Another Williams Avenue View – Looking South

We’ve come across another outstanding early 1900s vantage point from Williams Avenue that you’re going to want to see (thanks Norm). This one is a nice southward-looking companion to the northward shot we featured a few months back. Be sure to study both and to take a good look at the Sanborn we assembled to get a feel for this long-gone place that was once a hub of activity for this part of Portland.

First, have a good look at the south view; then check out the north view that we’ve seen before. Then let’s discuss.

Looking south on Williams Avenue from Graham. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.


Looking north on Williams Avenue from Russell. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.

What do you see?

Let’s start by looking at the northward image, where you can just about see where this southward view was taken. See the picket fence that appears below the steeple of the Immaculate Heart Church and the bushy tree? Nearby, check out the utility pole that is leaning toward the street.

Now, look at the southward view: there’s the picket fence and the bushy tree behind our man in the hat scratching his face (and the leaning utility pole). That should help put things in perspective and establishes the photo was taken from the corner of Graham and Williams.

The crank on the pole (you can see others like it in the northward photo) allows for periodic maintenance of the carbon arc streetlight hanging overheard.

Look how fresh and clean those curbs and sidewalks look. Chances are they were built by Elwood Wiles, a household name you can still see today stamped into sidewalks all over the eastside.

The Willliams Avenue streetcar tracks owned the middle of the street, with streetcars headed north/south to St. Johns, which were shifted over to Union Avenue about 1911. No automobiles to be seen.

Look at all the awnings: in the southward photo shading the west side of the street from morning sunlight (and it might still be somewhat early judging on the length of the shadows that spill out into the street).

Check out the onion-shaped dome from the old Hill Block building at the corner of NE Russell and Williams, which can be seen today in Dawson Park. That intersection was the center of the universe for early Albina and a crucial part of the African-American cultural landscape well up until when it was torn down in 1969. That block has been vacant ever since, but planning conversations are underway.

Beaumont Corner, 1928

Photo friend Norm Gholston has shared another view of a favorite corner, this one shows something important that’s missing, which gives us a good clue about when it was taken. Do you see it (or rather not see it)? Have a good look.

NE 41st and Fremont Avenue, looking southeast, about 1929. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston Collection.

What’s missing is the Beaumont Market, which exists today immediately adjacent to the far left of this building. Here’s a post we wrote last year that includes a similar but slightly later photo, and beautiful color-pencil renderings of the market building (which came along seven years after the pharmacy), submitted to the city in 1935 by architect Charles Ertz.

Other things to note in this photograph include the absence of the McMarr Stores sign, which was present in the 1929 photo. Our hunch is that this photo was taken soon after construction–late 1928 or very early 1929–and used by J. Benjamin Lowe, Proprietor to get the word out about his new pharmacy, and his phone number. Note the Beaumont exchange was GA (someone trying to phone Proprietor Lowe would pick up the phone and say to the operator, “please ring Garfield 1614”). Do you know about old phone exchanges? Read more here.

The hinged box sitting on the curb: in more snowy climates, a box like this might hold gravel or sand for when the crosswalk and intersection become hard-packed and slippery, but Portland? Maybe. A drop box to keep the bundle of early-morning newspapers dry until the owner opened up? Other ideas?

Our Legacy

It’s 1953.

An African-American family is looking at a home for sale in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. A real estate agent takes the family in for a visit, they like it.

Remember what it’s like when you’re checking out a new place hoping you can make it your home? Maybe you think about carpets, curtains, the garden, the view out the window. Where the kids are going to play. It’s exciting and hopeful.

The realtor agrees to write the offer.

But other forces quickly intervene: Portland’s formal and informal systems of racial and economic oppression.

Realtors start talking to realtors. Neighbors start talking to neighbors.

By the end of the week, families on the block have met and decided to pool their money to buy the house out from underneath the African-American family’s offer. Weeks later, the neighbor-owners turn around and sell it on contract to a white family. For several years, envelopes of money pass back and forth across the street and up the block as loans are paid back, knowing glances exchanged.

Welcome to the real world.

The children of those neighborhood families—now in their 70s—shared this story with us, sheepishly. Another example of Portland’s long line of racial intolerance.

As we look back across the years, we must acknowledge the exclusion and privilege that has shaped these neighborhoods as surely as any architect, builder or crushing windstorm ever did.

These layers of racism and intolerance are here with us too, right along with the memories and hopes of the generations. Moving forward means keeping this history visible through an ongoing acknowledgement of its legacy and a conscious commitment to a different response in our daily lives.

Time to make art – Engage in The Change

A few months back we participated in Concordia Conversations, a program about how change has affected Northeast Portland neighborhoods. It was a helpful and provocative gathering involving multiple generations, cultures and perspectives. Our message—as you might guess—was that this has always been a place of change.

Program host, neighbor and artist Jordana Leeb shared a great 25-minute documentary about how recent changes have affected her part of the Concordia neighborhood, which we recommend (you can watch it here).

Continuing to build on the theme this summer, Jordana is curating a community art show called “Engage in the Change.” For now, it will be virtual but later this summer and fall (think Phase 2 opening) she’s hoping to exhibit the art somewhere in the neighborhood.

She’s asking for creativity from you and your family members–art, poetry, music–to explore the topic of neighborhood change. And there’s a chance you might even win some $ for your submittal.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Artwork can include visual art of any kind, written poetry, spoken word, video or music. Cash prizes are available (and there’s a category with a $100 prize for artists under age 18).
  • Art should explore what community means; how our community has changed; how neighborhoods bring us together (or keep us apart); changes you have seen and how they have affected you; what makes us resilient.
  • Deadline for submittal is August 15, 2020.

Here’s a link for more information about this community art show. Plenty of time yet for your creativity, and it would be great to see a bunch of submissions from young people!

Arnt Anderson: Talented Builder + Con Man

We’ve just finished a detailed look at local builder Arnt Anderson, which we’ve added to our section on The Builders. Anderson was responsible for about 20 large Craftsman-style homes in Alameda, Irvington, Beaumont and Montavilla between 1912-1915. These durable and graceful homes were some of the first built in the newly-established plats, including the plat known as Gleneyrie, which today is part of Irvington and Alameda.

Back then when the neighborhood was just starting out, the Tate Investment Company wanted you to come see Gleneyrie. And to have a look at a big house by Arnt Anderson. Check out this ad which includes a genuine Anderson and a stylized look at NE 24th Avenue (complete with the Broadway Streetcar).

From The Oregonian, April 20, 1913

We’ll be writing more here soon about development of Gleneyrie (which sits between NE 24th and NE 29th, from Knott to Stanton).

But for now, check out this biography (and list of houses) of the builder-turned-con artist who built some nice homes here in the neighborhood, but left town on a scam spree across the West and Midwest that ended in a Billings jail, a felony conviction and trip to the Washington state pen in Walla Walla.

The Barnes Mansion: Beaumont’s Century Old Family Compound

We’ve had an opportunity recently to delve into the history of a Northeast Portland landmark home: the 106-year-old Barnes Mansion at 3533 N.E. Klickitat named for Isabelle Payne Barnes and Frank Charles Barnes, the visionary and driving forces behind this building and its surroundings.

The Barnes Mansion in 2020, 3533 NE Klickitat. Several of the houses in this photo were built by and for one family.

The story of this almost 12,000-square foot, 32-room giant is about more than just a house though, it’s the story of one family and an entire neighborhood established for its children.

We’ll begin with Barnes family history for a frame of reference to understand the magnitude of the initial vision. And here’s a clue to that: It’s big. Frank Barnes operated in big brush strokes in business, in family and in life.

Frank’s professional life was all about food: growing, raising and making it; packing it; distributing it; selling it. And in later years, his fortune came from investments and real estate. Together, Frank and Isabelle built a business, a family and a family compound that came to define the western edge of today’s Beaumont neighborhood.

Early Years

Frank’s story begins on the Oregon Trail. Born in Albany, New York in 1854, Barnes spent the first years of his life on the family farm in Clark County, Iowa. In 1858 his family—parents William and Elizabeth Barnes—set out with an ox-drawn wagon along the Oregon Trail, eventually making it to the Willamette Valley.

Isabelle Payne was born in 1857, daughter of a homestead-era farming and dairying family that lived along Columbia Slough.

In 1858 when four-year-old Frank Barnes and his family arrived, Portland was a small town with limited roads and commerce. Soon after arriving, William Barnes launched into the lumber and milling business and quickly found success in any business depended on transportation. He was elected Road Supervisor and opened the route known today as Barnes Road, connecting Portland with the Tualatin Valley.

With commerce connected by new roads, the Barnes family moved into the grocery business. Think of it as an early farm-to-table establishment where father and son—William and Frank—bought and sold produce from eastside and westside to a growing population, including lands they owned and farmed themselves.

In 1876 Frank and Isabelle were married and the couple began their own family. Isabelle took care of home and family and was clearly the center of the universe for the couple’s children and grandchildren.

Frank Barnes builds a food business

As a young man building on the family business, Frank Barnes established Portland’s earliest and busiest grocery market at the corner of SW 3rd and Morrison downtown. It was an integrated business with 40 employees, seven wagons, farming acreage, a poultry farm, a fruit packing plant, a commercial ice and cold storage facility, and a huge warehouse for salting, smoking and canning salmon.

Every Portlander knew Barnes Market and Packing, and most had done business with Frank in one way or another. It was the place to go for delectable items: check it out:

From The Oregonian, November 25, 1900

Over the years, Frank’s success and the influence of his businesses propelled him into public office, serving multiple terms as Multnomah County Commissioner, a state legislator, a roads commissioner like his father, and even as police commissioner. With accumulated wealth and influence, Barnes began to invest in real estate. On the home front, the children were becoming like a big company of their own.

In the 20 years between 1875 and 1898, Isabelle had seven children: Clara; Lila; Ivy; Gladys; Frank; Helen; and Irene. Six daughters and one son. It’s important to have this in mind as we contemplate how this place came to be. As the kids grew, they married and each took on different aspects of the family business.

Given Frank’s desire to think big, what was the logical progression? How about development of a family headquarters—a kind of sanctuary, shrine and safe haven—done in a way that extended both the reach of the community and the family businesses.

These were the drivers behind what happened next.

A family compound takes shape on the eastern city limits

Barnes lived the example of anticipating the place where opportunity would exist and then getting there before others. As John Jacob Astor wrote: “Buy on the fringe of a growing city and wait.” Which is exactly what Barnes did. He and Isabelle had earlier bought a piece of the prominent ridgeline on the eastside known as Gravelly Hill. And in 1911, it was time to merge the vision for a family compound with the family real estate development business. He was 58 years old and Isabelle was 55.

Here’s the official plat of what they had in mind: three square blocks between Fremont and Klickitat, 35th and 27th. 10 acres. They named the plat for their youngest daughter: little Ruth Irene.

Irene Heights Plat, 1911

First and foremost, this was to be a family bastion. Barnes carved out a property in the plat for each child all clustered around a main residence—like a central castle—which is what neighborhood kids in the 1920s called the big house: the Barnes Castle.

Remember, this was a sparsely populated area with dirt roads during the early years. The house was on its own septic system until sewers arrived in 1915. But the remote location didn’t hold Barnes back. He and business partner E.E. Merges owned this part of the forested slope. Their friends E.Z. Ferguson, Harry Hamblet, William Dunckley and John Bryce, with the Alameda Land Company, owned the slope just to the west. And in 1909-1911 everybody saw opportunity and acted on it with their own plats.

Back to Irene Heights…with the table set on the Barnes family acreage, construction started on the houses. First to be built in 1912 was the home for Gladys and her husband John J. Reynolds (who worked for Frank) to the north of the mansion at 3425 NE 35th Place, which has since been torn down.

Next came the big house for Frank and Isabelle; and the home at 3601 NE Maltby for daughter Lila and her husband Charles Starr, who ran one of the largest fruit packing companies in the northwest. These two houses were built at the same time between 1913-1914.

An undated but early view of the facade.

In 1915, young Frank Barnes—Frank Scott Barnes, for the record—and his wife Doris built the next family home at 3414 NE 36th Avenue. Young Frank ran the family salmon canning and packing company out of Wrangell, Alaska in the late 1920s and 1930s, where he served as mayor. Frank was killed by a grizzly bear in 1940 on a bear hunting trip in Southeast Alaska, interestingly hunting with his close friend Francis Marion Stokes, the son of the contractor who built all the Barnes houses. In a point of interest, in the mid 1940s, several years after Frank’s death, his wife Doris became the very popular and effective mayor of Wrangell, serving several terms.

Clara Barnes married Frank Collinson, who helped run the Barnes family business, and they built a home at 3460 NE 36th.

Helen married Alfred Allen and they built the house at 3526 NE Fremont. Alfred ran a subsidiary salmon packing company.

Irene married J. Wilbur Hendrickson, another partner in the salmon packing business, and they built the house at 3603 NE Klickitat.

Ivy married Louis Starr, brother of her brother-in-law (Lila’s husband) and they actually decided against living so close, a topic that probably riled Frank and Isabelle: Ivy and Louis built their home at NE 25th and Hancock, not too far away, but far enough…

And a point of order about the plat and street naming and numbering: Marguerite Avenue which you see on the plat was renamed when Portland went through a major re-addressing initiative from 1931-1933.

Here’s an illustrated map that may help put the pieces together:

The Barnes Mansion

Some have attributed design of the Barnes Mansion to David L. Williams, who designed the Lytle house located on NE 22nd, known today as Portland’s White House. Researchers have not come across conclusive proof, but there are certain family resemblances.

But we’re not from that school of thought, and tend to believe the home was designed and built by Stokes & Zeller, which was a large architecture and construction company in Portland during those years.

A few reasons behind this hunch: Francis Marion Stokes—the noted architect who was comfortable working in these styles and forms—was a personal friend of the family—remember that he and young Frank were on that fateful bear hunting trip together. And, Stokes & Zeller designed and built the other Barnes family homes in the neighborhood.

Regardless, the house is a masterpiece, filled with careful craftsmanship including:

  • Tile floors and marble fireplace installed by Italian craftsmen;
  • Honduran mahogany paneling;
  • Custom-made carpeting and lighting;
  • 18-carat gold threaded wall coverings in the drawing room;
  • Beautiful art glass, likely by Povey Glass.

During the Barnes years, this place was a temple for the family. A look back through newspapers of the day shows that if there was an important event, holiday or gathering, the Barnes were hosting it: weddings, masquerade balls, Christmas parties. All of the daughters were married from the home, walking down the main staircase with their wedding trains.

When Isabelle died in the house on September 19, 1930, there was only one place for the funeral and memorial: at home. The same when Frank died there one year later, mourners came to the house for a funeral and reception, and a procession to nearby Rose City Cemetery.

The next several decades were not the best for the house. Immediately after Frank’s death, the house was a rental and came into the hands for a few years of a real estate investor named Charles J. Derbes and his wife Carmen. They left by the mid 1930s, and city directories show it vacant for a few years in the depths of the Great Depression.

By 1937 a Portland attorney named Bill Illidge owned the house. He was disbarred in 1939 over sketchy financial and real estate dealings and through the 1940s, he gradually descended into a lonely hermit-like existence as the house and landscaping declined. He reportedly closed up most of the place and lived only in the east solarium near the front door, with a cot and a hot plate.

Illidge died in the house on December 1, 1958 and the macabre detail in the second paragraph was remembered for many years by the kids of the neighborhood.

From The Oregonian, December 3, 1958

 

Older kids apparently weren’t scared. The home was vacant for two more years and continued its downward slide.

From The Oregonian, October 18, 1959

Father and son Carl and Deane Hutchinson and Deane’s friend William McReynolds purchased the house in 1960 and began the slow uphill climb of restoration, which was set back by the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, which ripped off the roof, damaged the balustrades and uprooted 19 trees on the property.

The Hutchinsons and McReynolds, and eventually a friend named John Jensen, continued to restore the house and added a 100-stop pipe organ and a small chapel in the house. Since 1997, the house has been owned by Merrit and Anna Quarum, who have continued its careful stewardship, which is no small feat for a 106-year-old property of this size and complexity.

The Barnes Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and in mid-2020 is currently for sale. Go check out the current real estate listing website, for a closer look inside.

 

Contemporary view from the balcony looking southwest.

Seeking Dekum Court Memories

Do you have a memory or photo from Dekum Court or know someone who does? I’d like to hear from you.

For a time during the early 1940s, the Concordia neighborhood was home to one of the first wartime housing projects in Portland: the Dekum Court Project, an 85-unit complex of housing for non-commissioned officers and their families stationed at the Portland Air Base.

A newspaper photo of living quarters at Dekum Court from The Oregonian, November 8, 1942.

From 1942-1945, 300 military family members of all ages lived in 53 buildings which covered a 15-acre site located between NE 24th and NE 27th avenues, from Dekum and Lombard.

Here’s a map and a site plan to help you visualize:

 


Courtesy City of Portland Archives, A2001-025

It’s a fascinating and rich story: development of the site for wartime housing; subsequent repurposing as public housing managed by the Housing Authority of Portland; and later partial redevelopment as a ranch-house-subdivision. The original wartime housing quarters are now gone. But there must be stories and memories that remain.

I’m in the research phase of learning more about Dekum Court and would like to hear from anyone who has memories or photos to share. Please drop me a note (doug@alamedahistory.org).

Stay tuned, we’ll come back to Dekum Court in the months ahead with the full story of its development and early life.

One More for the Vernon Tank

The reality, of course, is that research is never really done. That’s what makes it fun. Sometimes after you think you’ve found enough to be able to understand a thing, you come across another nugget that adds perspective.

Such is the case today: It’s a photo from the summer of 1920 showing construction of the concrete base for the one-million gallon Vernon tank that replaced the old standpipe, which is looming over the whole scene at NE 19th and Prescott. Have a good look:

Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, A2008-009

This was undoubtedly a big day on the job:

  • The concrete forms for the new tower foundation have been intricately prepared;
  • The engineers are there in their coats and ties with their instrument and tripod to keep everything on the level and in the right place;
  • The steam donkey is belching dark smoke, meaning it’s working hard to turn the mixer;
  • The men on the far left are shoveling from a pile of rock into the mixer to make the concrete;
  • The men with the two-wheeled wheelbarrows (called Jersey buckets) are wheeling the fresh concrete across the plank ramps as the pour begins;
  • Sections of the new tank are carefully stacked in readiness at the edge of the site;

This view looks north; the houses in the center and on the right are still there on the north side of Prescott. If you know these neighbors, pass along this photo…they might enjoy seeing their houses 100 years ago.

Home History School | Time Capsule

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, here’s one that sums up Home History School so nicely, sent by an AH reader who has been out seeking hidden horses. Thanks Carla. Yes, this horse is wearing a mask.

On Mondays around here we’ve been providing activities and tools to get kids of all ages (even us big kids) exploring the history of our neighborhoods.

  • We started by encouraging history detectives to search out and meet the ubiquitous Elwood Wiles, whose name is on sidewalks all over the eastside from 1910-1915.
  • We suggested tools for figuring out the story of your house, including finding your earliest plumbing permits and your old street address.
  • Discovering your nearest streetcar route and considering what the streetcar meant to our neighborhoods came next.
  • We went on safari to neighborhood schools with 1924 maps in hand, and tales of school buildings long gone.
  • Our oldest residents—our trees, and in particular our Heritage trees—came next with walks, tree ID keys and stories of the Pearson Pine.
  • And then the horses: thinking about what horses meant to these neighborhoods. They were fundamental to our early life and the energy they invested still shapes the ground we walk. Their plows and wagons build the eastside grid.

So in our last regular Home History School post, we turn the table a bit today with a look forward: what will the future understand about the pandemic that has turned our lives upside down here in 2020?

This week’s focus is on what you’re doing to record your own thoughts and observations and how you will pass them forward to the future. Check it out:

Time Capsule

Home History School | Hidden horses

There was a time when Northeast Portland neighborhoods were alive with horses.

In the early days, they plowed the fields. Later, they built the streets, delivered the groceries, brought the fuel that heated our houses and the ice that cooled the kitchen ice box. Carted out the garbage. Hauled in building supplies and new furniture. Brought families here and there.

You name it: horses were essential to the early days of these neighborhoods and were as common a sight as a car is today.

Horses and men grading Regents Drive at the top of the hill near The Alameda (as today’s Alameda Street was known), taken in May 1909. From an advertising brochure produced by the Alameda Land Company.

Even though horses haven’t walked these streets for about 100 years, there is a silent herd slowly returning to remind us (with a smile) of just how common horses were to making our lives work way back when. This week’s Home History School contemplates the early role of horses in our neighborhoods and gets us all searching for the hidden herd you might be able to find on your street or just around the corner. Check it out:

Hidden Horses

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