Alameda Library? Unlikely.

If you live in Alameda above the ridge, you’ve walked, ridden or driven past this very nice home many times. It’s on the wide sweep of Regents Drive, just north of the intersection with The Alameda, on the east side of the street.

 3032-regents.jpg

3032 NE Regents Drive, Portland, Oregon. Built 1923 by C.O. Waller at a cost of $12,000, which was a lot of money in 1923. This was on the high end for construction costs of other houses built in the neighborhood at the same time. Some families who have lived here over the years have used the west wing of the house (with all the windows you can see above) as a place for their books.

It’s been a favorite of ours, particularly all the casement windows; the curved approach walk with the formal shrubbery, the welcoming way in which the building is sited at the corner with Regents and Dunckley; the brick, the tile roof and all the Tudor details. It’s a nice place.

So we were intrigued recently when picking up the real estate flyer advertising this as the former Alameda Library. Hmm. Really?

As a historian who loves a good mystery, I dug into the resources to see what I could find. And despite the realtor’s listing citing this as a “local legend,” I can report the following, to the contrary:

  • The construction permit for this house was taken out on May 18, 1923 by Mr. C.O. Waller. Presumably, the house was completed in late 1923 or early 1924. That period was during the second boom of construction in the neighborhood, following the first wave from 1910-1914. There is no record of public bidding process about any buildings in the neighborhood (except for Alameda School, built in 1921 at a cost of about $40,000…and there was a flap about that bid which ended up in The Oregonian, another future post…stay tuned).
  • The house sits on two lots in the Olmsted Park Addition: lots 25 and 26. Interesting to note that it’s actually had three addresses during it’s lifetime. The first one was 924 Dunckley, which was changed to 3054 NE Dunckley during the great renumbering of the early 1930s (click here to learn more about that and about Alameda Street Names). And sometime — not sure when — it was changed to its current Regents Drive address, 3032.
  • The two subdivisions across the street from each other in this location — Alameda Park Addition to the west and the Olmsted Park Addition to the east — had strict building covenants and restrictions that prohibited the construction of anything except houses. That goes for commercial buildings, community buildings, even churches (as we know from the lawsuit and protests associated with the Alameda Park Community Church just up the block, built about the same time…more on that story soon). A public library would never have been permitted, or tolerated, in this spot. The most likely library that would have served the needs of this community were either in Albina on NE Knott (just west of MLK in what is today’s Tidal Wave used book store) or in the Hollywood area (that branch has moved around over the years).
  • I’ve met with a former resident who grew up across the street from 3032 and he recalls that it was not a library, but home to the Johnson family. Mr. Johnson was the contract carrier for The Oregonian (as in the chief distribution guru).

3032-entry.jpg

Perhaps the urban myth of “Alameda library” arose from the fact that several homeowners at that address have used that west facing wing — with all those windows — to place their bookshelves. Or from the fact that if you squint your eyes just right, the architecture and the layout of the building on the site does indeed feel like a welcoming, friendly public building.

-Doug Decker

5 responses

  1. Hi Bon. I thought of you when I saw the Waller name. Unfortunately, the convention on 1920s era building permits was to put the person’s initials. There is nothing further here. I did a little looking into my genealogy tools and see a Cleo O. Waller in Portland, but much later. I also see a C.O. Waller in the Salem Polk directories from 1974 til 1988. Any suggestions?

  2. Carroll Waller, great grandson of missionary and pioneer AF Waller, was about the age of the century I think–probably too young to build a Portland house in the 20’s. It just seemed so surprising–Carroll’s grandfather was Orrin A. Waller–one of the first children born in Oregon to the missionaries. Portland today sometimes seems a small world, but no doubt was smaller in the mid 1920’s. Thanks for the website Doug, it’s interesting.

  3. Doug,
    I came across your blog when doing a search for this address as I had heard from friends in the area that the house had recently been totally redone.
    I owned this home in the early to mid 1990’s. A number of elderly neighbors used to talk to me about the library and activities that they recalled attending in the building during their childhood. I am going off of my memory of the title abstract and recall that sometime around 1929 the property was foreclosed by the county for back taxes. Apparently after it was foreclosed the county could not find a buyer and for several years it did actually serve as a local library and neighborhood meeting place. There is a large party room in the basement and my neighbors talked about their parents attending ballroom dances that were held there.
    This was a great and gracious home. By all accounts it still, is however in looking at the realtor website for the newly remodeled building a lot of the details and floor plan have been modified to more contemporary tastes. I now live in Seattle but still have fond memories of living in the area. I really enjoyed visiting your site and will bookmark and revisit it in the future.
    Regards,
    Eric

    • Thanks, Eric, for your observations from your time in the home. These are persistent stories from some: your comments are very helpful in that they place the “meeting place” aspect of the building into the late 1920s or early 1930s. While I have researched all of the building permits on this property, I haven’t looked back through tax records, which as you suggest could be helpful. (In fact, it would be insightful to identify all tax foreclosures in Alameda in the early 1930s.) I’ve also not found any reference in The Oregonian or the Oregon Journal related to a more public function of this property. Still, the stories persist. I do feel confident the building was constructed as a single family home and was always intended to be a residence, but there may have been a moment–a foreclosure induced opportunity–to use the building briefly for some other purposes. It’s clearly back functioning as a single family residence by the early 1940s according to the family that grew up across the street during that period.

      My most recent blog posting about protests related to the construction of the Alameda Park Community Church (just one block north of the house) is clear indication of just how focused early residents were on prohibiting anything that wasn’t residential.

      I had a chance to go through the house during the remodel process this spring, and when it was completed this fall, and your assessment is right on: it’s essentially an entirely new house wrapped in an envelope of an older home. All of the interior partitions have been rearranged, among many other changes. It appears to be first class work. Should you get down to Portland, I’ll bet the current owners would welcome an opportunity to visit with you, and maybe even want to walk through the house with you. If you are interested, I’d be pleased to connect you with them.

      Do keep an eye on the blog…maybe you’ve started something.

      -Doug

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