Alameda Street Names


Does the name William H. Dunckley ring a bell? How about Harry L. Hamblet, Josephine Bryce, and William Spencer Mason? Let’s not forget Captain John C. Fremont.

For Alamedans, these are household names. Look carefully and you’ll recognize our own geography. Even though we know these names as well as we know our own addresses, chances are the lives of these people are a mystery to us.

Turn back the clock 90 years, and it’s a different story. Some of these people were instrumental in creating our neighborhood. Others were luminaries honored by Portland’s neighborhood builders. Knowing a thing or two about these people and how our streets were named for them reveals a glimpse into our earliest neighborhood history and reflects turn-of-the-twentieth century life in Portland.

There are two general groupings of Alameda’s named streets. The first are particular to our  neighborhood, names that for the most part you won’t find elsewhere in Portland: Hamblet, Bryce, Dunckley, Gile, Stuart, Regents, Edgehill, Ridgewood and The Alameda. The second group includes streets that pass through Alameda and many other Northeast Portland neighborhoods: Prescott, Skidmore, Mason, Shaver, Fremont, Klickitat, Siskiyou, Stanton and Knott.

The first group–those locally-grown street names–provide insight into the early development of Alameda.

In 1909, the Alameda Land Company filed the first plat for our neighborhood, which it referred to as Alameda Park. Plat maps of the neighborhood show an orderly district above and below a prominent ridgeline, where the neighborhood would be carved from an existing context of fields, orchards and forests.

One of Astoria’s leading businessmen of the period, Edward Zest (E.Z.) Ferguson, was the president of this company (the Astoria connection is worth noting here in Alameda, on several points). Ferguson and his partners  incorporated as the Alameda Land Company in Astoria in 1908, and developed residential and commercial properties here in Portland and in Roseburg. If we had another street, and we were following the convention of naming streets for those who gave the neighborhood its start, we probably would want to consider Ferguson Street on the short list of possibilities.

Harry L. Hamblet was vice president of the Alameda Land Company, and a cohort of Ferguson and Stuart, with his own connections to Astoria. Hamblet was involved in the first real estate purchase, buying 40 acres in 1908 from Sarah L. Buckman, daughter of Abraham Buckman, one of Portland’s earliest settlers.

John Bryce was the company’s accountant and assistant secretary, and not incidentally Ferguson’s father-in-law. Some sources say Bryce Street was named for John, but there is another viewpoint. H Joseph Ferguson, E.Z.’s grandson and a family historian, says a persistent family story over the years is that the street was actually named for Josephine Bryce, E.Z.’s wife and John’s daughter.

Albion L. Gile — partner in the Gile Investment Company — and his wife Katherine, financed and platted a 1921 addition on the west side of the neighborhood straddling the ridgeline, near the street that bears their name today. The Giles were another prominent Astoria family. Most of the houses on this street were built by local builder Harry Phillips, and designed by Portland architect Harry Wolff.

William H. Dunckley, was an English immigrant to New York City, where he lived briefly and met his wife-to-be Fannie Oehme before coming to Oregon in 1886. Dunckley was a career banker for the Ladd and Tilton Bank, retiring in 1919.

Stuart, the one-way downhill street at 26th and Alameda that empties into the intersection at Regents and Ridgewood, was named for Donald M. Stuart, business partner with E.Z. Ferguson in a variety of development and timber-related ventures. Stuart lived at the northwest corner of 26th and Hamblet, literally a short stone’s throw from Ferguson and within sight of the street named in his honor. In winters, this is Deadman’s Hill.

The other three Alameda-only streets, Regents, Ridgewood and Edgehill were likely chosen for their appealing sound and the imagery they represented. The early name for Edgehill was Laura Avenue, as you can plainly see stamped into the curbs. Like Laura, Glenn Avenue is another street name from the early years that has been left behind. Glenn is now 32nd Place, renamed in a wave of Portland street renaming in 1931-1933. Who were Laura and Glenn? That riddle awaits solution.

And then there is our neighborhood namesake: The Alameda. Early neighborhood residents referred to this street as “The Alameda.” Over the years, “The” has slowly faded, but anyone who grew up here in the 1930s and 1940s still refers to the street as “The Alameda.” The Spanish word “alameda” refers to a street lined with trees. Other references tell us that Alameda, Spanish for paseo con arboles [street with trees], is borrowed directly from the Arabic al-muwatta, which means ‘the well-trodden path,’ or the ‘the clear path.

The second group of names provides insight into the people and the types of accomplishments early Portland chose to celebrate. Charles H. Prescott was vice president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and comptroller of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co.

Stephen Skidmore was a Portland druggist. A financial gift from Skidmore, and his civic-hearted vision, led to the Skidmore Fountain downtown.

William Spencer Mason was elected Portland mayor in June 1891. His lasting achievement was the consolidation of three towns–Albina, East Portland, and Portland–into one community: Portland.

George Washington Shaver was Portland’s early river transportation king. The  “SHAVER” tugboats and barges you see today plying the Willamette and Columbia are descendants of the company Shaver started. He was also one of the neighborhoods earliest and most prominent residents.

John C. Fremont explored the Oregon country in the 1840s. He ran for president in 1856 and lost to democrat William Buchanan.

The streets south of Fremont keep alive two of Oregon’s prominent Native American tribes: the Klickitat people (who lived north of the Columbia and west of the Cascades); and the Siskiyou people (who lived in the mountains of southern Oregon).

The final two northeast Portland street names honor Portland businessmen. Edward Gear Stanton was a Portland merchant.

A.J. Knott was the owner of the Stark Street Ferry, which provided a crucial cross-river link between Portland and East Portland for many years. Knott owned property under the east bank of the Fremont Bridge.

If you are interested in the history of street and neighborhood names in Portland (and the colorful history of how our address system has evolved over the years) be sure to pick up a copy of the excellent “Portland Names and Neighborhood: Their Historic Origins,” By Eugene Snyder.

(C) Doug Decker

21 responses

  1. Doug: Great site! Thanks for all of the historical tidbits. I grew up in Beaverton in the 1950s and 1960s after my parents moved out from North Portland after moving to Oregon from Chicago. My wife and I bought our 1922 house on Mason in the mid-1970s when it was rapidly turning into a “fixer-upper”. This site makes you realize all the painting, plastering TLC over the years is truly worth it. Hopefully all old Portland neighborhoods will someday have something like this. By the way, do you know anything about Elwood Wiles? He seemed to do OK for himself in the sidewalk business. Thanks. Steve Heck

    • Hi,
      Elwood Wiles was my uncle and I’m proud to say.

      I’ve been working the Wiles family history and happy to see Elwood did well.

      I have friends who live in Oregon so hoping thenext time I go up, that I have the opty to see some of the cement work that Elwood did and snap some photos.

  2. Hi Steve. Glad you have enjoyed the site. I invite you to participate in the conversation and watch as new threads and topics arise. By all means, all the “sweat equity” we put into our houses is worth it. I’d like to know more about Elwood Wiles myself…maybe a blog reader can help us out on this. I’ll see what I can dig up.

  3. I too would like to know more about Elwood Wiles. I see his name all over the place in Northwest Portland on sidewalks. Many are 100 years old.

  4. Elwood Wiles’ name, and dates such as 1911, are carved into many of the sidewalks in the oldest part of Vancouver — those neighborhoods within 25 blocks or so of the Columbia River and just a few blocks on either side of Main Street. The curbs on these same blocks often have horse rings embedded in them. I had always assumed Wiles was a Vancouver concrete entrepreneur — and perhaps he was. I don’t know where he lived, but now I know he he worked both sides of the river. Thanks.

  5. Great info! I’ve lived in the Hollywood district for 20+ years on the fringe of Alameda. I love this neighborhood. It’s so convenient, with almost everything within walking distance, and the airport is only a few minutes away by car or you can hop on the Max line and go right to the terminal. I once attended an estate sale in one of the grand old homes on Alameda street that was built in the 1920’s and they had a ballroom! I’ve never forgotten how palatial that home was. It had 4 fireplaces and the most amazing tile work in the bathroom. The view was incredible, even in the daytime. I can imagine what it must look like at night – the whole city twinkling below you. The people who live on the Alameda ridge are really lucky. I’m giving your book for Christmas to a relative who used to live on Wisteria Drive in the 1940’s.

  6. Hi Roberta. Thanks for stopping by the site and sharing your thoughts about Alameda. My hunch is the big house you are referring to is the Autzen Mansion at 24th and Alameda(I remember that estate sale too!). You can learn more about that great house in William Hawkins excellent book “Classic Houses of Portland.”

    While he was not the architect on the Autzen mansion, I am preparing some background on Alameda architect Harry Phillips, who lived across the street and designed many of the homes along and just below that part of the ridge.

  7. Great blog! I’ve added it to my feed so I don’t miss new articles.

    As a student of languages, I felt sure that Alameda, though nominally Spanish, must have Arabic roots, as do nearly all Spanish words beginning with “Al” (simply “the” in Arabic). A short search turned up this tidbit: “Alameda, Spanish for paseo con arboles [street with trees], is borrowed directly from the Arabic al-muwatta, which means ‘the well-trodden path,’ or the ‘the clear path.'”


    • Thank you, Anne, for this gem of information. Duly noted. I have updated the page with this information. Thanks for the compliment and I hope you’ll enjoy the reading.

  8. I am seeking an out-of-print book or pamphlet on Portland Street Names and the history of the individuals the streets are named after. Google, MC Library, OHS, Amazon or Powell’s can’t seem to come up with it. Can someone out there help?

    • Rolf: I think you are looking for Eugene Snyder’s “Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origins,” published in 1979 by Binford and Mort Publishing, Portland. Copies are in the Multnomah County Library system. I have a much-used and loved copy as well, which I found at Powell’s (used copies do turn up there from time to time). If you can tell me what street you are interested in, I can look it up for you.


  9. I finally opened this tab. Very cool, having grown up on 32nd Ave & Mason, I always wondered. Have lived away from Portland area over 30 yrs and am now in the know!

  10. Love your site! Here’s a Google Books link to a scanned article in a 2010 print book (“Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest and Wonkiest Lexical Gems” by Bill Casselman) that refutes the earlier comment above about the etymology of “Alameda.” Hope the link works here (it’s a long one). If not, pick up a hard copy and flip to the section of Ch. 1 entitled “Here be Dragons: American Place Names.” Five pages further and the topic of alamo originating from Latin, not Arabic, is discussed.

  11. Hey Doug Ladd,you probably don’t remember me , we lived around the Block from you, my Dad was always mowing the lawn,he thought you were a great guy!! Sally Ryan Zalunardo, just saying hello , looks like that you are doing well with our lovely old homes GOOD JOB Sally RYAN

  12. Hi Doug, I lived on 48th and Alameda Drive as a child. When did it get changed to Street?

    The Berkeley Hills, btw, are similar in many ways to the Alameda ridge area, with many public paths
    and lovely well-tended gardens.

    Also, a humorous comment on the Al (which is the prefix “the” in Arabic): There was a motel in my town in CA called The El Al Alcazar–that’s four “the”s, count them! Alameda is a popular street name in central and so. California.

    I just discovered your site and am enjoying it. Thanks.

    • Hi Sally. Thanks for your note. It’s a good question, and the change was a kind of watershed in the life of the neighborhood. There was the “The Alameda” years and the “Alameda” years.

      The change was made in 1931 as part of the city’s major overhaul of its addressing system, which I call the Great Renumbering. The notion was to standardize and simplify street names and numbers. While the overall 1931 changes were necessary and helpful, they did close the book on an earlier era. Several streets that were integral to the identity of certain areas did come up short. Alameda got off easy compared to Vernon Avenue, which became NE 14th Place. The people who lived on Vernon Avenue were not happy and continued to use their old name for a decade (and the post office honored that).

      Those who remember “The Alameda” definitely belong to a special club. Sometimes, when presenting to groups, I will use the old name just as a sign of respect and tip of the hat to those earlier years.

  13. If you are still answering questions on street names changes: my grandfather’s draft registration card clearly says he resided at 1199 Glenn Ave. No. in Portland. I saw Glenn was changed to 32nd PLACE, but there is no such address, and the street doesn’t go through. Did the street get re-numbered do you think? …closed off in sections? The picture(s) I have or have seen of the house – it looks quite lovely.

    • To: Whomever has the page explaining street name changes;I didn’t ask to join something or subscribe to recurring posts. I asked a question expecting an answer. Since “you” – someone – have my email address, I would prefer an answer using that means. Thank you for your time. From: An old person who gets lost on the streets because the old familiar names are changed and the landmarks are gone or altered, never mind twittering about following blogs or pressing words in an instant!

      • Hi Diana. My name is Doug Decker, I run the Alameda History blog. I’ve lived here in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and love investigating the history of the neighborhood. You left a couple of comments on my blog tonight about the former Glenn Avenue, known today as NE 32nd Place. You are absolutely right, there was a major street renaming and renumbering effort that took place about 1931 that I refer to as the Great Renumbering. Your grandfather’s old address (1199 Glenn Avenue) was changed way back then. I’ve looked up 1199 Glenn to find the post-1931 address, but haven’t yet been able to find it. I’ll keep looking. I’d love to see a photo of that old house. Thanks for writing.

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