It’s Snowing on Deadman’s Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe out there!

Fire stations and our changing neighborhoods

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

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

12-3-2016-concordia-fire-station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of History

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

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

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

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

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

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

 

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

Before

1038-w-diversey-parkway-after

After

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

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

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

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

 

A memory of chestnut trees

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

Chestnuts 9-10-16

Chestnuts gathering at the curb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chestnut tree at 41st and Alberta Court

Get out there and enjoy this beautiful fall weather!

2933 NE Skidmore | Still standing, for now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figuring out the Prescott Jog

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

The Prescott Jog near 37th

The jog at NE Prescott and 37th

Let’s look at the basic ingredients:

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

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

So here’s what happened:

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

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

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

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

The Countdown Begins at Skidmore and 30th

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

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2933 NE Skidmore

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

Stairs facing NE 30th, 2933 NE Skidmore

Stairs from the back door facing NE 30th Avenue.

Looking west, 2933 NE Skidmore

East side of the house from NE 30th.

 

Living room, dining room and reflection, 2933 NE Skidmore

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

 

Chimney and vinyl siding, 2933 NE Skidmore

Chimney on the east side of the house.

 

Mailbox, 2933 NE Skidmore

Front porch mail slot, boxed out by siding material.

 

From kitchen looking to front, 2933 NE Skidmore

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

 

Back door and enclosed porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

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

 

Back porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door, basement door.

Garden hose valve, 2933 NE Skidmore

Garden hose valve.

 

Original numbers, 2933 NE Skidmore

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

Get ready for demolition: 30th and Skidmore

The Alameda neighborhood’s initial hopes for renovation of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the corner of NE 30th and Skidmore are about to come tumbling down.

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Contractors removing contaminated soil last week from an oil tank in the backyard of 2933 N.E. Skidmore. Demolition permits have been issued and according to the developer, the 95-year-old home will be demolished in mid-August.

Over the next few weeks, this part of the neighborhood will experience a major transition: Seattle developer Green Canopy has bought the corner lot and plans to demolish the 95-year-old home and build two 45-foot tall, three-story, 3,000-square-foot houses in its place. Each home is expected to list for more than $800,000.

Activity on the property has picked up in the last week, including removal of an oil tank and contaminated soil, and interior asbestos abatement.

Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto writes that the company received its demolition permit on June 18th, but will likely not begin the process until mid-August. “We’ve been holding off the demolition for as long as possible, so we minimize the amount of time the lot has to sit empty,” wrote Nieto. “Before we mobilize for mechanical demolition, we’ll be properly abating the lead paint on the exterior of the home. 5 days prior we will pass out the required door hangers to the neighbors immediately adjacent to the property notifying them of the upcoming demolition.”

Nieto reports construction of the two homes will begin in early October.

Green Canopy owner Sam Lai, interviewed by AH in May, explained his vision for development of the new housing units at the neighborhood corner: his company is building environmentally-responsible, highly energy efficient homes to accommodate the growing need for housing in Portland and Seattle neighborhoods.

The company website summarizes Green Canopy’s mission and purpose:

What We Do: Our team is dedicated to building sustainable and resilient communities from the inside out. From re-building single family homes, to developing small scale communities, to impact investment and education – Green Canopy focuses on transforming the market to consider resource efficiency when homes are bought and sold. 

Why We Do it: Green Canopy has created a business ecosystem that is different and better than what traditional home building has had to offer in the past. We are a values-led organization with a staff that forges ahead with purpose, and a corporate culture that is built on respect, trust and love for each other, our children and future generations, and the planet. 

This spring, Lai and his design and construction team canvassed neighbors in the area and held meetings to hear concerns and desires for the new construction, offering a digital survey tool to gather input. “We like to give neighbors a seat at the table during design,” he said. They heard neighbor input on everything from building form and height, building materials, paint colors, construction noise and dust, and building setback from the street and sidewalk. The company’s website encourages neighbor input, allowing visitors to vote on paint colors for specific house projects.

AH interviews with neighbors, however, suggest that even though they had a chance to share their preferences and concerns, there’s been no indication how or if the company will respond.

Rachael Hoy, who lives next door to the west (see photo above), just feet away from the planned demolition, attended one of the two input meetings and recalls that the message from the 15 or so gathered neighbors was clear: don’t destroy this old bungalow.

“Most of the people who spoke asked the developer to please keep the home that’s here and do what’s needed to repair and get it back on the market,” said Hoy. “They (Green Canopy) made it clear the house was coming down. The next set of questions was about maintaining the traditional form and they made it clear that it’s probably not going to look like what’s here.”

Early drawings (pictured below) of the two houses to be built on the property turned up recently on Alameda Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking website, showing two buildings with 45-foot roof heights, built with minimal setbacks, and with multiple garages facing NE 30th Avenue. Neighbors have received no information from Green Canopy about how the company intends to respond to resident input. A written request AH made to the company three days ago seeking drawings or specifications was not returned.

2933 NE Skidmore Elevations

2933 NE Skidmore Plan

During meetings this spring, neighbors clearly expressed disappointment with the company’s plans for demolition instead of remodel. Lai said his team listened to the concerns and worries, and walked the neighbors through the economics of development and renovation, particularly in Portland’s strong real estate market.

“The economic opportunity for renovation of this home is so far past,” said Lai, citing significant costs associated with the instability of a nearly 100-year-old foundation and the need to essentially replace all building systems, windows, walls, floors, finishes and kitchen in order to make it viable for sale in this marketplace.

Green Canopy has come to its understanding of restoration vs. demolition economics through its experience in Seattle, where the company started out doing energy efficient old house renovations, completing 65 total renovations between 2010-2014. The company’s business model in its early years was to buy older homes in serious need of renovation and restore them to marketability and energy efficiency. But as real estate market values increased, costs made restoration prohibitive and the company learned that in order to be successful—and to pursue its mission of energy efficiency and sustainability—it needed to change the model from restoration to replacement utilizing sustainable design and construction practices to raze the older home and go with new construction

Lai acknowledges the seeming paradox of wanting to utilize sustainable practices while also beginning a project with demolition.

“We all get to choose the hypocrisies we get to live with,” he said, citing his own example of being dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon emissions but also owning a car. “Yes, I own a Prius, but I know I really should be riding a bicycle if I care about climate change.”

Portland’s zoning ordinances permit two houses to be built on the corner lot, but they must be attached. Neighbors we spoke with were concerned about the size of the new construction and how it will dominate the corner and the neighborhood. Others were concerned about the interruption and impact of demolition and the construction process, including air quality and health issues. At least one person expressed concern about how the new construction may lead to an increase in property taxes for surrounding homes.

Lai affirms that change is coming, and that the houses will stand out from the smaller, older homes. “They’re going to be bigger houses than people want to see,” he said. “But the basis cost of the land determines how big the houses need to be.” The lot and current home sold for $545,000. When it sold earlier this year, the listing referred to the property as “house of no value.”

“I expect the houses to be unsightly, so they will detract from the neighborhood,” said Gloria Berqquist, who lives kitty-corner from the bungalow. “It won’t fit with the other houses. They can call it whatever they want, but to me it’s a duplex. I think they said it’s going to be almost twice as tall as the current house. I won’t be able to see the trees that I now see behind the house.”

In the end, Mr. Lai’s philosophy is that change is inevitable, and that it is important to make good decisions and long-term choices about building practices and materials. As homes age, markets accelerate, populations, lifestyles and family needs evolve, a neighborhood and its housing stock must change as well.

“It’s not 100 years ago anymore,” he said. We have to use our space and materials more efficiently.

In the midst of the disappointment and neighborhood anger associated with the coming demolition, next-door neighbor Rachael Hoy is working on acceptance.

“Our single family neighborhoods are going to become denser, it’s just a reality,” she said. Because of that, neighbors need to weigh in with the city about land use and infill requirements and processes, and impress on developers that they must take some interest in and be responsive to the comments of neighbors.

“We’re trying to be positive,” she said. “However this unfolds, we’ll have two new sets of neighbors. We all want to be supportive of the people who will be moving in even if we don’t like the houses.”

AH will continue its coverage of the demolition and construction as the process proceeds.

Setting Sail on the East bank of the Willamette

This 1900s view of Portland Harbor from the east bank of the Willamette River in the vicinity of today’s Memorial Coliseum is from the precious scrapbook of family photos shared with us by Laurelhurst resident Bob Elston. You’ll recall the photos Bob shared last year, which led us into a reconstruction of 1900s life near the corner of NE 3rd and Broadway where his family grew up, and then into a deep dive to explore the history of the eastside gulches. It’s amazing where a few pictures can take us (we’re always looking for photos of the neighborhood and old houses, so go have a look at that box in the attic). Check out the name of this boat setting sail from the east bank, and click around to look at the details on the west bank as well.

Willamette River scene

It’s been a quiet spell here on the AH blog. My history work is avocation and passion, but I have a real job too, which has always come first, with history research and writing relegated to what’s left over after a more than full-time commitment of time and energy. This fall, I’ll be transitioning away from that commitment and shifting into a new chapter with a totally different role and pace. When that happens, the subjects of exploration here on the blog—and a desire to further engage with helping connect past and present—move into first position.

The result: more blog activity and insights into the stories of our old houses and neighborhoods; maybe a new branch or two of inquiry; a ramp-up in my ability to take on and complete individual house and building history requests; other ideas?

Thanks for following along on the journey these last nine years, for the ideas and photos you’ve shared. Looking forward to expanding the Alameda History conversation here in this next chapter.

What does the future hold for Northeast Portland’s old aircraft factory?

Thought we’d bring back up to the top a post from a few years back that has new meaning this week. Gordon’s Fireplace Store at the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway is closing. We bet you didn’t know that building was actually an aircraft factory for a short time, and that it was originally built by Alameda resident Oliver K. Jeffrey, who was the prime force behind Oregon Homebuilders, which was a prolific early building firm in Alameda and Olmsted Park before going broke in the late 19-teens.

Here’s a visual reminder of the Gordon’s we all know:

Oregon Home Builders Factory

And here’s a link to our post that takes you inside the building, and the story from this week’s Oregonian describing the store closure. No word yet on what might be next for that building or that corner, but we have hunch the answer might look a lot like the neighbors to the west.

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