Alameda’s Commercial Corner | 24th and Fremont

Looking southwest at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, early 1920s. Note delivery bike visible behind power pole. OrHi 49061.

There was a time when the building we know today as the home of Lucca and Garden Fever—at the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont—looked after most of the neighborhood’s needs for grocery and personal goods. Alameda Pharmacy, Alameda Grocery, John Rumpakis’s Alameda Shoe Repair, even the dentist’s office, upstairs above the pharmacy, were neighborhood landmarks that everyone knew, shopped in, and pretty much took for granted (except the ice cream sodas at the pharmacy which were supposed to be legendary). The pharmacy and grocery even provided a delivery-by-bicycle option for homemakers who needed a few small items, but couldn’t get out of the house. It was a win-win situation for Alameda and for the local family-owned business during those early years.

To be sure, some shopping needs were taken care of away from the neighborhood. Even then, there were smaller markets or “convenience” style stores of the day located within walking distance (see this post on the Davis Dairy Store, one such locally-owned convenience market). Built in 1922 during the peak of neighborhood construction, the Alameda Grocery commercial building at 24th and Fremont quite literally had a corner on the market.

That is, until the mid 1930s, when a fully-built-out neighborhood with a growing population, combined with a slowly recovering economy and new trends in shopping, opened up new opportunities for big business which began to shape the corner.

Enter the Safeway Corporation: a publicly-traded rampant success story, with headquarters in Oakland, California and more than 3,200 chain stores nationwide. The company’s penetration of local grocery markets was so complete that by 1935, many states around the country were passing legislation—urged by local merchants who were getting slammed by Safeway chain stores—that taxed the huge company’s local operations to discourage competition.

But not in Portland. By 1937, Safeway had 54 stores here, including 46 stores located in eastside neighborhoods, and even one on the doorstep of Alameda at the southwest corner of NE 24th and Broadway (today it’s Brake Team, an auto service garage) built in 1936. Most of these stores were modest in size, and not like the sprawling stores we know today. Undoubtedly, the local Safeway on Broadway cut into the market share of Alameda Grocery. But nothing like what happened starting in 1938.

Click on the image for a larger view. This ad is from The Oregonian on September 13, 1940 announcing a remodel and reopening of the Alameda Safeway.

On July 16, 1938, Safeway opened a store in the building we know today as the home of Alameda Dental and Frontier Bank on the southeast corner of the intersection. The property had been leased from the Albers Brothers Milling Company, who incidentally also owned the Alameda grocery and pharmacy building across the street. Retail activity in the single-storey 50-by-100 foot concrete Safeway building began to take a big bite out of Alameda Grocery’s market share.

By 1940, Safeway expanded and remodeled, while Alameda Grocery across the street struggled to hold on. About that time, Safeway made plans to expand beyond the footprint of the existing store to take in the entire north end of the block. But as The Oregonian reported on March 20, 1942, the Portland City Council narrowly defeated a zoning change that would have allowed this major expansion. Despite voicing concerns about home values in the neighborhood, Mayor Earl Riley voted to expand the commercial zoning to permit the Safeway expansion:

From The Oregonian, March 20, 1942.

Safeway’s expansion into residential neighborhoods was not a phenomenon isolated to Alameda. Blog reader and longtime Grant Park resident John Hamnett writes that in nearby Grant Park, local residents fought a pitched battle with the City of Portland regarding a plan to build a Safeway adjacent to the Grant Park Grocery, a similar locally-owned market at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Knott. The vision for that zone change took in all of the southwest corner, and further considered zoning the entire intersection commercial at all four corners. In May 1942, City Council voted 4-1 to allow the Safeway development. Incredulous neighbors protested time and again concerned about their property values, but the City would not relent. Finally, in March 1943, neighbors filed suit against the city for allowing the zone change, and won in a clear decision handed down by Circuit Judge Walter L. Tooze.

Back at NE 24th and Fremont, two gas stations were added on the northwest and northeast corners—the true portal of the Alameda Park subdivision (today site of a parking lot, and Perry’s on Fremont). Generational and ownership changes were remaking the anchor businesses on the south side of the street as well. Eventually, as Safeway’s business model changed (fewer, larger stores instead of the 50-foot by 100-foot businesses sprinkled all over Portland), the former Safeway store went back to being a family-owned business, loved and known by a generation of Alamedans as Brandel’s. Nature’s Fresh Northwest (or simply “Natures”) eventually took over the Alameda Grocery building. And today, after a string of unsuccessful restaurant tenants, Lucca seems to have hit its stride.

Check out this story from The Oregonian on January 17, 1984, which is a snapshot as the corner transitioned from some difficult times in the 1970s to the place we know today:

From The Oregonian, January 17, 1984. Click on the image for a larger view.

We still miss Brandel’s and the ease of slipping into that old Safeway building for a gallon of milk on the way home. But every time we pass through that intersection, we pause for a moment to think about how our neighborhood geography could have turned out quite differently.

14 responses

  1. In the 1960’s This corner housed Gilman’s Pharmacy, Pixie market, and the shoe repair shop was still on the end. Safeway was the “big” store, across the street, but all the Alameda school kids would bypass it to load up on candy at the pixie market. The other 2 corners of the intersection had gas stations. The Brandel family owned the store on Prescott. From our house on 28th and Bryce we would walk to Brandels, where we had a charge account, and could buy cigarettes for mom with a note; the Brandles knew everyone by name.

    • Pixie and Gilmans are my first memories of the corner. The Gilman family lived across the street from us on NE Siskiyou. I loved Natures. I still have dreams about the area
      Years later my sister worked at Garden Fever, still there I think

  2. There was a PP&L or PGE power station or maybe a telephone switching station located between the Madeleine School playground and the Pixie Market building (Now Garden Fever) back in the ’60s. Which was it? When was it removed?

  3. two doors down from Gilman’s Pharmacy just west of 24th was a neighborhood barber shop operated by Irv Stark. His wife Netha ran a beauty salon next door to him. Irv’s was a great hangout for kids. He talked our language and even had girly magazines that he hid from our fathers and the local ministers. Irv and his wife eventually bagged the hair business and moved back to Arkansas to raise chickens.

    This would have been late 50’s to mid 60’s.

  4. My sister and I used to walk here in the 1990s when it was Alameda Foods & Deli. I have great memories of hanging out there.

  5. There was another small business in this building just south and adjacent to the Pixie Market (now part of Garden Fever). It was called Zenith Cleaners and was owned by my mother, Mary Smith. I think this was late 50’s through the 60’s. I remember the beauty shop, Johnny the shoemaker, the pharmacy, and the grocery store. I think all the nuns and priests at Madeleine brought their robes to my mother’s shop for cleaning and pressing. My aunt and uncle owned the house directly across the street. Very fond memories of the wonderful people on this corner!

    • Cool. I was long gone after 69. But do remember Pixie. Love your memory of your moms business ……
      We lived on 32nd and Fremont I remember pulling sleds up fremont to 24th for groceries during that 68-69 blizzard
      Think Pixie

  6. Does anyone remember George and his popcorn truck that parked on the corner of Freemont and 25th. A must stop for 10 cent popcorn on the way back to Alameda School after lunch.

  7. Is there any chance that you know who managed the Safeway store during the time period of 1935-1940-ish? I’m wondering if it was my grandfather, Harold Hanson.

    • Hi Barbara. I’ve had a look through back issues of The Oregonian from that era for Harold Hanson at the Safeway at 24th and Fremont and have come up empty-handed. The store was built in 1938, remodeled in 1940 before Safeway wanted to do a major expansion to take up the whole corner, which was denied by the city in 1942. It was definitely in the news a bunch during those years, but no mention of Harold Hanson.

  8. I used to walk from 20th and Klickitat up Fremont to Alameda school, and one day I played hooky and hid on the lot beside Safeway all day. A favorite candy at Safeway was Sixlets: six little chocolate balls wrapped in a tube shape for a penny. My family had shoes repaired at the building on the west corner.

  9. I am so excited to have found this page! My history with this area goes back as far as 1933, when my grandparents moved to the corner of 37th and Bryce St. My mom briefly attended Madeleine Grade School. My husband’s Godfather was a candy salesman to Safeway on 24th and Fremont. My children attended Madeleine School, also, after I moved to the area of 20th & Fremont. I worked for Alameda Foods in the ’90s. I framed items at Heather A’s friend’s parents shop!
    I still live in, and love the neighborhood. My granddaughter attends Grant, and I have an anonymous son-in-law who is a teacher there.

    I would love to hear of any stories of the neighborhood t
    hat have not yet been shared here.

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