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.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

We’ve been watching two commercial corners just a few blocks apart that share similar histories but are on very different pathways to the future.

We’ve written here about the Logan Grocery, the mom-and-pop grocery store that for more than 100 years has anchored the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta and is now slated for demolition. Here’s a look just as a refresher:

NE 33rd and Alberta, December 2019

In the last week or so, a sign has been posted on the building showing a rendering of the future, which includes demolition of the historic building and then construction of a three-story mixed-use commercial building including a 19-apartment hotel (which we think probably means Airbnb-like short-term rentals) and no on-site parking. Yes, you read that right. Take a look (click to enlarge).

Interviewed in late September, developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings explained that he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but that concerns associated with the cost of reinforcing the old foundation drove the demolition decision, nixing any kind of adaptive reuse that would allow the existing building to be repurposed for a new future.

Note that no informational meeting is required for this significant change, though there is contact information and a cryptic note that the project might be amended.

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Meanwhile, A few blocks over, at the northeast corner of 30th and Emerson, a similar but very different story is unfolding. Here, a 107-year-old wood-frame mixed-use commercial building that was once also a grocery store (and many other things) is being restored and repurposed as the home of a medical practice and neighborhood coffee shop. Take a look:

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter inspect the southwest corner of their future place of business. Clinic entry to the right, coffee shop entry to the far left. December 2019.


West side, coffee shop to the left, clinic to the right. Apartments upstairs. December 2019.

There’s lots more to learn about this old building, constructed in 1912, which once housed two businesses on the first floor facing NE 30th, and two apartments upstairs. Back in the day it was a grocery store. It’s been Cecilia’s Drapery Shop, Jack Emerald’s Barber Shop, The Quaint Shop (an art supply business), a men’s clothing shop, a dry goods store and many other things.

Here it is in the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, showing it’s pre-address-change addresses of 1122 and 1124 East 30th Street North (downstairs) and 1122 ½ (upstairs). Look in the lower right-hand corner. S=shop. D=dwelling. A=automobile or garage.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 535, 1924.

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter bought the two-story building this last year and have been busy getting it ready for its next chapter, which begins this coming spring. The couple own and operate Natural Pain Solutions, a chiropractic practice focused on non-surgical spinal decompression, integrated care and treatment for pain. When it opens in spring, the practice will be Move Better Chiropractic.

Their former clinic had been located in the Macadam Center building which was destroyed by fire in January 2018. After the fire, Thomas and Rachel—who are Vernon neighborhood residents—were on the lookout for a new venue. When Rachel saw the for sale sign on the building last spring, she called on a whim, walked through later that day and fell in love with the building. Thomas saw it the next day and they knew renovating the space would work for them. Within weeks, they had started talking with architects.

Since then, there have been plenty of conversations with engineers, estimators, architects and contractors to determine the feasibility of adapting the building to meet their needs, but in their minds demolition was not a solution.

Yes, the foundation is 107 years old and like all old foundations in the neighborhood has its issues and needs. But instead of considering that a deal breaker, a partial new foundation wall has been added, seismic stabilization work has been done, and additional structural timber has been added.

The renovation design concept—by Portland firm Works Progress Architecture—starts with the structural work and completely renovates the interior space, fitting it inside the existing exterior building envelope, offering a contrast between old and new. The clinic and a new coffee shop will occupy the first floor, with glass roll-up garage doors in the coffee shop on the north face of the building opening onto an open outdoor patio and hanging-around space. Friends of Grace and Buckwalter own and operate Full City Rooster (a craft coffee roaster in Dallas, Texas) and will be helping Grace establish the coffee shop in the renovated building.

North side where the roll-up garage door will open into the patio/open space. December 2019.

Upstairs, the existing apartments are being renovated. In the future, Grace and Buckwalter hope to convert the two existing apartments into four studio apartments.

A repurposed small building in the open lot to the north will hold Buckwalter’s new business, “Moss,” which will feature an unusual mix of garden-related items and specialty intimate clothing for women.

The couple—who live a few blocks away in a 1912 bungalow with their four children—appreciate living and working in vintage spaces. The building is not far from the busy Foxchase corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth, and just a few blocks north of Alberta. Being on Trimet Bus 72 is also a plus (they’ve added a get-out-of-the-rain portico to the west face of the building for riders).

So, why did they decide not to go for the demolition option and to invest in making an old building work?

“We like the building and we think it will look beautiful with a couple upgrades and modifications,” said Grace. “We see this location as a natural transition between Killingsworth and Alberta Street, and hope to be a connection point in the community. We hope that the outdoor space will serve as a public area and place of informal gathering.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Another view of the Tourist Cabins at the Spur Tavern and a lesson in layers of history

It’s been a year since demolition of the old Spur Tavern and 42nd Avenue Tourist Cabins near the corner of NE 42nd and Holman. You might remember these buildings in their old age: bright green, broken down, painted over with graffiti, a little scary.

While researching them we met Mike Brink who spent some of his growing up years in one of the cabins, and also in his grandmother Ugar’s old farmhouse (now gone) a couple blocks away near the corner of NE 41st and Highland. Since that first conversation with Mike, we’ve been intrigued with his memory of walking through the open fields that are now built up neighborhoods west of Fernhill Park.

Whenever we’re over that way with the dog, we think of Mike’s open view across the fields toward Kennedy School; his every morning walk along the long block of Ainsworth to pick up the Alberta Streetcar at NE 30th and Ainsworth for the ride to St. Andrews school, at NE 9th and Alberta.

Recently, Mike sent along a few photos he came across taken out front at the tourist cabins. We thought AH readers might enjoy seeing them too, and a recent look at progress on what is now the construction site. So, have a look.

Here’s young Mike in about 1945 standing in front of his Uncle Joe’s pride and joy—a 1941 Packard convertible, parked in front of Cabin 6, behind the Spur Tavern.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

And here’s another: Mike’s dad, uncle and a pal in front of the tourist cabins, looking the other direction, open fields off to the north.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

Here’s the update photo of what’s rising where the Spur and tourist cabins once stood, taken right about where Mike and his family posed for snapshots back in 1945.

Nesika Illahee Apartments, NE 42nd Avenue and Holman, October 2019

And here’s where it gets even more interesting, particularly when we consider layers of history. Long before the Spur, the tourist cabins and the farms on these gentle slopes, this part of the landscape once held the native village known as Neerchokikoo, which existed here along the south banks of the Columbia Slough.

The Nesika Illahee Apartments, under construction on this early village site, are a joint venture between the Native American Youth and Family Center and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, and will provide 59 units of affordable housing and culturally specific support for tribal members. Read more about this unique and fitting development.

109-year old store on Alberta Street slated for demolition

Big changes are underway at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. The 109-year old grocery store building–built when there were more horses than cars in Portland and before streets in this area were paved–is slated for demolition and will be replaced by a three-story, mixed use condominium / office building. Public notices have recently been posted on the property by the City of Portland alerting its status as being in a 120-day demolition delay.

This photo from the 1920s shows the Logan Grocery, a view looking southwest from the corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. NE 33rd Avenue, then known as the “county road,” was not yet paved. Photo courtesy of Bob Wilson.

 

A similar angle, September 26, 2019

 

Looking north along the NE 33rd Avenue side of the store, September 26, 2019 

 

The public notice posted on the property, September 265, 2019.

Developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings in Portland expects demolition to take place in 2020 with construction to follow. While drawings for the new structure are not yet complete, Bochsler envisions a building with a pitched roof and an inner courtyard facing NE Alberta. “I want it to be in keeping with Pacific Northwest style,” said Bochsler.

When he first approached the project, Bochsler said he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but costs associated with reinforcing the foundation made adaptive reuse not cost effective.

The property is ranked in the City of Portland’s Historic Resource Inventory, recognizing its significance for potential historic register designation. However, because past owners have never listed the property in the National Register of Historic Places, it can be torn down after a brief delay.

Operated from the 19-teens until the 1940s as “Logan’s Grocery,” the building cycled through multiple owners in the 1950s-1970s, known as Zwhalen’s Market and then as Romoli’s. From the late 1970s until recently, the building contained the studio and residence of Portland artist Jay Backstrand.

The building in March 1962, as Ernie Zwhalen’s Market. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2011-013.

 

Concordia resident Bob Wilson, grandson of second-generation former storekeepers Anna and Earl Logan, has fond memories of the store from its heyday, and shared photos of the Logans behind the counter of their store taken in the 1940s.

Anna Logan and Earl Logan pictured inside their store at NE 33rd and Alberta during the 1940s. Courtesy of Bob Wilson.

In a recent e-mail, Wilson shared these memories:

“When I was a small child, my grandparents lived in the house just south of the store. My grandmother would fix lunch every day for my grandfather Earl and bring it over to him. Earl was the storekeeper. Anna was the butcher for the store. As a small boy it was so much fun to be with my grandparents, and then to go over to their store and see all of the people who dropped by.”

We welcome photos, memories and stories about the life of this building and its corner over the years, and will continue to follow plans for demolition and construction.

Read more here on the blog about the storefronts of NE Alberta, nearby mom-and-pop grocery stores, and some of our photo detective work identifying other old Alberta Street businesses.

Which house is next?

If you live on a block that has a small house on a corner lot, or maybe a home that has experienced some long-deferred maintenance or structural compromise, chances are you’ve been wondering or worrying about the current spate of tear-downs underway in northeast Portland.

The fear is alive and well here in our Alameda neighborhood, where we recently lost a 1922 Craftsman bungalow that is being replaced with two 3,000-square-foot, attached, three-story giants on a corner lot. See for yourself:

The northwest corner of NE 30th Avenue and Skidmore, October 2017. Site of the former Kettleberg home, built in 1921.

These days in our neighborhood, homeowners are looking up and down the street and wondering which house will be torn down next, or if the eventual buyer of their own home will tear it all down and build new. No one wants to wish this on their neighbors or lose the family memories and history of their own home.

In the last two months I’ve been contacted by worried neighbors, AH readers and others who share a sensitivity to and appreciation of older homes. People ask what can be done, could I help them research the house, am I interested in buying or helping them with their fixer-upper?

Remember when fixer-uppers were even a thing? A bargain, a project, something possible? Today, fixer-uppers tend to get torn down. There are some notable exceptions, like this courageous project we’ve been watching closely in the Concordia neighborhood.

The reality is, there’s not much neighbors can do to fend off a tear-down next door or down the block. The city’s recent policy discussion about the tear-down trend—contained in the Residential Infill Project (RIP)—identifies the concern and offers some movement on the scale and size of new construction after tear downs, but doesn’t offer neighbors much in the way of influencing specific tear-downs.

New construction built in the footprint of residential tear-downs or lot conversions has been shockingly insensitive and out of scale to its neighbors. Just look at this charm-free apartment-block-like building now almost completed in the middle of a residential Beaumont neighborhood. Would you like to live next to that?

The northwest corner of NE 43rd and Klickitat, October 2017

We’re not anti-development, and we celebrate Oregon’s land use planning framework that protects primary natural resource lands by focusing growth within urban growth boundaries. But before it’s too late, we must help city leaders understand the new fear lurking in old neighborhoods and how the tear-down trend is reshaping the corners and the feel of our residential streets. Frankly, we’d rather write about our ongoing research and the fascinating history of our local buildings and neighborhoods. But the tear-down trend is too pressing and impactful to not bring it to the top here from time to time.

We recommend the Portland Chronicle, a website devoted to publishing the most recent list of city-approved demolition permits. It’s a website I’ve shared multiple times with anxious readers and neighbors wondering if their block might be next; a radar screen of sorts that surfaces and then tracks the sad parade of doomed homes and lots, many of which are in Portland’s older eastside neighborhoods.

One interesting and innovative solution we’ve learned about comes from natural resource conservation circles, called a “conservation easement” that restricts future demolition for certain qualifying properties. Though not in widespread use—and not for every property—it can be a tool for homeowners to protect their properties.

Another creative and admirable approach has been neighbors coming together to purchase and refurbish “fixer uppers” that might otherwise be headed for a tear down.

We’re looking for examples. Wiling to share your story of neighborhood anxiety and wonder, or creative solution?

 

 

End of Story: Spur Tavern & the 42nd Avenue Tourist Cabins

We’ve been working on the history of Northeast Portland’s Fernhill Park this week, and it’s a fascinating tale of the city’s growth during the mid-20th Century, land use change, local politics and community engagement.

But we bumped into a story along the way that we have to share first because it’s going to be the next one that goes away and we have to appreciate it briefly while we can.

We’re talking about the old Spur Tavern and the garage-like apartments at the northeast corner of NE 42nd and Holman. Here they are:

NE 42nd and Holman, looking east, April 2017. In the mid-1940s, this was a community of returning WWII servicemen and their families, temporary workers and others passing through the Portland area.

The former Spur Tavern, built in 1942, 6300 NE 42nd Avenue.

These buildings have obviously known better days. Some might call them an eyesore, with broken and boarded up windows, tilting roofs and doorways and rotting siding, all spray painted with graffiti. A small ocean of cracked and buckling pavement and gravel surrounds it all, moss growing everywhere, branches down, junk piled. And for the moment it’s surrounded by barbed wire fence. When you see fence go up around buildings like this, you know things are about to happen.

In fact, this week the City of Portland issued a demolition permit, so if you want to go look, make it quick. We haven’t yet been able to connect with the owner, so we’re not sure what’s planned for the property. But we’re guessing most people are probably not going to miss these tired and dejected looking buildings.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Built in 1942, about the time NE 42nd Avenue was connected up to Columbia Boulevard and the new Portland airbase, the “Tourist Cabins” and Spur Tavern provided a sought-after home base for servicemen and their families on short assignment and others who needed temporary quarters for seasonal jobs or as a jumping off place into the next chapters of their lives.

When it was first built, from the front door of the Spur you could look out at agricultural fields in every direction. The Cully neighborhood to the south and east was already established and growing. Off to the west, across the open fields of what is today’s Fernhill Park and the eastern edge of the Concordia neighborhood, you could see the Kennedy School. To the north, more farm fields and dairies around the Columbia Slough and a beehive of activity at what was fast becoming the Portland Air Base and the new Portland airport.

The close-in fields and orchards were the livelihood of local families. One family of immigrants from Croatia lived in a 1917 farmhouse at the corner of today’s NE 41st and Highland Street (there was no Highland Street then). Home to the Anna and Josef Ugar family, this farm residence was completely surrounded by fields and orchards, with the nearest neighbor a quarter mile off to the west. You get the idea: this was the outskirts.

One young person who knew this place well and loved it for the adventure, family and community it provided, was Mike Brink, grandson of Anna and Josef Ugar. Mike split his growing up years between his grandparent’s farmhouse just to the west on the hill overlooking the fields, and the “cabin” at the far north end of the line of connected apartments.

Mike’s dad Bill was from Cascade Locks. In the 1930s, while helping build Bonneville Dam, Bill married Kay Ugar. After Mike was born, Bill  shipped off to World War II, so young Mike and his Mom Kay headed home to the Ugar family farm in Northeast Portland. When his dad returned from the service, the young family stayed local, moving across NE 42nd Avenue to rent one of the tourist cabins.

Mike remembers:

“5 million men came home. Many to wives and families they hadn’t seen in years. There were no jobs. Insufficient housing. And many other societal problems. The cabins served a vital function for us. They were a virtual community. Everyone was in the same boat. Those of us who were there for a longer time formed close bonds. The Spur Tavern was a social hub. Some had difficulty finding work and spent too much time there. Others spent all their free time there. Weekends could get out of control at times.”

Mike recalls the modest means of many cabin residents, and how from time to time when rent was hard to come by, the landlord Al Druery, who also ran the Spur Tavern, would cover a family who needed help with groceries until payday.

“He [Al] also collected the rent for the cabins. He lived in the end cabin—#1 – right behind the tavern. I remember him as a harried looking man who looked like he drank too much himself but I don’t remember anyone ever having a real problem with him. I remember if we were low on milk or coffee or bread or some other staple my mom would send me over to the Spur and they would give me what ever we needed and put it on our bill. And all of us worked together to convert the garages to additional living space and finish the interior. Then there would be a big party. There was a rotating weekly pinochle game. It couldn’t have been too bad.”

Mike recalls how the long line of cabins used to include garages, but residents gradually converted them to living space, which was a premium as families grew. Here’s a current photo, and memories from Mike that help evoke that life and times:

Cabin # 7, 6300 NE 42nd Avenue, April 2017. Note the daffodils by the front door, a remnant of more optimistic times.

“We had a ‘hide-a-bed’ couch in the little room you can see through the partially open door. My folks made that up each night and slept on it. I slept in the area to the left of the door on an old wooden and canvas fold up army cot that we made up each night. There was a small table and three chairs behind the couch and a little kitchenette along the back wall. In the northeast corner was a really small ‘bathroom’ with a shower. It was so small my grandfather commented when he came to visit for the first time, ‘That bathroom is so small you have to decide what you are going to do before you go in.’”

“The area to the right of the front window was the garage for the unit next door. There is a wall there now because after a year or so, when that unit became vacant, my father persuaded the landlord to let him enclose that area and finish the inside. We moved into that unit and the finished garage became my parents bedroom. I then got the hide-a-bed in the ‘living room’ of that unit. It also had a real bathroom and a bigger kitchen. We lived there until 1949-one social strata above the Joads!”

The Spur Tavern was the proverbial watering hole where residents of the cabins, servicemen and people passing through stopped in for a beer and a snack. Mike remembers:

“The Spur was a busy place. It was a ‘beer joint’ in the truest sense of the word. A long bar with round swivel seats running south to north with the bartender behind the bar facing west. Pickled eggs in jars on the bar along with ‘punchboards.’ Two pin ball machines and a juke box in the north end. And cigarette smoke so thick I’d have to squint to see my dad when I went to get him. There were a few plywood booths along the west wall and in the south end. There were rest rooms in the southeast corner with a door going out back to the east. They had sandwiches and pickles but I don’t remember any chips. They made coffee but only in the morning and at night. I remember for a while they had ice cream and made milk shakes. But, no one went there for the food. During the period right after WWII jobs were scarce and the Spur was busy pretty much all day. Most of the patrons then, and I remember they all were men, were mostly guys just ‘hangin’ out’. Sippin’ a beer or two, or three. There was rarely any trouble. Evenings were about the same. A little bigger crowd 15-20 maybe, a little noisier but rarely rowdy.  On the weekends, though, it could be busy and noisy and go on late—loud music, loud voices, cigarette smoke and honky tonk women. There were some loud arguments and some fights but I never knew of anything to get really out of control. I think the real problems came much later when the the drug culture took over the cabins and the Spur. I think it had a pretty well known reputation as a crack house.”

Newsprint and photos are always helpful to record the facts, but personal memories like these are what keeps places known and alive, so even after the Spur and tourist cabins have been demolished and hauled off, many indelible memories for Mike Brink will linger on, including this last one related to the end of World War II:

I still remember V-J Day. I was playing catch with my friend Bobby Collins in front of the cabins and traffic on 42nd Street got very heavy with many cars going very fast in both directions, the drivers honking their horns and people hanging out the windows and yelling. I’m sure you know 42nd was the main axis route to the air base. It scared the hell out of me. I ran in the house (cabin) and my mother had the radio on and told me the news.

Thanks for the memories, Mike. We’ll hold onto these so the future can remember the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timothy Curry-Stevens: Bringing lost wood back to life

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

Timothy Curry-Stevens

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

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

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

Table, bench and shelves

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

Small dining tables built from salvaged wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timothy is humble about his work: it’s just his way of having purpose and mission while giving back and making something good from loss. Thank you Timothy.
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Gone but not forgotten

It’s been gone since mid-October when the orange excavator took the house to the ground and dump trucks carted it away as debris, but the Kettleberg house that was demolished at Northeast 30th and Skidmore has not been forgotten.

George and Manila Kettleberg home, built 1921. 2933 NE Skidmore. From The Oregonian, September 11, 1921.

George and Manila Kettleberg home, built 1921. 2933 NE Skidmore. From The Oregonian, September 11, 1921. The Kettlebergs lived there for almost 50 years; their daughter Dorothy and husband Walter lived next door.

Neighbors still shake their heads as they look at the hole in the ground and remember the 1921 Craftsman bungalow that stood on that spot for 95 years. We’ve talked to a few who still can’t believe two 3,000-square-foot houses will be built in its place. Some neighbors still refer to the corner as Willis and June’s, even though Willis moved away when June passed on a few years back and no one has heard from him since.

According to the City of Portland, the house’s address 2933 no longer exists. A search of portlandmaps.com shows the planned locations and permitting for the two new buildings that will occupy that lot, now known as 2945 NE Skidmore and 4305 NE 30th. We tried to have a look online at the historic plumbing permit for 2933 the other day, but it’s gone now too.

The house is still alive in memory, though. Last week we received a note from George and Manila Kettleberg’s great grandson Robert who explained to us that his grandmother Dorothy and her sister Nancy grew up in that house. George and Manila bought the house brand new in 1921, and raised their girls there.

In the early 1950s daughter Dorothy and her husband Walter moved in two doors down. And then a few years later, Dorothy and Walter moved in right next door to her parents George and Manila. That end of the block wasn’t like a family, they were family. Life flowed back and forth between those three bungalows.

Robert remembers his dad saying it worked out pretty good for him because he could always run between the houses to see who was serving the best dinner. Many footprints left back and forth between those houses.

Construction in the big hole hasn’t started yet, but we’re guessing by spring there will be plenty of activity. Two new big places will go up crowding the lot. Then it will be up to us neighbors to keep the stories of Kettleberg corner alive: almost 50 years of one family’s life.

That’s the thing about old houses. They remind us of who we’ve been; they keep us connected to places our families have known intimately; they contain the passing of time.

The End of History

While we know change is actually the default setting of the universe, and we appreciate the economic complexities of restoration and development, there’s no getting away from the gut punch that happens every time we see these forces collide in our neighborhood.

We’ve been exploring this lately here on the blog as a witness to the coming changes at the corner of NE 30 and Skidmore. We’ve lived here almost 30 years and have walked by that house hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But we’ve never lived there, and don’t know anyone who has. It’s not part of our personal story, per se.

We’ve wondered what it might be like, or how objective we could be, if it was a place integral to our family history. If we thought of each demolition in this way, would it become more impactful? Would there be another set of calculations to make that could lead to other options?

We had an inkling of that this week when we learned one of the iconic homes from our family history, a modest Queen Anne bungalow on Diversey Avenue on Chicago’s north side where our father was born, has been demolished and replaced with a condominium. We wrote about the Diversey house here on AH some time back when we asked you to share a picture and story about your favorite house. Here it is, from one of the hundreds of pictures taken during earlier days:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago (on the left). Taken about 1918.

 

Here’s the visual on this recent change, thanks to Google streetview. It’s the blue house on the right.
1038-w-diversey-parkway-before

Before

1038-w-diversey-parkway-after

After

We won’t go into detail about how many stories and memories went down with those two houses. Dad was born there, delivered by the doctor who lived next door. Neighborhood picnics were held in the backyard. First day of school pictures on the front steps. Photos of uncles coming and going from the Great War. That house anchored the family as it grew, and it showed in the pictures that flowed from that experience.

During our own growing up years in the Chicago area, decades after the house passed from the family’s hands, whenever we were anywhere near, Dad always took us by, told a story, fed our imaginations with a sense of times past. Maybe our visits and the house’s presence in stories and pictures helped Dad stay oriented in his own family landscape. That’s the thing about our old houses: they become a kind of navigational aid for a family in its journey from past to present to future. After Dad died, we made the pilgrimage back on our own, the pictures of the uncles, the big snow, the sled on the porch burned into our hearts.

That’s where the gut punch comes from. Today, it’s all erased: not a single clue about those houses, those lives.

Clearly, we can’t “save” every old house or building. Our communities are growing and changing and a new infrastructure, informed by the past, is necessary for the city of the future. But we have to find a better way, to build on our strengths and on our past rather than erasing all traces.

 

2933 NE Skidmore | Still standing, for now

Those of us paying attention to the trajectory of the doomed 95-year-old Craftsman bungalow at 2933 NE Skidmore are surprised to note that it’s still standing. We’ve asked why, since the plan was to be done by late August, and the folks at developer Green Canopy explained the contractor they had scheduled for the lead-based paint abatement is contracted on a large job and is booked out until November. That means Green Canopy is rebidding the work and demolition will be delayed by anywhere from two to four weeks.

2933 NE Skidmore taken on 9-8-16 2933 NE Skidmore, photographed on September 8, 2016

During our recent exchange with the company, we also had a chance to pass along a question from one of our readers about how building materials will be salvaged during the demolition. Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto explained that the process will be a mechanized demolition not a deconstruction, and that the wood will not be salvaged. Ryan writes:

“We are not planning on a full deconstruction of this structure, which is what would be required in order to salvage the dimensional lumber. Just to clarify, even if we were to salvage the lumber, in order for it to be reused for framing purposes it would likely need to be milled down to true nominal size.”

Ryan did point out that certain building components, as well as landscape features, have already been salvaged.

We asked about drawings: Green Canopy is still working with city permitting officials and is not ready to release plans or drawings at this point. Ryan did point out that the earlier reference to the roof peak being at 45 feet (as surmised from the sketchy photo of an early plan set) was incorrect and the roof height is more like 33 feet above ground.

Once demolition begins, the process will take about five days. We’ll let you know in advance when demolition is scheduled. In the meantime, take a last walk by and tip your hat to this time traveler.

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