Arnt Anderson: Talented Builder + Con Man

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.

New Builder Bios: Edward R. McLean and Earl A. Roberts

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.

More about kit homes and standardized house plans…

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.

There are plenty of them, which should not come as a surprise. Here’s a helpful field guide to identification.

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.

Adaptive reuse on NE 30th: A viable alternative to teardown

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 did get 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.

Oregon Home Builders Company: The rest of the story

If you’ve been following along on our exploration of the various builders who shaped our neighborhoods long ago, you’ve seen the pieces we’ve written about both the Oregon Home Builders Company and their factory building at NE 33rd and Broadway. This high-profile Portland company built more than 100 beautiful homes during its five years of operation from 1912-1917.

When we first dove in with both feet to explore the company, its people, its houses and its legacy, we were hooked by their compelling story; by their five-year arc from an auspicious launch with great promise, to their design and construction of durable and beautiful homes, to an embarrassing end, crashing in a mess of bankruptcy, unfulfilled promises and questionable business practices.

From The Oregonian, May 13, 1917

Recently we’ve come across some further insight which confirms our belief there was something fishy about company finances that led to their demise, despite their quality designs and construction methods.

A bit of background is necessary to fully appreciate this, so bear with us:

One of the fine homes the company built was for eastern industrialist Thomas Prince: it’s called the Thomas Prince House and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and we’ve written about it here.

From The Oregonian, July 22, 1917

Prince was a wealthy and successful captain of heavy industry from Massachusetts. In 1895, he retired to Oregon with a small fortune and with his son to grow walnuts near Dundee, which he did on a grand scale. By the time Oregon Home Builders was formed in 1912, he was 72 years old. Company president Oliver K. Jeffrey knew him from real estate circles and somehow convinced him to serve on the company’s board and to invest his own funds in getting the company started.

From the Oregon Daily Journal, November 15, 1907

The company built a house for Thomas Prince in perhaps the most visible place in the Alameda Park subdivision: right at the top of Regents Hill at the crest of the ridge where the Broadway Streetcar passed by dozens of times a day. It was a trophy house for the company, built to show investors and potential clients they knew what they were doing.

When this house was built in 1916, Prince was 76 years old and in ill health physically and cognitively. He lived there only briefly, before dying of a stroke in California. But still, it’s the Thomas Prince House—as it should be—named for its first owner and occupant. Somehow, in Prince’s final years, the persuasive Jeffery convinced him to invest in the company at a very large scale. We’ve recently come across court documents that provide a bit more insight about what happened.

Oliver K. Jeffrey, 1916. From the Photographic Business and Professional Directory, American Publishing Company, 1916.

Thanks to an Oregon Supreme Court Case heard on appeal of a Multnomah County Circuit Court ruling about Prince’s guardianship, we’ve learned the full story about where the company’s money was coming from. Read on:

“In 1915 his [Prince’s] faculties had become impaired by ill health and advanced age, in which condition he was induced by one O. K. Jeffrey to consent to finance the construction of dwelling-houses situated upon lots in Portland, Oregon, which lots, were acquired or controlled by Jeffrey. The money so advanced was to be repaid upon the sale of the dwellings so constructed. The enterprise was conducted under the unincorporated firm name of Oregon Home Builders, Jeffrey being the active head thereof: the dwellings did not sell readily, and from its inception, the concern lost money.”

“In May, 1917, Mr. Prince suffered a stroke of paralysis, in connection with which he was compelled to undergo a surgical operation, whereby he was confined in a hospital for several months. During that time, Jeffrey acquired a tract of land, and while Mr. Prince was convalescing the Oregon Home Builders erected a plant thereon for the manufacture of aeroplanes; Jeffrey prevailed upon Mr. Prince to advance the funds required to construct the plant and also to agree to advance the money necessary for the weekly pay-roll of those employed in the manufacture of aeroplanes, amounting to about $1,000 per week.”

Former Oregon Home Builders warehouse and workshop at NE 33rd and Broadway, briefly a factory to build World War 1 aircraft parts. Photo taken in 2012.

You may have known this building as Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, now closed. Oregon Home Builders built and used this building for almost two years as warehouse and workshop where the company constructed its built-ins and kitchen cabinetry until Jeffery transformed it—briefly in 1917 until funding reality caught up—into a place where spruce aircraft parts were built.

Photos from a January 1, 1918 spread in The Oregonian about the factory.

In an August 5, 1917 story in the Oregon Journal, Jeffrey was quoted as saying his workers were cutting 25,000 board feet of spruce parts daily for airplane stock and that the product would be shipped to eastern finishing plants. He told reporters: “Large orders for finished material have been secured by my company and the present force of 26 men will soon be doubled.”

Many different products have been manufactured in this building over the years: excelsior, pasta, furniture. It’s even hosted street-facing retail including barber shops and diners.

But let’s get back to the Oregon Supreme Court document for the clincher:

“By January 1, 1918, Mr. Prince had advanced in cash to the Oregon Home Builders about $157,000, and in addition had incurred a number of large obligations.”

“In part payment of the funds so advanced, Jeffrey, in the name of the Oregon Home Builders, conveyed to Mr. Prince, at excessive prices, nineteen or more dwelling-houses in Portland, Oregon, with the land upon which they were situated and a tract of acreage in Clackamas County, also eight sales contracts for the sale of dwelling-houses. All of the properties so transferred were already encumbered. Mr. Prince was compelled to borrow large sums to meet the demands for money made by Jeffrey.”

The brief goes on, but to summarize, a Prince family member from back east came to help the ailing Thomas, saw what was going on and immediately shut down the airplane factory and established a guardian for Prince, cutting Jeffery off.

This is what was actually going on behind the scenes, not reported on by any of the papers. And here’s what it looked like in The Oregonian during that time, with Jeffery as the prominent young businessman, patriot and pilot hero.

From The Oregonian, August 1, 1917

Did you catch the last two sentences? Sheesh.

“As president of the Oregon Home Builders, a concern which has gone far toward aiding those of small means in home building and owning, Mr. Jeffery is well known. The airplane factory is distinctly his own, although he will still retain his interest and presidency in the first firm.”

You can read the company history to see how it all ends (which we’ve updated with this new nugget). Proof that the early neighborhood-building years were a little crazy as investors and speculators jostled to get in on the profits.

At the moment—among several other research topics—we’re focusing in on another series of amazing neighborhood homes from the same era built by another company—Arnt Anderson’s construction company—which appears to have traveled a similar path, though Arnt was convicted and served time in a federal prison for larceny. More to follow.

Saturday program: Exploring the Oregon Home Builders Company

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

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

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

New Builder Biography: Sam Olimansky, 1882-1974

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaumont Market Corner: Two buildings as one

On a recent visit to City Archives, we turned up a great old photo of a local landmark you’ll recognize, and some amazing drawings that allow for Beaumont neighborhood time travel and trivia. Let’s start with the photo (from 1929) and its companion view today:

Looking south at NE 41st and Fremont. Top, September 1929. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, A2001-062.46. Bottom, same view in March 2019.

This building was designed and built by Shipley & Snashall, a partnership between two carpenters operating from 1922 until 1931. George Shipley and Valentine G. Snashall specialized in design and construction of eastside retail spaces, though they built several residences as well.

Their most well-known work is the building that in 2019 houses Peet’s Coffee and several other shops at the northwest corner of NE 15th and Broadway—you can see clear family resemblances—which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Shipley & Snashall completed the Beaumont building—which in our opinion is also likely register-worthy—in September 1928.

Our other recent archive discovery relates to the Beaumont Market building due east of the Shipley & Snashall building and which most people assume is all part of the same structure. Amaze your friends and neighbors with local trivia by explaining how the market building was actually built seven years after the signature buildings at the corner.

In January 1935, before being issued a building permit, architect Charles Ertz had to demonstrate how his adjacent market building would meet a contingency in zoning requirements at the intersection and be “in harmony” with the older buildings. So he submitted these colored-pencil renderings on onion-skin paper, which just about left us speechless when we found them recently. Click into these for a good look:

 

Here’s the related correspondence: a “do pass” recommendation from the Commissioner of Public Works and lead building official giving City Council a thumbs up to proceed, which they did unanimously.

Courtesy City of Portland Archives, reference A2001-062

Like many of us, you may have thought all those storefronts at NE 42nd and Fremont were one single building. Now we know. Tip of the hat to the architect!

If you haven’t already seen them, a ways back we shared a half-dozen or so photos of Beaumont from the 1920s along with a deep dive into the retail history of the intersection. Be sure to check them out here, here and here. And our short biography of architect Charles Ertz.

 

Oregon Home Builders: A Company History, 1912-1917

The story of the Oregon Home Builders is one of a big vision that ended in bankruptcy and likely even unprosecuted fraud. But it’s also a story of productivity and lasting accomplishment, with works of careful design and craftsmanship that have survived a century.

Founded in 1912 by a group of established Portland and Willamette Valley businessmen, OHB’s primary mission appears to have been to make a lot of money, to use as much of other people’s money as possible to do that, and to benefit from skyrocketing growth in real estate and in-migration to the Portland area in the years following the 1905 Lewis and Clark World’s Fair, which had put Portland on the map.

Officially, the company’s prospectus, published in 1912 in a slim, attractive hardcover book, put it like this:

“Early in the year 1912, a number of successful Portland business men, confident of the wonderful future of the metropolis of the Pacific Northwest, organized The Oregon Home Builders for the purpose of purchasing, developing, sub-dividing and selling real estate in and around the city of Portland and to finance and build modern homes on its own tracts for sale on monthly payments like rent… to participate in the golden harvest to be reaped in Portland through its certain growth, prosperity and development within the next few years.”

Consider the primary organizers of the company: the chief attorney and the general manager of Portland Railway Light and Power, which was building the essential and widespread transportation system that enabled Portland’s eastside expansion; a leader of the Portland Retail Merchant’s Association; the president of a major lumber company; several bankers and accountants; one of the leading automobile dealers of the day; a charismatic and successful 24-year-old real estate broker from a prominent Portland family named Oliver King Jeffery (who also happened to be related to the bankers and accountants). Add in a few other friends and relatives: a successful farmer from the Newberg area, the former mayor of Newberg, and a captain of heavy industry from back east (also related).

 

Oliver King Jeffery, 1916
From the Photographic Business and Professional Directory, American Publishing Company, 1916.

 

This group incorporated in early 1912 as the Oregon Home Builders with Jeffery as its president and a borrowed corporate strategy from the Los Angeles Investment Company, led by Charles A. Elder, who was known at the time across California as the “King of the Homebuilders.” Elder’s company had become that state’s most prolific builder of homes, arranger of financing and developer of real estate.

OHB liked what it saw to the south and structured itself much like Elder’s company, where investors put up the money to start and fuel operations by buying stock that would turn to profit once the company started actually selling homes. Following several trips to L.A. to witness Elder’s success and methods, new president Oliver K. Jeffery returned to Portland fired up and ready to raise capital.

Multiple references to the California approach, and the math of its investments, were quoted liberally in the original 1912 OHB prospectus, as was this perfect description of what was happening across Portland’s eastside:

“The development of suburban acreage into city property is one of the surest forms of profit earning known. In every growing city there are a number of people who have had the foresight to anticipate the growth of population and the consequent increased demands for housing facilities. As a city grows, spreads, expands in each direction, new neighborhoods spring up, farms are cut up into lots, streets cut through, sidewalks and city improvements installed, homes built, stores, churches and schools are established, and as if by some magic wand, what but a short time before was a truck farm or woodland, or field, is soon an integral part of the city: and in this transformation men and women have made fortunes.”

Oliver K. Jeffery was prominent in the Portland social scene as a leading Rosarian, later credited with inventing the Rose Festival Parade, and even at age 24 had helped build the successful commercial and residential real estate firm of Keasey, Humason and Jeffery. His family owned and developed much of the King’s Heights area on Portland’s westside (his mother Nautilla was a daughter of the King family). So when he started talking about real estate, people wanted to listen. Here’s the grand plan Jeffery spelled out in The Oregonian on February 9, 1913 as a paid advertisement. Note the reference to 1000 % profit, an early signal of the group’s underlying intention.

From The Oregonian, February 9, 1913

 

As it tried to create a financial head of steam, OHB’s early advertising push was marked more by pitches for investment and financial return than anything actually related to home ownership or home building, but that would follow once the company had sufficient assets to make the thing go. Here’s a sample of what OHB told readers of The Oregonian and The Daily Oregon Journal on a frequent basis in 1912-1913.

From The Oregonian, December 29, 1912

 

Pitches like this must have been successful because by 1915, OHB was reporting it had more than 1,000 stockholders from across the state. The company’s vision for what it was trying to create—which seemed in its early days to be mostly about selling stock, not houses—was evident in this help wanted ad it placed for more salesmen:

“Large corporation can use bright, active salesmen in every city in Oregon and Washington to sell the best home building stock offering ever submitted. The profits to the investor are very large.”

Once capitalized, OHB did start buying property in what it termed “first class” subdivisions being platted like Laurelhurst, Alameda Park and Olmsted Park, and it concentrated particularly near streetcar lines. It even bought and sold some home properties at the coast, where Jeffery had been active as a real estate agent before OHB. In the first two years, the company also relocated its offices twice, from the 5th floor of the Corbett Building to the 14th floor of the Yeon Building, and then finally to a prestigious suite of offices on the 13th floor of the Northwest Bank Building (known today as the American Bank Building, 621 SW Morrison).

And then in 1913, encouraged by a rising local economy, OHB began building homes.

At the bottom of this article is a partial list by year that we’ve gleaned from reading every entry about the company in The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal between 1912-1921, and from a study of building permits we completed in 2010.

OHB’s principal architect during the early years was George Asa Eastman whose talent is still visible today in the homes he designed. Eastman was born in Albany, New York on January 16,  1880 and arrived in Portland in 1900. He worked for a time as a salesman, window dresser and furniture designer, marrying Lillian Key Brooks in 1906. City directories from 1911-1916 list him as an architect. During those years Eastman kept a busy practice of his own as architect and homebuilder, but he also worked for OHB. Eastman traveled in social circles with both Jeffery and Edward Zest Ferguson, president of the Alameda Land Company, which developed the Alameda neighborhood.

Eastman’s early work is notable for its Craftsman and Prairie School influence. Check out the Zimmerman-Rudeen House at 3425 NE Beakey; the George and Lillian Eastman House at 2826 NE Stuart, which he designed and lived in; 2747 NE 18th; 2442 NE 24th; 2803 NE 24th; 5620 NE Cleveland; 2334 NE 25th, 49 Briarwood Court, Lake Oswego. All of these bear strong family resemblance. Three of his homes in Northeast Portland are on the National Register of Historic Places. He was a talent.

George and Lillian Eastman home, 2826 NE Stuart. Designed and built by Eastman in 1912. He and his family lived here from 1913-1915 before moving to Detroit, Michigan where Eastman worked for Associated Builders Co. before his untimely death in 1920 at age 40.

 

Perhaps Eastman saw the writing on the wall here in Portland: he and Lillian and their two children George and Virginia left in 1916 for Detroit, Michigan where the design and building of high-end homes was going strong. Eastman’s architectural career was brief: he died on January 25, 1920 and is buried in Birmingham, Alabama—Lillian’s hometown—where Lillian, George Jr., Virginia, and infant daughter Jane moved following George’s death.

After Eastman left Portland, architect Max Meyer took over briefly as lead architect for OHB, before leaving to start his own private practice in 1917, where he advertised himself as “formerly with Oregon Home Builders,” signaling the company’s lingering cachet even after it eventually closed its doors.

On the construction side of the business, many of the city building permits taken out by OHB had H. Riley Linville’s name on them, who for a while was chief plumber and partner in the Linville-Myers Plumbing Co. The full list of carpenters, laborers, day workers, superintendents and other OHB employees remains unknown.

These building professionals knew what they were doing. In 1915 they built a conveniently located workshop and warehouse at NE 33rd and Broadway, which in late 1916 was expanded into the building on that corner we know today as the former Gordon’s Fireplace Shop which later figured in another very brief but failed Jeffery vision known as the aircraft factory. Little more than a big shed at first and then later a full three-story building with milling equipment, that corner was a manufacturing hub for built-in cabinets, shelves, window and door casements and furniture that went into OHB homes. And they just kept building houses, often multiples in a block bought by OHB, and for individual clients who had picked a particular home design from their catalog. Some were modest and run of the mill. Others were show houses.

From The Oregonian, June 10, 1917. The house above is at 2931 NE Dunckley; below is 3024 NE Bryce. Both built by OHB. All of Portland was readdressed in 1931.

 

During these busy years, Oliver K. Jeffery weighed in—part company president, part civic booster and part confidence man—with content and quotes that were curiously well placed in the paper’s news reporting on the days when OHB ads appeared elsewhere in the paper. This was not an uncommon phenomenon in early journalism at The O, which ranged well beyond the real estate pages. Here’s a sample:

 

From The Oregonian, May 14, 1916

As OHB matured in its short five-year lifespan, the company added employees and different business lines, mimicking its California role model. Ads listed the company’s busy organizational structure: “Architecture Department, Construction Department, Real Estate Department, Land Sales Department, Rental Department, Repair Department, Loan Department, Financial Department, Insurance Department.” They even produced a monthly newsletter called “Keys to Success” which was sent to all stockholders. In one flashy newspaper advertisement, Jeffery boasted that OHB was the largest and best homebuilder in the Portland area. Discreetly placed classified ads sought additional salesmen:

“Energetic hustler who has ambition and desire to locate permanently with rapidly-growing institution. Splendid future to the right party. The Oregon Home Builders, 1330 Northwestern Bank Building.”

Other discreet ads, usually in the “Loans Wanted” classified section like this one from 1916, showed the company was still trying to find more money:

“Want $20,000 private money at 7 percent, best security offered. Financial Department, The Oregon Home Builders, 1330 Northwestern Bank Building”

For a time, the company contemplated creating a plans and kit home department like Charles Elder had in California. In late 1915 OHB produced an 86-page catalog of home designs called The Home Beautiful Book: “The best home plan book on the market” (which we have searched and searched for but never seen). In August 1916, Jeffery put his expansion ideas into words:

“We operate our own warehouse and mill for the construction of the built-in features of the homes we are building. These same facilities will permit us to build ready-built houses for export, about which we are having a flood of inquiries especially from the warring nations where labor is at a premium. We can take care of this business without additional investment in equipment and it will give us the opportunity to buy thousands of feet of additional timber for manufacturing these as soon as we can get the ships to deliver them. It means employment for several hundred more skilled workmen right here in Portland and the resulting increased demand for homes for these men.”

Playing against type, in 1915 OHB launched a rental department and brought in a high-powered rental agent from St. Louis named G. Gilbert Rohrer, who lasted about 12 months before leaving to start his own company. Given Jefferey’s expressed bias for home ownership, Rohrer may have never felt quite at home managing rentals at OHB. But as Portland’s building and buying economy began to slow down, the rental economy stayed strong and the company wanted to keep a hand in the rental business. After all, a percentage of home renters did become home buyers. Rohrer was replaced by John A. Gravley.

In 1915, OHB built a home in Olmsted Park for its cashier and treasurer. C.D. Lehmkuhl (pictured below). The beautiful colonial-bungalow style seven-room home at 3215 NE Dunckley has had an open wooded lot to its west for more than a century:

From The Oregonian, October 3, 1915

 

The peak of the company’s short life may have come in 1916 when OHB’s lead architect George Eastman designed and built a custom home for Jeffery and his wife Margaret: the three-story Dutch Colonial Revival that still stands at the corner of NE Bryce and NE Regents. The company had hit its stride: it was capitalized (or seemed to be), had a system for production and track record of well-made homes, and was extremely well networked. The new Jeffery home would be a showpiece of just what OHB could do. And it would be highly visible from the Broadway Streetcar line, a beacon to impress would-be investors and potential home buyers.

From The Daily Oregon Journal, June 6, 1915

The house is unique for many reasons, including its sheer scale and size, which is unusual for Dutch Colonial Revival-style homes. Its expansive grounds with reflecting pool and pergola. Its pie-shaped lot, which is actually three individual tax lots. Former residents Ted and Julie Seitz bought and restored it after two decades of decline and hard use and successfully nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. Quoting from its national register nomination form:

The Oliver and Margaret Jeffrey House is an intact Dutch Colonial Revival design drafted and built by the Oregon Home Builders for Oliver K. and Margaret M. Jeffrey in 1915-1916. This wood-framed, two- and-one-half-story residence is oriented to the southwest and has an unusual cross-gambrel roof form. It has specially milled 10-inch beveled siding, asphalt shingle roofing with attached copper downspouts and gutters, two external granite chimneys, porticoes supported by massive Tuscan columns on its front and west side facades, and a porte-cochere with Tuscan columns on its rear facade.

In an interesting Jeffery family note, in 1920, older brother Edward J. Jeffery Jr., a prominent Portland automobile dealer, moved in to a house within line-of-sight at the northwest corner of NE 29th and Bryce.

Not long after completing the Jeffery House, OHB built another stately and carefully constructed mega-house, this time for board member Thomas Prince, also visible from the streetcar line. This three-story brick Georgian looms over the Alameda Ridge at the intersection of NE Alameda and NE Regents. It’s also deservedly on the National Register of Historic Places, and also an Eastman design. A few years back we visited the Thomas Prince House and shared photos and insights about its early residents which you can read here.

From The Oregonian, July 22, 1917

 

In addition to the two beautiful houses near Alameda Ridge, 1916 may have been the year it seemed like OHB was everywhere. The company even premiered their own postcards to get the word out that they wanted to build you a house:

Postcard front and back featuring one of the most popular bungalow designs from the Oregon Home Builders, likely the work of George A. Eastman. Courtesy of Steve Dotterrer and the Architectural Heritage Center, used with permission.

 

1916 was evidently a successful time for Jeffery personally as well. A series in The Oregonian called “Prominent Portlanders Who Motor” featured information about his personal vehicles and association with the Rose Festival parade:

From The Oregonian, April 9, 1916

 

And then at Christmas 1916, in a major crossover not seen in the homebuilding business, OHB even opened a retail store reinforcing its brand and selling locally-made toys and decorations:

From The Oregonian, December 15, 1916

 

Despite the success and notoriety of the two mega houses on the Alameda ridge, Jeffery’s prominence and the company’s visibility in Portland life, by 1917 Portland’s economy and real estate market was beginning to slump and Jeffery’s path had begun to change.

Early 1917 saw an increase in the number of stockholders who were selling off large blocks of OHB shares by confidential blind box classified ads in The Oregonian. The county’s annual tax delinquency list published in February identified 15 OHB properties owing taxes dating back to 1915. And OHB’s “for sale” classified ads shifted away from homes and city property to agricultural acreage in the Willamette Valley and Montana. Something was clearly going on. And then this in a May 2, 1917 advertisement, as if to staunch any whispers:

“Guaranteed. That is what we offer you and stand back of with our reputation. We are here to stay—you can always find us. The Oregon Home Builders, established since 1911.”

In August, the company bought a brand-new Ford (listed in the new car purchase list in the newspaper…yes there was such a thing when cars were a new and uncommon thing). And then people began to leave. Salesmen first and then Alfred R. Johnson the general manager in early October. By then, the only name still associated with OHB was Earl H. Fry who specialized in agricultural land sales.

By late October 1917, the company dropped quietly into bankruptcy, taken over by a creditors’ committee. Jeffery’s name no longer appeared on OHB materials. No newspaper even mentioned the bankruptcy until four years later, though ads touting OHB farm properties appeared status quo in the newspapers until late 1917. The creditors’ committee was quietly maneuvering to sell off assets while it could in the months after bankruptcy.

By 1918, having financed the company’s operations but not received their promised profits, most stockholders were left with worthless certificates. Vacant lots that never sold had been fully mortgaged by OHB leadership and were accumulating back taxes. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Here’s the only printed explanation we’ve ever found about what happened, in the form of a letter to the editor from a disappointed stockholder and a response in January 1921:

 

From The Oregonian, January 21, 1921

So what happened to Oliver K. Jeffery?

In January 1918, the Jefferys sold the flagship Alameda Park home to the president of Inman-Poulsen Lumber Company. Then in early March 1918, in a spectacular public announcement covered prominently by the newspapers, Jeffery sued his wife for divorce, and her alleged lover for $100,000 for “alienation of affection.” One week later, with no discernable change in circumstances, he withdrew both suits, but not long after, the couple split. In October 1918, Jeffery enrolled as a corporal in the WWI tank corps and went to training, but was never assigned to duty nor sent out of the Portland area. His interest had fully shifted to flying his personal airplanes and thinking about airplane-related business ventures.

Oliver K. Jeffery, from Who’s Who in Oregon, 1911

 

In 1919 Jeffery traveled for several months in Mexico, the reason given in his passport application to “investigate Mexican lands.” Returning to Portland in the spring, he published a piece in The Oregonian entitled “Mexico, vast horn of plenty, with undeveloped resources needed in U.S.”

Later that year Jeffery formed the Pacific Aviation Company with the notion of running scheduled airline service, backed by powerful Portland business interests. When that didn’t pan out, he formed the Oregon, Washington, Idaho Aircraft Company to do the same, traveling to Bend and to La Grande to meet with local officials and investors about establishing a possible company headquarters. By 1920 he had moved on to form his own distributorship in Portland, “O.K. Jeffery Airplanes,” which sold several Avro and Curtis airplanes. Later that year Jeffery moved to Los Angeles, where he was listed for several years in city directories as “aviation manufacturer.”

From The Oregonian, October 28 1917. OHB was in receivership when this was taken. The story that accompanied the photo quoted Jeffery at length about his flying adventures and reported that he was visiting “various flying camps in the east” and was organizing a company to manufacture parts for airplanes. Nothing said about the company that just had crash landed taking investors funds along for the ride.

 

Jeffery eventually found his way back to Portland. In 1924 he was the general manager of a company that existed only on paper called Blue J which attempted to bribe Portland City Commissioner Charles P. Keyser with Blue J company stock in exchange for control of a series of automobile campsites the company hoped to build around the city. Keyser was exonerated. Jeffery and his fellow Blue J board members were publicly admonished by City Council for their carelessness and their intent to influence public decisions.

Two years later he entered the mortgage business, opening a company called First Bond and Mortgage, which did not survive the Great Depression. By then—after the divorce and another brief marriage that ended in divorce—he moved in with his mother Nautilla in a big house in Northwest Portland where he lived for more than a dozen years—referred to as a “capitalist” in business directories—until his death at age 46 in December 1936.

 

What remains more than 100 years later is a paper trail of news stories, advertisements and court cases that combine to tell the story of an ambitious but flawed and failed business venture. In an interesting post script, Jeffery’s California mentor Charles Elder was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 13 months in the federal McNeil Island Penitentiary.

Out on the ground in Portland’s neighborhoods where life goes on, the houses built by Oregon Home Builders—embodying the work of nameless crafts people—have continued to speak for themselves by being lived in and loved by their Portland families.

 

Listing of houses built by Oregon Home Builders

This list has been gleaned from a careful review of newspapers between 1912-1921 and from a study of building permits in the Alameda Park plat. In most cases, OHB classified ads did not provide specific addresses or even general vicinities. Any specific address listed here has been verified as an OHB-built home. We’re certain there are a number of OHB homes not on this list and we’ll do our best to keep it up to date as we find more. Our best guess is that during the arc of OHB’s existence, they may have built between 125 and 150 total homes.

 

1912 (~2)

Alberta Street (the listing did not provide an address)

4221 NE Glisan

 

1913 (~17)

Eight houses near NE 39th and Sandy, all believed demolished

3141 NE Multnomah

3211 NE Multnomah

3200 Block NE Multnomah (two homes, both demolished, built concurrent with 3211 & 3141; Jeffery lived briefly in 3211)

Near Jefferson High School (no address given)

Four cottages in Gearhart, Oregon (no address given)

 

1914 (~32)

Two houses at SE 28th and Tibbetts (not found)

Four houses at NE 23rd and Wasco (not found)

NE 33rd and Wasco (not found)

Five houses in Carlton, Oregon

Several houses in Astoria, Oregon

Purchased 18 lots in Irvington, no addresses given

2803 NE 24th

4323 NE 26th

4807 NE 29th

8719 SE Alder

1734 NE Broadway

836 N. Buffalo

3123 NE Dunckley

3135 NE Dunckley

3229 NE Dunckley

3259 NE Dunckley

2233 NE Mason

A house on SE Stark in the Altamead plat (not found)

916 N. Stafford

8730 SE Washington (postcard house)

8836 SE Washington

2314 NE Wygant

*In 1914, the company reported it had built 52 houses.

 

1915 (~20)

1216 NE Alberta

3024 NE Bryce (photo)

3033 NE Bryce

3128 NE Bryce

3140 NE Bryce

2931 NE Dunckley (Walkup/Thomas – photo 911)

3005 NE Dunckley (Lemkuhl – photo 931)

3115 NE Dunckley

3215 NE Dunckley

8637 SE Morrison

3104 NE Regents

2523 Skidmore

2607 NE Skidmore

2613 NE Skidmore

2824 SE Yamhill

3407 SE 20th

SE 22nd and Hawthorne (two houses, not found)

4142 SE 25th

3535 NE 25th

3930 NE 29th

 

1916 (~15)

2903 NE Alameda (Thomas Prince house)

5927 NE Alameda (postcard house)

5935 NE Alameda

2915 NE Dunckley

5534 NE Hoyt

435 NE Laurelhurst Place

1923 SE Pine

2023 SE Pine

2043 SE Pine (demolished)

4706 NE Sandy (demolished)

2003 NE Stanton

2017 NE Stanton

8004 N. Van Houten

1632 N. Webster

225 SE 20th

235 SE 20th (postcard house)

3636 SE 21st

1816 SE 24th

3426 NE 21st

1726 NE 24th (photo – built for Prince)

3912 NE 32nd Place

1522 NE 49th

1534 NE 49th

 

1917 (~24)

2930 NE Bryce

3006 NE Bryce

3276 NE Bryce

3284 NE Bryce

3296 NE Bryce

5605 N. Detroit

2717 NE Mason

2807 NE Mason

54 NE Meikle Place

2409 SE Stephens

6822 SW Virginia

6834 SW Virginia

4815 NE 11th

3434 NE 17th

3444 NE 17th

3436 NE 21st

3446 NE 21st

1738 SE 24

1804 SE 24th

1816 SE 24th (photo and story)

1816 SE 24th

1826 SE 24th

5937 NE 30th

2112 NE 51st

SE 21st and Hawthorne (19-unit two-story apartment planned but never built)

Oliver K. Jeffery and his short-lived airplane factory

Looking south on Northeast 33rd at Broadway about 1956 during construction of a new viaduct over the Banfield Freeway. The former Oliver K. Jeffery aircraft factory is on the left. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives. 

When it comes to time travel here in the neighborhood, one of our favorite old timers is the former Gordon’s Fireplace building on the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway. We take it as a small history victory that recent marketing for the building includes the context that it was once for a very brief interlude an aircraft factory, which we brought to light in this post from November 2012, which includes photos from inside the upper floors and is filled with background on the building.

What’s happening with that building today is not new news, but in case you haven’t seen, here’s a link to plans from developer Interurban, which is planning an $11 million overhaul to create three floors of creative offices and retail space, plus a penthouse and outdoor decks, with completion planned for summer 2019.

And here’s some very old news we’ve come across: the 1916 newspaper story about factory construction, which took what had been a shed built by the Oregon Home Builders and upgraded it into a full manufacturing hub for the built-in cabinets, shelves, window and door casements and furniture that went into the company’s homes.

From Oregon Journal, December 29, 1916.

 

Since our post a few years back, we’ve come across a couple of other tidbits: check out these two great photos and story from the January 1, 1918 edition of The Oregonian about Oregon spruce in the war effort. Take what it says about the building with a grain of salt.

 

 

From The Oregonian, January 1, 1918. The table on Portland firefighters was a bonus thrown in by early editors jamming the New Years’ edition full of interesting facts. A similar story appeared in aviation and lumber related publications about this time, likely part of a PR campaign carried out by O.K. Jeffery.

 

Hold on a second…the reality of what was actually going on with that building is evident in a news story from January 20, 1918 explaining the building, which had been vacant after O.K. Jeffrey’s airplane factory folded–apparently in late 1917–had been sold to Portland Box and Excelsior and was well on its way into a new manufacturing realm. Check it out:

From Oregon Journal, January 20, 1918.

 

We’ve been thinking about this building lately because we’ve been exploring the company that built it—Oregon Home Builders—and company president Oliver K. Jeffery. We had the occasion on a recent evening to visit with neighbors and friends in the Alameda neighborhood home O.K. Jeffery built for himself and his wife Margaret in 1915. It’s a beauty—one of Alameda’s five national register homes—perhaps Portland’s largest Dutch colonial revival building, built as a show house for Oregon Home Builders. The house fell on hard times in the 1970s when it served as a halfway house for wayward boys and then sat vacant for seven years. But today, thanks to the last two history-conscious owners, it’s been restored to the look and feel of the O.K. Jeffery years.

From the Oregon Journal, June 6, 1915.

At the moment, we’re working on a profile of the Oregon Home Builders that we’ll share here soon. OHB was prolific between 1912-1917, designing and constructing hundreds of homes and commercial buildings and even speculating in Willamette Valley farming property before going bankrupt when Portland’s economy went south in the late teens. It’s a fascinating story mirrored by the unusual story of Mr. Jeffery himself, the son of an old Portland family, reportedly founder of the Rose Festival parade, real estate speculator, lifelong MAC Club member, auto enthusiast, pilot and visionary aviation entrepreneur. Oh, and he was a corporal in the tank corps during World War 1 too, though he never saw active duty.

Oliver K. Jeffery, April 30, 1916 from the Oregon Journal.

 

Somehow, after bankrupting the company and leaving stockholders in the lurch in 1917, and then closing down  his airplane factory after its very brief life, Jeffery was able to stay active and visible in Portland’s business and social scene, attracting heavyweight local investors to his aviation ideas. In 1920 he launched the Oregon, Washington, Idaho Airplane Company with an eye to establishing regional scheduled passenger flights, long before aircraft could actually carry many passengers. The business didn’t take hold, and Jeffery survived that ending too and went on to become a local distributor for airplanes built by Curtis and Avro. And a pilot. We guess he may have been happiest just flying people around. Here’s an ad for his business. Just a great big ride. Maybe that’s who he was in a nutshell.

From the Oregon Journal, June 20, 1920.

 

Jeffery eventually found his way back to the mortgage business in 1926 when he opened First Bond and Mortgage, which vanished from the public record after the Depression. By then—after the divorce—he had moved in with his mother in a big house in Northwest Portland where he lived quietly until his death at age 46 in December 1936.

From The Oregonian, December 10, 1934

Makes you want to know more, doesn’t it? Stay tuned.

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