Figuring out the Ainsworth long block

While walking in the neighborhood—the best way to observe history in action—we’ve wondered about the very long block between Ainsworth and Simpson, bounded by NE 33rd and NE 37th. Maybe you’ve wondered too: the north-south streets of 34th, 35th and 36th don’t go through, leaving unusually deep and narrow lots. These kinds of things—like the strange zig-zag on Prescott we call the Prescott Street Jog—make us ask: What’s the story behind that?

Here, take a look. It’s the block just west of Fernhill Park:

That’s one long block. A Google image looking northwest at the long block (outlined in green). Note that none of the numbered cross streets, from 33rd to 37th, cross this long block. How come?

The long, narrow configuration of this block stems from decisions made more than 100 years ago by John D. Kennedy, the man who once owned much of the property between Killingsworth, Ainsworth, NE 33rd and NE 42nd, and for whom Kennedy School was named.

We met John D. Kennedy in our recent post about his 1929 zone change petition to turn nearby residential land at 33rd and Killingsworth into commercial property.

Born in County Limerick, Ireland in 1852, Kennedy immigrated to Oregon in 1866, finding his way to Baker City where he worked in and then owned a dry goods store. After coming to Portland about 1881, Kennedy bought this property—then outside the city limits and far from anything that even looked like development—which was originally part of the 1855 Isaac Rennison Donation Land Claim.

John D. Kennedy, about 1920. Photo originally from the Ryerson Collection, borrowed here from McMenamin’s Kennedy School.

Kennedy was an early-in speculator, perhaps 15 years ahead of his time and the market. Northeast Portland’s ripeness for real estate didn’t really take place until the years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition when it seemed anyone who could was buying property or building houses.

But Kennedy had platted these lands as the Kennedy Addition back in 1890, a grid of 15 square blocks with more than 200 lots. Here’s his original plat:

 

Kennedy Addition plat filed with the Multnomah County Surveyor’s Office, 1890. The grid survived, even if the street names didn’t. Translation: County Road = NE 33rd; Cleveland Street = NE 34th; Harrison Street = NE 35th; Morton Street (which was built as Marguerite Avenue)= NE 35th Place; Thurman Street = NE 36th; Blaine Street = NE 37th Avenue; Cypress Avenue = Jessup Street; Myrtle Avenue = Simpson Street. Barkholtz was an inholding property owner who wasn’t Kennedy but who went along with the plat. Interesting to note that in later years, that is the one area of the long block where a cul de sac was built.

Two years later in 1892, he platted Kennedy’s Second Addition, adjacent to the east, with more street names that didn’t make it to today (Morrow, Gilliam, Hughes and Francis). His Second Addition contained plans for another 120 homes. Speculators filed several other nearby plats about that time, including Foxchase, Irvington Park, the Willamette Addition and Railroad Heights, but they were also just lines on paper. There was no market yet for residential development.

In 1906, Kennedy filed a petition with the city to “vacate” five of the blocks in his addition. The process of vacation officially eliminates platted streets (even if they don’t yet exist), and the 1906 action—approved by City Council in ordinances 15761 and 15762—essentially erased all of the north-south streets (then called Cleveland, Harrison, Morton, Thurman and Blaine, see above) in the block between Ainsworth and Simpson, from 33rd east to 37th.

 

From The Oregonian, May 10, 1906

Kennedy’s stated rationale was to sell the larger chunk of land as acreage for farm fields, which is what surrounded his property at the time. It seems he was eager to sell the property and was essentially repackaging it for what was at that moment the most active part of the market (even though Northeast Portland was on the cusp of a homebuilding explosion). Not long after the City Council action, Kennedy did just that:

Classified advertisement for the vacated property, from The Oregonian, October 21, 1906

In the years that followed as urbanization spread, neighborhoods were built to the north, south and west, and Kennedy’s smart and early real estate speculation paid off. But the 12-acre parcel, with no north-south through streets due to his 1906 decision to vacate streets from the property, stayed as one big block in farm use.

After Portland voters passed a $500,000 park acquisition bond measure in 1919, Kennedy courted the city with the long block tract—a perfect park size at 12 acres—suggesting it would make a great place for playgrounds, picnic tables and ball diamonds. This was long before Fernhill Park or Wilshire Park (which have their own interesting stories well worth reading), and concurrent with consideration of Alberta Park, which was ultimately selected over Kennedy’s tract for purchase and development. Think about that: what if today’s Alberta Park had become neighborhood streets as planned, and Kennedy’s long block was a park? Hmm.

Here’s an aerial photo of the area from 1936 that shows the long block with a few homes, the oldest dating back to 1909…purchased from Kennedy after the 1906 ordinance passed creating the 12-acre parcel. One home, on the Simpson Street side, actually pre-dates Kennedy’s 1890 plat.

Detail of 1936 aerial photo. Courtesy of University of Oregon Map & Aerial Photography Library.

Kennedy died in December 1936. In 1938, the property was controlled by Ward D. Cook, a Portland insurance and real estate agent, who designated 80 lots on the long block ready for construction. It wasn’t until after World War II when the market truly picked up, and most of the houses were built and sold between 1940 and 1950. Here’s a glimpse from 1951 that shows the property fully built out:

Detail of 1951 aerial photo. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

So there you have it: In the original Kennedy’s Addition plat, that one long block was going to be five blocks. But then Kennedy did away with the blocks to better sell the property. The market came and went and came back again. Then another speculator saw opportunity and turned the island of farm into the more than 50 lots there today, most of them a very long and narrow quarter-acre each.

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.

Mothers Against Alberta Pool Halls

During our recent research adventures on Alberta Street, we bumped into some stories about the perceived corrupting influence of pool halls, and the advocacy of local mothers. We were wandering around in newspapers from the 19-teens as we sought insights about Ford’s Pool Hall at NE 17th and Alberta. As it turns out, there were several pool halls along with all the other businesses on Alberta and local mothers were not happy about it.

We know the Fords got out of the pool hall business entirely in 1917. Maybe they saw the writing on the wall.

Classified ad from the Oregon Journal, June 28, 1917. George and Sylvia Ford were selling their pool hall business.

 

By the early 1920s, mothers of the Alberta area were concerned and brought their protests to City Hall.

From The Oregonian, January 27, 1921. The building at 212 Alberta has been demolished.

 

From The Oregonian, February 12, 1921. This pool hall was in located at 2038 NE Alberta, the building now occupied by Little Big Burger. Think about that the next time you drop by for a chèvre burger and fries…

Reading these two news stories, it’s hard to know what is most striking, the patronizing nature of the officials toward the obviously concerned mothers making the complaint, the admirable boldness of the women bringing their concerns directly into City Hall, or the notion that spending time in a pool hall would lead to the corruption of youth.

 

More adventures on early Alberta | The Gabel family bakeries

This week our full attention has been drawn to learning more about the area around NE 17th and Alberta during the period of the 19-teens, sparked by our hunt for Ford’s Pool Hall pictured in a recent vintage photo. But we’ve come across another photo and more about that block and the people who knew it during those years.

In our reconstruction of that part of the neighborhood from old directories and documents, we mentioned the presence of Gabel & Son Bakery next door to the east at 662 Alberta, that’s the building occupied today by Earl’s Barbershop and Bunny with a Toolbelt’s Window of Wonders. This week, we came upon this next photo that has stories to tell. It’s another sharp and beautiful shot that you’re going to want to have a good look at, so click to enlarge and soak it in (with thanks to Norm Gholston):

At the back of Gabel & Son Bakery, formerly 662 Alberta, today’s 1726 NE Alberta, about 1909. Click to enlarge. Used by permission of the Gholston Collection.

That pile of wood fired the bakery’s ovens. Looks to us like the shed-roofed enclosure on the side wall of the pool hall may have been a woodshed (see the ax just inside the door leaning up against the wall?). Did those white bags on the ground contain flour? See the damper control rod coming up through the other shed roof under the stairs connecting to the stovepipe to manage oven heat? How about the exposed knob and tube wiring bringing power to both buildings.

The more we’ve looked at and thought about this photograph—and have done some digging—we realized it shows the backside of that block of buildings. That means the one-story clapboard building with the two square windows, behind the wagon, is Ford’s Pool Hall, and the building with the stairs going up to the second floor apartment housed Gabel & Son Bakery, today’s Earl’s Barbershop.

So let’s plot that on an old Sanborn map, like this:

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 550, 1924.

Here’s a contemporary view of that same scene in just about the same place. We looked closely: not many clues about the former one-story pool hall, or really anything prior to the major remodeling done on these buildings in recent years.

Behind 1726 NE Alberta, about the same view as the early Gabel & Son Bakery delivery wagon photo. November 2018.

This great old photo made us wonder other things too, like who were Gabel and his sons? Who lived upstairs “we live up here.” What happened to the pool hall part of the building? AH readers know we like questions like these.

Gabel was George A. Gabel, born in Germany in 1845. He and his wife Mary and their five children came to Portland from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the early 1900s. He was a shoemaker by trade, but also ran a small farm with the help of sons George Jr., and Henry.  When they came to Portland the family established the Gabel & Sons Bakery which operated at 662 Alberta (1726 NE Alberta) from 1909 til about 1916 when George Sr. opened a shoe repair business just up the street. Son Henry took over the bakery business, opening a popular lunch spot at NE 15th and Alberta called the Queen Bakery and Lunch, which was a one-story old frame shopfront that occupied the space that is currently the parking lot just east of today’s Alberta Food Co-op. More on that in a moment.

The Gabel clan lived two blocks north in a big four-square on NE 16th Avenue, but son Henry, who was 27 in 1910, with wife Nellie and young son Clyde, were out on their own living at 662 ½ Alberta, which was the apartment upstairs from the bakery. That must be Henry or Nellie’s handwriting on the photo: we live up here.

As we learned more about the Gabels, we wondered could the “muffin man” in the pool hall picture standing next to George Ford—the older gent with goatee, cap and bowtie—be George Gabel? In 1909 he was 64 years old. Possible. For that matter, the young man standing behind might be his son Henry, or maybe Albert.

Detail from Ford Pool Hall photo. Is this George Gabel and his son? Our hunch is yes.

The Gabels were well-known and reputable business people and the family was connected with the Alberta Street area well into the 1950s (Henry retired in 1953). But most people of that generation would probably remember the family for actions of middle son Albert F. Gabel. This is where the story gets a bit sinister, and we realize we’re going down the rabbit hole a bit chasing this, but it is interesting and allowed us to turn up another photo of this section of Alberta Street, so bear with us.

Albert drove a bakery delivery wagon for his father and his brother Henry, perhaps the wagon pictured here. In January 1916 Albert, then age 24, was involved in what investigators determined was an accidental shooting of his girlfriend, Minnie Lee. It’s a long, sad story that we won’t go into except to say that Albert had become obsessed with Minnie—who at that time was separated from her husband. During what Albert described as horseplay, a rifle discharged, the bullet striking and killing Minnie. Initial news reports (and Minnie’s family) called it murder, but the DA backed off to a charge of involuntary manslaughter on the basis of evidence, and Albert was set free on bond to await trial and went back to driving the bakery delivery wagon. By 1916, brother Henry had opened Queen Bakery and Lunch up the street with his business partner Warner Illk, 622 East Alberta (remember, this is before the Great Renumbering). We’ve pointed out the Queen above at the far left of the Sanborn map detail.

In September 1916, Minnie’s widowed husband Jesse L. Lee, who had been living temporarily in Canada, came to Portland to settle the score, tracking down Albert on the afternoon of September 14th where he was sitting on the front steps of the Queen reading a newspaper and waiting for his next delivery. Jesse Lee walked up, asked Albert “Do you know who I am? Well, I’m Mr. Lee,” then fired two blasts from a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun directly at Albert. The blasts hit Albert in the arm and shoulder, shattered the glass at the bakery, wounded a nearby schoolboy, and terrorized all of Alberta Street. Lee surrendered moments later without incident in a vacant lot at 15th and Wygant, pleased with himself for finally avenging his wife’s death, but disappointed to learn hear he hadn’t killed Albert Gabel.

Because this story had so many sensational ingredients, The Oregonian put it all over the front page of the next morning’s edition (it was too late to make the Oregon Journal, which was an afternoon paper). The next day, the Journal ran this photo, showing the late Minnie, Albert, and the front of the Queen Bakery and Lunch, with a white cross applied to the photo in the lower center showing exactly where Albert was sitting when Lee fired upon him.

From the Oregon Journal, September 15, 1916

It’s a bit grainy due to microfilming, but you can get an idea for scale. The two one-story storefronts are now gone and the barber pole to the right marks the eastern edge of the brick building that now contains the Alberta Co-op Grocery, 1500 NE Alberta.

You’re curious about what happened with Albert and Jesse:

  • Jesse was convicted of assault with intent to kill, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to being banished from Oregon for 10 years (which seems a curiously light sentence for the crime). He moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a mechanic for several years before his death in 1921.
  • Albert was sentenced too, up to 15 years for involuntary manslaughter, to which he pleaded guilty. He was immediately paroled to the custody of his sister Bertha Gardner on the condition he repay the state $50 for bringing a witness to Oregon for the trial (another light sentence). Albert recovered, though he lost part of his left arm below the elbow. He helped out around the bakery briefly before going into life insurance sales. In the mid 1930s he married and moved to San Luis Obispo, California where he worked as an undertaker’s assistant. In the 1940s, he and wife June moved back to Portland where he worked on the maintenance staff at the Bonneville Power Administration building at Lloyd Center. He died in Portland on April 28, 1954.
  • Father George Gabel, the “muffin man” died in 1924 while actively involved in the shoe business. His wife Mary Gix Gabel, died in June 1931 setting off an inheritance wrestling match among the sibling heirs.

Insight into one layer of our local geography and all of that human drama unleashed by one sharp photo of a delivery wagon and a pile of firewood…

We’ve seen a few other compelling old photos of this area of Alberta Street in the 19-teens that we’re going to continue to pursue, but for now we probably have just one more post in us about Ford’s Pool Hall and then we’ll shift gears a bit. Enjoy these great old photos.

Finding Ford’s Pool Hall | Adventures on Early Alberta Street

Here’s another outstanding turn-back-the-clock view of a business on NE Alberta Street: George and Sylvia Ford’s Pool Hall, Lunch Counter, Confectionery and Cigar Store, mid-block between 17th and 18th on the south side of Alberta, taken in September 1909. Click into this photo and have a good look around, there’s so much to see.

In front of Ford’s Pool Hall, 658 Alberta Street, 1909. Photo courtesy of the Gholston Collection, used with permission. Click to enlarge.

Things that jumped out at us: reflections in the windows showing the north side of the street; the faces and clothing of the men; the small advertisement in the left window advertising the “Special Masquerade” on Saturday evening, October 9th (that’s how we know this is 1909); that’s George Ford, by the way, in the middle of the group in the apron with his hand on the older gentleman’s shoulder. We guess the confection guy is on the far left in the bowtie and the cigar guy is holding the cigar. George and his friend (is he the baker from next door?) might be running the lunch counter.

Thanks to AH reader Norm Gholston for sending this photograph our way. Norm knows we enjoy being photo detective, and this one took some digging to make sure we were in the right place. Here’s the same view today:

1718 NE Alberta, formerly Ford’s Pool Hall. November 2018.

 

When Norm sent this one along, he knew it was on Alberta. And we could see the address over the door—658—which translates to today’s 1718 NE Alberta. Remember that all of Portland’s addresses were changed in the Great Renumbering of 1930-31.

With the current address in hand, we went out to take a look, and that’s when this got a bit puzzling because the next door neighbor building to the east—the one that houses Earl’s Barbershop—has many similar features to the building in the 1909 photo. Look at the dentals under the first and second level soffits and the short horizontal brackets that support them; the column-like pedestals along the building edges. On first glance at that block today, you’d say Earl’s is the right place, especially when you look at the modernized front of the Maggie Gibson Plaza building just to the west. Both buildings are owned today by Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, Inc.

South side of NE Alberta showing the entire block between NE 17th and NE 18th. Maggie Gibson Plaza building (on the right) once housed five distinct store fronts on the first floor and a large meeting space known as Baker Hall upstairs. In later years, the space was home to the Royal Esquire Club of Portland. Photo taken in November 2018. Click to enlarge.

 

But that notion doesn’t hold up when you dig into the details of building permits, city directories and old newspaper stories. 658 was clearly housed in the building to the west (right). Interesting to note that both were built in 1909 by the same builder for the same owner. Our hunch is they probably looked alike way back when.

The clincher is the old Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1924 (below), which shows all of the side-by-side stores in both buildings. You’ll find 658 on the east end of the Gibson Plaza building and there’s five feet of space to the next neighbor to the east. Remember that these maps were drawn primarily for fire insurance underwriters, so they show building proximities, location of plumbing, fire alarm systems, heating systems. S = shop; D = dwelling; FA = fire alarm box; F = Flat.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Plate 550, 1924. Click to enlarge.

 

The Sanborn (and city directories) show there was a lot going on in this block, on both sides of the street. Here’s a run down of the Ford’s Pool Hall neighbors, by address:

650      Vernon Drug Company

652      Peterson & Jackson Grocery, later J.H. Belshiser Grocery

654      Grite’s Barber Shop and entrance to Baker Hall, which was upstairs. Encompassing the second floor of the building was an open meeting space known as “Baker Hall,” which in the early days was where the Alberta Oddfellows Lodge met before building their own space, and in later days the first home of the Royal Esquire Club of Portland. In the 19-teens, Baker Hall was the frequent site of lectures, dances and community meetings.

656      Alberta Market, later Higbee’s Electric Radio and Hardware

Next door to the east in the building that houses Earl’s today:

660      Gabel & Son Bakery, later Alberta Bakery

662      Dr. William Luzader, Optometrist

The house on the corner to the east—addressed as 666 in the Sanborn plate—is still there today and was Freda’s Beauty Shop and home to Freda Baker.

Across the street:

651      Love’s Confectionery, Fountain and Deli

653      General Sewing Machine Repair Shop

655      Carl Nau, Taylor,  and Bell’s Reliable Hemstitching Shop

659      Alberta Realty Co.

661      Alberta Sheet Metal Co.

663      S. Salmonson Hardware and Appliance

665      Victoria Theater (with full stage and space for “MOVIES”)

The FA in front of the Victoria Theater was a fire alarm pull box.

Once we figured out the location of Ford’s Pool Hall, we wanted to know more about George and Sylvia. We found them during the pool hall days living just up the street at the corner of NE 18th and Wygant. Here’s the couple on their wedding day in Colfax Washington, October 26, 1892:

George and Sylvia Ford, October 26, 1892. Photo courtesy of Ford family.

 

George and Sylvie (as she was known) farmed for a while near Lapwai, Idaho in the 1890s and early 1900s before moving to Portland. They opened the pool hall, confectionary and lunch counter in 1909 and later ran a confectionary and cigar business at NE 21st and Alberta (two business lines that were frequently found together in the same retail store, candy and smokes). The Fords raised two children—George B. and John J.—and Sylvie had a busy dressmaking business as well. George died on July 23, 1937. His obit reads:

George P. Ford, Businessman, Passes Away

Geo P. Ford, who has conducted a cigar and confectionary store at Alberta and 21st Ave., for a number of years, and an old resident of this district, passed away at his home, 4925 N.E. 19th Ave., last Friday, at the age of 74 years. He leaves to mourn his death, his wife, Sylvia Ford, and two sons, George and John Ford, and several brothers and sisters. Funeral services were held Monday afternoon, Vault entombment, Riverview Abbey Mausoleum. Heartfelt sympathies goes out to the bereaved family in this, their sad bereavement.

We’re ready for the next photo mystery.

When the east end of NE Alberta was a railroad spur line…

We’ve had the opportunity recently—thanks to Portland City Archives and a sea of digital copies of early newspapers—to become fully immersed in the layout, feel and day-to-day life of the neighborhood in the 19-teens. It was a busy place: not unlike today, but busier, dirtier and a bit more helter-skelter as the landscape transitioned from brush and trees into a neighborhood of homes and people. Oh, and very few cars. Imagine our now-jammed streets without the lines and lines of parked cars.

The sound of construction filled the daytime air as houses and business rose to life. The Alberta streetcar was omnipresent—every 15 minutes clattering down Alberta to NE 30th and then turning north down the gentle slope to Ainsworth, and back. It was our connection to Portland and beyond and everyone rode it. Portland Railway Light and Power (which ran the streetcar system in our part of town) had to add extra cars on the Alberta line to carry the abundance of neighbor/riders, and they were still packed in.

In 1915, even in the midst of all this “progress,” Alberta Street was still just a dirt road between NE 33rd and NE 30th (western portions were paved in 1911). Portland Railway Light and Power was holding out the possibility of constructing a new streetcar line in that stretch of Alberta, and then down 33rd (which never happened) and wanted to keep its options open. But nearby homeowners and merchants in that area approached the streetcar company with another idea:

What if we turned that stretch of street into a railroad spur where flatcars of firewood could be parked? About this time of year everyone was thinking about staying warm, and firewood—along with sawdust and coal—were Portland’s fuel of choice. Piles of cordwood, hauled from the forests and stacked in the parking strips to season since late summer, were being brought inside garages and basements for the winter ahead. In 1918, an attorney for the company wanting to sell the wood from parked flatbed cars on Alberta wrote the city for permission:

Courtesy of Portland City Archives, file 8402-01 As001-008

A cooperative engineer from the city’s Department of Public Works wrote back noting how little car traffic there was on Alberta (it was all streetcar and by foot) and approved the move, asking only that the street be promptly cleaned up after the flatcar was unloaded.

Courtesy of Portland City Archives, file 8402-01 As001-008

 

With this green light, Monarch Lumber moved their flatbed car onto this quiet stretch of Alberta and went into the firewood business.

Meanwhile, the wood yard mentioned by Engineer R.W. Kremers a few blocks west at East 26th and Alberta, had ramped up its own firewood business, but was apparently making a mess and was being protested by most of the neighborhood. The city wrote the business in October 1920 with a strong message, cc’d to the Chief of Police.

Courtesy of Portland City Archives, file 8402-01 As001-008

 

Next time you pass that way, near the Alberta Rose, Cha’Ba Thai or Vita Café, imagine a street filled with flatcars and firewood, and neighbors readying their furnaces and warm homes for winter.

Alberta Street Photo Sleuthing | Found!

A friendly AH reader has shared an amazing photo with stories to tell, so have a good detailed look at this (click to enlarge), and then we’ll take it apart and do some sleuthing. There are so many things to think about here.

NE 26th and Alberta looking north/northeast, 1909. Photo courtesy of the Gholston Collection, used with permission.

In past entries, we’ve delved into mom and pop groceries, delivery horses and carriages, and the bustling early Alberta Street. Each is present in this picture taken at the corner of NE 26th and Alberta in 1909, three years before the Broadway Bridge was built and at a time when Portland had only 3,540 registered automobiles (so everyone was on foot, horseback or streetcar).

Just so we’re clear, Lester Park (the location painted on the side of the wagon) wasn’t a park, it was the name of a plat or subdivision, contained in today’s Concordia neighborhood (just one of multiple plats that make up today’s neighborhood). Here’s a look at that plat, filed in 1906 by H.L Chapin of the Arleta Land Company. It’s a compact little rectangle, running from Alberta on the north to Prescott on the south and between NE 25th and NE 27th, 145 total lots.

Lester Park Addition Plat, 1906. North is to the left, east is up.

The Lester Park Grocery was a dry goods and butcher store that stood in what is today an empty lot just west of the Waffle Window, 2624 NE Alberta. Its original address was 834 Alberta to be exact (remember that all of Portland was renumbered in the 1930s, so this address was before the change). The shop that H.L. Reynolds, his wife Carrie and her daughter called home also included several rooms for the family to live.

We’ve walked all over this part of Alberta with this picture in our hand, consulted early Sanborn maps of the neighborhood, examined building permits and local buildings to make an informed statement about exactly where this is. Here’s what we see and why we believe this view is looking north/northeast from out in front of Reynolds’s shop at NE 26th and Alberta:

  • There are some distinctive houses in the background of this old photo, including a church steeple, which we believe is the building on the southeast corner of NE 27th and Sumner known today as St. Luke Memorial Community Church of God (2700 NE Sumner), but was then the newly constructed United Brethren in Christ Church, built in 1910.
  • Appearing directly in front of the carriage driver in the old photo is a light colored home. This small hipped-roof house with chimney slightly off center and front dormer is today’s 5028 NE 26th (painted red) with the front porch now enclosed. This house was built in 1906. Here’s a look from Google streetview. See it under all that?

Current photo of the small house that appears just above the horse’s rump in the 1909 photograph. Look carefully at the hipped roof, mini dormer on top and slightly off-center chimney. Yep, that’s the same house. Built in 1906 by Mary L. Coger. Thanks to Google Streetview.

  • We know that in 1909 the Alberta Streetcar line (visible in the foreground of the photo) was still just two rails in the dirt; and we know this part of Alberta was not paved until the summer of 1911).
  • We also know that H.L. Reynolds, who may well be the man in the photo, was associated with the grocery until about 1910. The 1910 census shows him (age 36) and his wife Carrie living in the residence associated with the shop.

That would make the corner of the house you can see just above the horse’s head about where the corner of Mae Ploy Thai Cuisine is today (obviously a different building).

Reynolds was arrested in April 1909 for assaulting his wife and stepdaughter and disappears from the Portland scene the next year. Meanwhile Carrie takes over the shop (and probably the horse and carriage) and decides to sell it all off. Check out this series of classified ads from The Oregonian where she almost pleads for a buyer:

March 31, 1911

 

April 8, 1911

 

April 21, 1911

Carrie did eventually sell the place and leave town. The shop was taken over in 1913 by Mrs. Edna Albertson who ran it as Albertson’s Dry Goods Store (not related to today’s Albertson chain) until 1921 when she was killed in an automobile accident while traveling to Tillamook. How this photo has come down the years–who saved it and why–remains a mystery.

This picture is definitely worth 1,000 words. Thanks to Norm Gholston for the opportunity to take a trip back through time. We love this photo and are always looking for views like this that help us think about the past.

The Disappearance of Vernon Avenue

During our recent explorations of Vernon, we came across a street with a story to tell:

Wait, what? There’s an actual Vernon Avenue? Photographed April 2018, looking southeast at Emerson Street.

We’ve tripped over this place in early editions of The Oregonian—references to builders, families, homes and interesting things happening over on Vernon Avenue—but it’s a ghost that no longer exists in the real world.

Vernon Avenue sounds like a street that you should know where it is, especially since we have a whole neighborhood named Vernon. But it’s just an echo because the actual Vernon Avenue was silenced on September 2, 1931 when City Council passed ordinance 61325 readdressing all of Portland’s streets and calling for multiple street name changes. The six-block Vernon Avenue went extinct and became today’s NE 14th Place, running between Prescott and Killingsworth.

We know the renumbering aspect of the 1931 ordinance was long-overdue. But losing the name of your street, that one really stung.

In January 1933, neighbors along Vernon Avenue, angry about the change and still using their original addresses, presented a petition to City Council protesting the switch to 14th Place. Commissioner of Public Works Asbury L. Barbur reviewed the protest, but was not moved:

The Oregonian, February 26, 1933. Several other neighborhood streets were renamed by the ordinance, including Glenn (now NE 32nd Place) and Marguerite (now NE 35th Place).

We haven’t yet come across anything on the record about how neighbors responded. Eventually the passage of time dulled the loss as Vernon Avenue families grew old, grew up and moved on—but it’s worth noting that articles in The Oregonian well into the 1940s referred to addresses on Vernon Avenue when reporting births, marriages, deaths and social occasions.

Vernon Then and Now

While the pace and scale of change can often take your breath away (for good and not so good), it’s surprising how some aspects of our neighborhood landscape are recognizable from a distance of more than 100 years.

We’re preparing a program for Wednesday night, April 18th about Vernon neighborhood history—come on along if you like, 7:00 p.m. at the Leaven Community Center, 5431 NE 20th Avenue—so we’ve been out recently scouting around. Vernon is the neighborhood loosely bounded on the north and south between NE Ainsworth and NE Wygant, and the west and east from NE 11th to NE 21st. Walkabouts for us usually begin with finding a handful of old photos, reference points or things to look for and then sleuthing around the neighborhood looking for the right vantage point. Here’s a couple examples.

We love this old newspaper advertisement placed in the Oregon Journal on October 25, 1908 by developers of the Vernon addition. Imagine: $1,000. The house was built in 1907 for O.G. Goldberg.

Here’s the Goldberg House today:

 

And here’s another great pair, just a few blocks north, this time looking at the heart of the Vernon business district, from the Oregon Journal on October 30, 1920. Check out the streetcar tracks and overhead lines.

And today:

Looking east on Alberta at NE 16th Avenue, April 2018. The distinctive building on the northeast corner (left) was built in 1909 during the rise of the Vernon-Alberta business district.

Some of our favorite stories are from Vernon: the ghost of Old Vernon and its practice houses, the Alberta Streetcar, the mystery of Crane Street, Alberta storefronts, Alberta Park, opposition to (and even arson at) the new local fire station. So many stories to tell, including an upcoming post that shares the intriguing real estate drama about how Vernon almost didn’t become Vernon. Stay tuned.

 

Alberta Lodge: Rescued and revived

Walking and wondering about history go hand-in-hand, especially here in Northeast Portland. On a recent adventure down Concordia neighborhood alleys, we came across a distinctive building at the corner of NE 23rd and Sumner that made us wonder: what was that? Too big to be a family house; too small and house-shaped to be an apartment building. Maybe you’ve seen this and wondered too. Take a look:

5131 NE 23rd Avenue

When you stand and stare for a moment, many possibilities come to mind: hostel, church, school, chalet, rooming house, theater. Hmm, what could it be?

How about fraternal lodge?

Yes, the two-story, bracket-eaved old beauty was purpose-built in 1923 as the home of the Alberta Lodge Number 172 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Here’s the news from July 1923 about the ceremonial placing of the cornerstone, and a construction rendering of the building:

From The Oregonian, July 8, 1923

 

Those big gable-ended walls at front and back: they’re made out of concrete, formed and poured in place (all four walls are concrete, making moving a window or door no simple task, just ask the current owners). Inside, there were small rooms and chambers for the various aspects of the secret Masonic rites, and a beautiful theater-like gathering space. A kitchen, offices, cloak rooms.

During its heyday, the Alberta Lodge No. 172 had 450 members and was jammed busy on multiple nights each week, often with a ceremony and the many social gatherings that preceded or followed: picnics, breakfasts, dinners, work parties.

In 1986, with Lodge membership dipping to just 150 members—most of them senior citizens—the Masons decided to sell the building and consolidate several other shrinking lodges under one roof in Parkrose. Masonic elders came to reclaim the ceremonial cornerstone and extinguish its service in one last ceremony. A January 14, 1986 news story in The Oregonian quotes the wife of one former Alberta Lodge leader: “It’s been our whole life.” Another, reflecting on our changing society: “People live a different lifestyle these days. All the fraternities are dwindling.”

Click to enlarge. From The Oregonian, January 14, 1986. 

Following its time as a lodge, the building was the Fellowship Church of God until 2005 when that growing community moved first to the Doubletree Hotel near Lloyd Center then to a new and larger facility on NE 122nd. The space was rented on and off for several years, and served as the home of Heaven Bound Deliverance Center before slipping into receivership and an accumulated ocean of deferred maintenance.

That’s where current owner Randall Stuart and his colleagues found it during their search for just the right building to serve as a convening space for art, theater, music, learning and community.

The 8,000-square-foot concrete building was headed for demolition when Stuart and his team purchased it in 2013 launching a two-year renovation effort that involved restoring virtually every surface and moving part in the place. And then some: new interior walls and spaces, including a major interior stairway; an ADA ramp and exterior access; outdoor spaces and landscaping; a total overhaul of building systems.

Prior to finding the Alberta Lodge, Stuart and his colleagues had formed the foundation that now runs it: Cerimon House is a 501(c)(3) humanities organization dedicated to creating and celebrating community through arts and humanities.

“It’s definitely been a labor of love. Our board is very proud of saving the building and keeping it aligned with a fellowship mission” he says, tipping his hat to the generations of Mason families who have gathered in the space.

Today, the old Alberta lodge building is definitely back to life as gathering space for art, music, readings and lectures—and lots of other interesting events, including weddings, meetings and family gatherings (the space is available to rent). Stuart invites neighbors who want to see inside Cerimon House to book a tour online at the website or take a virtual tour to learn more: www.cerimonhouse.org

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