Broadway Streetcar Stick-up | A Memory

Here’s a neighborhood memory that brings together a couple of favorite topics we like to wonder about: The open spaces of the early unbuilt neighborhood, and the Broadway Streetcar.

Long-time Alameda Tuesday Club member Terry O’Hanlon checked in with us recently to share these memories. Part of her growing up years – and most of her adult life – has been spent right here in the Alameda neighborhood. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, she and her family lived in the bungalow at 4016 NE 28th.  Here’s a picture:

4016 NE 28th, taken about 1932. Photo Courtesy of Terry O’Hanlon.

The house, built in 1921 by the Wickman Building Company, looks much the same today. As a very young person, Terry remembers playing with the neighbor kids, romping out front with her little white dog, and adventuring around the open spaces and empty lots nearby.

She also has an enduring memory of the night her living room provided a convenient stake-out location for the Portland Police.

A spate of robberies had been plaguing the Broadway Streetcar. As AH readers know, 29th and Mason was the end of the streetcar line, where the conductor stepped outside to switch the overhead electrical connection, flipped the seats so they’d be facing forward, and then took a break before the inbound trip back downtown to Broadway and Jefferson. 29th and Mason was a quiet, somewhat out of the limelight spot – perfect for a motorman’s momentary pause. But also perfect for a stick up. The car, and its accumulated collected fares, was a sitting duck out there in the dark at the end of the line.

That’s where Terry’s living room came in handy: at the time, it provided a perfect view to the end of the line—about one block east—so the good guys could keep an eye out for the bad guys. Look back at the photo: See that empty lot to the left (north)? 20 years later, Kenny Birkemeier would build a house on that spot, filling up that open view to the end of the line.

Here’s something to think about: Watching out your window as all around you a neighborhood is being built up. Elder Alamedans remember this phenomenon well, and some have even lamented the loss of their favorite empty lot, hiding spot, or fort location. It was one of the defining experiences of growing up in Alameda up until the late 1940s. A topic for some future post. But back to the living room and the streetcar stick up…

Terry remembers coming downstairs to a darkened first floor, into a room filled with cops all craning their necks to watch the streetcar when it finally came to a stop. The shock of it all seared that image into Terry’s memory banks for these many years. But don’t ask if her if Portland’s Finest got their man…she’s never been sure about that. The image of her darkened house filled with police soaked up all available memory-making bandwidth for the very young person she was at the time.

We’ve seen news stories from 1920s editions of The Oregonian about a burglar operating in the neighborhood, but have never come across any official telling of the streetcar stick-up to help us know how it all turned out. Chances are the Portland Traction Company, which operated the Broadway car during those years, would have wanted to keep a lid on the whole thing anyway so as to not put every carline in jeopardy.

There are other memories about the end of our car line: about the old man and his German shepherd who used to nap on the lawn of the house at the southwest corner of 29th and Mason, watching streetcars come and go. And the enterprising teenager who “hijacked” a driver-less streetcar parked momentarily at 24th and Fremont. And, what it felt like for some on the last ride of the last day.

So many memories to explore, so little time…

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