Remembering Beverly Cleary, 1916-2021

We’ve learned tonight about the passing today at age 104 of beloved neighborhood author Beverly Cleary, whose stories about Klickitat Street, an adventurous girl named Ramona, and a bunch of creative kids bring our early neighborhood vividly to life. To celebrate her gifts, we’ve reprised below this post from 12 years ago. Thank you Beverly Cleary: your stories touched our own childhood, and connect us with our kids and with this place.

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The Geography of Imagination: Exploring Neighborhood History With Henry, Ramona and Beezus

We’ve been re-reading some favorite books recently, and as it turns out, finding quite a few clues to the world of neighborhood history. Award winning children’s writer Beverly Cleary grew up in the neighborhood and if you read carefully, you’ll find real echoes of our past in her books.

Cleary imagined an entire universe in a few small blocks. Our favorite young residents—Ramona, Beezus, Henry, Ribsy—crisscrossed their kingdom on bikes and on foot walking to their beloved Glenwood School, delivering the evening Journal newspaper, and getting themselves into some memorable misadventures.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

The geography of that imagined place came from author Beverly Cleary’s own experience as a child growing up here in the 1920s and 1930s. She lived in a home on Northeast 37th Avenue, and attended the school now named for her: the Beverly Cleary School Fernwood Campus. The landmarks that define Henry and Ramona’s world—the churches, schools and houses, the hills and even the vacant lots—are drawn from places Cleary frequented as a young person.

It’s possible to find clues to Cleary’s own geography—and even a sense of Alameda neighborhood life in the 1950s—by exploring Henry and Ramona’s neighborhood as it unfolds on the pages of more than a dozen of her books.

A good place to begin looking for clues is Ramona Quimby’s house, just up the street from Henry Huggins on Klickitat Street. Cleary actually tells us in one of her books that Ramona lived with her mother, father and sister Beezus in a rented house near the corner of 28th and Klickitat. I remember reading that part of the story to my daughter one night and making a mental note that I needed to go look up that address on my next walk through the neighborhood.

As many astute readers will recognize, the corner of 28th and Klickitat is actually a “T” intersection adjacent to the playground at Alameda School. The day I walked past that spot and realized it was the setting for Ramona’s fictional house (a school playground), I laughed out loud and tipped my hat to Beverly Cleary.

All readers of the series know that Henry Huggins lives with his mother, his father and his dog Ribsy in a square white house on Klickitat Street. Cleary never really tells us exactly where on Klickitat that might be. But if it’s a square white house—let’s imagine an old Portland foursquare style house with a nice porch—chances are it’s west of Ramona’s house. In Henry And the Paper Route, Cleary hints that Henry’s square white house was slightly elevated above the sidewalk with a sloping lawn the kids rolled down. This sounds indeed like a four-square, built in the 19-teens. Now all we have to look for is Henry’s red bike and the barking Ribsy.

Ramona and Henry’s Glenwood School is an obvious stand in for Fernwood School (known today as Beverly Cleary School), where the young Cleary attended before moving on to Grant High School. Why didn’t she create a fictionalized role for Alameda School? We do know there was a certain rivalry between neighborhood schools.  Kids from one school sometimes looked down their noses at kids from the other. Was omitting Alameda School a diss? Probably not. Just a little too complicated to explain why kids living in the playground of one school (wink) would be going to a different school a few blocks away.

Vacant lots…now there is a commodity of the 1950s that we just don’t have any more. By the late 1950s virtually every easily buildable lot in Alameda had been developed (many of the last ones by builder Ken Birkemeier). During Cleary’s growing up years—the 1920s and 1930s—there were plenty vacant lots to be found and they surely provided a refuge for everything from baseball to clubhouses. In Cleary’s 1955 Henry And the Paper Route, Henry watches as the ladies club sets up sawhorses and planks in a nearby vacant lot for the annual fundraising rummage sale. The vacant lot was a community commodity as well as landmark. Reading more closely between the lines, was the ladies club the fictional counterpart of our own Alameda Tuesday Club? Could be.

The business district of the fictional neighborhood bears some resemblance to places we all shop and frequent today. The movie theater, dime store, Rose City Barber Shop and even the “Colossal Market” are landmarks in today’s Hollywood neighborhood. The Colossal—where Henry’s mother bought everything from vegetables to hair clippers—was probably patterned after the original Fred Meyer store at 42nd and Sandy.

Al’s Thrifty Service Station, where Ribsy steals a policeman’s lunch, is today’s 76 station at 33rd and Broadway. Kids at Glenwood School watch from their classroom windows as a new supermarket is built: today’s QFC (formerly Kienows) just south of Fernwood. All the pieces line up.

In addition to the fun of hearing about these thinly disguised places we all know from our area’s past, there’s some wonderful imagery in these books that evokes an earlier time in the neighborhood, while also being timeless:

  • Ramona and Beezus playing outside on a summer’s evening until the street lights come on, when it’s time to go in.
  • The 11-year-old Henry riding his bicycle through the neighborhood in the late afternoon and early evening, delivering the afternoon newspapers hot off the press.
  • Kids jumping in puddles and playing in rivulets of muddy water on a rainy morning’s walk to school.
  • The Fuller Brush man in trenchcoat walking door-to-door selling his wares.
  • Henry crawling on all fours through Grant Park at night with flashlight in search of nightcrawlers for fishing.

And a timeless image that could have been borrowed from this winter: Ramona  sledding down the 37th Street hill on her dad’s old sled. Now there’s a scene drawn from the author’s personal experience, just a few doors up from her own childhood home.

Which gets to what makes Beverly Cleary’s work so appealing and enduring (and even instructive, for us students of history who also like to read to our kids): she crafts a slice of universal life through the experiences of her likeable, believable characters, and all through the lens of a remembered Northeast Portland childhood.

Mapping the Bayou

We’ve been reflecting on the legacy of the rivers and the people who for millennia defined the landscape we think of today as Portland. It is both inspiring and beyond tragic when we consider what was, and what has been lost.

This week, we want to help imagine that early landscape.

Here’s a detail from an 1852 map that conveys the complexity of the margin between river and shore in the northern edges of today’s Northeast Portland. Have a good look and we’ll discuss.

Detail of 1852 Map of Township 1 North, Range 1 East, Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management Cadastral Survey Records. The complete map plate is here in our Maps collection.

The island labeled “Vancouver Island” is today’s Hayden Island. For orientation purposes the number 24 (which is Section 24 in Township 1 North, Range 1 East) is at the intersection of NE 33rd and Prescott Street. The far right edge of this map running up and down follows the line of today’s NE 42nd Avenue.

For those of you familiar with the Willamette Meridian, NE 42nd Avenue scribes the section line between Range 1 East and Range 2 East. The number 13 is just west of today’s Fernhill Park at NE 33rd and Holman. Today’s Columbia Boulevard runs northwest-southeast just at the base of the slope (the slope is scribed on this map as a hatched line just south of the waterway).

Here’s another early map that continues the look east on the Columbia shore.

This 1850s map, of Township 1 North, Range 2 East, shows the location of today’s Portland International Airport in the area between the two lakes labeled as “wet prairie,” telling us the area was typically inundated during high water. A large shoal or shallow area exists in the Columbia between shore and Government Island. The road angling up from the bottom is today’s NE Cully Avenue (the Cully family was here in 1846). The topography showing in the bottom center is Rocky Butte. This early map shows today’s Columbia Boulevard, labeled “road from Portland to the mouth of Sandy River.”

Detail of 1852 Map of Township 1 North, Range 2 East, Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management Cadastral Survey Records. The complete map plate is here.

Here’s a detail from one more map that conveys the complexity of our northern edge: an 1889 land ownership map of Multnomah County compiled by R.A. Habersham, on file at the Library of Congress. In the 40 years between these two maps, the degree of landscape change is almost hard to imagine, with a grid of streets, residents and industry beginning to utilize these northern waterways as a vast sewer system.

Detail of Map of Multnomah County, Oregon 1889, courtesy of Library of Congress. Here’s a link to the full map (it’s a big file).

We’ve thought a lot about what this area must have looked like, and the people who lived here since time immemorial. We’ve wanted to find an approximation to suggest what all that changeable marshland might have felt like, and you don’t have to look far. Recently, we took the kayak to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge just downstream from our reach of the Columbia and offer these photos to feed your imagination:

Imagining a “wet prairie.” That’s the reconstructed Cathlapotle plankhouse on the left at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. February 2021

In the Wapato Valley

Most posts here on AH focus on the period between 1890-1950 and are directly related to the development and early life of neighborhoods and their residential and commercial buildings. So much happened during those years to shape Portland’s eastside landscape. Much has happened since that time.

But our time here pales compared to the time before.

I’ve been on an exploration this winter to understand more fully and appreciate the deeper history of this landscape we think we know. And it’s changed the way I think about this place.

For thousands of years—since time immemorial—there were people here on these lands and nearby waters in extended communities and families, living within the seasonal round of the year: movements of fish, deer and elk; the growth and availability of plants for food and medicine; the season to put fire on the land to manage for future food sources.

The Columbia River near Warrior Point, February 2021. Doug Decker photo.

The Columbia River—which is probably out of mind on a day-to-day basis for most neighborhood residents today even though it flows less than two miles from our doors—was the source and backbone that made life possible for the families who lived all along its banks, from the mouth at the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, to far upriver.

Here in what is known as the Portland basin, the Chinookan people of the lower and upper Columbia met and traded with tribes arriving from the Willamette River and its tributaries, by land over the Coast Range, and from the tributaries to the north and east that drain today’s southwest Washington.

When the salmon were running, people were drawn upstream to the Cascades of the Columbia: impressive cataracts and fishing grounds in the vicinity of today’s Cascade Locks that disappeared with the advent of Bonneville Dam in 1938.

Salmon Fishing in the Cascades, Columbia River, 1867 by Carlton E. Watkins. Note man with dip net standing on scaffolding at river’s edge. Photo taken from the Washington side looking southeast toward current-day Cascade Locks. Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, OrgLot 93_B1_133r

After the fish runs and at different times of year, many of the people traveled downriver into the rich waters of the Portland basin. Food sources, family ties, language, traditions, and shared experience in known places made these people at home here at certain times of the year, and at home upriver at other times. This was their home for 10,000 years (our neighborhoods were platted 115 years ago).

Prior to contact with Europeans, the Portland basin likely held the greatest concentration of indigenous people in the region. Estimates suggest as many as 10,000 people lived in 29 villages stretching from the Sandy River Delta on the east to the confluence with the Lewis River on the west, a distance of about 34 river miles.

People were here because this stretch of the Columbia River that passes along our northern edge was unbelievably rich. The braided channels, ponds, islands and backwaters of what was referred to as the Columbia Bayou—today’s Columbia Slough—harbored and produced an amazing variety of plants, fish and wildlife. These were a canoe people, and these waters meant life. The Portland basin was principally a canoe place.

Fishing in the Columbia Slough, early 1900s.

When Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery passed downriver in early November 1805 and returned upriver in March 1806, they witnessed and reported on the diversity of indigenous people and languages here, and the richness of the river and upland environments. Of particular note to them was the potato-like aquatic tuber known as wapato, which was a staple food. Wapato grew in abundance in this 34-mile stretch and attracted people from across the region.

Because of its prominence in these waterways and in peoples’ lives, Lewis and Clark referred to this reach of river as the Wappato Valley.

The fur trade that boomed after Lewis and Clark’s early explorations brought disease. A malaria epidemic in the early 1830s devastated the people in these villages, killing 90 percent of the entire population. Waves of Euro-Americans began arriving from the east in the 1840s and the few remaining indigenous people were removed from the places they knew. Their lands were taken through a variety of means and distributed among the new arrivals, who set the landscape on a pathway into farming, resource removal and eventually development to house the rapidly growing population of newcomers.

Their lands became our neighborhoods. And their 10,000 years disappeared from view.

Which is why it’s so important for us to learn and to help remember.

The tragedy and rupture of how the indigenous way of life ended reverberates today. The descendants of these people remain and have dedicated themselves to remembering their ancestors, their language and ways of living they knew, and their lands and waters.

The more I’ve learned about this stretch of river, the more I’ve come to think differently about Portland’s northern edge, about Sauvie Island, the Multnomah Channel, the Columbia Slough, Broughton Beach and the stretch of shore near the airport and Blue Lake, and Cathlepotle, a bit farther downriver. These were busy places. Dramatically changed from their earlier forms, they persist nonetheless.

Less than two miles from my house, along the braided waterways of the Columbia Bayou, was Ne-er-cho-ki-oo, A Chinook village and plankhouse home to generations of families living in that seasonal round of upriver fishing at the Cascades and wapato gathering here in the valley. The waters they knew have been altered beyond recognition. But learning the story of that place, being able to look back at historic maps of the Columbia Bayou and imagine that landscape, are all part of remembering.

Here’s a thought exercise for you the next time you travel north on any of the main thoroughfares that intersect where Portland meets the Columbia River. As you begin to descend toward Columbia Boulevard (or Sandy Boulevard east of I-205), recognize that you are transitioning out of what were wooded uplands into what was the swampy, marshy storehouse of life along the river. Water’s edge didn’t stay mostly in one place as we know it today, it ebbed and flowed with the river and the season. The Columbia Slough we know today was alive with people: women and their canoes gathering wapato; men hunting and gathering fish. Watch for those waters and think about that as you zip across a bridge.

Columbia Slough, 1905. By Lily E. White. Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society Org.Lot 662, Folder 1, Plate 4.

Next time you visit Sauvie Island, think of the many villages there—home to an estimated 2,000  people—that were important centers of trade. Following the malaria epidemics of the 1830s which killed the vast majority of those people, employees of the nearby Hudson Bay Company post at Fort Vancouver burned the remains of the emptied villages and turned the island into a dairy.

Consider a 30-minute drive north to Ridgefield to visit the Cathlapotle long house and the refuge trails which bring into focus how the river connected people with villages and resources on Sauvie Island just across the water, with tributaries and other villages all up and down the river and beyond.

These days whenever I’m out and about, I still “see” the old streetcars, the muddy roads, vacant lots and the builders we’ve met here on AH, busy building these neighborhoods in the early 1900s.

But there’s a much deeper landscape we can orient to that contains it all, defined by rivers and the generations of people who have come before.

A few recommended sources for learning:

Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia, edited by Robert Boyd, Kenneth Ames and Tony A. Johnson, University of Washington Press, 2013.

Cathlapotle and its Inhabitants, 1792-1860, by Robert Boyd, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011.

The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, by Robert Boyd, University of Washington Press, 1999

The Confluence Project

The Chinook Indian Nation

A Chinook Timeline

Photos from our icy past

As we pick up the pieces from last week’s snow and ice, we thought you might like to see a trove of photos that offer a glimpse of a similar winter event from 105 years ago, complete with downed power lines and broken limbs. Click in for a good close look.

Looking south on NE Grand Avenue near Holladay, courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, OrgLot151_PGE139-24. February 1916.

Near NE Glisan and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, OrgLot151_PGE139-30. February 1916.

These are two of 21 images made by Portland General Electric to document a destructive snow and ice storm that hit Portland in the first week of February 1916. The photos are part of the Oregon Historical Society’s digital collection. Here’s a link to see all 21.

The February 1916 storm–referred to as a “silver thaw,” which essentially is rain falling through lower-elevation cold air that coats and freezes on contact with cold surfaces–left quite a mess. Schools were closed, streetcar service interrupted and significant damage inflicted on local infrastructure.

Local newspapers were filled with photos and reporting about the weather event, including this interesting look back (from the perspective of 1916) at the frequency of ice storms, the presence of ice in local rivers and hints of a changing climate.

From The Oregonian, February 8, 1916. Author Leslie M. Scott was chairman of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, a 40-year board member at the Oregon Historical Society, son of The Oregonian editor Harvey W. Scott, and went on to serve as Oregon Treasurer from 1941-1949.

If you are into old photos—as we guess you might be if you’re a regular AH reader—you should spend some time with the OHS Digital History collections, especially the rich collection of photographs, which is a favorite big black hole of time travel. You might also consider signing up for OHS newsletter, which is one of the handful of digital newsletters we always look forward to reading.

Thankfully, underneath the ice—then as now—are the daffodils.

A winter return to Deadman’s Hill

For more than 100 years, young people of the neighborhood have brought their sleds, toboggans, skis, chunks of cardboard, plastic bags and pretty much everything else that slides to the top of slippery, snowy Stuart Drive for a run downhill.

This weekend’s snow-ice event brought out the crowds and a strange sense of pre-pandemic normalcy. These kids still can’t be together in the classroom. Judging from the spirit and smiles visible on the hill today, gravity and speed weren’t the only joys bringing people out. Kids laughed. Parents stood and talked. Plenty of masks were in evidence. “The kids really deserve this,” said one Mom.

Of course, whenever we’re on Deadman’s Hill we’re thinking of the dead man and the auto accident that claimed his life. Fred Jacobs was killed here on the morning of June 5, 1917. You should read the whole sad story of this freak accident. And while you’re here, you might want to read about the beautiful Craftsman house at the top of the hill that is as much of a landmark as the hill itself, designed and built in 1912 by George Asa Eastman, who was principal architect for the Oregon Home Builders Company, which built hundreds of local homes.

This weekend’s weather is memorable for many reasons, but lest we think this was a big-time snow event, you might want to check out this history of snow, including some interesting photos from the neighborhood during the big snow of 1936.

More tales from Portland’s addressing history

We’ve been focused lately on a property in Southeast Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood, which has provided some fresh perspectives on aspects of Portland history we haven’t bumped into directly while working in the central eastside. Things like the dynamics of annexation, lots of different privately-owned infrastructure, and multiple waves of readdressing.

AH readers already know all about the major readdressing initiative in the early 1930s that literally re-made the Portland map. The Great Renumbering clarified things for most Portlanders (particularly postal employees), but not everyone was thrilled. One feature of the readdressing ordinance required all north-south streets be numbered, not named. That’s how we lost Glenn, Marguerite, Vernon and others, though the names can still be seen set into many curbs.

We’ve always been impressed with the residents of NE Vernon Avenue who continued to use the name of their street for more than a decade after the city changed it officially to NE 14th Place. Many living on that six-block stretch between Prescott and Killingsworth didn’t want to lose their local identity and continued to tell the world they lived on NE Vernon well into the 1940s. Place names are important, after all.

But we digress. Out in Woodstock, some of their streets have known three different names:

  • The one that came with the plat, and in Woodstock they all had names out of Sir Walter Scott’s romance fiction set in 17th Century Oxfordshire (Waverly, Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Everard, Wildrake);
  • Those that came after Woodstock’s annexation in 1909, which randomly replaced some of the Oxfordshire repertoire and turned all the east-west streets to numbers (yes, you read that right…we’ll come back to this with a map in a moment);
  • And then the ones that came along as a result of the wider readdressing wave of the early 1930s.

We were delving into a property on today’s SE Ramona, which started out as High Street on the 1889 plat, became 58th Avenue Southeast by 1915, and then became the Ramona we know in 1932.

Today, most Portlanders take their numbered north-south streets for granted and can quickly orient themselves to the Willamette knowing that on NE 24th Avenue they are 24 blocks east of the river (plus or minus).

But by 1915, all of southeast Portland’s east-west streets south of Division were assigned numbers as names and called “avenues,” counting south from Ankeny (north-south roads were called “streets”). Also of note, most of the east-west streets north of Division stuck with their names because they had an established named counterpart on the west side of the river.

So today’s SE Ramona was Fifty-eighth Avenue Southeast (that was the nomenclature, with the ordinal direction written out at the end of the phrase).

Confused?

Here, have a look at the 1915 Pittmon’s Guide map to Portland. We’ve detailed a chunk of Southeast that illustrates this east-west avenue phenomenon.

1915 Pittmon’s Guide to Portland, detail showing SE Portland from Powell Valley Road to Duke. Click to enlarge.

Just when folks were getting used to the New York-style of numbered streets and avenues, the Great Renumbering came along and put an end to all of that. Readdressing took place through several city ordinances passed over time in the early 1930s, each one cleaning up a few details missed from the last one.

Here’s a story from the Oregon Journal in 1932: take note there were 66 changes to be made in southeast Portland, but Alameda and Beaumont had some clean up to do as well. It’s an interesting idea that addressing systems could be in vogue or out of vogue.

From the Daily Oregon Journal, December 11, 1932.

That’s a little piece of Portland’s addressing history we didn’t know before our deep dive in the southeast: east-west avenues with the directional at the end of the address once gridded that part of town.

We’ll save other insights for future posts:

How before annexation a myriad of privately-owned water systems were elbowing each other for business and access to Bull Run water (Woodstock was on a private well for many years).

Same for Portland’s streetcar system, which really wasn’t a single system but a collection of competing fiefdoms for many years until consolidation began in 1904.

And annexation, those neighborhood politics were as polarized as possible: some public meetings devolved into shouting matches, the rhetoric related to taxes and the role of government. In Woodstock, even after the November 1908 61-percent victory for annexation, the anti-annexers challenged the vote all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court where it was affirmed and Woodstock became part of Portland on July 1, 1909.

2-13-2021 Post Script: We’ve posted a link to the full 1915 Pittmon map, which is now on our Maps page. Embedded in that map is a statement that highlights the challenges presented by the pre-1930s address system. This official map advice relates to getting around in North Portland:

Extreme care must be exercised in this district as the streets having E. and W. prefixes are more nearly north and south. While streets having “N” and “S” prefixes are more nearly east and west.

Nearly funny if it wasn’t absolutely true.

Taking Stock of Oregon Home Builders

We’re always on the lookout for further insights into the Oregon Home Builders Company, a prolific builder of quality Portland eastside homes from 1912-1917 and a cautionary story about the sometimes thin line between reaching and over-reaching.

Over the years we’ve been writing about OHB and it’s interesting founder Oliver Jeffery; the rest of the story of his aircraft factory, which is today covered with colorful art and graffiti at the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway; its talented architect George Asa Eastman.

Recently, an AH reader shared with us another small piece of the story: a stock certificate from the company, signed by its president Oliver King Jeffery. Have a look:

1915 stock certificate from Oregon Home Builders. Courtesy of Steve Rippon Collection.

It looks to us that on November 18th, 1915, Leo V. Rich was the lucky owner of 493 shares of company stock, valued at 25 cents each, or $23.25. That’s $2,578 in 2021 dollars.

Rich, age 44 and single in 1915, was a foreman at Portland Woolen Mills, living in St. Johns on North Jersey Street, where he apparently had been saving his money. Maybe he read an edition or two of Keys to Success, the Oregon Home Builders newsletter and decided to invest. We hope he diversified.

Jeffery would have been pleased. He never missed an opportunity to encourage people to buy stock:

From The Oregonian, December 8, 1912

Unfortunately, when the company went bankrupt in 1917, even though Jeffery was still in town assembling funding for his next enterprise, stockholders were left perplexed and wondering how to redeem their attractive but worthless stock certificates, like this one once held by Leo V. Rich.

One of those stockholders wrote The Oregonian a few years later with a question about where the company went:

From The Oregonian, January 21, 1921

Searching for the 1920s Alameda woodcutter

A few years back, about this time of the year, we found a story in The Oregonian from the fall of 1921 that caught our attention. It was about a so-called hermit, a woodcutter who had lived much of his life in a one-room shack near Bryce Street, before Bryce was even a street and before the neighborhoods were built.

The newspaper story was trying to be one of novelty, but underneath it was actually a story of displacement. O’Donaghue was being moved on from the shack in the woods where he lived because land was being cleared and houses built.

Joseph Albert O’Donaghue told of helping clear forests to make the roads we know today, and of wolves and bears he’d killed right here on Alameda Ridge.

Some of it sounded a little fantastical. Like his memories of being a rifleman in the Crimean war 70 years earlier. Of being at least 90 years old. Of walking from Portland to San Francisco and back again.

But a bunch of it had a ring of truth and carried enough information that 100 years later, we could do a little diligence on his stories.

So before we apply some research tools to Mr. O’Donaghue’s story, read the piece below that ran in The Oregonian back on September 18, 1921. And if you want to get in the right frame of mind, you might also read our post Time Passes In Alameda from December 30, 2010, reminding us of so many layers of history here in these neighborhoods.

A careful read of the 1921 story helps us identify certain things to fuel our inquiry:

  • Researchers like a name like Joseph Albert O’Donaghue. Distinctive and traceable.
  • He was from Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • He worked for Bernard Brandenburg, and his Bryce Street shack was on property Brandenburg owned.
  • He knew P.O. Collier (who offered him a new place to live).
  • He was a Mason.
  • He was a firewood cutter.
  • He had family in San Francisco.
  • He was a reader.

That’s enough to get us going. Here’s what we found:

The 1910 federal census shows O’Donaghue at age 67, single, living as a “hired man” with two other boarders and a cook in an unaddressed building near 37th and Fremont. It lists his birth year as 1843, from Canada, his father from Ireland, mother from Scotland, and that he arrived in the US in 1878. He reported himself as working full time as a farm laborer. We couldn’t find him in the 1920 census.

The annual Polk city directories track O’Donaghue’s presence like this:

  • 1888 listed as a laborer, boarding somewhere in East Portland (that was us before we became part of Portland proper in 1891).
  • 1906 listed as a laborer, boarding near Fremont and 36th.
  • 1916-1917 listed as a laborer, living near NE 35th and The Alameda.
  • 1921 still working as a laborer, living near NE 35th and Fremont.

His trail goes cold after the 1921 newspaper story, no city directory listings. Nothing. Then in March 1927, a death notice in Esson, British Columbia for Joseph A. O’Donaghue, age 80. Is this our man? Hard to know.

So to the next question: where was O’Donaghue’s shack? We know the property where he lived was owned by Bernard Brandenburg, who owned quite a few lots in the Spring Valley Addition, east of NE 33rd.

Spring Valley is one of the oldest plats in the area, filed on November 6, 1882 by “Clara L. Files, Spinster,” and encompassing the area east-west between 33rd and 37th and north-south between Skidmore and Bryce, including today’s Wilshire Park.

Brandenburg owned six lots which today make up the north end of the two blocks just south of Shaver between NE 33rd and 35th (when 33rd was the only road out here, the numbered streets in this vicinity didn’t exist). We’ve circled them below in red. If he lived on property Brandenburg owned, we’d guess that could be the location of O’Donaghue’s old shack.

Here’s a look at the 1925 aerial photo, with the Spring Valley Addition circled in red. Was the shack somewhere out there?

1925 aerial photo over the Spring Valley Addition. Bryce is incorrectly labeled as Beech. The dense stand of trees is today’s Wilshire Park. Aerial photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

Perry O. Collier was a popular and successful local real estate salesman who worked these properties as they came on the market. He may have been the one who handled the Spring Valley property deal with John L. Hartman, the big-time Portland attorney-banker-developer behind Rose City Park and other major subdivisions. Hartman bought the Spring Valley Addition property and replatted it for subdivision in June 1921. Those plans are probably what was leading to O’Donaghue’s ouster in September 1921.

This is where the story might bump into something we already know.

Not long after starting the blog—way back in 2007—we met three of the “boys” who grew up in this part of the neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s. As often happens, our conversations led to questions, maps in hand, that would help turn back the clock. The boys told us about an old man who lived in this area, and we wrote about it in the post Memory Fragments | An old man and his dog, and a follow-up post Memory Map, which featured handwritten notes made on an old Sanborn map from one of the boys—Dick Taylor—about that exact property…that it was owned by the old man’s family. Hmm.

Is this our man? We’ll never know.

But the trip back in time is enough to reset our mental picture of the neighborhood we think we know today, and to feed our imagination. Think about that the next time you’re out on an evening stroll up Bryce on a cold night at the end of the year.

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…

Lead paint sinks Billy Rowe’s wall mural

We’ve heard from the property owner working on restoration of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern building (recently known as Bernie’s Southern Bistro) at the southeast corner of NE 29th and Alberta.

Unfortunately, the mural on the west wall must go.

We’ve been watching this week as an amazing wall-size advertisement from the 1940s has resurfaced during restoration, and as we’ve learned more about Billy Rowe.

O’Cardinal Properties—the current building owner—was as amazed with the find as the neighborhood was, and intrigued with the possibility of incorporating the original material of the painted wall into the renovated space. But testing for lead late last week returned results that have ruled that out.

“We love the signs and would like to preserve it,” wrote O’Cardinal’s Property Manager Monica Geller in a weekend e-mail exchange.

“However, last week we got the paint tested for lead and it came back with extreme lead paint ratings that will not allow us to retain the mural as is, even with a strong clear coat intended to contain the lead paint.”

Geller and her colleagues are disappointed, especially given their interest and track record of adaptively re-using and renovating older buildings. In southeast Portland at SE 14th and Stark, O’Cardinal updated the 1929 Luxury Bread Building, carrying forward aspects of its history—including old siding, photos of the old bakery operation and family photos and stories from the former owners. Here’s a photo from inside Luxury Bread showing how O’Cardinal used a former painted mural there:

Repurposed wall siding inside the Luxury Bread Building recently restored by O’Cardinal Properties, 1403 SE Stark. Due to high levels of lead found in the Billy Rowe’s mural, something like this is not possible, according to O’Cardinal.

“We have a plan to take a hi-res photo and reproduce the image to use on the building to retain some of the heritage, “Geller continued.

“I know it is going to be hard for the neighborhood to see the boards come down,” she acknowledged, “but there is no feasible way for us to keep the mural in place, so it will be removed.”

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