Gravel & Garbage: A history of NE 33rd and Fremont

Over the years, we’ve heard the notion that there was once a gravel pit and then a garbage dump at the corner of NE 33rd and Fremont. We remember in the 1990s when the house at the southwest corner—the one with the old swimming pool out back—was removed because of major foundation problems, which seems like reasonable evidence of the underlying problem.

But we wanted to know more, so we tracked down the details. Let’s start with a photo to put you in context.

Here is the area in a 1925 aerial photo, the earliest one we know of. There’s lots to look at here, but start at the large vacant lot in the lower right hand corner. The street running east-west is Fremont and the vacant lot just below it to the south is actually three blocks, between today’s NE 32nd Avenue on the left and “E 33rd” on the right. 32nd Place (then known as Glenn Avenue before the Great Renumbering) does not yet go through.

Detail from a 1925 aerial photo showing the intersection of Fremont and 33rd, two labels added for reference. Click to enlarge. Aerial photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

That’s a pretty steep slope to the south (just ask local kids with sleds hoping for snowfall) which is one reason it’s one of the few unbuilt pieces of ground you can see in this photo.

Back in the late 1890s and up until about 1910, that slope was heavily excavated for gravel, which makes sense. It’s right along the crest of the Alameda Ridge, which after all is one giant gravel deposit left over from the cataclysmic Lake Missoula Floods of 13,000-15,000 years ago. The Fremont gravel pit provided tons of rock for a young and growing Portland, which was busy building roads. In those early years, 33rd and Fremont even became known as Gravelly Hill, a name that stuck around for decades (we try to slip that name into a conversation whenever we can, you should try it just to keep it alive).

In the photo, you can see the disturbed area at the top of the slope all along the southern edge of Fremont. That was the top of the gravel pit. A few years later it was also the top of the garbage dump.

In 1910, Benjamin Lombard, who developed the Olmsted Park plat which you can see just up the hill in this photo (now considered part of the Alameda neighborhood), sued the city for violating its own ordinance that prohibited gravel pits within 100 feet of a public street. Fremont was a city-owned street, plus the city owned a good chunk (but not all) of that vacant lot to the south too. East 33rd had long been known simply as the County Road and was the county’s responsibility.

A letter to county commissioners in August 1910 reported “the roadway at Thirty-third and Fremont streets is in danger of caving in because of excavation in the Fremont gravel pit.” The county passed this complaint along to the city, which was also hearing from Lombard about the same time. Due to the undercutting of the slope required by the gravel mining operations, Fremont Street was just about ready to slide down the hill.

This 1910 kerfuffle ended the slope’s official function as a gravel pit, though other places—notably a nearby hollow on privately owned land at the corner of today’s NE 37th and Klickitat—stepped in to meet the gravel need.

Fast forward to the early 1920s. Portland was booming and rapidly running into a garbage disposal problem. The city’s Guilds Lake Incinerator, located in Northwest Portland at NW 25th and Nicolai, was operating at full capacity and the city needed to find another way to deal with garbage.

William G. Helber, Portland’s Superintendent of Garbage Disposal, had visited Seattle and seen a new technique called “sanitary fill,” whereby garbage was mixed with dirt and buried in layers on uneven ground. This had the double “benefit” of disposing of garbage and leveling off land that could then be used or sold for other uses.

When Helber looked out across the Portland landscape, he fixed on several locations he believed would function well as sanitary fills.

 

From The Oregonian, January 16, 1923

Because the city didn’t own the downslope part of the hill, it took some creative deal making with the adjacent private owner to make it all work. Downslope owners Joe and Frances Brooks also owned the gravel pit at 37th and Klickitat. They agreed to let the city use the lower end of the Fremont pit for the garbage fill as long as the city would also fill up their old gravel pit on Klickitat with garbage. This site became known as the “Beaumont Fill.” The Brooks were then free to sell that as viable real estate to the developer who wanted to build houses there.

Not everyone was happy with the idea of burying garbage so close to existing homes. Alameda neighbors, who were always ready to protest (schools, camps, churches), were particularly skeptical. But Helber took them out on the ground to have a look at what he had in mind and the neighbors seemed satisfied to give it a try.

From The Oregonian, January 20, 1923

Starting in February 1923 through June 1924, all non-commercial trash from Portland’s eastside was hauled to Alameda to fill up the old Fremont gravel pit.

From The Oregonian, February 7, 1923

When the summer of 1923 rolled around, everyone held their breath (and their noses) wondering if the heat and the garbage would create a smelly problem. No news must have been good news, because there was no further coverage.

 

From The Oregonian, June 6, 1923

 

Here’s a great photo from the early 1930s that shows both of the completed sanitary fills (and so much else to look at). We love this photo.

Aerial oblique photo from the early 1930s shows both former fill sites and a lot more, including a very brushy Wilshire Park and the new Beaumont School. Click to enlarge this amazing photo.

In 1924, one year after opening when it became time to shut down the Fremont Sanitary Fill, the city realized it had trained all of east Portland to bring its trash to Alameda, and that it would probably take some retraining and even some enforcement to break the habit.

From The Oregonian, May 30, 1924

In a final accounting contained in his January 1926 report to City Commissioner Charles A. Bigelow, Garbage Disposal Bureau Director Helber summarized the following statistics for the Fremont Street Sanitary Fill:

  • Estimated number of loads of garbage received: 1,618
  • Average number of loads received per day: 62 ½
  • Average tons of garbage dumped each day: 136
  • Estimated tons of garbage dumped: 3,541 ½
  • Average yards of dirt received per day: 3 ½
  • Total salary of all dump workers per month: $442
  • Monthly installment on new tractor used on site: $121.25

That’s a lot of garbage. Sixty-two loads arriving at the top of the hill on Fremont Street each day for more than a year, dumped over the edge, spread by tractor down the slope and covered over with a little dirt.

The city continued to use the sanitary fill method in other areas as it planned a larger incinerator—a long drawn out process because no neighborhood wanted it in their backyard—which was ultimately built in 1932 in St. Johns and is known today as Chimney Park.

But in the meantime while incinerator planning and location were being fought about in City Hall, the fill method was gaining critics. Here’s news of neighbors at NE 37th and Alberta (today’s Alberta Court) complaining about the stench to City Council.

From The Oregonian, October 20, 1927

Back at the Fremont fill in the early 1940s, home construction was just getting underway. Here’s a photo from 1943.

Detail from a 1943 aerial photo, green outline added to show former gravel pit and fill area.

Then and Now | Wrenn Auto Delivery

AH reader and photo collector Norm Gholston recently sent along this amazing photo from 1929, so we’ve enjoyed doing some of our favorite photo detective work. Have a good look first and we’ll take it apart to learn a bit more about Wrenn Auto Delivery.

The Wrenn Auto Delivery team in front of company offices on N. Tillamook near Interstate. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston. Click to enlarge.

First things first: Wrenn Auto Delivery is not a company that delivers autos. They were essentially an around-town trucking firm. The name “auto delivery” was an artifact of the horse-drawn earlier days when it was a novelty to have something other than a horse and carriage deliver goods. When the company started out just four years after the Broadway Bridge was built, it was a major innovation (and quicker) to have an automobile deliver your load of heavy wax paper or whatever you might be needing.

To our eye, it looks like this photo has been touched up a bit, though the sparkling chrome on the Mack truck at far right looks completely genuine. The labels “Western Wax”—referring to the Western Wax Paper Company, a major customer of Wrenn’s in 1929—have been penciled in, and the hood of the Mack on the far left looks like it’s been doctored (nice fingerprint there too, which gives us a clue about the size of the original photo). But everything else looks authentic, including the surly looking dog in the middle truck.

Wrenn Auto Delivery was started in about 1916 by Nolia Gray Wrenn and her three stepsons Moultrie, Grover and Ashby. The rise of autos—and relationships the family had with various industry sectors—probably spurred the start, combined with the family’s economic necessity. Samuel E. Wrenn, Nolia’s husband and the boys’ father, died unexpectedly in 1915 following a career in the lumber and wooden box industry.

By 1917, Nolia had bought a new truck, had a contract with the Union Meat Company, and was pioneering a whole new business model, a notable accomplishment for a woman-owned small business in the heavy industrial sector in the 19-teens. Read on:

From The Oregonian, March 25, 1917. Click to enlarge.

During the first few years, the company operated out of the family home near NW 22nd and Johnson, but by the mid 1920s Nolia had moved to the Paramount Apartments at 253 N. Broadway and the business headquarters was a garage and warehouse near today’s N. Tillamook and Interstate. In 1933, the family launched something they called Wrenn’s Auto Laundry…an early car wash for trucks and cars?

Advertisements for the company during those years referred to 155 N. Tillamook, which after great renumbering translates roughly to today’s 687 N. Tillamook. Building landmarks are hard to discern in the 1929 photo (awnings, big doorways, windows, ivy), but after much looking we think we came pretty close with this view.

The 600 block of North Tillamook, former home of Wrenn Auto Delivery. January 2018.

Nolia died in September 1952. By the mid 1970s when the trail of the business goes cold, it was operating out of the Mt. Scott area in southeast Portland. Can you tell us more about Wrenn Auto Delivery or these three great delivery trucks and their smiling drivers?

Goodbye (again) Kienow’s

We heard news over the holiday that QFC will soon be closing its Grant Park market, located at NE 33rd and Hancock.

The imminent closure has sparked comments and memories here on AH and elsewhere, not about QFC (sorry about that, QFC), but about Kienow’s Market, which is what that place was for most of its life, from the mid 1930s until 1999 when this Kienow’s closed and the store became a QFC. For the record, we will miss the convenience of being able to slip into QFC for a few quick items on the way home.

Beyond living memory? Here’s the original store that stood at the southwest corner of 33rd and Hancock, pictured in 1939. The store also had a dwelling unit on the south end. This building was demolished in the mid 1940s when the full-block version of the store that most people remember was built. From The Oregonian, May 26, 1939.

You couldn’t grow up in this part of northeast Portland in the mid 20th Century and not have a Kienow’s memory, and AH readers have been sending us theirs, which we wanted to share here. We also wanted to reach back a bit before living memory to understand the earliest history of groceries at that corner.

We’ll do this chronologically, taking us back to 1912 when a small store attached to a home existed at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Hancock. Building permits suggest that first store + house (you can see its grainy photo above from the late 1930s) was actually an old repurposed school building from 33rd and Tillamook (the first Fernwood School) that was moved to the Hancock corner, where a basement was dug, a chimney built, and a storefront stuck on the front.

At that time, the property was owned by Carl Abendroth and later by his brother Adolph and was known both as Abendroth’s and as Fernwood Grocery, after the school building we know today across the street was built in 1911.

Abendroths tried to sell the shop and property starting in late 1915. Here are two ads that help us imagine what the place was like:

From The Oregon Journal, November 28, 1915

From The Oregonian, January 9, 1916

 

The store and property was still in the Abendroth family in 1921, but by 1932 it was known as Randall’s and whoever owned the property placed classified ads selling off the “timbered land” adjacent to the shop to the south. Here’s the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the property from 1924. The store is in the bottom right corner (but there’s a lot to look at here). Click to enlarge:

In this detail from the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, we can see a relatively small Fernwood School occupying the full block between Tillamook (which used to go through to 32nd) and Hancock. The precursor building to Kienows is there in the bottom right hand corner (see the “S” next to the “D,” that’s shop and dwelling). It’s interesting to see how little of the neighborhood to the north is built, and check out the greenhouse, sheds and old farm house in the fields to the north. Read more about Sanborn maps here.

Aerial photos from 1936 and 1939 show a vacant lot south of the original building that looks like it’s been planted in rows. A garden? Here it is in 1940, still a shop and house at the corner of NE 33rd and Hancock and a path through the vacant lot to the south, not yet the full-block store that became the Kienow’s that everyone remembers.

Detail of aerial photo from 1940. Click to enlarge. Aerial photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map & Aerial Photo Library.

 

The first mention of the site being owned and operated by Kienow’s is this full page ad in The Oregonian that appeared on May 26, 1939. Click to enlarge and inspect (10 cents for a box of Rice Krispies!):

Kienow’s was on the leading edge of transforming Portland’s grocery market from the more than 700 mom and pop grocery stores to a much smaller number of midsize and big stores. Fred Meyer and Safeway were also blowing up the small grocery world during these years. But it seemed that Kienow’s was just a bit more down home than its two biggest competitors.

Readers of Beverly Cleary’s Beezus, Ramona, Henry and Ribsy children’s books will also recognize Kienow’s as the grocery store seen out the window of the nearby school. Read more about the local geography of Cleary’s imagination.

Aerial photos from 1948 show the old store and house have been demolished and the full-block storefront is in place, setting the stage for most of the Kienow’s memories we’ve been reading in the last week. Here are a few:

From long-time resident John Hamnett: A few things that I remember about the old Kienow’s store was the meat section and the box bin. There were mirrors on the back of the counter where the meat was displayed. There was a button you could press for the butcher. He would slide open a section of the mirrors to talk to the customers. The box bin was next to the check out registers. Rather than paper bags, the groceries were put into boxes from items that were stocked in the store. The registers were the kind with the rows of numbered keys. The clerk rang up each item one by one and punched in the amount that was stamped on each item. I always marveled at how they could hit the correct keys without even looking at them. It was not like the scanner we have now. Kienow’s had a turnstile at the entrance. You had to leave the store by going out through a check stand and a separate door. As I recall, it didn’t last long before they took it out. There was a 5 & 10 cent store on the north end of the grocery store. I think it was called Lou’s, but I may be mistaken. It was a separate store, but it also had an opening into the grocery store. After school, kids would go over there a buy candy. My favorite was a Tootsie Pop for 2 cents or bubble gum for a penny. In later years, the Bohemian Bakery might have been in this space. 

In the early days of the new full-block Kienow’s, there was also a food counter / diner inside, maybe the precursor to what John mentions as Lou’s. In the late 1940s it was known as Smitty’s Fountain Lunch, and in the 1950s it was the Penguin Café (which relocated here after leaving the Sellwood area). All three businesses sponsored bowling teams (a very popular activity at the time) and searches in the newspaper for any of those names–Kienow’s, Smitty’s or Penguin Cafe–will lead you to a bowling score, not an important factoid about the business.

From Steve Goodman: I remember the original Kienow’s building. It had one row of parking in front, a larger parking lot in back. And the Bohemian Bakery counter that was always busy. In front was a mechanical horse, with leather fringes on the saddle, that I usually tried to beg my parents for a dime to ride up and down. A couple of gumball machines that took a penny were inside, as was an old Coke vending machine where you could see the bottles thru the window. I think a dime for a bottle of Coke.

A major fire struck Kienow’s at noon on March 7, 1952, causing $75,000 in damage, destroying stockrooms filled with cans, and bringing an end to the school day for the children at Fernwood School across the street who were let out to watch the spectacle.

What do you remember about Kienow’s?

We wonder what will happen next with that property. Given the growth of condos and apartments at the intersection to the south, we wonder if the entire two blocks that make up the former Kienow’s (QFC) and the long-vacant Jackson’s convenience store will soon transition to housing.

Three Mile History Walk | Follow the Broadway Streetcar

Here’s a neighborhood walk that makes a nice outing and puts you on the well-worn pathway of earlier years—a history-hunt of sorts to bridge past and present and imagine a time when Alameda was younger and connected to downtown courtesy of the clanky, drafty, dependable Broadway Streetcar.

Broadway Streetcar 568 at the end of the line, 29th and Mason. This photo was taken soon after the line was built in 1911, prior to construction of homes and infrastructure.

You can enter this walking loop just about anywhere on the course of the streetcar’s roundabout transit through the neighborhood, and you can head either north or south. But, just to be orderly about it, how about starting at the end of the line: NE 29th and Mason. That’s where the Broadway streetcar stopped, where the motorman would step outside for a smoke and a look at his watch.

Here’s the same view at NE 29th and Mason, about 1912-13. Note paved streets, absence of mud and brush, and presence of two buildings. The house to the left stands today and is 4206 NE 29th. The building on the right was the Alameda Land Company tract office (a temporary structure at the southeast corner of the intersection), where prospective buyers who exited the streetcar could meet with salesmen and look at subdivision maps. Check out this post which has other views of this intersection and more about the early Alameda Park neighborhood.

From the end of the line, walk south on 29th to Regents, where the streetcar passed through the “Bus and Bicycle Only” notch at Regents and Alameda. The streetcar turned right and went down the hill here, and you should too, following Regents to NE 24th Avenue where you’ll turn left (south). Continue south on 24th to Fremont and then turn right on Fremont to go west for a couple blocks, just like the old 809 shown below. See if you can orient yourself in just about the same place.

Broadway line car 809 rounds the corner at 24th and Fremont, looking east, 1940. Courtesy of Portland City Archives A2011-007.65. Click to enlarge for a better view. The Safeway building is today’s Union Bank. The sign for Alameda Drugs is hanging on the side of today’s Lucca restaurant. Here’s a link to more views of the intersection at NE 24th and Fremont.

At NE 22nd, turn left (south) and enter the long southbound leg of the circuit. Note just how wide the street is: a clue that you are on the streetcar route.

Detail from 1945 Portland Traction Company Map. The green + signs illustrate bus lines. The yellow lines are streetcars. By 1948 Portland’s streetcars had all been removed.

After a good, long straight stretch, when you hit Tillamook and 22nd, you’ll find a modest “S” curve, where the streetcar zigged and zagged on its way south to connect with Broadway. Follow along just for fun. But instead of turning west on Broadway (right) like the streetcar did on its way downtown, turn left (east) and walk back to NE 24th, where you turn left (north) and head back through the neighborhood. Now you’re back on the path of the Broadway Car—the northbound side of the circuit—and headed toward the end of the line.

Believe it or not, this is looking southwest at the southwest corner of Broadway and 24th in the summer of 1929, before Broadway was widened. See the streetcar rails sweeping from west to north here in the lower right corner? This service station sits where Spin Laundry Lounge is in 2018. The man holding the number works for the city; the number designates that tract of property for further reference. Click to enlarge. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2209-009.3407.

Continue north on 24th, cross Fremont and turn right (east) on Regents, where you go back up the hill on your way to the end of the line. Here’s a cool view of NE 24th and Fremont looking north, taken in about 1921. Can you line up in the footsteps of the photographer?

NE 24th and Fremont looking north, taken in 1921. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, image A2009-009.1858

 

At the top of Regents, pass through the bus notch again and go a few more blocks to Mason, and you’ve arrived at the end of the line. Here’s a photo looking south on NE 29th, from the southeast corner of Mason. See if you can line up in the footsteps of history: pretty much everything but the streetcar and the rails are still visible today.

 

Turn-by-turn:

Start: 29th and Mason

  1. Walk south on 29th to Regents, turn right and go down the hill.
  2. At 24th, turn left (south off of Regents).
  3. Walk to Fremont and 24th, turn right on Fremont (west off of 24th).
  4. Walk two blocks on Fremont and turn left on 22nd (south off of Fremont).
  5. Keep walking south on 22nd to Tillamook.
  6. Navigate the zig-zag at Tillamook and stay south on 22nd to Broadway, turn left (east off of 22nd).
  7. Walk east on Broadway to 24th, turn left (north off of Broadway).
  8. Walk north on 24th, crossing Fremont, and turn right on Regents (east off of 24th).
  9. Walk up the hill on Regents to 29th, turn left through the notch (north off of Regents).
  10. Walk north on 29th to Mason and you have reached the end of the streetcar line.
  11. Tip your hat to the motorman and the generations of Alamedans who depended on this train.

 

Some things to look for on your walk…

Notice how 29th narrows on the north side of the intersection. The wider stretch of street to the south was necessary to accommodate the rails and the traffic. Have a good look at Northeast 22nd and you’ll notice how much wider it is than any of our north-south streets. There are other clues to be found in the alignment of power poles, and in the remnants of rail unearthed from time to time during street repairs.

 

A little more history about our streetcar…

Two generations of our neighbors grew up relying on the Broadway streetcar to take them where they needed to go. Ever-present, often noisy, sometimes too cold (or too hot), but always dependable, the Broadway car served Alameda loyally from 1910 to 1948.

Sensitive to the transport needs of its prospective customers, the Alameda Land Company financed construction of the rails and overhead electric lines that brought the car up Regents Hill to 29th and Mason. Developers all over the city knew access was one key to selling lots, particularly in the muddy and wild environs that Alameda represented in 1909.

In 1923, a trip downtown cost an adult 8 cents. Kids could buy a special packet of school tickets allowing 25 rides for $1. In 1932, a monthly pass for unlimited rides cost $1.25. Alamedans used the streetcar as a vital link to shopping, churchgoing, commuting to the office, trips to the doctor. Some even rode the line for entertainment. A few rode looking for trouble. And at least one elderly rider frequently took a nap in the front yard at the end of the line while waiting for the streetcar.

During the day, cars ran every 10 minutes, and Alamedans referred to them as “regular cars” or “trains.” During the morning and evening rush hours, additional cars called “trippers” were put into the circuit to handle additional riders. Trippers did not climb the hill to 29th and Mason, traveling only on the Fremont Loop to save time. At night, our line was one of the handful in Portland that featured an “owl car,” a single train that made the circuit once an hour between midnight and 5 a.m. Owl service was a special distinction. The downtown end of the line was Broadway and Jefferson.

The Broadway streetcar was replaced by bus on August 1, 1948. By 1950, all of Portland’s once ubiquitous streetcar lines were gone. In the early days of neighborhood life, our streetcar was indispensable. It was one catalyst that made development of Alameda possible. It linked us to downtown and to other neighborhoods near and far. To hear the stories of those who rode it frequently, it linked us to each other in a way too.

Here are a few other history walks you might enjoy.

Favorite views of NE 24th and Fremont

We love to find and collect old views that feed our curiosity and tell us something about the place we live. Today’s post assembles photos we’ve retrieved recently from a few archives that allow a look at changes at NE 24th and Fremont, which has always served as a kind of gateway to Alameda Park.

Here is the earliest view of this intersection that we’ve ever come across, taken in September 1921 from just north of Fremont, looking north along the Broadway Streetcar tracks toward Regents, with Ridgewood in the distance. It’s a good, sharp photo, so click into it and have a look around and we’ll take it apart in the way we usually do:

NE 24th and Fremont looking north, courtesy of Portland City Archives, image A2009-009.1858

This image is labeled “PRL&P tracks, September 1921.” Like so many of the images at City Archives, it was taken to document the engineering, in this case the road and track condition. Maybe it was those bricks adjacent to the track that look sunk and a hazard for car tires. Or maybe it was just documenting the street scene before other work began.

PRL&P was Portland Railway Light and Power: they ran the streetcar system and were in frequent cooperation and conflict with the city about infrastructure. The brickwork bordering the rails is a signature of the system. These days you can still see the rails during street maintenance or sewer construction, like just up the hill from here in 2014. Look carefully here and you can see the tracks round the corner at Regents and head east and up the hill.

Your first thought as you look at this might be that the down slope from Fremont north to Regents is not quite that steep. But go stand and look at it and you realize that it is. The focal length of the lens and the absence of houses along the street trick the eye.

An Alameda elder we interviewed a few years back told us that when he was a mischievous teenager in the mid 1940s, he once released the brake on a momentarily parked streetcar waiting at 24th and Fremont (the driver had gone into the pharmacy to use the facilities) and the streetcar absolutely knew there was a slope: it drifted driverless down from Fremont and made it most of the way around the corner on Regents before its gravity was spent.

Both houses pictured here are still place, the one on the right is 3808 NE 24th built in June 1921. On the left, 3803 NE 24th, which was still under construction in the fall of 1921 (is that a for sale sign out front?).

The cutbank you see at the end of the street is where Ridgewood, running east-west, cuts along the Alameda ridge.

In the foreground to the left you can see planks placed over the curb that allow a tractor or wheeled vehicle to turn into the farmyard, which looks like it includes a small orchard. This open stretch of land was pasture for cows and orchards, as we learned recently about the adjacent Homedale plat.

Here’s another favorite shot, from not too far away from our first photo, looking to the southwest, today’s Lucca and Garden Fever. We wrote about the life of this building a few years back. Check it out.

Looking southwest at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, early 1920s. Note delivery bike visible behind power pole. OrHi 49061.

These next two are pretty amazing. They’re from City Archives and our guess is they accompanied the building permit request associated with construction of the building that now houses Alameda Dental and Union Bank, which was originally a Safeway. You can read more about that in the post we mentioned earlier, which includes a drawing of that building from its grand opening.

Check out the view from the air on this rainy winter day in 1935:

1935 Aerial of NE 24th and Fremont A2205-05.1421.2. Courtesy of Portland City Archives. Click to enlarge.

 

There’s so much here to observe and wonder about, it’s hard to know where to start. This is 14 years after the first image in this post, and you can see both houses on NE 24th pictured earlier, and clearly locate the path of the Broadway Streetcar. In fact, look close and you can see the actual streetcar stopped there at 24th and Fremont.

Check out the notable empty lots, and how about that forest where the Madeleine soccer field is today? A billboard put up on the corner at 25th probably advertises property for sale. The filling station at 24th and Fremont. A few people out walking. A sharp eye will locate the Eastman House on NE Stuart Drive. What jumps out at you?

Down on the ground, still contemplating the coming changes at the intersection, we have this view, from January 28, 1938, another killer tack-sharp photo from a 5 x 7 negative you’re going to want to explore:

Looking west on Fremont between NE 24th and NE 25th. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2009-009.107

 

The same view in December 2018.

This 1938 image looks like it was taken from about where the front door of Alameda Dental is today. The elevation of the vacant lot to the left and its brushy slope is amazing. The building that today is Lucca—Alameda Drugs—sports the signs for Sunfreze Ice Cream and a pay phone, and the delivery bike is still there. Down the line is the shoe repair shop of John Rumpakis, a barber shop, and the stairs that lead up to the dentist on the second floor.

Across the street we have the Standard Oil service station that operated up into the 1970s and some people waiting for the Broadway streetcar.

Speaking of the streetcar, here’s another image we found, taken at this intersection in 1940.

Broadway line car 809 rounds the corner at 24th and Fremont, looking east, 1940. Courtesy of Portland City Archives A2011-007.65.

In this shot we can see the corner of the Standard Oil station in the far left; a new building in the lot on the northeast corner—partially hidden by the streetcar—where Childroots Daycare is today (which was a Hancock Gasoline station up until the mid 1970s); the new Safeway building that had just been built; and the sign mounted to corner of Alameda Drugs. No telling if the delivery bike is still there.

Do you have a photo of this intersection or memory you’d like to share? We’re always on the lookout.

When Northeast neighborhoods outgrew their dairies

Much of Northeast Portland at the turn of the last century went like this: a sparse grid of dirt roads, brushy open fields, clumps of thick forest, a scattering of orchards planted in the 1880s and 90s, limited central services, a few established rural residences, and houses with newcomers popping up here and there as the real estate business percolated. And dairies.

Portland’s fresh milk came from a relatively small number of commercial production dairies and hundreds of smaller operations scattered across the landscape—including right here in the backyards of neighborhoods we know today—consisting of a few cows and a small barn or garage. In 1914 there were 1,004 licensed dairies operating in Portland. In his report to City Council that year, Mayor Albee worried out loud about just how many more small dairies didn’t bother to get a license. Our hunch is there were many.

We know this for a few reasons: partly due to the trail of official documents required of dairy operators by the city, all still carefully filed away at City Archives. But also because as residential growth escalated in the 19-teens and early 1920s, neighbors and dairy operators came into conflict over the smells, sounds and hours of operation that were just natural to the dairy business. The leading edge of new neighborhoods as they were built formed a line of demarcation between an older way of life that involved open fields and agriculture and a new way of life with its grid and density of houses, people, schools and streetcars.

By 1915 in what is our part of town today, newly established neighbors were demanding City Council take action:

From The Oregon Journal, August 8, 1915.

Ordinances about the proximity of out-buildings couldn’t really address the fundamental land use conflict of agriculture and urbanizing residential life, particularly when a dairy operator was walking the cows up the street past the neighbors to graze in a vacant lot for much of the day and rounding them up in the evening for milking in the shed out behind the house.

The dairy mentioned in the news story at 969 East 21st Street North (today’s 4539 NE 21st, remember Great Renumbering) was run by Lizzie Goldstein. By 1915, most of the houses on that block were built and the street was a vibrant place. Here’s a view of the Goldstein house and block today. With some obvious modernizations, this street scene was pretty much the way things looked when the dairy operated out of a big barn out behind the house (which is no longer there).

The former Goldstein house (center) at 4539 NE 21st, and the driveway where the cows filed in and out each day. The barn was at the back of the lot, directly behind the house. Neighbors in the houses to the left and the right filed complaints with the City of Portland over the noise and smell of the Goldsteins’ 10 cows. December 2018.

Confirming our belief that all things are somehow connected, the Goldsteins lived on the same block as the Alberta Shul, where they were members (which we’ve written about), and directly next door to the Vernon Practice House (which we’ve also written about). The imposing Old Vernon School was just a block over (when you read this, be on the lookout for the part about kids walking to school getting manure on their shoes). And don’t forget the bungalow grocery just up the street. Lots going on here off of Going Street.

Lizzie and her husband Morris were Russian immigrants who became naturalized citizens in 1901 and moved in to their brand-new house in 1909 with their children Bertha (then age 11) and George (then age 9). Morris ran a store on Alberta and she ran the dairy. Evidently Lizzie knew her business well because milk from her dairy routinely won contests for quality. Did she grow up on a farm in Russia?

Lizzie and Morris felt the pressure of growth and the unhappiness of their immediate neighbors, but they also were committed to producing good milk and making their dairy business successful. Lizzie knew she needed to bolster her case in the face of the complaints piling up since the year before, triggering Mayor Albee to direct the city’s Bureau of Health to inspect the Goldstein dairy. Here’s the inspection report, and don’t let the first page fool you, even though Lizzie ran a tight ship, the City Health Officer was no fan of hers and clearly wanted to get dairies out of Portland’s emerging neighborhoods, even suggesting to Mayor Albee a model ordinance patterned on San Francisco:

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

 

Did you catch the language there on page two? “It is a personal wrong that anyone should be allowed to maintain a dairy in a nice residence or business district.” And, “…these dairies sometimes become a menace to public health.” Pretty strong stuff.

In November of 1915, in preparation for a pending City Council action on licensing her dairy, Lizzie brought her own strong case in the following petition to Mayor Albee and his council describing her investments made over time, all allowed by past city ordinances. Be sure to check out her fascinating signature.

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

Bolstering Lizzie’s petition—and seemingly undercutting her neighbors directly to the north and to the south who had complained (remarkably, the only people on the block to complain)—Lizzie filed this impressive petition signed by more than 80 neighbors in the immediate vicinity:

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

Can you imagine getting the signatures of 80 people in the neighborhood today to support something as impactful as a dairy operating next door or up the street? She must have sold a lot of milk to many happy neighbors.

City council was in a jam: they were strongly pro-business and had after all passed policies that encouraged the kind of business investments Lizzie made in her dairy. Still, they had citizens demanding action and a major livability and possible public health issue on their hands (and maybe on their shoes). Throughout much of 1916, via continuance and delay, council kicked the can of decision making down the road about whether to relicense the Goldstein dairy.

Meanwhile, a few blocks north and east, council was ordering other dairies closed.

From The Oregonian, April 20, 1916.

 

Finally, on July 21, 1916, City Council ordered Lizzie’s dairy closed, which she seemed to accept surprisingly easily. Hard to know what was actually going on in these proceedings given all the reported smiles and cheerful atmosphere, but council direction was unambiguous:

From The Oregon Journal, July 21, 1916

There’s no further reporting about the Goldstein dairy after that encounter, and nothing conclusive in city council proceedings or archives. We examined every dairy license issued in Portland from 1916-1922, and Lizzie Goldstein was not among them. But she continued to operate for another seven years, winning contests and being listed each year in the newspaper as producing some of the very highest quality milk in Portland from the dairy behind her house. Lizzie must have decided she just couldn’t quit the business, and had the last laugh in the face of the city’s weak enforcement mechanisms.

In 1920 she even placed a classified ad for a milker to help out around the place.

But the tide of urbanization crested in the early 1920s (1922 was the busiest year for home construction according to building permit research we’ve done) and the pressure on the Goldsteins must have been overwhelming. By 1923 they were making other plans and put their home up for sale, the classified ad referring to the former dairy barn out behind the house as a “garage for 4 machines,” meaning autos. Not milking machines, or cows.

With the Goldsteins’ departure, the days of urban dairies in this neighborhood were done. City council was thinking deeper thoughts about planning and zoning, street paving eventually came along, the residential real estate business exploded building out most vacant lots, and the Alberta business district was going strong. No more room for cows. Lizzie, Morris, Bertha and George moved to Kenton and took over a furniture business on North Denver Street.

Our review of official dairy paperwork during those years shows a shrinking geography in which licenses were granted. In yet-to-be developed areas like the open fields around today’s Fernhill Park and north and west of NE 33rd and Knott, licenses were granted for small operations of 3-6 cows. But in established young neighborhoods like Vernon, Concordia and Homedale, long-shot applications were usually accompanied by petitions from understandably cranky neighbors citing the obvious concerns: smell, flies, mess, and the bellowing of cows.

By 1921, with a new milk inspector on board, the city was increasingly skeptical of small, local dairies, expressed in this letter seeking the revocation of another nearby dairyman’s operation:

Courtesy City of Portland Archives | Council Documents – Dairy Licenses

In a tragic postscript to this story, Lizzie was killed and Morris seriously injured in a freak automobile accident at NE 8th and Alberta on April 19, 1925. They were riding in an auto that was hit by another car and pushed in front of the Alberta streetcar, which could not stop and demolished the Goldstein car. Her memorial service was held two days later in what must have been a packed Congregation Tifereth Israel (Alberta Shul) just around the corner from the former Goldstein home and dairy. Down the years, on the anniversary of her death, Bertha and George published memorials in the newspaper in her honor. Morris died on June 23, 1933. Both are buried in the Neveh Shalom cemetery in southeast Portland.

Lost and Found

We’ve just finished Val Ballestrem’s great new book Lost Portland Oregon, which profiles more than 50 iconic Portland buildings, all either demolished in the name of progress, or destroyed by fire or collapse. These were great buildings of our past that defined Portland’s skyline and sense of itself, most of which have slipped beyond living memory, a fact Ballestrem notes in his preface and that seems remarkable given the prominence and impact each building had on past generations: “Many of these places have been gone so long that few people remember that they ever existed.”

Profiles of these architectural and construction marvels make fascinating reading: how the buildings were the centerpieces of various communities, the hopes of investors and families trying to build their fortunes, to create something meaningful and durable, to leave a mark.

The Oregonian Tower, the Worcester Block, the Forestry Building, the Beth Israel Synagogue the distinctive Witch Hazel building (below), virtually every commercial building on Front Avenue. Any of these places would be a revered landmark today. It’s a sad parade of losses captured thoughtfully by Ballestrem and woven through with insight about decades of social and economic change in the Portland landscape: the up and down cycle of the economy and the perils of deferred maintenance; periodic Willamette River flooding; institutional racism and the dynamics of changing demographics; failures of long-term thinking and planning. The automobile.

The Witch Hazel Building–later known as the Ohio Hotel– stood at the southeast corner of SW Front and Madison near the foot of today’s Hawthorne Bridge from 1891-1941. It’s one of more than 50 buildings profiled in Val Ballestrem’s new book Lost Portland Oregon. Photo: Minor White, Witch Hazel Building and the Hawthorne Bridge, 1940. bb015335, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, public domain.

Despite their size, prominence and impact on the community, in the end none of these great built achievements survived. Their greatest common denominator today is that a majority of their footprints have been turned into parking lots. Sigh.

To reassure ourselves that it is possible (and admirable) for a building to survive a century in the midst of the great forces of change, we’ve tracked down three houses in our then-and-now travels in North and Northeast Portland to serve as inspiration. Enjoy these pairs (click each to enlarge)–with thanks to the Norm Gholston Collection for the oldies–and go pick up a copy of Val’s book for your Portland history bookshelf.

6309 NE Mallory | Built 1913

 

3917 NE 8th | Built 1899

 

2225 NE 22nd | Built 1913

 

 

 

Dairy & Orchards in the heart of Alameda | The Homedale Tract

Homedale is the name of the property plat—once part of an orchard and dairy—that occupies the landscape bounded roughly by Fremont and Ridgewood, between NE 19th and NE 24th. Today, it’s considered part of the Alameda neighborhood. Here’s a look at the geography.

Detail from the Homedale Plat, filed in 1921. Click to enlarge.

Think of a plat as a road map filed by developers for organizing property into individual lots and streets (read more about the relationship between plats and neighborhoods here). We all live somewhere in a plat and each has its own unique story, players and moment in history. We’ve created a category here on the blog (The Plats) to hold our ongoing exploration of these stories.

While today it’s an orderly grid of streets and homes dating from 1922, less than 100 years ago the sloping landscape just below Alameda ridge that you see here was an important part of Portland’s eastside agriculture. We’ve come across several interesting descriptions that will feed your curiosity and the way you think about this landscape. Read on, from local resident Rod Paulson written in January 1976:

“Before 1921 and 1922 when city lots were staked out, much of this was an apple orchard, the remnants of which can still be seen in some back yards. The trees grew right down to the edge of the Fremont Street [side]walk and there were several old buildings on the place, residential and otherwise, including a large farmhouse painted light brown which was located close to Fremont in the vicinity of 21st Avenue. This house dated back to the 1890s or before and people lived there in apparent comfort in a rural setting, yet in the midst of modern houses that [were being built] in all directions.”

“There was another farmhouse set back a considerable distance from the street more or less in the eastern part of the orchard, and a barn was situated opposite the end of 23rd Avenue.”

We’ve wondered about this: are isolated apple trees from the early orchard days still out there scattered across this part of the neighborhood? Can any readers confirm? In a happy coincidence, the Sabin Community Association has planted a small orchard of young trees near NE 19th and Mason, on ground that probably once was part of the old orchard:

The once and future orchard, near NE 19th and Mason, December 2018.

Owners Michael G. Munley and James T. Barron bought the future Homedale property in 1905 for $6,500 and kept it in agricultural use with an eye to eventual development, but market conditions didn’t make that worthwhile until the 1920s. Not coincidentally, Munley was son-in-law of E.Z. Ferguson, president of the Alameda Land Company which owned land just up the hill. Barron was a Ferguson business partner.

The Irvington Dairy operated from a barn situated at the northeast corner of NE 21st and Fremont from the 1890s until 1916 when a catastrophic fire destroyed much of the herd and the barn.

From the Oregon Journal, January 11, 1916. The address given–725 Fremont–is from Portland’s old addressing system and translates into the NE corner of 21st and Fremont. We did not find a follow-up news story about the fire investigation. The house remembered by Rod Paulson was home to dairy manager Grimm and his family.

Location of the former Irvington Dairy barn at NE 21st and Fremont, looking northeast, December 2018.

Between the terrible fire and an early 1920s resurgence in Portland’s real estate values, the time was nearing when Munley and Barron would execute the land use change and end the property’s agricultural past. In 1919, the Grimms and dairyman E.J. Bruns were selling off the last of the Munley herd:

From The Oregonian, March 30, 1919

A nearby dairy existed just to the east as well: the Pearson Place, the cow pasture where Alameda School was eventually built. The Pearson family operated their dairy there during this same time period and it too was subdivided into residential lots about the same time. You can read more about the Pearson Dairy and its time-traveling tree here (and we recommend putting on your walking shoes and your imagination to walk the perimeter of the farm).

Six years after the big fire at NE 21st and Fremont, Munley and Barron were underway with their plan to develop the property:

From The Oregonian, March 12, 1922

By the fall of 1922, the streets of Homedale had been carved into the south-facing slopes and the first homes had been built. Real estate ads even mentioned without explaining why that most lots had a fruit tree (but no mention of cows).

Interesting to note that prior to 1922, Regents Drive did not go all the way through to NE 21st because the orchard and open fields were in the way. Regents came down the hill and tee’d into NE 24th before heading south. Think of that next time you drive down Regents headed for NE 21st: the former orchard and pasture land you’re driving through.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve the reward of one of our all-time favorite news stories from that time illustrating the consequence of this early day change of land use from agriculture to residential (a subject that bears exploration in future posts). Dixon Place is the next subdivision to the west just a few blocks over, between Fremont to Shaver and from NE 15th to NE 19th, part of today’s Sabin neighborhood. What a great headline:

From The Oregonian, May 3, 1923

Dairies like the one at NE 21st and Fremont–and many more small dairies around town–occupied a unique niche in time as Portland grew between 1890 and the 19-teens. As population and growth exploded and property became more valuable for housing, the departure of the dairies was a bellwether of change. More from the front lines of subdivision-dairy conflict here. It’s a fascinating story.

NE 33rd and Broadway, 1930. Wow.

Every once in a while a photograph comes along that completely pulls you in with so many stories to tell. Here’s one you’re going to want to spend some time with.

We were at City of Portland Archives this week researching a piece we’re writing about the 1929-1930 widening of East Broadway, which completely transformed what was a sleepy street into the major arterial we know today between the Broadway Bridge and Sandy Boulevard. It’s a fascinating, sad, complicated, inevitable story that we think you’re going to enjoy reading about.

In the process, we ran into this picture of an intersection many of us know well, anchored by a building we’ve written a lot about. There is so much to see in this photo: you’re going to want to click to enlarge it and climb inside to see all there is to know.

Looking east on Broadway at the corner of NE 33rd. Photo courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, image A1999-004.326.

The main building on the right was built by Oregon Home Builders in 1916 and served briefly as a manufacturing site for aircraft parts during World War 1. You can read more about that here and see some other photos of the building and the intersection from a different angle.

The tallest portion of that building is actually a freight elevator (which we’ve had a chance to ride in…the largest freight elevator in Portland, or so it was explained to us). Painted on the exterior of the elevator tower is an advertisement for wholesale hardwood flooring. The building continues quite a ways east into what is a parking lot today.

Looks like heavy storage was popular even then: a banner advertises heated space with trackage (the rail runs just the other side of the building). And how about the grocery, beauty parlor and even a cafe in the first floor retail space. Who knew?

The Texaco on the left is still a filling station. And see the billboard at the far end of the street advertising the Hollywood Theater? On the north side of the street, the Frank L. McGuire company has a bungalow for sale.

So many stories.

Highland Congregational Church – Portland Playhouse

If you’ve traveled the west end of NE Prescott recently, you’ve seen lots of activity around the old church at the corner of NE 6th and Prescott. We know it today as the Portland Playhouse, but it started out life as the Highland Congregational Church on January 3, 1904.

Portland Playhouse, 602 N.E. Prescott. November 2018.

 

From The Oregonian, January 4, 1904. Note the original steeple cap.

A news story in The Oregonian from January 4, 1904 reported that its founding pastor, The Rev. D.B. Gray, explained to his new congregation that the building cost $4,709.15 to build and the two lots it sits on cost $800. The community raised $600 of the total and the Oregon Missionary Society provided the rest. The Sunday school associated with the church had 150 children. Plans for the church were furnished by L.B. Volk of Los Angeles, California and Peter Wiser was the builder. According to The Rev. Gray, the building is modeled after the Mizpah Church at East Thirteenth and Powell streets. Capacity was about 300 people, with room left for future expansion. Original interior finishes were natural wood.

The story went on to say why the new church was so symbolic for the surrounding community:

“The dedication signalizes strikingly the wonderful growth of the city to the northeast as fully 500 homes have been built in the Highland District in the last two years, besides a schoolhouse now occupied by 500 students.”

In 1904, this part of town was the eastern edge of Portland. Roads were dirt and the farther east you went, the wilder and brushier it got. The Broadway Bridge was still almost 10 years from being built, and central sewer, water and gas and streetcar systems were just working their way out to this edge of the city. Here’s a look at the surrounding area–known then as the “Lincoln Park Annex”–in the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 246, 1909. The address numbers you see here were completely renumbered in the early 1930s during Portland’s Great Renumbering.

This part of the neighborhood was platted as the Lincoln Park Annex in 1891, an 18-square-block area gridded by a collection of unimaginative street names that never made it to the map. In fact, most locals never used the “Lincoln Park” name either, preferring the term Highland back in the day, and today’s King Neighborhood.

The 1904 church building has always had a strong connection to the surrounding community. During its first year, it was the venue for a rousing anti-cigarette meeting featuring preachers and businessmen from near and far:

From The Oregonian, November 28, 1904

From the mid 1920s until the early 1950s, the building was referred to as Grace and Truth Hall. Its most recent faith community was the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, from the mid 1960s up until 2005. Following Mt. Sinai, the building was vacant for several years and like many older area churches was sinking under abandonment and deferred maintenance. It was bought by a private owner who lived in the old church for several years prior to its current incarnation as Portland Playhouse, a theater company.

The first play in the church was 2008 and since then, Portland Playhouse has built a solid reputation for high quality and well produced shows, and a loyal following.

Michael Weaver, Managing Director of Portland Playhouse, explains that the church has recently undergone a $2.4 million interior upgrade to better function as a theater, and to expand the theater company’s offices into the former fellowship hall in the basement and the former Shining Star Daycare, which was attached at the back of the church. While much has changed inside, the upgrade kept the bell tower, stained glass windows and much of the original flooring. “We wanted to honor the history of the building,” says Weaver.

Check out this Portland Playhouse photo gallery to see a nice documentation of the renovation, and information about what’s playing (A Christmas Carol starts next week!).

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