Keys To Success – Oregon Home Builders Newsletter

The Oregon Home Builders was a full-service development, design and construction real estate outfit that operated in Portland from its auspicious start in 1912 until bankruptcy in 1917. During that run of profit-making, the company also built more than 125 homes, mostly on Portland’s eastside, (and several in Gearhart at the coast), many of them durable and attractive. We did a deep dive earlier this year into the story of OHB and its interesting president, Oliver K. Jeffery.

AH readers will recall Jeffery was the builder of the Aircraft Factory building at NE 33rd and Broadway, which in reality produced aircraft parts for just a few months in the arc of its full life (which appears to be on hold during the pandemic under multiple layers of street art and graffiti).

OHB was prolific in its advertising and marketing—and selling of what became worthless stock. Hundreds of advertisements in The Oregonian and The Daily Oregon Journal during its five-year run were as focused on selling stock in the company as they were on selling the real estate and houses it was developing.

One of OHB’s tools for promoting itself was a newsletter called The Key to Success, that included what was packaged as news about the homebuilding business, other editorial thoughts and a continued drumbeat of encouragement for investors to sign up now for monthly company stock purchases.

We’ve often wished for a look at this newsletter and recently came across Volume 1, Number 9 of Keys to Success, published on May 15, 1913, thanks to Val Ballestrem and the Architectural Heritage Center Library. We think you’ll enjoy reading it, with grain of salt and benefit of hindsight clearly in mind.

A few things to look for as you click into these for a better look:

  • The many-obstacles pathway version sketched at the bottom left of page 1—offered as the way the average stock company operates—turns out to have been the actual way it worked for OHB, as opposed to the envisioned low-overhead pathway on the right.
  • The Los Angeles Investment Company offered as OHB’s model on page 3 went bankrupt too, and its president Charles Elder was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 13 months in the federal McNeil Island Penitentiary.
  • There’s two great Craftsman-style homes pictured on page four from somewhere in Laurelhurst. We haven’t gone looking for them yet, but readers might recognize them. It’s possible the one on the left is gone now under commercial development at NE 33rd and Sandy.

The irony about all of this is that the headline “Homes of Merit,” is actually right on. The homes the company built have indeed passed the test of time, some even made it to the National Register of Historic Places.

When we get on the other side of the pandemic, I have an OHB walking tour ready to go, and an illustrated presentation that tells OHB’s fascinating story ready to share.

Always looking for more editions of Keys to Success or other insights about OHB…

4 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this important OHB newsletter and its articles. It is a valuable time capsule that helps explain the financial and economic forces at work behind the homebuilding industry in Portland. I especially like tge article about the Panama Canal and the origins of the bungalow.

  2. I did a trip to Gearhart and Seaside in 2019 to try and find my great-grandfather’s home and to find a way to discover homes he might have built (LR Bailey Co.) I would love to hear some of your methods for finding the builders of G/SS homes. I have been unable to find the same kind of historic permit lookup that Portland has. Help?

    • I would locate the local historical societies and historians in both communities. Gearhart has a local system for designations. Many homes have a plaque with their date dates of construction. If all those dates are known, there must be an inventory. I would contact the city planning or building permit departments and ask
      for references.

      I am pretty sure Seaside has a historical society.
      Clatsop County may also have records since it may be early enough that the county was responsible for any permit activity.

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