and Lillian Belle Guillford Smith built their mansion on Alameda Ridge in 1915, they had just come off his unsuccessful campaign for Oregon Governor, losing by a convincing margin to Republican James Withycombe, but considering a run for some other office or public service. They were also launching a new chapter in their lives—relocating to Portland from a quarter-century of public life and Dr. Smith’s medical practice in Pendleton.

Their new home at 864 The Alameda (readdressed during the Great Renumbering as 2834 NE Alameda) symbolized that ascendency: a graceful blend of English country house and Arts and Crafts style; a commanding view of downtown with a presence on the ridge among neighbors who were the captains of industry and Portland society; plenty of room to entertain.

The relatively unformed Alameda Park addition spreading out around them was just six years old and less than 15 percent of the available lots had been bought or built when the Smiths acquired two lots at the bend of The Alameda—as the street was known until the early 1930s—and hired local architect Charles C. Rich to design their dream home. Because of Smith’s prominence in the public eye, and the growing interest in residential development in this area, his real estate choices made news:

From The Oregon Journal, August 1, 1915

Homebuilding was in a slowdown due to economic conditions, so any building news was good news, and local newspapers paid close attention to milestones in their construction process. As the summer of 1915 unfolded, a series of short news items documented issuance of the building permit to builder James L. Quinn; excavation on the ridge and framing of the foundation as well as advertising for plumbing and electrical bids on August 25th; and construction of the retaining wall above Regents Drive on October 3, 1915. Capping off all the construction news coverage was this final piece, which appeared in the Oregon Journal on March 19, 1916:

In the 1980s, design of the home was mistakenly credited to Portland architectural giant Ellis Lawrence, who was active at this same time and in the same style, and who was friends with architect Charles C. Rich and with Smith family daughter Gwendoline (who in a big society wedding in the family home in 1917 married Harry Ashley Ely, another member of that friend group). All three men were involved in formation of the City Club of Portland. Rich and Lawrence were also faculty colleagues at the University of Oregon School of Architecture.

The original building permit documents, multiple news stories from 1915-1916, and the actual blue prints (which still exist, against all odds) make it very clear this house was designed by Charles C. Rich, not Ellis Lawrence. Just wanted to set that record straight.

The Smiths lived in the home until 1927, followed by the Arthur and Louise Nicolai family until 1946; Emily and Earl Grove until 1961; and the Kuzmaak family until 2019. The house was recently completely renovated by the Arnal family.

More builder & architect profiles

Our house history research practice provides a steady stream of insight about neighborhood development while also allowing us to get to know the builders, the buildings they built, the early residents, and the times they all lived through.

From The Oregonian, September 9, 1923

In addition to the recent piece on florist-turned-builder Carl F. Ruef, we’ve added 10 new names to The Builders page, joining background on more than 20 other builders. Below is a synopsis of these newly added crafts people. Click each name to see their stories and the addresses they’ve designed and built…you might find your home or one you know!

Forrest W. Ayers

Builder of eastside Craftsman bungalows in the teens and 1920s.

Willis Chandler

From 1926-1928, Chandler built more than a dozen homes in Beaumont near the intersection of NE 41st and Alameda.

Ernest L. Graves

Part booster, part builder, Graves parlayed his experience as an engineer in World War 1 into an ability to manage large projects, building more than 70 bungalows in Irvington during the height of the building boom 1925-1926. Graves worked with architect H.H. Menges whose motto was “You furnish the lot, and I’ll furnish the plans.”

Orlo Ray William Hossack

Architect of stately homes in the Irvington and Dolph Park neighborhoods and beyond, and large government and institutional buildings like the Washington County Courthouse and Masonic lodges throughout the region, Hossack paused his successful architectural practice in the mid 1930s to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps and died on remote assignment in Idaho.

Emil Nelson

Advertising himself as “Master Builder” and Builder of Finer Homes,” this Swedish immigrant built dozens of homes in Alameda, Rose City Park and Eastmoreland.

Ralph Panhorst

Architect Ralph Panhorst grew up in Northeast Portland in the 19-teens and opened his own architectural practice at the age of 26, focusing on homes and apartment buildings. He was later known for his mid-century modern designs.

Ewald Theodore Pape

While not a registered architect, German immigrant E.T. Pape designed classic residences in Alameda, Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland and Dolph Park and a half-dozen mid-sized apartment buildings, three of which today are on the National Register of Historic Places.

James L. Quinn

This Scottish immigrant builder started out building bungalows in Montavilla and a four-square on NE Broadway before building Grant High School and multiple large projects in Portland and in the Klamath Falls area.

Charles C. Rich

A practicing architect in Portland and on the faculty at the University of Oregon School of Architecture in 1916-1917, Rich designed public buildings, wrote columns on architecture for The Oregonian, and finished a high profile Alameda home before leaving architecture and Oregon for good in 1918.

Carl F. Ruef, Alameda florist and builder

Five homes in the Alameda neighborhood were built by a multi-talented “moonlighting” florist during the boom years of the 1920s.

During the Great Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Alameda florist and home builder Carl F. Ruef lost his fight with his Alameda neighbors and the City of Portland to open a greenhouse and flower shop at NE 24th and Fremont. But his local handiwork survives as a testament to the resourcefulness of that time, the chutzpah of his big mid-life move, and the boom times of homebuilding in the mid 1920s.

Ruef built and lived in the Mediterranean-style home at 2208 NE Regents from 1924-1930 before building and moving into the small Tudor revival style home at 2425 NE Fremont. Both homes survive today and were bookends of his Alameda experience.

​​From The Small Home: Financing, Planning Building, Monthly Service Bulletin No. 41, July 1925. Published by The Architects’ Small House Service Bureau of the United States, Inc. This was the home of Carl F. and Florence Nichols Ruef from 1924-1930. Prior to Portland’s Great Renumbering of 1930-1931, the home was originally addressed as 742 Regents. Today it is 2208 NE Regents.

Carl F. Ruef was a first-generation American from German immigrant parents who was born in Claremont County Iowa on May 20, 1879 and grew up in Salem, Oregon. With his brother Edward, Ruef established the largest floral greenhouse operation in Oregon outside of Portland near the intersection of 17th and Market Street in Salem, with a retail storefront in downtown Salem. In the 19-teens Ruef, built a reputation as Salem’s leading florist, knowledgeable about all aspects of flower growing, gardening, and the cultivation of fruits and berries.

From the Capital Journal, October 31, 1916.

Carl Ruef lived at home with his parents until age 39, when in a bold moment after their deaths he sold the Salem greenhouses and florist business, married Statesman-Journal newspaper social columnist Florence Elizabeth Nichols (ten years his junior), had a baby daughter Mary, and moved to Portland.

Once in Portland, Ruef first appears in city directories as a gardener, living with wife and daughter at 2328 SE Yamhill Street. Evidently, he was also preparing to launch a career as a homebuilder. In 1923, he built 1832 SE Hazel (where the family lived briefly), and two homes that share a back fence: 3527 NE 29th Avenue and 2816 NE Ridgewood. In 1924, Ruef is listed in city directories as a builder; the Ruef family was living in the home he built at 2208 NE Regents, which still stands today.

This third home known to be built by Ruef—located on the southeast corner of NE 22nd and Regents—appeared in several publications, including a catalog of building plans published by the Architects’ Small House Service Bureau. Accompanying the 1925 photo above is the following short story and a quote from Florence Ruef about the house and its landscaping:

1924 was a busy year for new homebuilder Ruef: he built the Regents, Ridgewood and NE 29th Avenue houses and the home at 3834 NE 23rd.

Starting in December 1925, the Ruefs attempted to sell the Regents house for $9,000, advertising it as follows: “Choice Spanish bungalow, a positive sacrifice by owner, tile roof, oversize grounds, gas fired hot water heater, illuminated at night.”

But the Regents house didn’t sell and the Ruef family continued to live there until 1930 when they moved into the final home he built, the tiny English Tudor at 2425 NE Fremont.

Meanwhile in the late 1920s, Ruef turned back toward the floral business, opening and then later selling the Irvington-Alameda Floral Company at 1631 NE Broadway.

The Great Depression years of the early 1930s were a challenging time for the Ruef family and for most families in Portland. They continued to live in the small English Tudor on Fremont where they rented out one of the three tiny bedrooms for $12 per month. On March 22, 1931 Ruef advertised the room for rent in one part of the classified ads, and in a different section sought a loan offering the house as collateral: “Want $2,750 on $8,000 new residence, 6 percent no brokerage fee.” He was evidently trying to capitalize a new floral business.

Working out of the small house on Fremont, Ruef attempted to turn his florist know-how into an income stream for his family, initially growing flowers in the backyard and eventually seeking city permission to put up a small sign advertising the business, and later to convert the garage into a greenhouse.

From The Oregonian, May 13, 1931

In May 1931 he requested a zone change and permission to put up a sign for his flower business facing Fremont: the lot to the west, location of today’s Childroots Daycare, was vacant during those years as was the residential lot to the east. But neighbors didn’t like the idea of businesses in the Alameda Park Addition period, stemming in part from the original deed restriction prohibiting businesses in the neighborhood, and complained to the city which in December shut down both the sign request and later the zone change which would have allowed Ruef to open a small flower shop.

From The Oregonian, December 31, 1931

This annotated photograph from a rainy day in 1935 (click to enlarge) shows the home Ruef built at 2425 NE Fremont where he wanted to establish a flower shop, and the home he built in 1924 at 2208 NE Regents in upper left. The vacant lots either side of the Fremont house would have been perfect for the greenhouse he had in mind. Note: the Broadway Streetcar waiting at the corner of Fremont and 24th in front of the Alameda Pharmacy; the gas station on the northwest corner; and the vacant lots on both the southeast and northeast corners. Original photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2005-005.1421.2. For more views of this intersection, click here.

Due to the strong neighborhood opposition, the Ruefs gave up on the home-based business idea and in 1932 rented space at 3125 East Burnside for a new business, Carl Ruef Floral. They continued to live at 2425 NE Fremont and grow some flowers under a revocable city permit. The 1940 census found all three there, listing Carl at age 60, proprietor of a florist shop; Florence, 48, was keeping house; and daughter Mary, then 20, was a model of ladies’ apparel.

From the Oregon Journal, August 29, 1939

When Carl died suddenly one year later in December 1941, the family was living at 1412 SE 25th. His death certificate notes he was a “retired florist and landscape architect.”

Florence and Mary continued to live together until 1943, when Mary moved to Chicago with her new husband Howard Fay, and Florence remarried Portland railroad dispatcher Olof Olsson. Mary was back in the Portland area in the mid 1970s, remarried after her first husband’s death, working as a real estate agent until her own passing in 1985. Florence lived briefly in the late 1950s with her new husband in a Las Vegas trailer park before returning to the Portland area where she died in 1989 at age 100.

Dolph Park: Restrictions shaped the early neighborhood, creating an enclave of wealth and big houses

We’ve often wondered about Dolph Park: the island of tall trees, large houses and lush landscaping a few blocks west of Grant High School in Northeast Portland. Who were the Dolphs? How did this place come to be? What was here before?

Today a subset of the Grant Park Neighborhood, Dolph Park feels like its own place, distinct from the smaller streets and lots immediately to the east in the Fernwood Addition. The homes are younger than in Irvington to the west. Buffered from the mixed commercial uses to the south on Broadway. And distinct from smaller homes and lots to the north in Waynewood.

This is the Dolph Park Plat, filed with Multnomah County in April 1924. The notes at the bottom show portions of lots vacated along NE 30th between Eugene Street (today’s U.S. Grant Place) and NE Tillamook. Courtesy of Multnomah County Surveyor.

For a subdivision of its size—10 blocks and 122 lots—it arrived relatively late on the scene. It is unusual for so much open land so close in to have been unbuilt for so long. Part of that had to do with complex property ownership and legal wrangling. But when it did come to market, during the boom years of the mid 1920s, it didn’t take long to sell.

Development of Dolph Park, like other subdivisions in Portland at the time, was premised on strict racial prohibitions written right into the deeds that prohibited any other than white families living here.

Dolph Park restrictions also required minimum new construction costs which were at the high end for new construction at the time. Homes facing NE Thompson Street, which the developers clearly wanted to make the showcase street of the neighborhood, required even higher minimum construction costs.

Dolph Park was platted in April 1924 by Eliza Cardinell Dolph (1849-1934), matriarch of the Dolph family which was influential in Portland in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eliza was the widow of Cyrus Abda Dolph (1840-1914), who had a long list of legal and civic accomplishments, including serving as Portland City Attorney, helping found Reed College, serving as lead attorney for the Northern Pacific Railroad, director of the Oregon and California Railroad, president of the Library Association of Portland and other positions. Cyrus’s brother Joseph Dolph was a two-term U.S. Senator from Oregon. Clearly, Eliza and Cyrus—and their three children—were amongst the most well off of Portlanders and the family controlled property in every quarter of the city.

Cyrus A. Dolph, about 1911 (left); Eliza Cardinell Dolph, about 1868 (right)

The property that is today’s Dolph Park, however, came to Eliza through her own side of the family: the Cardinells. Her parents Charles and Jane Cardinell arrived in Oregon in 1865 and acquired land as the city grew, amassing a small fortune. When Eliza’s father died at age 85 on August 22, 1907, real estate, investments—and several very valuable musical instruments including a Stradavarius violin—came to her and to her brother Charles B. Cardinell. Included in the estate were two tracts of property: one in the Fernwood Plat and one which was part of the Bowering Donation Land Claim, both between NE 28th and 32nd Avenue, from Thompson to Tillamook.

These properties had been owned by her parents from the moment they were platted by Hannah W. Smith in May 1887 as part of the Fernwood Addition. Real estate transfers show the property going directly from Hannah Smith to Eliza’s parents Jane and Charles Cardinell, and some properties to her younger brother Charles B. Cardinell (1858-1923) as well.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s these open lands were cultivated with berry and orchard crops. Small-scale farming and grazing occurred as other nearby neighborhoods began to grow. Today’s Northeast 33rd Avenue was a constant presence: first, a dirt-track county road that marked the edge of city limits; then increasingly a through-way for access to agriculture along the Columbia Slough; then prime access to booming brand-new nearby residential neighborhoods.

In the early 1920s, with the explosion in real estate values all around these undeveloped lands—Irvington to the west, Waynewood and Alameda to the north, Beaumont and Rose City Park to the east—Eliza Dolph recognized the attractiveness and marketability of her long-held family properties. Following the death of her brother in 1923 and the settling of his estate, she brought together the Cardinell properties with those owned by four other families to create Dolph Park. The plat was filed on June 30, 1924, containing 10 blocks and 122 lots.

The first classified advertisement for property in the “beautiful wooded tract” appeared in August 1925, noting the deed restrictions that were placed on the property by Eliza Dolph and the other owners, which would have been a selling point to the buyers they sought. There were three required conditions of ownership in Dolph Park, the first of which is shocking, but sadly common in many Portland neighborhoods at this time:

  • “In consideration of the mutual benefits, the dedicators do hereby declare that for a period of twenty-five years from the date of this dedication the premises shall be used exclusively for residence purposes and shall be occupied by the white race and no member of any race other than the white race shall own or occupy any portion of Dolph Park;
  • “No residence shall be built upon the lots facing upon Thompson Street which shall cost less than $5,000;
  • “No residence shall be built upon any other lot in Dolph Park costing less than $4,000.”

This form of institutional racism was formally expressed in other new Portland subdivisions of the era, and was a fundamental, pervasive, informal force throughout Portland and Oregon. Later, in the 1930s, the practice of redlining—designating areas where banks would not offer loans for purchase or maintenance—affected property values and families’ ability to accumulate wealth.

Dolph Park became an enclave of wealthy white families, many of whom at the time made their fortunes in the forest products and manufacturing sectors. City directory entries from Dolph Park in those early years read like a who’s-who of Portland money and influence.

On September 6, 1925, in its first reference to the new subdivision, The Oregonian carried a short news story about Dolph Park:

One year later, on September 19, 1926, the newspaper reported that almost every lot had been sold:

Like a pulse of work moving through the system, architects, owners and builders were busy making their plans and 1928 was a big year for construction in Dolph Park. This is from the Oregon Journal on February 3, 1929.

~ ~

Here’s an interesting way to look at it: a compilation we’ve built of four Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map plates (click below to enlarge) which provides a snapshot in time from 1924, just as the property was being formally platted. The recognizable grid of streets is present all around, but the future Dolph Park is still an unformed island in the middle of it all, showing several random houses, one large home near 33rd and Tillamook, and scattered green houses. Fernwood School is in the lower right. Eugene Street would later become part of today’s U.S. Grant Place. What other changes do you see?

TLC to Mildred Hall

Four congregations have shaped this 106-year-old neighborhood church. Today, it’s a place for community gathering and events.

Maybe you’ve noticed the busyness and fresh coat of paint on the former church building at the southeast corner of NE 23rd and Sumner. If you haven’t walked by in a while, go take a look to admire the copper gutters, leaded windows and the crisp simplicity of this building form that has been adapted by four separate congregations in its 106 years.

Alberta Community Church, 1958. Photo courtesy of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, University of Waterloo.

Known since 2004 as The Little Church or TLC, a one-floor event space operated by private owners and a rental apartment downstairs, the building sold in 2021 and has been a pandemic-era passion project for new owners Matt and Yuka Hollingsworth who have carefully restored, repurposed and renamed this stately time traveler.

Today this wood-framed building is known as Mildred Hall, taking its name from the east-west street upon which it is situated. Sumner was originally called Mildred Avenue in the 1903 Vernon Addition Plat, but renamed during the 1920s. Downstairs at Mildred Hall is Sumner Studio, an art studio for classes, workshops and shared studio space.

Matt and Yuka Hollingsworth in front of Mildred Hall, NE 23rd and Sumner. Photo by Shane McKenzie / Portland Imagery.

Today’s Mildred Hall started out as the Norwegian Danish Congregational Church, built on its vacant lot in 1916 by Norwegian immigrants as a spiritual center for members of the Scandinavian immigrant community living on Portland’s eastside, and distinct from the other Scandinavian faiths present in town. Church services and Sunday school classes were entirely in Norwegian, signage was in Norwegian and even construction was Norwegian in accordance with design standards set in the old country. Entrance to the original building was once in the center of the west wall.

The Mennonite Church began renting the building from the Norwegians in 1929 then bought it outright in 1938 making it the only Mennonite church on Portland’s eastside, which became known as the Alberta Community Church. Big changes were made then including moving the primary entry to the northwest corner, adding the faux bell tower and excavating a basement for kitchen and study rooms. The Mennonites added more space in 1958 and then outgrew the building altogether in 1965, selling to the Portland Korean Church.

From 1965-1977, the building was the center of Korean cultural life in Portland. In addition to its regular attendees who came from across the Metro area, the church welcomed families with adopted Korean children who wanted their kids to have a connection with Korean identity, offering classes in language, history, art and dance. The church was also well known across Portland’s port facilities as a place for Southeast Asian merchant marine sailors to come for religious services, support and fellowship. By 1977, the popular church outgrew its space and moved into a building downtown.

In 1980, the building became the Fellowship Church of God, which in 1986 also acquired the former Alberta Masonic Lodge across the street to the west as the flagship building for its growing Black congregation. With the shift of use to the larger building across the street, Fellowship leaders repurposed the older and smaller church building as an extra kitchen, basketball court, classroom and storage. By 2004, the Fellowship Church of God outgrew both spaces and later relocated to NE 122nd.

For the Hollingsworths, Mildred Hall has been a labor of love. They’ve served as general contractors and been involved in every construction decision along the way, and there have been quite a few including insulation, windows, HVAC, ceilings and generally trying to harmonize design elements across the multiple eras of change visible in the building.

Clean up after paint removal. Photo courtesy of Matt Hollingsworth

Most importantly, they wanted the building to continue bringing people together, just as it has throughout its life.

Mildred Hall Interior. Photo by Shane McKenzie / Portland Imagery.

“In a city that is tearing down old buildings to make money off of new builds, we have ensured that this building will be a part of the neighborhood for many more years,” writes Matt.

The couple has opened Mildred Hall and Sumner Studio for free community events such as movie nights, flea markets and parties for local residents to get to know their new / old neighbor. It’s available for rent for private gatherings as well. Time to go take a look.

For more information and photos, visit Mildred Hall and its downstairs art studio Sumner Studio online.

Vernon History Walks: July 31 and August 28, 2022

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.

“Old Vernon” is just one of the stops on our the Vernon Neighborhood Walking tour. This building was the center of neighborhood life from 1907-1932, do you know where it was? You might be surprised. Join one of the two Vernon walking tours to hear its story and memories from those who knew and loved it.

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.

A worthy research rabbit hole: Brian’s Mysterious Vanport Survivor

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.

Homecoming for Time Traveling Windows

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:

Carl Klimt and the “golden spike” moment when the last wayward window was set into place, April 27, 2022.

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.

The setting

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.

Detail of the restored windows.

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 removal

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.

The discovery

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.

When this photo and note arrived in the mail from a former resident we were ecstatic, but we also wondered, “Wait, what? That window was 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.

The return

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.

The recovery

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.

Resoldering one of the zinc channel borders. Zinc is more rigid than lead and perfect for art glass windows like these that need to stand up to wind, gravity and time. Photo courtesy of Jakub Kucharczyk, The Glaziery.

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.

Removing the zinc border to replace one of the broken crackle glass panes. The blue masking material was placed over all the glass at the beginning of restoration as a protection.

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.

The new crackle glass panel is sized and inserted into the channel.

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.

The Sashwright Co. team prepares to remove the clear glass panes that were put in place when the original windows were removed in the 1970s.

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.

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