Who built our houses? Check out these new builder biographies for your address

We’ve recently completed short biographies of six more builders responsible for many of our homes on Portland’s eastside and beyond. The section here on the blog called The Builders now has profiles of 18 builders responsible for thousands of homes, mostly built between 1910-1950.

Builders working on an eastside bungalow in the early 1900s. Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, Negative 37092.

Through our research, we’ve been able to make contact with many of the builders’ families and have added photos and other biographical information that provide a glimpse of the builders’ lives. Included with each biography is a list of addresses of homes by each builder.

One common theme emerges when you read these: most of the builders were immigrants, many of them from Russia and from Scandanavia. All have interesting stories.

Recent additions include:

Judson Hubbell 1872-1954

Ernie Johnson & Nelson Anderson 1920-1924

Max Kaffesider 1873-1960

Emil G. Peterson 1882-1960

Max Shimshak 1897-1978

16 responses

    • There are some from the westside. I haven’t broken the addresses out by neighborhood, but that might be handy. Builders active on the westside from this list include Ken Birkemeier, Sam Olimansky and Max Shimshak.

  1. I live in an Orchard Tenders Cabin in Concordia on Sumner at 37th. It’s one that has only had one additional room added on (I still see a few originals out there). It was built in 1922 and the rest of my neighborhood was built up in and around 1950. I’m wondering if there are any records of who owned the land and where the main house might have been, what type of orchards were here and how things were developed before 1950. The way development is happening now I fear we will lose all sense of what this neighborhood has been. I am not a fan of the mega homes infiltrating the area but I’m trying to go with the times.

    Thanks for your work, I really enjoy the information you put out.


    • Hi Venae. Thanks for the comment. Yes, there are records.

      You live in an area that was originally part of the 160-acre Peter Lemon homestead, which he acquired in 1862 after the original Chinookan people were dispossessed of the land. Lemon later sold off parcels which were gradually farmed, planted into crops and trees and then developed. Your area was platted in 1891 and called “Hilton,” a roughy six block rectangle with street names that no longer exist. Title records and other tools can help you construct a chain of ownership for your property (check the “Resources” tab here on the blog).

      The most common orchard trees in this area were Bing, Lambert and Royal Anne cherries; several varieties of apple; Bartlett pears; plums (and prunes); and English walnuts.

      Interesting note: Sumner was originally called Mildred Street!

  2. Very interesting research, thank you for sharing.

    I live in a ‘farmhouse’ style house which went on the tax records in 1900. The house is on NE 9th, cross street is Failing. I was told long ago that it was a style being built in the 1890s by immigrants (German and Russian) locating to the Eastside as Portland expanded.

    Any thoughts or insights into pre-1900 builders?

    Thank you,

    • Hi Eileen. If you’d like to send me your address, I’m glad to take a quick look. There are definitely some oldies in that area, most of the houses date to about the same time.

      • Hi Eileen. A quick look at records confirms your house’s pre-address-change address was 820 East 9th Street North, but I don’t see any evidence of a builder in early newspaper reports, or plumbing permits (which do show plumbing added to the “old frame dwelling” in July 1908). Would be interesting to check with the Bureau of Development Services for your original building permit documents (which are not online).

      • Hi Doug,

        Thank you for your quick reply. I appreciate you finding the original address and will check out the records for the building permit. Hopefully that is an easy process.

        Have a nice day, Eileen


  3. I’d love to know more about the Gordon Mortgage Co. that built small bungalows around Portland in 1926. The style is very common in N/NE Portland but I’ve seen them in SE also.

    6236 NE 31st
    735 NE Jessup
    6917 N Fiske
    5824 NE 24th
    7106 N Fiske
    6923 N Williams
    5937 NE 32nd PL
    1924 NE Skidmore

    • Hi Dan. Yes, I’ve come across Gordon Mortgage Company in my research, not just in N and NE but in SE as well. Thanks for the good suggestion, I’ll add them to my list of builders to have a look into. Will welcome any info you might have.

  4. Hi, Doug. Is there a way or a place I can look up my specific address? The front of my house at 4540 NE 18th looks almost exactly like the color photo of the green Max Kaffesider house in your biography of him, and he was obviously building in my neighborhood. Is there a way to find out if he build my house, or if not Max, who?



    • Hi Sara. Unfortunately, there’s no single place to go to look this up. Your best bet would be to go to the Bureau of Development Services Resource Records counter and request the building inspection cards for your address. (All of Portland was readdressed in the 1930s, your pre-address change address was 966 East 18th Street North). I took a quick look at plumbing permits and early newspaper references for your address and don’t find any clear evidence for who was the builder. First owner of the house was A.C. Vogel, who was in the produce business in Portland in the 1920s and later a hotelier in Kelso, Washington. I’m sure there are some interesting stories there…

  5. Doug, my great-grandfather was Luther R. Bailey, LR Bailey. He built some 100- possibly 200- homes in Portland. I am slowly working on a biography of him but I’d like to write up a capsule bio for your Builders page. Little is written about him; he went bankrupt three times and died in disgrace, and no one in the family talked about him. But his homes are beautiful. He was in Portland as L.R Bailey Homes and Rose City Park Realty, and he went to Phoenix for a fresh start in the Depression but lost it all there as well — as Bailey & Upshaw. He was a scion of the planter class in Alabama, but there was no money after the Civil War so he became a builder (before architects needed a license). Let me know.

    • Hi Julia. Absolutely yes, I’d love to have a short bio here on the blog. I’ve run across his work in Alameda and Irvington and can send you the addresses I believe he built. Drop me a note by e-mail and lets trade info as we proceed. Thank you.

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