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.

The Countdown Begins at Skidmore and 30th

The Alameda neighborhood received notice last week from developer Green Canopy alerting us that demolition of the 95-year-old home at NE 30th and Skidmore will begin on Tuesday, August 30th, and will probably take five days. Click here for background on what’s coming and the context behind this demolition. And here’s a link to an earlier post we wrote that includes a photo of the house from 1921, the year it was built by the Wickman Building Company for the George Kettleberg family.

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2933 NE Skidmore

We know the date with the wrecking ball is coming, so we dropped by in the early morning light to have a last look around, seeking clues to the generations of families and neighbors who have know this place. Here are some photos that document what we found. If you are inclined to send us a photo or two, or your own recollections of the house, we’ll post them here. Might be a nice way to capture some stories and perspectives.

Stairs facing NE 30th, 2933 NE Skidmore

Stairs from the back door facing NE 30th Avenue.

Looking west, 2933 NE Skidmore

East side of the house from NE 30th.

 

Living room, dining room and reflection, 2933 NE Skidmore

Through the livingroom window (and a reflection) toward the dining room and kitchen.

 

Chimney and vinyl siding, 2933 NE Skidmore

Chimney on the east side of the house.

 

Mailbox, 2933 NE Skidmore

Front porch mail slot, boxed out by siding material.

 

From kitchen looking to front, 2933 NE Skidmore

Looking through the back porch, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room (basement stairs on the right). The demo crew has already removed the asbestos flooring from the kitchen.

 

Back door and enclosed porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door and enclosed porch. Note the close proximity to the house just to the west.

 

Back porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door, basement door.

Garden hose valve, 2933 NE Skidmore

Garden hose valve.

 

Original numbers, 2933 NE Skidmore

Original address tiles from the post 1930s address change. The original address was 915 Skidmore Street.

Get ready for demolition: 30th and Skidmore

The Alameda neighborhood’s initial hopes for renovation of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the corner of NE 30th and Skidmore are about to come tumbling down.

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Contractors removing contaminated soil last week from an oil tank in the backyard of 2933 N.E. Skidmore. Demolition permits have been issued and according to the developer, the 95-year-old home will be demolished in mid-August.

Over the next few weeks, this part of the neighborhood will experience a major transition: Seattle developer Green Canopy has bought the corner lot and plans to demolish the 95-year-old home and build two 45-foot tall, three-story, 3,000-square-foot houses in its place. Each home is expected to list for more than $800,000.

Activity on the property has picked up in the last week, including removal of an oil tank and contaminated soil, and interior asbestos abatement.

Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto writes that the company received its demolition permit on June 18th, but will likely not begin the process until mid-August. “We’ve been holding off the demolition for as long as possible, so we minimize the amount of time the lot has to sit empty,” wrote Nieto. “Before we mobilize for mechanical demolition, we’ll be properly abating the lead paint on the exterior of the home. 5 days prior we will pass out the required door hangers to the neighbors immediately adjacent to the property notifying them of the upcoming demolition.”

Nieto reports construction of the two homes will begin in early October.

Green Canopy owner Sam Lai, interviewed by AH in May, explained his vision for development of the new housing units at the neighborhood corner: his company is building environmentally-responsible, highly energy efficient homes to accommodate the growing need for housing in Portland and Seattle neighborhoods.

The company website summarizes Green Canopy’s mission and purpose:

What We Do: Our team is dedicated to building sustainable and resilient communities from the inside out. From re-building single family homes, to developing small scale communities, to impact investment and education – Green Canopy focuses on transforming the market to consider resource efficiency when homes are bought and sold. 

Why We Do it: Green Canopy has created a business ecosystem that is different and better than what traditional home building has had to offer in the past. We are a values-led organization with a staff that forges ahead with purpose, and a corporate culture that is built on respect, trust and love for each other, our children and future generations, and the planet. 

This spring, Lai and his design and construction team canvassed neighbors in the area and held meetings to hear concerns and desires for the new construction, offering a digital survey tool to gather input. “We like to give neighbors a seat at the table during design,” he said. They heard neighbor input on everything from building form and height, building materials, paint colors, construction noise and dust, and building setback from the street and sidewalk. The company’s website encourages neighbor input, allowing visitors to vote on paint colors for specific house projects.

AH interviews with neighbors, however, suggest that even though they had a chance to share their preferences and concerns, there’s been no indication how or if the company will respond.

Rachael Hoy, who lives next door to the west (see photo above), just feet away from the planned demolition, attended one of the two input meetings and recalls that the message from the 15 or so gathered neighbors was clear: don’t destroy this old bungalow.

“Most of the people who spoke asked the developer to please keep the home that’s here and do what’s needed to repair and get it back on the market,” said Hoy. “They (Green Canopy) made it clear the house was coming down. The next set of questions was about maintaining the traditional form and they made it clear that it’s probably not going to look like what’s here.”

Early drawings (pictured below) of the two houses to be built on the property turned up recently on Alameda Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking website, showing two buildings with 45-foot roof heights, built with minimal setbacks, and with multiple garages facing NE 30th Avenue. Neighbors have received no information from Green Canopy about how the company intends to respond to resident input. A written request AH made to the company three days ago seeking drawings or specifications was not returned.

2933 NE Skidmore Elevations

2933 NE Skidmore Plan

During meetings this spring, neighbors clearly expressed disappointment with the company’s plans for demolition instead of remodel. Lai said his team listened to the concerns and worries, and walked the neighbors through the economics of development and renovation, particularly in Portland’s strong real estate market.

“The economic opportunity for renovation of this home is so far past,” said Lai, citing significant costs associated with the instability of a nearly 100-year-old foundation and the need to essentially replace all building systems, windows, walls, floors, finishes and kitchen in order to make it viable for sale in this marketplace.

Green Canopy has come to its understanding of restoration vs. demolition economics through its experience in Seattle, where the company started out doing energy efficient old house renovations, completing 65 total renovations between 2010-2014. The company’s business model in its early years was to buy older homes in serious need of renovation and restore them to marketability and energy efficiency. But as real estate market values increased, costs made restoration prohibitive and the company learned that in order to be successful—and to pursue its mission of energy efficiency and sustainability—it needed to change the model from restoration to replacement utilizing sustainable design and construction practices to raze the older home and go with new construction

Lai acknowledges the seeming paradox of wanting to utilize sustainable practices while also beginning a project with demolition.

“We all get to choose the hypocrisies we get to live with,” he said, citing his own example of being dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon emissions but also owning a car. “Yes, I own a Prius, but I know I really should be riding a bicycle if I care about climate change.”

Portland’s zoning ordinances permit two houses to be built on the corner lot, but they must be attached. Neighbors we spoke with were concerned about the size of the new construction and how it will dominate the corner and the neighborhood. Others were concerned about the interruption and impact of demolition and the construction process, including air quality and health issues. At least one person expressed concern about how the new construction may lead to an increase in property taxes for surrounding homes.

Lai affirms that change is coming, and that the houses will stand out from the smaller, older homes. “They’re going to be bigger houses than people want to see,” he said. “But the basis cost of the land determines how big the houses need to be.” The lot and current home sold for $545,000. When it sold earlier this year, the listing referred to the property as “house of no value.”

“I expect the houses to be unsightly, so they will detract from the neighborhood,” said Gloria Berqquist, who lives kitty-corner from the bungalow. “It won’t fit with the other houses. They can call it whatever they want, but to me it’s a duplex. I think they said it’s going to be almost twice as tall as the current house. I won’t be able to see the trees that I now see behind the house.”

In the end, Mr. Lai’s philosophy is that change is inevitable, and that it is important to make good decisions and long-term choices about building practices and materials. As homes age, markets accelerate, populations, lifestyles and family needs evolve, a neighborhood and its housing stock must change as well.

“It’s not 100 years ago anymore,” he said. We have to use our space and materials more efficiently.

In the midst of the disappointment and neighborhood anger associated with the coming demolition, next-door neighbor Rachael Hoy is working on acceptance.

“Our single family neighborhoods are going to become denser, it’s just a reality,” she said. Because of that, neighbors need to weigh in with the city about land use and infill requirements and processes, and impress on developers that they must take some interest in and be responsive to the comments of neighbors.

“We’re trying to be positive,” she said. “However this unfolds, we’ll have two new sets of neighbors. We all want to be supportive of the people who will be moving in even if we don’t like the houses.”

AH will continue its coverage of the demolition and construction as the process proceeds.

“House of No Value” ~ 2933 NE Skidmore: The Next Alameda Tear-Down?

9-11 1921 Detail of 915 Skidmore (NE Corner of 30th)

A photo from The Oregonian, September 11, 1921. Built by the Wickman Building Company for the George A. Kettleberg family at a cost of $4,500.

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January 30, 2016

We were disappointed to read the language of a recent real estate advertisement for the 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the northwest corner of NE 30th and Skidmore.

The 50 x 100 corner lot was recently legally partitioned into two 50 x 50 lots and an allowance made for two houses on what has been (and still is for the moment) a single lot. (Read more about the practice of “lot splitting” and the demolition trend here). Among other things, the ad called out to builders and investors and made it clear this was a tear-down in waiting:

“House of no value. Value in land only.”

This week, the listing broker amended the ad noting that the seller would be willing to consider selling the house as is instead of tearing it down. This is good news. The price moved a bit too in the right direction: now asking $599,900. Last week’s language of “house of no value” was changed this week to this:

“Instant equity with this fixer; hardwood floors; classic floor plan; Seller willing to try conventional financing for full price offer – seller to do no repairs. Or Tear Down and Build 2 new houses! Approved for attached houses!”

AH readers know that old houses do indeed have value, and a multi-layered history that makes them unique and important. Yes, we know that all things (including houses and buildings) do have a life cycle, and that taking care of any older home is an investment. We haven’t had a chance to look around inside the house yet, but old-house-savvy people we respect have and report that yes indeed, it is a fixer with its share of deferred maintenance. But, the bones are solid, and they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Know anyone who’s looking for a bargain of an old house, wants to stem the tide of tear downs, and has a fixer upper in them? Time to make that call.

We’ll volunteer to do a full house history study as moral support for any successful fixer-upper purchaser…

Extra note: below is a screenshot from a faithful AH reader that shows a Google Maps street view image of the property from 2011. Our helpful reader reminds us that it’s possible to turn back street view time to see how this property has aged over the last few years. Try it yourself by searching the address and going to Google Maps street view, then drag the timeline bar back and forth to look for changes. Thanks John!

Skidmore House

Another Alameda tear-down: NE 24th and Regents

The 1946 ranch-style home at NE 24th and Regents is no more. Out on a walk today, here is what we observed:

2410 NE 24th Front Steps

Above, what it used to look like, a photo borrowed from the online listing.

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Here’s the same view today.

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Looking north toward Alameda Ridge.

We’ve been watching this house for the last several months, having read in the neighborhood newsletter that it had been slated for demolition and that multiple houses were going to be built back in its place. As we stood on the corner taking in the change, almost every passerby stopped to roll down their window and look. Many took pictures. Everyone seemed surprised, and not in a good way.

The real estate listing said this of the home:

Stunningly updated Alameda Mid-Century modern. This rare one-level home, on a double corner lot, boasts high-end appliances, central air, heated floors, two fireplaces and a zen-like garden retreat with a tea-house and hot tub.

We suppose cashing in on the value of the double lot eclipsed the value of the “rare one-level home.”

We’ve written about the demolition trend here on AH in the past when it has changed the face of the neighborhood. To read more about how demolitions are changing neighborhoods across Portland—and to track them on an interesting map—check out Restore Oregon, which is hard at work to advocate for protections, alternatives and education.

There’s another house we’ve been watching—a 1921 Craftsman bungalow on the northwest corner of Skidmore and 30th that has been vacant for a while. This fall, the Alameda Newsletter reported that it was also a candidate for tear-down.

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2933 NE Skidmore, built in 1921.

In fact, here’s text from that listing:

Builders! Investors! 50×50 lot in desirable Alameda neighborhood. Land division has been approved for an attached home by the City of Portland. Build attached house on each lot in one of Portland’s A+ neighborhoods! Buyer to do due diligence. House of no value. Value in Land only.

Did you catch that sentence: “House of no value.”

Really?

Did you catch the rest of the ad: this property has gone from one 50 x 100 corner lot to two 50 x 50 lots, approved by the city, and it must host an attached home (row house or duplex). Have a look at the attached home/duplex being built on NE 32nd between Sumner and Emerson (or worse, the one being built on NE 30th between Killingsworth and Jarrett) for a taste of what might be coming our way.

2933 NE Skidmore will likely be the next Alameda tear down. More on that house next.

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