Saturday program: Exploring the Oregon Home Builders Company

Our friends at the Architectural Heritage Center tell us there’s still room this coming Saturday morning (10:00 a.m. December 7th) for our program on the Oregon Home Builders Company, which is our deep dive into the story of this high-profile Portland company that built many beautiful homes during its five years of operation from 1912-1917 before crashing in a mess of bankruptcy, unfulfilled promises and questionable business practices.

Here’s a taste of the OHB vision and operation, from an advertisement in The Oregonian on April 28, 1912:

On Saturday morning, we’ll explore the business side of the company’s operation, its charismatic president Oliver K. Jeffery, and its homes, which have stood the test of time. Read more about Oregon Home Builders and its work on the AH Builder’s page.

In the dining room…

Because many of us will be spending some time this week in our dining rooms participating in the annual giving of thanks with family and friends, we thought it would be of interest to share these plans and word picture of a state-of-the-art dining room, circa 1914.

Arthur C. Clausen was a Minneapolis and then Portland-based architect and writer who wrote a regular column for the Oregon Daily Journal from 1913-1914 on home design and construction. Often using interesting language (and clearly some dated expressions and ideas) Clausen was trying to influence the thinking of home buyers, architects and builders at a time when homebuilding on Portland’s eastside was taking off.

We like Clausen’s notion of the dining room as a place to welcome our best friends with the least formality and where both pleasant and problem-solving conversations flourish. Read on (click to enlarge):

From The Oregon Daily Journal, August 3, 1913

Clausen’s described dining room bears a striking resemblance to our own: bay window, wainscot and dust-collecting plate rails (he was right). Maybe you recognize elements of your own dining room? We’ll share more of his columns down the road, but this one just seemed timely.

Good Thanksgiving wishes from our dining room to yours.

Upcoming Local History Programs, Fall 2019

We’re working on two upcoming public programs that may be of interest to AH readers, and that continue our ongoing exploration of local history:  the evening of Monday, November 25th at Northeast Portland’s Kennedy School; and the morning of Saturday, December 7th at the Architectural Heritage Center.

The History Pub program at Kennedy School on November 25th will explore the layers of history in Alameda, Sabin, Beaumont, Wilshire, Concordia, and Vernon neighborhoods to examine how changes in the physical and human landscape have shaped the places we know today (and how little we actually know about earlier lives lived here).

The Architectural Heritage Center program on December 7th is our deep dive into the story of the Oregon Home Builders, a high-profile Portland company that built many beautiful homes during its five years of operation from 1912-1917 before crashing in a mess of bankruptcy, unfulfilled promises and questionable business practices.

Mark your calendars!

The Finest Corner in Concordia

We’ve just finished researching a home in the Irvington Park addition, one of the many underlying plats that make up today’s Concordia Neighborhood. It’s been a fascinating look back at what was once the far edge of Portland. Not Irvington, mind you, but Irvington Park: the 175-acre parcel bounded by NE 25th, NE 33rd, Rosa Parks and Killingsworth, first platted back in 1890.

We’ve written about this neck of the woods before, and it keeps drawing us back. Partly because we like to take the dog out on walks in the alleys that criss-cross the neighborhood, but also because we can imagine these lands as the forests they once were, sloping down to the Columbia Slough.

Addison Bennett, a long-time reporter for The Oregonian, visited Irvington Park in July 1915, when things began to finally gel for the young neighborhood. He had been one of the first newspaper reporters to write about the area 25 years earlier, so he knew the wild landscape in its pre-development days.

The narrative of Bennett’s 1915 trip to Irvington Park is worth a read: He called the corner of NE 30th and Ainsworth the finest corner in the entire addition, and for good reason. In part, it was the end of the Alberta Streetcar line. But apparently it was also the heart of community spirit.

NE 30th and Ainsworth, looking north. October 2019.

If you have time, read the whole article (at the bottom of this post), but here’s the part that jumps out at us, and something we like to imagine every time we walk through that intersection:

“One Tuesday night I went out to find just at the end of the streetcar track on the northeast corner of East Thirtieth and Ainsworth Avenue, in a lovely grove of pines, cedars and dogwoods, a great dancing floor, with rows of seats within and surrounding it, the trees a-sparkle with electric lights, a piano and trap-drum playing a twostep and about 40 couples upon the floor while seated around were perhaps 200 happy people of all ages from the wee infant to the aged men and women.

“A dozen or more automobiles waited on the adjacent streets; in some of them passengers were reclining and listening to the music and the glad voices of the dancers and the audience. It was a lovely summer night with just breath enough in the air to soften the heat—and in the heavens, overlooking and apparently guarding all, a full moon looked down upon the happy scene, which was really a picture taken from some story of a fairy land.”

The old frame structure standing on the northeast corner today dates to 1923, a few years after the days of the big dance platform and the dogwoods. That time traveler of a building started out as Hinrich’s Grocery—one of the neighborhood’s many mom and pop stores—and once had large windows facing Ainsworth, which you can see in this photo from 1944 looking north of the Alberta Streetcar parked at that intersection.

Looking north at NE 30th and Ainsworth, 1944. Courtesy City of Portland Archives, image a2009-009-4152.

Here’s Bennett’s full story from 1915 about Irvington Park (click to enlarge). Enjoy.

From The Oregonian, July 25, 1915

Another view of the Tourist Cabins at the Spur Tavern and a lesson in layers of history

It’s been a year since demolition of the old Spur Tavern and 42nd Avenue Tourist Cabins near the corner of NE 42nd and Holman. You might remember these buildings in their old age: bright green, broken down, painted over with graffiti, a little scary.

While researching them we met Mike Brink who spent some of his growing up years in one of the cabins, and also in his grandmother Ugar’s old farmhouse (now gone) a couple blocks away near the corner of NE 41st and Highland. Since that first conversation with Mike, we’ve been intrigued with his memory of walking through the open fields that are now built up neighborhoods west of Fernhill Park.

Whenever we’re over that way with the dog, we think of Mike’s open view across the fields toward Kennedy School; his every morning walk along the long block of Ainsworth to pick up the Alberta Streetcar at NE 30th and Ainsworth for the ride to St. Andrews school, at NE 9th and Alberta.

Recently, Mike sent along a few photos he came across taken out front at the tourist cabins. We thought AH readers might enjoy seeing them too, and a recent look at progress on what is now the construction site. So, have a look.

Here’s young Mike in about 1945 standing in front of his Uncle Joe’s pride and joy—a 1941 Packard convertible, parked in front of Cabin 6, behind the Spur Tavern.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

And here’s another: Mike’s dad, uncle and a pal in front of the tourist cabins, looking the other direction, open fields off to the north.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

Here’s the update photo of what’s rising where the Spur and tourist cabins once stood, taken right about where Mike and his family posed for snapshots back in 1945.

Nesika Illahee Apartments, NE 42nd Avenue and Holman, October 2019

And here’s where it gets even more interesting, particularly when we consider layers of history. Long before the Spur, the tourist cabins and the farms on these gentle slopes, this part of the landscape once held the native village known as Neerchokikoo, which existed here along the south banks of the Columbia Slough.

The Nesika Illahee Apartments, under construction on this early village site, are a joint venture between the Native American Youth and Family Center and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, and will provide 59 units of affordable housing and culturally specific support for tribal members. Read more about this unique and fitting development.

109-year old store on Alberta Street slated for demolition

Big changes are underway at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. The 109-year old grocery store building–built when there were more horses than cars in Portland and before streets in this area were paved–is slated for demolition and will be replaced by a three-story, mixed use condominium / office building. Public notices have recently been posted on the property by the City of Portland alerting its status as being in a 120-day demolition delay.

This photo from the 1920s shows the Logan Grocery, a view looking southwest from the corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. NE 33rd Avenue, then known as the “county road,” was not yet paved. Photo courtesy of Bob Wilson.

 

A similar angle, September 26, 2019

 

Looking north along the NE 33rd Avenue side of the store, September 26, 2019 

 

The public notice posted on the property, September 265, 2019.

Developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings in Portland expects demolition to take place in 2020 with construction to follow. While drawings for the new structure are not yet complete, Bochsler envisions a building with a pitched roof and an inner courtyard facing NE Alberta. “I want it to be in keeping with Pacific Northwest style,” said Bochsler.

When he first approached the project, Bochsler said he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but costs associated with reinforcing the foundation made adaptive reuse not cost effective.

The property is ranked in the City of Portland’s Historic Resource Inventory, recognizing its significance for potential historic register designation. However, because past owners have never listed the property in the National Register of Historic Places, it can be torn down after a brief delay.

Operated from the 19-teens until the 1940s as “Logan’s Grocery,” the building cycled through multiple owners in the 1950s-1970s, known as Zwhalen’s Market and then as Romoli’s. From the late 1970s until recently, the building contained the studio and residence of Portland artist Jay Backstrand.

The building in March 1962, as Ernie Zwhalen’s Market. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2011-013.

 

Concordia resident Bob Wilson, grandson of second-generation former storekeepers Anna and Earl Logan, has fond memories of the store from its heyday, and shared photos of the Logans behind the counter of their store taken in the 1940s.

Anna Logan and Earl Logan pictured inside their store at NE 33rd and Alberta during the 1940s. Courtesy of Bob Wilson.

In a recent e-mail, Wilson shared these memories:

“When I was a small child, my grandparents lived in the house just south of the store. My grandmother would fix lunch every day for my grandfather Earl and bring it over to him. Earl was the storekeeper. Anna was the butcher for the store. As a small boy it was so much fun to be with my grandparents, and then to go over to their store and see all of the people who dropped by.”

We welcome photos, memories and stories about the life of this building and its corner over the years, and will continue to follow plans for demolition and construction.

Read more here on the blog about the storefronts of NE Alberta, nearby mom-and-pop grocery stores, and some of our photo detective work identifying other old Alberta Street businesses.

New Builder Biography: Sam Olimansky, 1882-1974

We’ve been researching an Alameda home built by Russian-immigrant homebuilder Solomon “Sam” Olimansky who built dozens of homes, apartments and duplexes across Portland between 1919 and the 1950s, several of them notable for their whimsical use of clinker brick and storybook cottage house design.

Olimansky was a cagey, talented builder and charismatic businessman who spoke fast in his native Yiddish, loved to laugh, and was known to present building inspectors with house plans sketched on scraps of paper pulled from his pocket.

From a September 5, 1971 story about Sam in The Oregonian.

Sam began his building career in his native Poland as an apprentice violin maker. Later in Portland, he built everything from cabinets and display cases to homes, duplexes and apartment complexes. Sam was a natural builder, and a character.

We’ve added a biography of Sam Olimansky to our growing collection of homebuilder biographies you can find in The Builders section.

With thanks to the current homeowners for commissioning the history study that led to insights about Sam, and to his grandson Gil Olman for sharing memories about his grandfather.

Remember the ANP Market at 15th and Fremont?

We’ve been focusing this spring on NE 15th and Fremont, which has seen significant change during the last 100 years, including zone changes, multiple demolitions and major commercial construction, and the coming and the going of the Irvington Streetcar.

Throughout all this change, there’s been one steady witness at the northeast corner of the intersection that has seen it all: the former Anderson’s Grocery Company building, 1501 NE Fremont. Today it’s Daddy Mojo’s Cafe, and it’s had a long and interesting history. Here are two views about 20 years apart that will help turn back the clock.

Looking east on Fremont at NE 15th, May 1963. Taken as part of a petition for a zoning change that would eventually remake this intersection. Courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, (ZC 4309). A2011-013. Click to enlarge the photo…there’s lots of detail there.

 

A similar view from 1985. In this photo, the ANP Market was in the process of becoming Roxanne’s, and the Fremont Pharmacy was the Full Holy Ghost Mission Church of God, Inc. Courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2008-008.2113.

 

Contemporary view, April 2019.

 

Built in 1923 by Andrew W. Anderson, this Mom-and-Pop corner grocery fed the neighborhood for many years, first as Anderson’s Grocery Company and then as the ANP Market. In the 1970s it served as a district office for the Multnomah County Juvenile Court.

 

Today’s sushi restaurant next door was Fremont Pharmacy from 1923 well into the early 1960s when it became a variety store. During the early pharmacy years, the business also doubled as the designated public polling place for the neighborhood in the mid-1920s.

We’re digging deep into the various chapters of this building’s stories (Anderson’s Grocery Co., the ANP Market, the district office Roxanne’s, Mojos and everything in between) and welcome memories and stories from AH readers. Drop us a note with your recollections (doug@alamedahistory.org) and we’ll share what we learn.

Fast flowing waters of Alameda

Alameda made a little history of its own yesterday. A 30-inch water main–one of the biggies of Portland’s arterial system–ruptured Saturday morning, March 16th along Skidmore just east of NE 23rd spewing more than a million gallons of water a minute through a new gaping hole and dozens of fissures in the pavement.

Looking west toward the intersection of NE 24th and Skidmore. Fractures in the street can be seen beyond the parked cars. Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Like an urban white-water obstacle course, our new river poured down Skidmore and around the corner at NE 24th on its way north toward the Columbia, washing the bottoms of cars parked along curbs and, unfortunately, spilling into more than a few below-grade garages in the area. Neighbors tracked the fast-moving giant amoeba of water on Twitter as it approached, swamped and then closed several businesses on Alberta. A few minutes later the flood had worked its way down the gentle slope to Killingsworth.

For most of the day, water flowed forth, rearranging the streetscape, making fresh cracks here and there and, producing a gravel bar in the middle of the intersection of NE 24th and Skidmore.

Gravel bars forming in the middle of the intersection at NE 24th and Skidmore. Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Emergency response was fast, with sand and sandbags strategically located almost immediately. First responders from police, fire and water bureaus and the power and gas companies were on it right away. Power was shut off to the neighborhood. And because it was the first sunny warm day of the season, neighbors came out of hibernation to visit. The Neighborhood Emergency Teams were out in the reflective vests to answer questions and add neighborliness. Inside the houses, screens and routers were dark, which no doubt encouraged people to get outside as well. Even Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty dropped by to take a look.

People stood around and talked, gawked and wondered. Some helped out others with flood clean-up. A few tailgate-type impromptus formed on front lawns that offered good views. Clearly there was loss and damage at the personal and civic level; the re-plumbing and re-paving costs are probably going to sting a bit. But at least among the neighbors we talked with, there was a reminder that we all live pretty close to each other–despite what might feel like anonymity and distance–and that we’re all connected by the same power, the same water, the same streets, and if we allow ourselves (or if we need to), with each other.

Of course, we kept thinking about what we know is buried beneath the surface of our streets, and the 1930s photos of a major plumbing disaster quite close to this intersection. Seeing the new gravel bars forming in a few places, we also wondered about the old gravel pits in the vicinity, filled in more than 100 years ago.

By this morning, the power is back on, the tap water appears pretty clear (though we’re still drinking from our disaster water stash for now), and the clean-up has begun.

Of Special Memories and Orchard Houses

We’ve been fortunate recently to spend some time with Jeanne Allen, a 98-year-old neighbor whose sharp and clear memory reaches well back into her childhood days here in the neighborhood. Jeanne has shared her memories about everything from the old St. Charles Church at NE 33rd and Webster Street, to exploring the brushy trails in the vacant lot at 24th and Fremont where Alameda Dental is now, to earning her girl scout campfire badge in the wilds of the 33rd Street Woods (today’s Wilshire Park, which is way more tame now than the wilderness it used to be).

One of our favorite images from her memory is the nighttime landscape from the darkened second floor room of a house where she grew up on NE 24th Avenue. At night, Jeanne recalls the Broadway Streetcar making its way north, the electrical pick-up mechanism skating along the overhead wires powering the streetcar’s forward motion. As it passed her house, electrical sparks off the wires just outside the window made a dance of shadow and light inside her bedroom, searing into her memory, vivid a lifetime later.

As we talked about change during a recent drive through the neighborhood, Jeanne told us about just how different things were around here in the early years. Pointing out a small home toward the back of one lot, she said something that caught our attention:

“I sure hate to see the orchard houses going away.”

Wait. What’s an orchard house? We’ve never heard that term. We want to know more.

When Jeanne and her husband Bob built their home in Concordia back in 1950, they were surrounded by orchards of cherries, apricots, pears and apples, planted in the early 1900s. 42nd Avenue—like its parallel twin to the west 33rd Avenue—was simply known as the “County Road” and doubled as Portland city limits. Most of the streets in the surrounding area between Prescott, Killingsworth, 42nd and 33rd weren’t paved. Some hadn’t even been constructed.

Jeanne remembers simple small buildings (she didn’t call them shacks, but that’s a term that comes to mind) scattered out among the orchards that served as temporary quarters for those tending the orchards during the year and harvesting during the fall. She and her family always called these little places “orchard houses,” which was a commonly known term and function during those years.

Orchard houses took a simple form: shed-roofed front and back porch; entry door in the middle and a backdoor lined up out the back; a bedroom and window on one side, an open living space on the other, maybe a counter for food preparation; often oriented in an unusual way on the lot, either toward the back or sitting at an angle.

Here’s one that Jeanne knows for certain was an orchard house (she remembers the actual nearby orchard). Plumbing was added to the house in 1924; it was described then as an old one-story frame residence.

An orchard house, seen on a walk through the neighborhood. The rear addition was added in later years. This home has been thoughtfully updated and maintained.

Jeanne’s description got us thinking about houses we’ve seen in the neighborhood, and about evidence of orchard houses appearing in old aerial photos we’ve been looking at, and in 1928 Sanborn maps of the area. Here, take a look at these two Sanborn plates (click for a larger view).

 

 

Do you know of any orchard houses? There are likely just a small handful left and we’d like to document them and explore their stories. If you have one in mind (or think you know a candidate), send us a photo or address and we’ll see what we can learn.

Thanks Jeanne!

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