Remembering the landmark at 33rd and Webster | Old St. Charles Church

For more than 40 years, a dignified and simple clapboard-sided wood frame church presided over the corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster, serving as a local landmark for its parishioners and for the neighborhood that was steadily growing up around it.

Old St. Charles Church, March 1931. Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster. Note that 33rd (at right) is paved, Webster (to the left) is not paved. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon Archives. 

The original St. Charles Catholic Church has been gone now for almost 70 years and recollections about its life and times are slipping close to the edge of living memory. The parish relocated to its current home on NE 42nd in 1950 and demolished the original building. But when you know where it once stood and its place in the evolution of the Concordia, Vernon, Cully and Beaumont-Wilshire area, you’ll want to keep it alive in your own imagination and sense of place.

Let’s put the ghost of this old building on the map: Webster is the east-west street intersecting NE 33rd Avenue just north of Alberta and just south of today’s New Seasons Concordia grocery store. The church was sited with its long side adjacent to Webster, and front doors and stairs facing 33rd, right at the corner.

Detail of 1940 aerial photo showing location of original St. Charles Church at the southeast corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster Street. Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map and Aerial Photography Library.

In February 2019, construction is underway on the site: a three-story 12-plex apartment building, which is being built pretty much in the footprint of where the church stood from 1916 until its demolition in 1950. In fact, while excavating recently for new footings, workers came across parts of the foundation and basement slab of the old church.

Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, February 2019 (above). The same view in much earlier years (below), photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee.

 

Below is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map plate from 1924 that will give you a good snapshot of where the building stood (upper left hand corner), and just how sparsely built up the surrounding area was then (click to enlarge the view). Read more and see other old photos in this recent post about the intersection of 33rd and Killingsworth, this post about Ainsworth and 33rd, and this post about the old fire station one block south at Alberta Court and 33rd.

 

Knowing what you know now about the prominent role local property owner John D. Kennedy played in shaping the area from 1900-1930 (his early influence can’t be overstated), you won’t be surprised to learn the church building and the entire St. Charles Catholic Parish trace its founding back to him. Parish historians Jeanne Allen and Joseph Schiwek Jr. both credit Kennedy with encouraging then Archbishop Alexander Christie to found St. Charles Parish in the first place, sometime in late 1913. Kennedy did all he could (including providing property for a public school) to create a community from the surrounding rural landscape.

In March 1915, the Catholic Sentinel newspaper characterized the area and its scattered population like this:

“This parish, which is in sparsely settled territory in the northeast portion of the city is made up of earnest workers.”

Said a little less carefully, everyone knew this area was out in the middle of nowhere in comparison to the rest of Portland proper, and that most of the people who lived here were immigrants and first-generation citizens from Italy, Ireland and Germany.

The newly founded St. Charles Parish congregation of 25 families held its first mass on February 3, 1914, in a grocery store built and owned by Henry Hall near the corner of NE Alberta and 32nd Place. Here’s a look at that old store, which stands today. It’s one of the older buildings on Alberta Street, by the way, dating to 1911. The congregation held mass there every Sunday from February 1914 until the completed church was dedicated and opened on October 1, 1916.

3266 NE Alberta (formerly 986 East Alberta before Portland’s addressing system was changed in 1931), originally known as the Hall building and later as Herliska Grocery. Photographed in February 2019. High mass was said here every Sunday between 1914-1916. The building is one of the oldest in this section of NE Alberta.

News stories during that interim reported on the new building’s planning and construction, sharing details from Portland architects Houghtaling and Dougan about the 40’ x 80’ wood frame building with its full concrete basement hall (think potluck dinners and parish events), including this rendering (we particularly like the clouds):

From The Oregonian, June 4, 1916

The church steeple, rising some 50 feet above the street, didn’t turn out quite like the rendering: an octagonal tower with cross was built instead of the traditional peaked steeple. Here’s another view, from sometime in the 1940s.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

The dedication was covered by The Oregonian, the Oregon Journal and the Catholic Sentinel. All three newspapers noted the church building was just the first phase of construction that would eventually include a parish school and a rectory.

By 1918, with help from John D. Kennedy, the parish bought the two lots immediately to the south with the future in mind: one was vacant and the other held a house that became the rectory. A growing number of young people in the St. Charles parish—many of whom traveled to St. Andrews at NE 9th and Alberta and some to The Madeleine at 24th and Klickitat—had hopes of a school closer to home and the congregation was doing everything it could to save and raise money.

These photos show the rectory (inset) and its location two lots south of the church. You can see the northwest corner of the rectory at far right in the larger photo. From The Catholic Sentinel, March 4, 1939. The rectory was moved to the new site on NE 42nd in 1950, and destroyed by fire in 1978.

But in 1924, the parish experienced a major setback when an overnight fire on June 27th did significant damage to the church building, altar, pews, statues and paintings that added up to almost $3,500: a major loss that would not soon be overcome.

The origin of the fire was disputed at first (fire investigators not really wanting to talk about arson) but then emerged in the stranger-than-fiction tale of Portland firefighter Chester Buchtel. A capable firefighter from an established Portland pioneer family, Buchtel admitted to setting at least 16 fires in 1923-1924–destroying Temple Beth Israel and the German Lutheran Church, both downtown, the St. Charles Church, lumber mills, garages and barns city wide–and causing more than $1 million in damage.

Repairs were made and the building was rededicated on November 23, 1924, but the wind was out of the sails for any school development fund, which continued to be the case through the Great Depression years and beyond.

Parish historian Schiwek picks up the story in the mid 1940s at the end of World War 2, from his book, Building a House Where Love Can Dwell: Celebrating the first 100 years of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 1914-2014:

“There were now thousands of GIs coming home to start life afresh with new homes and new families. Such was the case in Northeast Portland. Many new houses were built as families moved into the parish, with the result that by 1950, the old church, that was only capable of seating 300 persons, was fast becoming obsolete. Moreover, demand for a school was increasing and there was no land available at the existing site to build one. There were over 300 Catholic children in the parish at this time and at least half of them were attending neighboring parish schools that were themselves overcrowded and the rest were in public schools without any religious education.”

In the spring of 1950, Archbishop Edward Howard made a change in parish leadership. By that summer, the parish had obtained a site and was into construction on the St. Charles school and campus that exists today 12 blocks east at NE 42nd and Emerson. The old rectory was jacked up from the lot south of the old church and trucked to the new site in a careful two-day moving process.

The final mass at the old church was held on October 15, 1950. A photograph was taken from the church balcony to document the end of an era. And on October 22, the new St. Charles was dedicated with mass held in temporary quarters on the new site until the new church building could be completed in 1954.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

Long-time parishioner Jeanne Allen remembers that while there was excitement about the move to a new site and anticipation about the brand-new school and fresh start as a community, leaving the old building was hard on some of the established families who had known it all their lives. So many family events—baptisms, weddings, funerals and every Sunday in between—took place there at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster.

“There was something very comforting about the inside of the old church,” she recalled recently. “It was simple, dignified, spiritual.”

With the parish installed in its new quarters, the old church was demolished, likely sometime in 1950. No parish records remain about the demolition and property sale, nothing in the newspapers and no one we’ve spoken to remembers those final actions.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

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.

NE 33rd and Killingsworth: From rural road to busy intersection

In our ongoing pursuit of insight about the early days of Northeast neighborhoods, we’ve come across a zoning change petition filled with photos and maps from 1929 that allows an interesting glimpse into the evolution of today’s busy intersection at NE 33rd and Killingsworth in the Concordia neighborhood.

We’ll whet your appetite with this 1929 photo of a fine bungalow, owned by Frank and Louella Watson that was located at the northwest corner of NE 33rd and Killingsworth (facing 33rd), on property now occupied by the Mud Bay pet store.

Looking west across NE 33rd at the Watson house, a tidy-looking bungalow surrounded by highly manicured hedges and gardens, that occupied what is now the parking lot for Mud Bay. Photo taken on August 15, 1929. The sidewalk running off into the distance at left parallels Killingsworth. Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-062.57.

At the turn of the last century, John D. Kennedy owned much of the land between Killingsworth, Ainsworth, NE 33rd and NE 42nd, which he platted as the Kennedy Addition. By 1910, he was carving up the fields into building lots and a handful of houses were being built. In 1913 he sold the city a four-acre parcel that is now Kennedy School, which opened in 1914. Kennedy knew an emerging neighborhood would need a school and he was, after all, in the business of selling lots for homebuilders.

The Oregonian reported at the time this part of NE 33rd—which was also known as the Sunderland Road north of Prescott—was still unpaved and mostly used for moving cattle and sheep, and that the surrounding area was heavily wooded with only a few scattered houses.

By the mid 1920s, more homes had been built in the area, particularly along NE 33rd. At the southwest corner of 33rd and Killingsworth was a small Red and White Market. At the southeast and northwest corners, bungalows had been built. At the northeast corner of Killingsworth and 33rd pictured below, Kennedy owned an open field that once housed a barn (a kind-of local landmark known as “Kennedy’s Barn”). You can see some of the wood left over after the barn’s demolition.

Looking east across 33rd at the open lot at the northeast corner of 33rd and Killingsworth where Kennedy’s barn once stood, June 15, 1928. The street running off into the distance at right is Killingsworth. Taken from the Watson home pictured above. Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A220-062.54. Contemporary photo showing the same view today.

Even though the area still had a strong rural residential feel, Kennedy could already visualize how things would go: the school and homes were ripe for their own commercial district. So, in the summer of 1929 he put the re-zoning wheels into motion to get his parcel ready for commercial development.

Here’s a look at the area from a 1925 aerial photo:

Detail of a 1925 aerial photo. Kennedy School is visible in the upper right corner. Kennedy’s field appears just above the “NG” in the original hand lettering on the photo (now a 76 gas station). The red dashed line indicates the location of present day New Seasons Concordia. Click for larger view. Aerial photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

In 1929, Portland’s zoning code was fairly simple: Zone 1 was for single-family residential use; Zone 2 was for multi-family residential use; Zone 3 was for business and manufacturing; and Zone 4 was unrestricted. (Here’s a link to a great history of zoning in Portland).

At the time, the northeast corner of the intersection owned by Kennedy had been zoned for residential use, but he wanted it to be Zone 3 to develop the property for commercial use. In his petition, Kennedy described his vision to build a commercial corner just like the one in Beaumont at 42nd and Fremont (he actually included a photo of that building), or a filling station. Kennedy pledged that if the zone change was allowed, he would personally see to it that “no cheap construction will be permitted,” and that “it will be so kept that it will be an attraction to any business Street intersection or residence district.”

Neighbors weren’t wild about the idea.

On October 12, 1929, adjacent property owners submitted a hand-drawn and color-coded map that recorded exactly how they felt. Owners with properties shaded green wanted the area to stay restricted to residential. Those shaded yellow were in favor of Kennedy’s petition for zone change to commercial. Have a good look and you’ll figure out pretty quickly which properties were owned by Kennedy. It’s also interesting to note the third category (yellowish green), which were neighbors in favor of the Kennedy petition at first but who then changed their minds.

Map drawn by neighbors showing opposition to rezoning of the Kennedy property for commercial use. Click to enlarge. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, File A2001-062.

Here’s where it gets visually interesting.

Along with their map, neighbors submitted photographs to help the Planning Commission understand the residential character of the neighborhood and the potential impact of a zone change. We paired these with similar views photographed on a snow day in early February 2019.

5434 NE 32nd Place (formerly 1160 E. Glenn Avenue, the Svensen family home). The southeast corner of NE 32nd Place and Killingsworth. Photographed on August 14, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.60.

 

5506 NE 32nd Place (formerly 1150 E. Glenn Avenue, the Eaton family home). The northeast corner of NE 32nd Place and Killingsworth. Photographed on August 14, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.61. We wonder if the homeowner realizes the house once had an extended front porch and pergola, and a completely different siding material.

 

5526 and 5606 NE 34th Avenue (formerly 1166 and 1168 E. 34th Avenue, the Nellie White and C.C. Cooper family homes, respectively). Photographed on September 19, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.65.

 

What was then a newly constructed building at the southwest corner of 33rd and Killingsworth, known as Hollinshead’s Corner, named for the developer who built the building. Looking southwest across Killingsworth. Note the entry archway and façade that is still standing. Photographed on September 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-062.67.

 

The market at Hollinshead’s Corner, looking west across 33rd, just south of Killingsworth. The edge of the decorative archway is visible at far right. Photographed on September 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-0672.66.

 

5343 NE 33rd and 5407 NE 33rd (formerly 1137 and 1139 E. 33rd Avenue, homes of Mrs. Mercier and H.C. Wright, respectively). Directly across from present day Canon’s Ribs. Photographed on August 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives A2001-062.63.

 

The neighborhood submitted these photos and the map as the battle about Kennedy’s requested zoning change played out in late October 1929:

From The Oregonian, October 29, 1929.

Because of the local turmoil and the fact that any Planning Commission recommendation would have to come before City Council for a vote, the electeds took the item off the agenda for several months, and then wanted to come out and have a look for themselves. Action on Kennedy’s petition dragged into 1930.

From The Oregonian, March 15, 1930.

 

When City Council visited the site in March 1930, they had in hand the following do-pass recommendation from the Planning Commission:

Inasmuch as the southeast and southwest corners of this intersection have been changed to zone three, the Planning Commission recommends this change be granted providing the petition agrees to set all buildings fifteen feet back from the street lines on both 33rd Street and Killingsworth Avenue. This requirement was agreed to by property owners on the south side of the street when their change was granted.

Following the visit, Commissioner of Public Works A.L. Barbur recorded the following in support of Council’s eventual decision to approve the change.

The members of the Council viewed the site of the proposed change of zone, and after careful consideration of the matter were of the opinion that the zone change should be allowed provided the property was used for either of the purposes outlined by the petitioner in his letter, and a fifteen-foot set back line established.

Neighbors around 33rd and Killingsworth and teachers at Kennedy School couldn’t have been very happy, but the story fades into the background. The Great Depression intervened and the thought of any commercial construction was put on hold. Aerial photos from 1936, 1940 and 1951 show the intersection unchanged, Kennedy’s open field on the northeast corner still very much open. By 1956, filling stations had been built on both northeast and southeast corners, but Watson’s tidy bungalow was still there.

Meanwhile, there was either solidarity or sour grapes when in 1932—two years after the Kennedy petition decision—City Council denied a similar zone change request just a bit farther south on 33rd at Knott Street:

From The Oregonian, July 1, 1932.

Interesting how decisions from long ago do affect the way the landscape has turned out today (and the corollary that our decisions today shape future outcomes). Imagine if these council actions had been just the opposite, with 33rd and Knott transformed into a busy commercial intersection and Killingsworth and 33rd the quieter residential area.

Next up: How other decisions made by John D. Kennedy gave Concordia some of the longest blocks in the area.

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.

 

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.

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

Before Concordia there was Irvington Park, and an even deeper history

We’ve had the opportunity recently to look into the origins of what is known today as the Concordia neighborhood, and even though it had different names way back when, no big surprise that today’s neighborhood draws its name from nearby Concordia University.

Opened in 1907 on six acres of land that was then at the edge of Portland city limits, Concordia College was a simple two-story wood frame building home to the Oregon and Washington District of the Evangelical Norwegian Synod. Operating primarily as a high school program for young men until the 1950s, Concordia gradually evolved into a junior college, added a co-ed mission and additional facilities in the 1950s, and became a full-fledged four-year college in 1977.

Here’s an article from The Oregonian on December 15, 1907 that provides some context and mentions a few early references that AH readers will recognize. Have a look (click to enlarge).

 

We’ve written about that stop at the end of the Alberta carline mentioned above, which was the corner of NE 30th and Ainsworth. Check out our post and a 1944 photo of the streetcar parked there.

So ok, no big surprise about the Concordia name we know today. But peel back a layer of history to reveal earlier names, and it gets interesting.

Back then, if you lived in the area north of Killingsworth and south of Dekum between 20th and 33rd, you would have told someone you lived in Irvington Park (not to be confused with Irvington), or maybe the Town of Creighton, or the Heidelberg Addition, or even Foxchase, all place names making up today’s Concordia neighborhood that stem from the title of survey plats filed by the real estate operators who gridded out the fields and forests on these gentle south slopes above the Columbia River.

The Town of Creighton (like the Town of Wayne adjacent to Alameda) wasn’t actually a town, more like the idea of a town, hatched by property speculators in 1883, drawn out as a kind of map and filed with the Multnomah County surveyor. Remember back then this neck of the woods was well outside the city limits. The Town of Creighton plat is unrecognizable today: its tentatively drawn tree-related street names didn’t carry through time: Maple, Walnut, Beech, Locust, Birch. Creighton’s only legacy is the location of boundary lines on today’s map: north of Killingsworth, east of 25th, south of Rosa Parks and west of 33rd.

Take a look below at the Irvington Park plat, filed in 1890 and trading on the name of Irvington, a subdivision south of Fremont (the same one we know today). Note that in this view of the Irvington Park plat, west is up. You’ll see some familiar names, and some that didn’t make it through the years, Click to enlarge, it’s a big file:

Maybe you’ve figured out that “Riggen Street” is today’s Holman, and that “North Street” is Rosa Parks Way. 33rd on this plat is actually today’s 32nd place and 34th is 33rd. Details, details.

One of the interesting aspects of Irvington Park was how aggressively real estate man F. B. Holbrook marketed it during its early years, and how he coat-tailed on Irvington, located more than a mile south as a crow flies, which he had no actual business relationship with. Have a look at this ad, which ran in The Oregonian on July 10, 1907:

And here’s another gem, from September 16, 1907.

Yes, there were lots of trees: a nice way of saying this subdivision was way the heck out there.

Trading on the name of someone else’s success wasn’t a new idea. Alameda Park developers did the same with their own outrageous 1910 brochure, plus when Alameda was plumbed for sewers back in 1910, they even attempted to freeload (so to speak) on Irvington’s existing sewer system.

Even The Oregonian got into the act of promoting Irvington Park. Here’s a piece from July 23, 1913.

There’s a fascinating history to the Irvington Park lands that runs deeper, to 1866 when 49 acres were transferred from the United States government to Henry McIntire as part of a bounty land claim deed that was a reward for McIntire’s military service. The lands changed hands quickly after that, owned briefly by a private individual, then by Willamette University, and then by the Salem Flouring Mills. During the early 1880s the lands were even owned by William H. and Jennie Creighton (of “Town of Creighton” fame) before they defaulted on a mortgage payment to the Salem Flouring Mills. Mr. Creighton started out as a produce and shipping broker and proceeded into real estate speculation, as it seemed every Portland businessman did in those days.

By the early 1890s, the lands were in the hands of an unimaginatively named group called the Investment Company, owned by big-time Portland developers including William M. Ladd (who incidentally was a principal in the Salem Flouring Mills) and Edward Quackenbush. Selling lots in Irvington Park was just one of their many enterprises.

And deeper yet: elderly residents of Irvington Park we have interviewed report that when the ground was first disturbed to make streets and lots almost 100 years ago, Native American objects and artifacts were frequently found, which makes sense given the proximity to the Columbia Slough and Columbia River. These lands, like every inch we live on today, are part of the ceded lands of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Unfavorable treaty agreements in the 1850s removed indigenous people from these original homelands and then systematically broke the lands up to development through actions like the Donation Land Claim Act and related bounty land claim provisions. Any stone tools or arrowheads found today should rightly be returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.

Over time, as Concordia College’s physical presence began to expand, the underlying plat names in the adjacent neighborhood fell out of usage in favor of what was becoming a local landmark, as in “we live over near Concordia,” and the previous deep history was forgotten. The mid-1970s marks the first official reference to the Concordia neighborhood that we could find either in daily news reporting or in city reference documents.

In praise of alleys

Here’s something you probably have not spent much time thinking about: Northeast Portland alleys.

It’s OK that you haven’t been thinking about them—it’s hard to know exactly where they are, some neighborhoods have them and some don’t. And even where they do exist, they might be hidden behind a wall of blackberry bushes, or garbage cans, or yard debris.

But now it’s time to think about alleys and to go out of your way a bit to appreciate and understand their history, demise and possibility. Along the way, we should also examine the question of why one neighborhood has them and another doesn’t. Mull that over a bit while we explore this topic.

First, an important fact about Portland alleys: virtually all of them are on the eastside.

Downtown Portland, known for its small and walkable 200’ x 200’ blocks, has never had alleys, to the chagrin over time of some business owners and public works officials who have complained that our downtown grid makes deliveries and trash removal too complicated and public. If our city blocks had alleys, they’ve argued, those essential but less desirable functions could take place out of view, giving the front of the business more leeway and prominence.

Here’s a great map that shows the extent and location of Portland’s alleys. Have a good look at it then come back here and we’ll continue our exploration.

There is at least one common denominator in this map’s seemingly random purple grid segments: they exist in neighborhoods platted before 1909. In Portland, as in so many other US cities, alleys were a utilitarian feature designed before the age of automobiles. The barn out back that might have housed a horse or wagon also contained garbage and other chaos that you didn’t want to have out front. But when the car came along—a symbol of convenience, independence and even status—garages began their migration from out back to the front of the house.

After about 1910, land development companies platting Portland’s eastside neighborhoods responded to this shift by dropping alleys and back garages from their plans. Not incidentally, this allowed houses to be a bit larger and to shift back farther from the street allowing for front yards and landscaping, as well as driveways and garages.

Alameda and its neighborhoods immediately to the north are a perfect illustration. Vernon, Elberta (not a typo) and Lester Park—the subdivisions just to the north across Prescott—were platted between 1903 and 1908 and they have alleys and 40′ x 100′ lots. Here in Alameda, platted in 1909 and built starting in 1910, there are no alleys, but 50′ x 100′ lots. North of Prescott, smaller houses crowd the street and yards are small. South of Prescott in Alameda, houses are larger and set back farther. No alleys. (Check out our Maps page and scroll down to find the original plats for Vernon, Elberta, Lester Park and Alameda Park.)

Yes, there are other contributing factors at play: Alameda has the ridge, which breaks the rectangular grid pattern. Plus, Edward Zest Ferguson and his Alameda Land Company wanted Alameda to be an upscale addition of larger homes, as opposed to the more compact homes and lots in subdivisions to the north. Irvington, for instance, platted even earlier than all of us above the ridge, does not have alleys. This was a function of the size and siting of much larger and costly homes on relatively constrained lot sizes. It’s hard to have both large homes and alleys given our compact grid.

The presence or absence of alleys was central to the question of site and building design, real estate value, and marketing potential at the turn of the last century. Throw in the advent of automobiles and you’ve crossed a tipping point away from alleys in the minds of early property developers. Why bother with alleys anymore?

So, there’s our answer to why some eastside neighborhoods have them and some don’t: it’s largely related to timing (pre- and post-1909 as the key date), with the advent of the car looming large, and a few other considerations like targeted market sector and house size. Bottom line is that after 1909, no more new alleys were built on Portland’s eastside.

Here in Northeast Portland you’ll find two types of alleys: the obvious ones that are a long straight laneway right up the middle of the block adjacent to back yards and paralleling the length of the fronted street (typically the numbered street). You’ll find these between Prescott and Alberta, from 24th to 33rd. Another form you’ll find is the tee alley, on either side of Ainsworth between NE 23rd and NE 33rd. This form provides a shorter cross alley (like the top of a letter T) that bisects the long laneway. These are interesting to explore and are in pretty good shape.

Once you start walking our alleys, you begin to see clues to the past and to future potential, and you can see how different neighborhoods have responded to their alleys. While we haven’t walked every Portland alley, we’ve explored a lot of them, and offer these observations as an enticement.

This alley is just off Alberta between NE 29th and NE 30th. Looking a bit like a gallery, the pools of light here illuminate boards that advertise the adjacent T.C. O’Leary’s Irish Pub. It’s an enticing sight.

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Most of the alleys between Prescott and Alberta from NE 24th to NE 33rd look something like this one: muddy ruts, grass, brush ready to grow over.

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Here’s one just north of Alberta between NE 27th and NE 28th. The entrance is crowded with garbage cans and recycling bins but adventure up a bit and you see a kind of graffiti gallery.

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Here’s one that has grown over. Looks like that laurel bush has eaten the garage too.

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The Piedmont neighborhood has great alleys that run south from Rosa Parks to Killingsworth between MLK and N. Commercial. Lots going on here: powerline corridor, pavement and some interesting ADUs.

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We came across quite a few alleys that had an entry threshold like this one with the gridded pattern scored into the sidewalk. This signaled the alley opening to passing pedestrians.

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Some alleys like this one in Portsmouth have become debris dumping zones for neighbors, with piles of clippings, dirt and other debris forming impassable mounds. No more cars up this alley.

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This Portsmouth alley is so well used and traffic-friendly that residents have built a driveway off the alley that seems like a primary entrance to their house. No need for a front yard here.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in alleys as public spaces that connect neighbors and neighborhoods. In many ways they are a hidden resource, public spaces in out of the way places. A few years back a consortium of city planners and urban design professionals launched the Portland Alley Project, which led to several alley maintenance and recovery projects. Here’s another great blog by San Francisco urban designer David Winslow with passages from his book Living Alleys: A new view of small streets.

Check these out, look at the map and then go for a walk. Get out there into this ready-made local trail system where you can slow things down and experience a completely different neighborhood than the one you think you know.

A Concordia alley

“Our old synagogue of blessed memory”

We’ve been exploring the history of a 110-year-old building in the Vernon neighborhood at NE 20th and Going, once home to Congregation Tifereth Israel, an eastside Jewish community, and then to several African American Christian congregations.

We’ve always been interested in transitions between building uses and occupants: what creates them, how they go, how people feel and react, what happens after.

In this case, the transition from Jewish synagogue to African American church brought out the best in the respective religious communities, but was a low-water mark for enlightenment in the neighborhood, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise given Portland’s troubled history of official and unofficial racism.

The Tifereth Israel community had its roots in Russia and the Ukraine. Many of its earliest members were immigrants who fled discrimination and violence there at the turn of the last century. As families became established in Portland, and new generations came along, the Tifereth Israel community grew to a point where they needed more space than the 1,000-square-foot Alberta Shul could provide. Congregation leaders—many of whom lived in the surrounding neighborhood—focused on a slightly larger building at NE 15th and Wygant, which was then the Redeemer Lutheran Church, a community that was about to move out and up to provide space for its own growing membership.

In December 1951, Tifereth Israel leaders announced they were going to buy the nearby Redeemer Lutheran building, and sell the Alberta Shul:

The Oregonian, December 29, 1951

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The move to the new venue apparently went fine, with services starting up there in 1952. But things got complicated that fall when the empty Alberta Shul went up for sale. Another growing church community, the Mt. Sinai Community Church, made an offer on the former synagogue, which ignited concern in what was then a mostly white neighborhood.

The realtor handling the sale dropped the deal like a hot rock once the neighbors started to push and as they were quoted in the newspaper with thinly-veiled reasons for opposing the African American church, which had gone out of its way to keep the peace in the neighborhood. Read this next story carefully.

 

The Oregonian, October 8, 1952

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Tifereth Israel leaders and others stepped in when the real estate agent stepped out, and the deal went forward.

The Oregonian, October 10, 1952

Lest you think this was just a real estate transaction for an empty building, have a look at the following passage of a letter from Tifereth Israel leaders to real estate agent Frank L. McGuire, which reads as true and important today as it did in the 1950s.

At the time said agreement was entered into, this congregation had no knowledge of the purchasers other than their name and that they were a Christian congregation. Later it developed that the members of Mount Sinai Congregation are Negroes and pressures have been put upon us to back out of the deal for no other reason than that the purchasers, though Christian, are also Negro.

We regard such pressures as being violative of the principles of Americanism, of Judaism, of Christianity and of common decency…Man has no dearer right than the privilege of worshiping God in his own way. To deprive any group of people of the right to meet and to worship merely because God chose to make them a part of the colored majority of mankind is repulsive to Americans who love their country and the great principles of democracy which distinguish our land from the totalitarian states wherein liberty and religion are destroyed.

In welcoming our colored brethren to our old synagogue of blessed memory, we are mindful of the quotation from Hebrew scripture, “Have we not all one Father; hath not One God created us?” We hope that they also will find God within its walls and that He will answer their prayers and ours that He teach us “to love one another.” In the event you refuse to close the sale, we desire to be released from our listing agreement so that we may ourselves consummate the moral agreement we have entered into.

 

Irate the deal was progressing, neighbors upped the conflict further by taking a petition signed by 90 residents to City Hall. Portland City Council refused to take it up.

The Oregonian, October 24, 1952

Even thought the Alberta Shul transition did go forward, deep currents of racism were affecting Northeast Portland neighborhoods, home mortgage lending practices and individual real estate transactions. The Tifereth Israel letter, written by elders who had survived generations of their own discrimination, encouraged a higher ground.

We’d like to learn more about Mt. Sinai Community Church and to hear from any who have known this building in the past.

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