Backstory of one street’s renaming: From Laura to Edgehill

In the joyful and serendipitous way so much research happens—bumping into one thing while looking for something else—we’ve run into a short article from April 1920 that sparked our curiosity about the renaming of a short street here in Alameda. Take a look:

From The Oregonian, April 7, 1920

Elsewhere here on AH you’ll find a piece we’ve written about the naming of Alameda’s streets. It seems all of the names in the Alameda Park plat have a connection with the founders of the Alameda Land Company: Hamblet, Dunckley, Bryce and Gile were either investors, family members or business partners of company president Edward Zest Ferguson. A bit self-important maybe, but not so unusual back in the day.

But Laura has always been a mystery. Glenn Avenue is a head-scratcher too, but that street—today known as NE 32nd Place—starts and ends in subdivisions well away from Alameda. Laura is a local name on an 800-foot long street that begins and ends descending the Alameda Ridge from Regents to Fremont.

Before we could get to the question of why her street was renamed, we first had to address the question of Laura: who was she? We’d looked before, but not hard enough. This time, equipped with a hunch and some genealogy tools, we found her.

Our namesake Laura was Laura Hamblet, daughter of Harry Hamblet, the money man behind the Alameda Land Company. Born in Astoria on February 22, 1895 to Harry L. and Mary A. Hamblet, the young Miss Hamblet was 14 years old when her family moved to Portland and her dad and his partners named a street after her. The Hamblets never lived in Alameda, though Laura must have always felt unusually connected to a place featuring streets with her own first and last names. The Hamblets lived in a fine large house on SE Harrison Street at 7th Avenue, which is now a parking lot.

Laura and her younger siblings Edwin and Mary (and their domestic helper, a young woman from Sweden named Anna Shalin) lived a comfortable life in their Harrison Street house. Based on the number of references to the Hamblets in the social pages of The Oregonian, Harry and Mary were successful and influential. While trying to get a sense of these people, we even ran into a photo of Laura Hamblet on the first day of riding season at the Portland Hunt Club, February 20, 1916. She was 21.

Miss Laura Hamblet. From The Oregonian, February 16, 1920.

With the first mystery solved—a question we bet hasn’t had a living answer for many years—we could move on to reading between the lines of the April 7, 1920 news story to figure out who, and why someone would want to rename Laura.

That trail led us to the City of Portland Archives and Record Center, which is a good place to find yourself if you’re out of living answers. The Oregonian reported that a petition had been raised in protest by residents of Laura Avenue, so we launched into microfilm of Public Works Department records from March and April 1920, and sure enough, there it was: a letter from Dr. Thomas Wynne Watts, resident of 874 Laura Avenue, today’s 2840 Edgehill Place (remember, Portland’s streets were renumbered in the early 1930s).

In 1920, just 10 years after Alameda was platted and before the homebuilding boom of the 1920s, Thomas and Helen Watts and their family of five were the only residents with a Laura Avenue address. Read his letter carefully:

Letter from Thomas Wynne Watts to Portland City Council, March 5, 1920. Courtesy City of Portland Archives.

So, did you catch that? Watts and his family had been ordering their groceries by phone, some of which were probably delivered by bike from Anderson’s Grocery at 24th and Fremont, which was the done thing in those days.

That fact alone got our attention, a pre-Amazon moment of local delivery. Imagine the delivery person either on a bike or in a “machine” as autos were called then, mistakenly heading off to Laurel Avenue, wondering why someone almost all the way to the top of the hill on Southwest Vista, or on a short two-block street just south of Johnson Creek near SE 60th, would be ordering groceries to be delivered from the Alameda neighborhood.

Or maybe that was just Watts’s cover story for not liking having to explain to his colleagues that he lived on Laura. Who knows. The piece in The Oregonian implies they just didn’t like the name. Did the Watts know Laura Hamblet? Possibly.

Watts was a well-known Portland dermatologist who moved to Laura Avenue in 1919, just one year before filing the petition, and moved away to southwest Portland in the early 1930s. His children—son Holbrook and daughter Hannahsue—were elementary school age at that time and must have ranged free across the empty sloping lots of Laura Avenue before houses began popping up in the mid-1920s. In a sub-current of personal tragedy that surely eclipsed the petition and renaming, the Watts four-year-old daughter Sara Margaret died in the home on March 9, 1920, four days after her father submitted the petition letter, following a short bout of influenza. A younger son, Thomas Jr., who also became a doctor, was born in the house in 1921.

Four weeks after receiving the petition from Dr. Watts, Commissioner of Public Works Asbury L. Barbur responded with this recommendation to City Council:

Courtesy City of Portland Archives

City Council agreed and on April 21, 1920 unanimously passed Ordinance 37170. Laura was out and Edgehill was in.

City Ordinance 37170, Courtesy City of Portland Archives

No explanation remains of how Watts came up with Edgehill, or other possibilities he may have considered (did he think of Holbrook, or Hannahsue, or Sara?). The topography of the street seems self-explanatory enough.

Nor is there record of how Miss Hamblet felt about the renaming. Later that year she married Fred Breske and they began their family—welcoming her own daughter Laura—and lived out their lives here in Portland. Laura Hamblet Breske died in October 1963. Did she ever come back to visit her namesake street?

Evidence of Laura Avenue is still around, stamped clearly into the curbs of Edgehill Place, reminding us of another time and a different reality.

And lest you think we planned to write about two young women whose names are cast in concrete all in the same week: nope, just an unusual confluence of research and observation.

Long live Josie and Laura.

Long live the ghost of Crane Street

Regular readers will remember our recent post about the mystery of Crane Street, that interesting short and narrow road that disappears weirdly into a fence along the eastern curb line of NE 21st Avenue, and then re-emerges briefly in vestigial pieces a few blocks east on NE 24th. It’s a fascinating story of dueling subdivision plats, activist neighbors and the redrawing of maps.

Recently, we heard from neighbors along the street who knew something interesting must have happened, but weren’t quite sure what. Here’s a note from Joel Schipper on NE 24th:

We were thrilled to see your story on Crane Street — that’s our driveway/curb in the two pictures in the blog.  We’ve seen the writing in the concrete before, and in the four years we’ve lived in this house, we’ve discovered the remaining bit of Crane street over between 19th and 21st.  But we never knew the whole story — so thank you!

As a bit of ‘extra info,’ when we moved in, we found that this driveway shared with our neighbor, was essentially useless in that neither of could drive an SUV, sedan, or truck up it without scraping on the bottom, unless we essentially went up at a 45 degree ‘sideways’ angle.  So the ‘newish’ looking concrete in the picture is our collaborative hiring of a contractor to re-contour the driveway — after how many years?  Since 1924, which would be soon after this portion of Crane Street disappeared?  Both of us then had to rebuild our side walls — ours is pictured, and we hope this Spring to cover it from the bottom up with a climbing ‘native’ plant (Yarrow?), and with a spilling native — Kinickinick is already planted.

One last tidbit … two years ago on “National Night Out” in August, we hosted a block gathering on what was billed as the “Ghost of Crane Street,” a BBQ in the wide driveway.  We had neighbors who had lived on the block nearly 30 years and had never met each other!  And most were unaware of the Crane Street “driveway.”

We think it’s so cool how history has brought these neighbors together like never before, and that the ghost of Crane Street is alive in imaginations.

Right now we’re working on the mystery of Laura Avenue, the street that disappeared from use after Elwood Wiles and Company had already set the name in stone in the grid of Alameda street names. What was all that about? Who was Laura? Who suggested Edgehill?

Inquiring minds want to know.

The mystery of Crane Street

On a recent walk, we encountered some buried Northeast Portland history that demanded investigation and made us think of a scene from an old movie.

Do you remember that last shot at the end of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes when a distraught, time-traveling Charlton Heston collapses to the beach as the camera pans back and in the distance we see the top of the Statue of Liberty, half-buried, sticking up through the sand revealing the beachy landscape he was riding across was actually the middle of New York Harbor? Kind of like that, but not really. We did not fall to the ground.

In this case, sticking out of the pavement and sidewalk in an otherwise normal neighborhood block were remnant clues to a stretch of street that no longer exists: NE Crane Street where it once passed through the southwest corner of the Alameda Park subdivision. It was called East Crane Street before Portland’s Great Renumbering created the four quarters of the city we’re familiar with today. Take a look at what we found:

Clues to what once was. Curb corners mid-block on NE 24th Avenue where Crane Street used to pass through. Today, the former street is occupied by houses, garages and driveways like the one shown here. Looking north on the west side of the street.

 

Cast into the this corner curb now marooned mid-block is a barely visible “CRANE ST.” Today, the nearest part of Crane Street is three blocks west.

Today, Crane Street makes a short run from NE 19th to NE 21st, but it used to go all the way through to 24th. It’s always been a narrow street, a bit wider than an alley, but not much. Go check it out, and then walk NE 22nd, 23rd and 24th and look hard along the alignment of where Crane used to go, you can see clues to its past: fully formed curb corners that are now driveways. CRANE ST. stamped into the abandoned curb at mid-block. Even the crown of now-gone Crane Street—the gentle sloping away from centerline—can be seen on NE 24th where Crane used to intersect.

When we found those clues, we had to know more, so we visited our favorite source of official documents: City of Portland Archives. From official records—ordinances about renaming and street abandonment (a process called “vacation”), and petitions from neighbors—we were able to piece together an understanding of Crane Street.

First, let’s remember—from our earlier exploration of what we’ve dubbed the Prescott Jog—how strange things can happen when adjacent development plats filed at different times by different developers bump into each other. This unique little stretch of Crane Street exists at the junction of four plats, each filed by a different developer at a different time: Hillside, 1894; Vernon 1903; Alameda Park, 1909; George Place, 1910. (Check out our collection of local plats that might be of interest.)

It’s probably also worth noting the topography here: this is the edge of Alameda Ridge where other streets have a hard time getting off the hill: NE 21st zigs and zags and feels like an alley as it tries to find the crest of the ridge before becoming a real street and heading downhill to the south. Mason doesn’t even bother going through: it turns into a footpath through the former orchard on the slope of the ridge. And NE 19th is impassable: it gets stuck in a cul-de-sac where it gives up and becomes a flight of stairs.

This detail of the Vernon plat shows it all. Crane Street (once named Mason) appears at the bottom of the map, with detailed notations of a name change and two “vacations” or street closures and abandonments. Click to enlarge. Yes, this is part of the Vernon plat, though the city thinks of this area as Alameda. Read more about the difference between plat names and neighborhood names.

The Hillside plat of 1894 locked a single slice of Mason Street onto the map that other developers tried to line up with in the following years. In 1903 when the Vernon subdivision was carved from the surrounding forests and fields, Crane Street first appeared as Mason Street, trying hard to line up with the short stretch of existing Mason Street in Hillside and the Mason Street further west in an existing plat called Irvington Heights. Because the new Mason and the old Mason were so far out of alignment, local residents at this very south edge of Vernon petitioned the city in 1909 to just change the name of the street (which was still gravel) from Mason to Crane in an attempt to reduce confusion. When Alameda Park came along a few months later, the newly re-christened Mason became the chosen alignment for the Mason Street we know today.

Eugene Snyder, Portland’s leading authority on street naming, suggests the Crane namesake may have been either George Crane, an agent for Equitable Life Assurance Co., or Samuel Crane, agent for New York Life Insurance Co. We couldn’t find any logical connection to the area for these two Cranes, or any other Crane for that matter.

In 1921, a majority of property owners along East Crane asked City Council to vacate the stretch of Crane between NE 22nd and NE 24th. Along with the citizen voices was a strong letter of recommendation from Commissioner of Public Works A.L. Barbur, explaining: “this portion of Crane street is slightly less than 28 feet in width and does not in any manner form a ‘through’ street which can be rendered useful for general traffic.” Council unanimously approved the request on August 31, 1921. Soon after, the property formerly known as Crane Street between 22nd and 24th was purchased from the city, added to the Vernon plat as new lots, and homes were built. The left-over stretch of Crane between 19th and 22nd was still gravel.

In July 1930 another group of neighbors brought a petition to vacate their own stretch of Crane between NE 21st and NE 22nd, and another recommendation letter from Commissioner Barbur: “This portion is not improved and its vacation will in no wise affect the remaining area of the street, which connects with East 21st street on the east, thus affording a connection to the streets to the south. The property in this vicinity is all in residential usage and the proposed vacation will not be detrimental to the value of the surrounding property.”

A page from the petition signed by neighbors in 1930 to vacate East Crane Street between 21st and 22nd. Courtesy City of Portland Archives.

Council unanimously approved the request on October 15, 1930, and that property was purchased, replatted and built.

Today, five houses sit at least partially in the middle of those two vacated stretches of the former East Crane Street between 21st and 24th, made possible by the involvement of neighbors trying hard over 20 years to enforce order on a jumbled (and frankly bumbled) set of plats symptomatic of Portland’s chaotic early planning history.

Makes us wonder if maybe today’s Crane Street neighbors between 19th and 21st ought to get together for a block party to have a chat. Someone send for Commissioner Barbur…

Alameda sewer geek-out

We’ve been spending some time at the City of Portland Archives lately, which is something we recommend. The staff there are always helpful, knowledgeable, patient and friendly too. One of the nice things about visiting is that you might run into something you didn’t know you needed to know, and that might just amaze you when you really think about it. Like this:

Courtesy City of Portland Archives file AP/25016, January 5, 1934.

The same view, looking north on NE 24th at Alameda, in December 2017.

On a recent visit, we bumped into some old city documents and photographs that provide a major archival document and engineering geek-out for us and possibly for one or two AH other readers: 110-year-old sewer plans for Alameda and repair photos from the 1930s.

OK, we know this isn’t going to interest everyone, but the drawings below pertain to the very earliest construction activity in our neighborhood. When you really look at them—and realize this universe of sloping interconnected pipes was carefully thought up and then dug deep into the ground and placed by hand—you have to appreciate the early planners and builders. Have a look (click to enlarge) and then we’ll analyze what we see.

Courtesy City of Portland Archives, record number M/13197.

What we’re looking at here are elevation drawings that show a cross-section of Alameda streets and slopes and how the sewer system relates to the grid above the surface. The measurement between the dashed line (which is ground level shown as feet above sea level, 243′ at the top of the ridge) and pipe placement shows how deep these pipes are. Pretty deep in some places. The red numbers indicate the number of feet between the indicated junctions. The percentage numbers indicate the slope of each line (up to 22 percent slope coming off the ridge). The whole idea here is to have positive drainage through the entire system (thank you, gravity). The label “SP” indicates the diameter of the pipe used. Pipe dimensions start smaller to the north and get larger as the sewers run south, a function of the growing number of connections into the main line as the sewers head for the main trunk collector sewer which is under Sullivan’s Gulch. There are many nuances to be seen here. Interested in learning more about the history of sewers (not a question that gets asked very often, I’d say)? I’ve probably lost you by here, but just in case, check this out.

This sewer system was one of the first construction items completed when Alameda was built. Grading for the streets, curbs and sidewalk construction followed. If you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Elwood Wiles” stamp on our sidewalks and wondered who he was, check out this earlier post. Among many other things, Wiles was a former Alameda resident (maybe you’ve walked by his house on Bryce just east of Regents).

Evidently, aside from the engineering challenge of getting sewage safely and predictably down from Alameda Ridge, construction of that first sewer system posed financial and legal challenges as well. The Alameda Land Company wanted to be able to hook its sewer system into the existing Irvington sewer system, which made sense since it was all downhill on its way to Sullivan’s Gulch (where today’s I-84 runs) which was home to the major sewer line that drained into the Willamette River. (Read more about how the eastside gulches drained sewage directly into the Willamette River and were eventually filled in. But that’s a different topic…let’s stay on track here).

Irvington and Alameda were in competition for real estate sales and there was no love lost between the two development companies. Irvington was not about to foot the bill for construction of a sewer system just to have it be used for free by neighbors up the hill. A restraining order was filed by Irvington against the Alameda Land Company in 1910 and eventually the city had to step in and referee exactly how system development charges were going to be apportioned. Ultimately, Alamedans paid for construction of their own sewer system, a portion of the costs for their sewer that drained into Irvington, and their share of the costs when the city constructed the main collector sewer in Sullivan’s Gulch in 1911. Interesting to note that over the years the usually friendly Irvington-Alameda rivalry took on a life of its own beyond sewer lawsuits, which you can read more about here and here.

During our recent visit to City Archives we also learned that Alameda’s sewer system did not stand the test of time. Things started falling apart in the 1930s. We came across photos and an engineering report from 1934 that details the very expensive reconstruction of more than 1,700 feet of sewer all along NE 24th from north of Prescott to south of Alameda. Here’s another view of that work, looking north on 24th. The house near the center of the frame is on the northwest corner of 24th and Prescott.

Courtesy City of Portland Archives, file AP/20614, January 5, 1934.

Similar view in December 2017

This was a costly job: $13,622.57 which employed a small army of 48 laborers for two months and required trenching in some places 30 feet below the surface of the street. The construction report placed blame for the work squarely on methods used by the Alameda Land Company when they were hurrying their system into the ground back in 1911:

City of Portland Civil Works Administration Report 35-26W-76, March 20, 1934.

Back in 1911, using the drawings referenced here, workers dug deep trenches under what would become Alameda’s streets. At the bottom of these trenches, they used heavy wooden timbers to build long three-sided “box tunnels” without tops. Into these continuous long narrow boxes they placed fill dirt and sewer pipe. Using this common method, they were supposed to completely fill around the pipe with sand and dirt then close off the top of the box with a heavy wood cover before filling the trenches back in to street level. But that didn’t happen.

Eventually the unsupported weight of sand and gravel settling in from above crushed the box and the sewer pipe. The surface of NE 24th also dropped as all the soil below street level began to work its way lower and lower into the collapsed box tunnel. The result: a cave-in at the surface of the street, crushed sewer pipes below and one heck of an expensive mess.

Fortunately, for City Engineer L.G. Apperson, the city had the original drawings on hand and knew where to start looking to solve the problem.

Never underestimate the value of a good archive!

Timothy Curry-Stevens: Bringing lost wood back to life

If you’ve been following along with us here on AH for a while, you know the demolition of neighborhood houses has been a sad theme. We’ve struggled to come to terms with the loss of homes we’ve known and that have been part of the fabric of the neighborhood for a century.

Timothy Curry-Stevens

Alameda resident Timothy Curry-Stevens reuses old wood from neighborhood demolitions to create beautiful furniture, which he donates to local charities.

This week, we came across a silver lining in the person of Alameda resident Timothy Curry-Stevens. He’s a furniture maker with a carpentry shop in his garage and an unending supply of old and beautiful wood retrieved from neighborhood tear downs.

Timothy translates demo wreckage into functional and beautiful furniture he donates to worthy causes like the Community Warehouse, Catholic Charities and the Refugee Resettlement project. His carpentry helps make sure refugee and low-income families have a kitchen table to gather around, and benches for family members to pull up to the table.

Table, bench and shelves

He has repurposed ceiling joists, stair treads, shiplap, skip sheathing and just about every kind of wood that comes out of an old house, transforming it all into beautiful table tops and sturdy legs. He’s become expert at nail pulling, hole filling, gluing, trimming and finishing the beautiful old wood. Tight-grained wood from old-growth Douglas-fir trees built this neighborhood in the last century and when Timothy gets his hands on it, he releases the natural glow and grain.

Small dining tables built from salvaged wood

Timothy Curry-Stevens built these two tables with wood from a 1925 bungalow that was demolished in January at 31st and Siskiyou. He donates his furniture to a local charity.

His most recent project (two small dining room tables) came from the early January tear down just around the corner from him at the corner of 31st and Siskiyou. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the 1925 house was being torn down, and was dreading it. He had seen other demolitions where the materials were broken, splintered and piled high before being hauled off in dump trucks. So Timothy tracked down the company doing the demo and asked the excavator operator if he would be willing to set aside some of the old wood. He was happily surprised by the willing response.

“I met him the day they started,” he recalls. “Over that day and the next he set out for me to lug home 36 2×8 joists from the first floor ceiling, 10, 12, and 14 feet long, plus lots of other assorted boards. Took me a week to get all the nails pulled!”

Once the nails were pulled, Timothy sawed the boards to meet his needs, glued the pieces together to create a laminated top, carefully manufactured the legs and assembled all the pieces. In less than a month, day by day, Timothy transformed the wood from wreckage to furniture.

Originally from Massachusetts, Timothy didn’t grow up around any natural carpenters. It wasn’t until working on a wildfire crew in central Idaho as a young man that he gained experience with carpentry—fixing wood trim on the fire crew buildings and moving a barn—that he found he really enjoyed working wood with his hands.

Timothy’s retired now, and one of the things that gives great meaning to the pace and feel of his days is working with this wood. He’s converted a garage into a woodshop with table saw, tools, work bench and a woodstove. A nice place to spend time. Half of the garage holds salvaged wood and at the moment it’s pretty full.

Timothy is humble about his work: it’s just his way of having purpose and mission while giving back and making something good from loss. Thank you Timothy.
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More History of Snow

In honor of the recent heavy snowfall here in Portland (about 13 inches here at our house so far, with up to five more inches on the way), we’re going to reprise and slightly update one of our favorite posts from the AH blog archive, “A History of Snow,” written in December 2008 after Portland received more than a foot of snow. Yes, we have a lot of snow on the ground at the moment, but for perspective, 67 years ago on this date, Portland was in the process of receiving 44 inches of snow, one of its heaviest snowfalls in recorded history. Enjoy this look back as we celebrate how a heavy snowfall is timeless and brings quiet to the neighborhood.

DD

———

Winter 1936

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason.

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason. Click for a larger size image.

Winter 2008

Winter 2008. Looking north on Northeast 30th toward Mason.

Winter 2008, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason. Click for a larger size image.

 

Winter 2017

january-2017-snowstorm

Winter 2017, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason.

 

December 23, 2008–There’s a great Billy Collins poem called “A History of Weather” that I’ve been thinking about all week. We’ve had a lot of snow here in Portland, not record-breaking, but still more than anyone has seen around these parts for 40 years. Right now we have about 15 inches on the ground and the city has been at a virtual stop for the last couple days. We started to thaw today, but another 4-8 inches of snow are in the forecast for the next couple days.

In the poem, Collins creates a funny, wistful elegy for atmospheres of the past, and contemplates weather as a common human bond across the ages. Contemplating what a weather history poem should include, Collins writes, “There will be a section on the frozen nights of antiquity…” I’ve been thinking about the frozen days and nights of the past, the transforming quiet and joy visited on the kids of this street and neighborhood over the years.

So after shoveling the front walk yesterday, I dug into my Alameda archive and found a picture taken a few doors south of my house in 1936, the year Portland received about 35 inches of snow. The photo has been passed down to me by the family of the little boy who grew up here in the teens and twenties. He was fledged by 1936 (family members were in the house til the late 1950s), but the photo stayed in his family because it depicted remarkable conditions.

Being obsessed with lining up past and present for clues, I prowled around this morning hunting — camera in one hand, old photo in the other — for the original photographer’s footprints, which are not entirely available today due to some landscaping changes down the block.

The big house on the corner (white in 1936, blue today) is the Copenhagen House, built in 1912 by the family of Les Copenhagen. Today’s big beech in the sideyard is just a start of a tree in 1936. Power poles have thinned out a bit, though still an eyesore. The gable end of the house facing the camera up the block can be seen in both images. A little closer in, if you squint at the 1936 image, you can see Walter Morrison out shoveling the front walk of my house. Farther up the block and across the street, today’s yellow Dutch colonial was just a vacant lot. Other vacant lots allow a view off into the distance.

Families in 1936 probably took pictures of their unusual winter weather event, just like we have this week. Unfortunately, most of those images are lost to time. We’re lucky to have this one, 71 years old. Makes you think about the pictures you take, the pictures you save, the pictures you decide to throw. I’m always on the lookout for old pictures of Alameda…

To cap off this entry about the history of snow, thought I’d share a very interesting info-graphic from The Oregonian today that clearly indicates that our predecessors knew a lot more about snow than we do. Check it out:

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08. Click for a larger size image.

 

Some notable observations from this 2017 storm:

  1. NE 33rd Avenue is closed up Gravelly Hill (from Knott to Fremont).
  2. Deadman’s Hill is jammed with skiers, snowboarders and sledders of all ages.
  3. Pretty much everything official is closed and the city is requiring chains on all Portland streets.
  4. 33,000 PGE customers are without power.

What’s your snow story today?

It’s Snowing on Deadman’s Hill

Whenever it snows, Alamedans of a certain age and desire for adventure turn to Deadman’s Hill at the top of Stuart Drive for some enjoyable downhill adventure. It’s also a reasonable time for us to remind ourselves of the dead man for whom our hill is anonymously named.

6-6-1917 Fred Jacobs PhotoFred Jacobs. The dead man behind Deadman’s Hill. From The Oregonian, June 6, 1917.

He was Fred Jacobs and his tragic death at the foot of the hill on a sunny June morning in 1917 sent shock waves through Portland’s social and real estate communities, as well as the Alameda neighborhood.

You can read our full story behind Deadman’s Hill on this earlier AH Blog post.

While you’re at it, you might check out a post we did on historic snowfall a few years back.

Stay safe out there!

Alameda-Irvington rivalry produces memorable 1920 baseball game

This is a story about neighborhoods and about baseball. About community spirit, pride and rivalry. About fundraising. And about fun.

It’s Spring 1920 in Alameda: our recently platted neighborhood is still growing here on Gravelly Hill, streets not long paved, at least a third of the landscape consisting of vacant unbuilt lots. A new streetcar line carries Alamedans across the recently constructed Broadway Bridge.

6-4-1920 Baseball Rivalry

Detail from a story in the June 4, 1920 edition of The Oregonian.

Not quite summer, baseball fever grips Portland, where our Pacific Coast League home team, the Portland Beavers, is hosting visiting teams at Vaughn Street Park, a 12,000-seat grandstand that occupied several square blocks in Northwest Portland from 1901-1955.

Here in the neighborhood, kids of all ages are out on vacant lots playing ball. Which leads to inspiration for Alameda and Irvington moms and dads raising funds to do good works under the auspices of the Irvington Club: a Saturday afternoon baseball fundraiser, pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, at Multnomah field, today’s Providence Park (also known as Civic Stadium).

A series of articles in The Oregonian in May and June 1920 tells the story of a friendly neighborhood rivalry and a love for the game, in the tongue-firmly-in-cheek writing style visible in newspapers of the 1920s—a slightly over the top, sarcastic-ironic flavor of feigned bravado—that says “this is all in fun, we’re just playing it up.”

Let’s start at the top:

The May 27, 1920 edition of The Oregonian features the headline “ALAMEDA GANG GETS SET; Plans to humble Irvington being made,” calling for practice sessions on the old Alameda School grounds, which at the time was a collection of five temporary buildings at the edge of a dairy pasture on Fremont near where today’s school stands.

“The material for the team includes some 25 prominent residents of Alameda who have already signified their desire to return once more to their schoolboy days. It is desired, however, to have as strong a team as possible and Skipper Bale has invited all the neighbors of the Alameda district to turn out.”

By June 4, 1920 interest was building, and a photograph of the two opposing pitchers appeared in the front of the paper. The reporter was having fun with the story, referring to the pitchers as mound artists, flingers, chuckers and twirlers. The teams were forming, made up of neighborhood men in their 40s and 50s, a few of which had baseball or some form of athletics in their past.

6-5-1920 Baseball Hype

From The Oregonian, June 4, 1920. Um, interesting lingo from the 1920s…

As the week progressed, more stories appeared, bragging on the former baseball greatness of a few players and the extended age and questionable physical condition of others. Anticipation was amping up in the neighborhood and ticket sales were strong for the “greatest baseball fundraiser of all time.”

The final result, announced in the June 6, 1920 edition of The Oregonian:

      IRVINGTON BEATS ALAMEDA

“In a game that went 10 innings before a winner was decided, Irvington nosed out Alameda Park yesterday afternoon on Multnomah field by a score of 4-3. The players surprised even themselves by the brand of ball which they put up.”

Two days later, the story was still in the news as the untallied proceeds were being counted on behalf of the Irvington Club, and the neighborhood “elders” recovered their form:

      STARS REGAINING TONE

“The ball players of Irvington and Alameda Park who participated in the big benefit game on Multnomah field last Saturday afternoon are slowly recovering from their ‘charley horses,’ strains, bruises and ‘knocking cylinders.’”

“The baseball fans who journeyed out to Multnomah field last Saturday were treated to a real session of the national pastime and had much more enjoyment than if they had gone out to Vaughn street park and watched Salt Lake trim Portland.”

A thinly veiled reference to the Beaver’s near last place finishes in the Pacific Coast League of the early 1920s.

No final fundraising tally was ever printed, but for a few weeks in the spring of 1920, baseball and a friendly neighborhood rivalry gave people something to talk about.

“House of No Value” ~ 2933 NE Skidmore: The Next Alameda Tear-Down?

9-11 1921 Detail of 915 Skidmore (NE Corner of 30th)

A photo from The Oregonian, September 11, 1921. Built by the Wickman Building Company for the George A. Kettleberg family at a cost of $4,500.

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January 30, 2016

We were disappointed to read the language of a recent real estate advertisement for the 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the northwest corner of NE 30th and Skidmore.

The 50 x 100 corner lot was recently legally partitioned into two 50 x 50 lots and an allowance made for two houses on what has been (and still is for the moment) a single lot. (Read more about the practice of “lot splitting” and the demolition trend here). Among other things, the ad called out to builders and investors and made it clear this was a tear-down in waiting:

“House of no value. Value in land only.”

This week, the listing broker amended the ad noting that the seller would be willing to consider selling the house as is instead of tearing it down. This is good news. The price moved a bit too in the right direction: now asking $599,900. Last week’s language of “house of no value” was changed this week to this:

“Instant equity with this fixer; hardwood floors; classic floor plan; Seller willing to try conventional financing for full price offer – seller to do no repairs. Or Tear Down and Build 2 new houses! Approved for attached houses!”

AH readers know that old houses do indeed have value, and a multi-layered history that makes them unique and important. Yes, we know that all things (including houses and buildings) do have a life cycle, and that taking care of any older home is an investment. We haven’t had a chance to look around inside the house yet, but old-house-savvy people we respect have and report that yes indeed, it is a fixer with its share of deferred maintenance. But, the bones are solid, and they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Know anyone who’s looking for a bargain of an old house, wants to stem the tide of tear downs, and has a fixer upper in them? Time to make that call.

We’ll volunteer to do a full house history study as moral support for any successful fixer-upper purchaser…

Extra note: below is a screenshot from a faithful AH reader that shows a Google Maps street view image of the property from 2011. Our helpful reader reminds us that it’s possible to turn back street view time to see how this property has aged over the last few years. Try it yourself by searching the address and going to Google Maps street view, then drag the timeline bar back and forth to look for changes. Thanks John!

Skidmore House

Another Alameda tear-down: NE 24th and Regents

The 1946 ranch-style home at NE 24th and Regents is no more. Out on a walk today, here is what we observed:

2410 NE 24th Front Steps

Above, what it used to look like, a photo borrowed from the online listing.

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Here’s the same view today.

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Looking north toward Alameda Ridge.

We’ve been watching this house for the last several months, having read in the neighborhood newsletter that it had been slated for demolition and that multiple houses were going to be built back in its place. As we stood on the corner taking in the change, almost every passerby stopped to roll down their window and look. Many took pictures. Everyone seemed surprised, and not in a good way.

The real estate listing said this of the home:

Stunningly updated Alameda Mid-Century modern. This rare one-level home, on a double corner lot, boasts high-end appliances, central air, heated floors, two fireplaces and a zen-like garden retreat with a tea-house and hot tub.

We suppose cashing in on the value of the double lot eclipsed the value of the “rare one-level home.”

We’ve written about the demolition trend here on AH in the past when it has changed the face of the neighborhood. To read more about how demolitions are changing neighborhoods across Portland—and to track them on an interesting map—check out Restore Oregon, which is hard at work to advocate for protections, alternatives and education.

There’s another house we’ve been watching—a 1921 Craftsman bungalow on the northwest corner of Skidmore and 30th that has been vacant for a while. This fall, the Alameda Newsletter reported that it was also a candidate for tear-down.

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2933 NE Skidmore, built in 1921.

In fact, here’s text from that listing:

Builders! Investors! 50×50 lot in desirable Alameda neighborhood. Land division has been approved for an attached home by the City of Portland. Build attached house on each lot in one of Portland’s A+ neighborhoods! Buyer to do due diligence. House of no value. Value in Land only.

Did you catch that sentence: “House of no value.”

Really?

Did you catch the rest of the ad: this property has gone from one 50 x 100 corner lot to two 50 x 50 lots, approved by the city, and it must host an attached home (row house or duplex). Have a look at the attached home/duplex being built on NE 32nd between Sumner and Emerson (or worse, the one being built on NE 30th between Killingsworth and Jarrett) for a taste of what might be coming our way.

2933 NE Skidmore will likely be the next Alameda tear down. More on that house next.

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