Our house history research practice provides a steady stream of insight about neighborhood development while also allowing us to get to know the builders, the buildings they built, the early residents, and the times they all lived through.
From The Oregonian, September 9, 1923
In addition to the recent piece on florist-turned-builder Carl F. Ruef, we’ve added 10 new names to The Builders page, joining background on more than 20 other builders. Below is a synopsis of these newly added crafts people. Click each name to see their stories and the addresses they’ve designed and built…you might find your home or one you know!
Part booster, part builder, Graves parlayed his experience as an engineer in World War 1 into an ability to manage large projects, building more than 70 bungalows in Irvington during the height of the building boom 1925-1926. Graves worked with architect H.H. Menges whose motto was “You furnish the lot, and I’ll furnish the plans.”
Architect of stately homes in the Irvington and Dolph Park neighborhoods and beyond, and large government and institutional buildings like the Washington County Courthouse and Masonic lodges throughout the region, Hossack paused his successful architectural practice in the mid 1930s to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps and died on remote assignment in Idaho.
Architect Ralph Panhorst grew up in Northeast Portland in the 19-teens and opened his own architectural practice at the age of 26, focusing on homes and apartment buildings. He was later known for his mid-century modern designs.
While not a registered architect, German immigrant E.T. Pape designed classic residences in Alameda, Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland and Dolph Park and a half-dozen mid-sized apartment buildings, three of which today are on the National Register of Historic Places.
This Scottish immigrant builder started out building bungalows in Montavilla and a four-square on NE Broadway before building Grant High School and multiple large projects in Portland and in the Klamath Falls area.
A practicing architect in Portland and on the faculty at the University of Oregon School of Architecture in 1916-1917, Rich designed public buildings, wrote columns on architecture for The Oregonian, and finished a high profile Alameda home before leaving architecture and Oregon for good in 1918.
Five homes in the Alameda neighborhood were built by a multi-talented “moonlighting” florist during the boom years of the 1920s.
During the Great Depression years of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Alameda florist and home builder Carl F. Ruef lost his fight with his Alameda neighbors and the City of Portland to open a greenhouse and flower shop at NE 24th and Fremont. But his local handiwork survives as a testament to the resourcefulness of that time, the chutzpah of his big mid-life move, and the boom times of homebuilding in the mid 1920s.
Ruef built and lived in the Mediterranean-style home at 2208 NE Regents from 1924-1930 before building and moving into the small Tudor revival style home at 2425 NE Fremont. Both homes survive today and were bookends of his Alameda experience.
From The Small Home: Financing, Planning Building, Monthly Service Bulletin No. 41, July 1925. Published by The Architects’ Small House Service Bureau of the United States, Inc. This was the home of Carl F. and Florence Nichols Ruef from 1924-1930. Prior to Portland’s Great Renumbering of 1930-1931, the home was originally addressed as 742 Regents. Today it is 2208 NE Regents.
Carl F. Ruef was a first-generation American from German immigrant parents who was born in Claremont County Iowa on May 20, 1879 and grew up in Salem, Oregon. With his brother Edward, Ruef established the largest floral greenhouse operation in Oregon outside of Portland near the intersection of 17th and Market Street in Salem, with a retail storefront in downtown Salem. In the 19-teens Ruef, built a reputation as Salem’s leading florist, knowledgeable about all aspects of flower growing, gardening, and the cultivation of fruits and berries.
From the Capital Journal, October 31, 1916.
Carl Ruef lived at home with his parents until age 39, when in a bold moment after their deaths he sold the Salem greenhouses and florist business, married Statesman-Journal newspaper social columnist Florence Elizabeth Nichols (ten years his junior), had a baby daughter Mary, and moved to Portland.
Once in Portland, Ruef first appears in city directories as a gardener, living with wife and daughter at 2328 SE Yamhill Street. Evidently, he was also preparing to launch a career as a homebuilder. In 1923, he built 1832 SE Hazel (where the family lived briefly), and two homes that share a back fence: 3527 NE 29th Avenue and 2816 NE Ridgewood. In 1924, Ruef is listed in city directories as a builder; the Ruef family was living in the home he built at 2208 NE Regents, which still stands today.
This third home known to be built by Ruef—located on the southeast corner of NE 22nd and Regents—appeared in several publications, including a catalog of building plans published by the Architects’ Small House Service Bureau. Accompanying the 1925 photo above is the following short story and a quote from Florence Ruef about the house and its landscaping:
1924 was a busy year for new homebuilder Ruef: he built the Regents, Ridgewood and NE 29th Avenue houses and the home at 3834 NE 23rd.
Starting in December 1925, the Ruefs attempted to sell the Regents house for $9,000, advertising it as follows: “Choice Spanish bungalow, a positive sacrifice by owner, tile roof, oversize grounds, gas fired hot water heater, illuminated at night.”
But the Regents house didn’t sell and the Ruef family continued to live there until 1930 when they moved into the final home he built, the tiny English Tudor at 2425 NE Fremont.
Meanwhile in the late 1920s, Ruef turned back toward the floral business, opening and then later selling the Irvington-Alameda Floral Company at 1631 NE Broadway.
The Great Depression years of the early 1930s were a challenging time for the Ruef family and for most families in Portland. They continued to live in the small English Tudor on Fremont where they rented out one of the three tiny bedrooms for $12 per month. On March 22, 1931 Ruef advertised the room for rent in one part of the classified ads, and in a different section sought a loan offering the house as collateral: “Want $2,750 on $8,000 new residence, 6 percent no brokerage fee.” He was evidently trying to capitalize a new floral business.
Working out of the small house on Fremont, Ruef attempted to turn his florist know-how into an income stream for his family, initially growing flowers in the backyard and eventually seeking city permission to put up a small sign advertising the business, and later to convert the garage into a greenhouse.
From The Oregonian, May 13, 1931
In May 1931 he requested a zone change and permission to put up a sign for his flower business facing Fremont: the lot to the west, location of today’s Childroots Daycare, was vacant during those years as was the residential lot to the east. But neighbors didn’t like the idea of businesses in the Alameda Park Addition period, stemming in part from the original deed restriction prohibiting businesses in the neighborhood, and complained to the city which in December shut down both the sign request and later the zone change which would have allowed Ruef to open a small flower shop.
From The Oregonian, December 31, 1931
This annotated photograph from a rainy day in 1935 (click to enlarge) shows the home Ruef built at 2425 NE Fremont where he wanted to establish a flower shop, and the home he built in 1924 at 2208 NE Regents in upper left. The vacant lots either side of the Fremont house would have been perfect for the greenhouse he had in mind. Note: the Broadway Streetcar waiting at the corner of Fremont and 24th in front of the Alameda Pharmacy; the gas station on the northwest corner; and the vacant lots on both the southeast and northeast corners. Original photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2005-005.1421.2. For more views of this intersection, click here.
Due to the strong neighborhood opposition, the Ruefs gave up on the home-based business idea and in 1932 rented space at 3125 East Burnside for a new business, Carl Ruef Floral. They continued to live at 2425 NE Fremont and grow some flowers under a revocable city permit. The 1940 census found all three there, listing Carl at age 60, proprietor of a florist shop; Florence, 48, was keeping house; and daughter Mary, then 20, was a model of ladies’ apparel.
From the Oregon Journal, August 29, 1939
When Carl died suddenly one year later in December 1941, the family was living at 1412 SE 25th. His death certificate notes he was a “retired florist and landscape architect.”
Florence and Mary continued to live together until 1943, when Mary moved to Chicago with her new husband Howard Fay, and Florence remarried Portland railroad dispatcher Olof Olsson. Mary was back in the Portland area in the mid 1970s, remarried after her first husband’s death, working as a real estate agent until her own passing in 1985. Florence lived briefly in the late 1950s with her new husband in a Las Vegas trailer park before returning to the Portland area where she died in 1989 at age 100.
This week we’ve added a couple more biographies of eastside builders and lists of their homes to The Builders page, bringing the library of profiles there to 20 homebuilders who’ve left their imprint on our neighborhoods.
This week, meet William G. Bohn, whose second-wind career in the 1920s capped a career in the wood business that started in the upper Midwest. His work stands today along NE 18th Avenue near Sabin School and in Montavilla. He was one of many who blended homebuilding, finance, and salesmanship to take advantage of the heady building years of the mid 1920s.
The second profile this week is H.R. “Hallie” Kibler—Portland’s “Reliable Builder” who started his homebuilding business at age 22 in 1915 (the two sturdy Craftsman bungalows at the northwest corner of 33rd and Prescott were his first and second jobs and still stand today). Kibler served in France during World War 1 and returned to Portland to build in Alameda and nearby neighborhoods before moving to Eastmoreland.
More profiles to follow soon. Our research practice provides a steady stream of insights about local builders.
On an unrelated note, we’ve been out walking in the early evenings here at the bottom of the year—when it feels like it’s getting dark by 4:00 in the afternoon. This is a great time to appreciate the holiday lights and the glow of neighborhood homes and get some exercise. Here are some suggestions to get outside and explore the neighborhoods.
We’ve recently completed short biographies of six more builders responsible for many of our homes on Portland’s eastside and beyond. The section here on the blog called The Builders now has profiles of 18 builders responsible for thousands of homes, mostly built between 1910-1950.
Builders working on an eastside bungalow in the early 1900s. Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society, Negative 37092.
Through our research, we’ve been able to make contact with many of the builders’ families and have added photos and other biographical information that provide a glimpse of the builders’ lives. Included with each biography is a list of addresses of homes by each builder.
One common theme emerges when you read these: most of the builders were immigrants, many of them from Russia and from Scandanavia. All have interesting stories.
We’re always on the lookout for further insights into the Oregon Home Builders Company, a prolific builder of quality Portland eastside homes from 1912-1917 and a cautionary story about the sometimes thin line between reaching and over-reaching.
Recently, an AH reader shared with us another small piece of the story: a stock certificate from the company, signed by its president Oliver King Jeffery. Have a look:
1915 stock certificate from Oregon Home Builders. Courtesy of Steve Rippon Collection.
It looks to us that on November 18th, 1915, Leo V. Rich was the lucky owner of 493 shares of company stock, valued at 25 cents each, or $23.25. That’s $2,578 in 2021 dollars.
Rich, age 44 and single in 1915, was a foreman at Portland Woolen Mills, living in St. Johns on North Jersey Street, where he apparently had been saving his money. Maybe he read an edition or two of Keys to Success, the Oregon Home Builders newsletter and decided to invest. We hope he diversified.
Jeffery would have been pleased. He never missed an opportunity to encourage people to buy stock:
From The Oregonian, December 8, 1912
Unfortunately, when the company went bankrupt in 1917, even though Jeffery was still in town assembling funding for his next enterprise, stockholders were left perplexed and wondering how to redeem their attractive but worthless stock certificates, like this one once held by Leo V. Rich.
One of those stockholders wrote The Oregonian a few years later with a question about where the company went:
The Oregon Home Builders was a full-service development, design and construction real estate outfit that operated in Portland from its auspicious start in 1912 until bankruptcy in 1917. During that run of profit-making, the company also built more than 125 homes, mostly on Portland’s eastside, (and several in Gearhart at the coast), many of them durable and attractive. We did a deep dive earlier this year into the story of OHB and its interesting president, Oliver K. Jeffery.
AH readers will recall Jeffery was the builder of the Aircraft Factory building at NE 33rd and Broadway, which in reality produced aircraft parts for just a few months in the arc of its full life (which appears to be on hold during the pandemic under multiple layers of street art and graffiti).
OHB was prolific in its advertising and marketing—and selling of what became worthless stock. Hundreds of advertisements in The Oregonian and The Daily Oregon Journal during its five-year run were as focused on selling stock in the company as they were on selling the real estate and houses it was developing.
One of OHB’s tools for promoting itself was a newsletter called The Key to Success, that included what was packaged as news about the homebuilding business, other editorial thoughts and a continued drumbeat of encouragement for investors to sign up now for monthly company stock purchases.
A few things to look for as you click into these for a better look:
The many-obstacles pathway version sketched at the bottom left of page 1—offered as the way the average stock company operates—turns out to have been the actual way it worked for OHB, as opposed to the envisioned low-overhead pathway on the right.
The Los Angeles Investment Company offered as OHB’s model on page 3 went bankrupt too, and its president Charles Elder was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 13 months in the federal McNeil Island Penitentiary.
There’s two great Craftsman-style homes pictured on page four from somewhere in Laurelhurst. We haven’t gone looking for them yet, but readers might recognize them. It’s possible the one on the left is gone now under commercial development at NE 33rd and Sandy.
The irony about all of this is that the headline “Homes of Merit,” is actually right on. The homes the company built have indeed passed the test of time, some even made it to the National Register of Historic Places.
When we get on the other side of the pandemic, I have an OHB walking tour ready to go, and an illustrated presentation that tells OHB’s fascinating story ready to share.
Always looking for more editions of Keys to Success or other insights about OHB…
We’ve just finished a detailed look at local builder Arnt Anderson, which we’ve added to our section on The Builders. Anderson was responsible for about 20 large Craftsman-style homes in Alameda, Irvington, Beaumont and Montavilla between 1912-1915. These durable and graceful homes were some of the first built in the newly-established plats, including the plat known as Gleneyrie, which today is part of Irvington and Alameda.
Back then when the neighborhood was just starting out, the Tate Investment Company wanted you to come see Gleneyrie. And to have a look at a big house by Arnt Anderson. Check out this ad which includes a genuine Anderson and a stylized look at NE 24th Avenue (complete with the Broadway Streetcar).
From The Oregonian, April 20, 1913
We’ll be writing more here soon about development of Gleneyrie (which sits between NE 24th and NE 29th, from Knott to Stanton).
But for now, check out this biography (and list of houses) of the builder-turned-con artist who built some nice homes here in the neighborhood, but left town on a scam spree across the West and Midwest that ended in a Billings jail, a felony conviction and trip to the Washington state pen in Walla Walla.
In our continuing quest to learn more about the people who designed and built homes here on Portland’s eastside, we’ve just published two new profiles: Edward R. McLean, who was an active and prolific homebuilder between 1922-1970; and Earl A. Roberts, who ran a residential design-build company with his dad and brother from 1908-1910 before his break-out success as an architect of high-end westside homes that vaulted him into a successful commercial architectural practice in Seattle between 1918 until his death in 1939. He also designed several prominent buildings in the Roseburg, Oregon area.
A listing of homes designed and built by the two men appears at the end of each biography. If you live in Beaumont, you better check out the list of McLean’s homes because you might live in one: he built quite a few in Beaumont. If you know something about a McLean house or the McLean family, drop us a line.
Interested in the story of who built your home or commercial property? Research Services.
The recent discovery of the Sears Roebuck Argyle home just up the street—which is maybe more of a realization than an actual discovery…it’s been there for 100 years—got us to thinking about and looking around in search of other Sears Roebuck cousins.
In the same way that all art is derivative of other art, so too with residential architecture, defined by the period, the market, the ways of living at the time. As we’ve discussed in the profiles we’ve written about eastside builders, most used widely available sets of building plans.
Page through any of the catalogs from the early years and you’ll see lots of familiar designs, including maybe your own house. For a time during the building boom of the 1920s, The Oregonian actually published sets of plans of example houses, many of which were indeed built on the eastside.
A page from the 1936 Sears Modern Homes Catalog.
Here’s a link to the best repository of old house plans we’ve found (with many thanks to the folks at Antique Home Style). If you haven’t seen this, it’s going to be a rabbit hole you’ll want to go down, there’s so much to see and think about here. Even the marketing language from the catalogs will make you smile. The Wikipedia piece on Sears Modern Homes is actually pretty good as well.
And here’s another good local source of information about mail-order homes, and all things related to older buildings in our fine city.
Here’s the invitation and challenge: Next time you’re out for a walk (good for you and a great way to experience neighborhood history), see if you can find built versions of any of these plans. We’ll welcome any insights or photos of matches you find.
When the dumpsters and porta-potty arrived a few weeks ago out in front of the old house, we presumed the worst. We’d seen the 1921 Craftsman bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore decline as bags of garbage piled up on the front porch, bushes grew up over the car in the driveway and the electricity was turned off.
This compact 1921 bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore in Alameda is being revived from what looked like a sure path toward teardown. March 2, 2020.
Taken with its slow descent over the last couple of years, the recent signals seemed clear enough the property had changed hands and would be torn down to make way for another quickly-built three-story unit (or two) that maximized lot lines and financial returns. We’ve seen this story play out before, including for the old bungalow that used to stand right next door to this unlikely survivor.
But this story is headed in a different direction.
The 1,000-square-foot 1921 Alameda bungalow that looked like the next candidate for a teardown is now being revived, restored and repurposed by a nearby neighbor couple who couldn’t bear to see another teardown / big box happen and who wanted to make room for their extended family (they’re adding an addition to the back of the old bungalow to give the modern family a bit more space).
Harry Ford and Amy Garlock, who live in the house directly across the backyard lot line, watched back in 2016 as the former house kitty-corner across the backyard didget torn down and replaced by two three-story semi-attached boxes which sold for almost $1 million each. When it looked like the bungalow directly behind them was headed down the same path, they began to wonder if there was something they could do.
“We bought it partly so that there wouldn’t be another giant duplex in our backyard,” says Ford.
But Ford also explains the house—which will share a big now-open backyard with their own place on NE 29th—will help meet a very real contemporary need: a quality place to live for their aging-in-place parents.
It’s interesting to note that back in the day, a similar multi-generational family-as-neighbor arrangement was in place just around the corner with the family that once lived in the now-gone bungalow and their in-laws who lived right next door. Former residents of that house remembered dinners that went back and forth, the sharing of tools, supplies, grandparents helping with babysitting. It worked out great for everyone.
Today, Ford is looking forward to having his in-laws just across the backyard, and to interrupting the teardown trend by keeping—and adapting—the historic fabric of the neighborhood. He acknowledges that pretty much any other purchaser of the very run-down house would have razed, rebuilt and sold high to repay the construction loan, then moved on to the next project.
For his family though, the ability to acquire an existing older home at a reasonable price literally in their own backyard, combined with the ability to meet the families’ needs at the moment and for the foreseeable future, made this a reasonable thing to do. Ford and Garlock look at the investment in restoration as a good long-term proposition given the multiple types of “bottom lines” it helps them achieve: economics, quality of life, aesthetics and sustainability.
The origin of the house has an interesting story: when AH started exploring the home’s history this week, we determined that it’s a Sears Roebuck house, built in 1921 by builder Albert W. Horn. The floor plan is pure Sears Argyle, one of the company’s most successful kit homes, sold from 1917-1925. Here, take a look:
The Argyle page from a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908 through 1940, Sears sold more than 70,000 kit homes that were built in almost every major US city by homeowners, their friends and in some cases like this one, actual home builders.
1921 Sears Roebuck Argyle floor plan, from the catalog. A solid match with the NE 30th Avenue bungalow.
On a recent visit, the scope of the work necessary to bring back the 1921 bungalow was evident: Heating, plumbing, electrical, all interior walls, kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, chimney, exterior siding, finishes, window trim. The 100-year-old foundation and framing are solid. Everything else needs attention.
Standing in the kitchen looking toward the front door through the dining room and living room. There’s a bedroom in the front right, a bathroom down the hall and a bedroom in the back, just to the right in this picture. Turn 90 degrees to the right and there’s a stairway into the full basement. March 2, 2020.
“Sometimes, going down to the studs in an old house like this is just easier because you know exactly what you’re working with,” said Craig McNinch of McNinch Construction who is running the project utilizing drawings by Lynn Harritt. He also restored Ford and Garlock’s current bungalow on NE 29th. “This place has great bones,” says McNinch, gesturing to the full dimension 2 x 4 framing lumber, the solid oak floors and the foundation.
From the dining room looking into the living room. A portal wall framed the opening between the two rooms and came down to meet the columns that are atop the built-in cabinets. Behind the sheets of pressboard material on the left is a fireplace. Just like the historic Argyle plans. March 2, 2020.
McNinch has worked on many restoration projects in the area and acknowledges this one is indeed a challenge. But he likes the vision of restoring what was once a new and exciting home for a young family, the backyard connection of the two houses and families, and the constant stream of positive comments he’s had from neighbors and passersby who are happily surprised with the work. During a recent afternoon, we heard McNinch and his crew loudly encouraged to “keep up the good work” by a passing driver calling from a rolled-down window.
Asbestos abatement contractors recently removed the asphalt shingles revealing the original brown cedar shingle siding. March 2020.
Ford and Garlock’s project to revive the old place reminds all of us that there are alternatives to demolition; that it’s ok to adapt something old to meet current needs; that the grace and history of an old place adds its own kind of meaning to family life.
Stay tuned for updates and more on Sears Roebuck homes.