Our 1912 Arts and Crafts bungalow has been home to eight families in its 110 years and I’ve made a point of connecting with someone from almost all of them. Seeing the house through the eyes and experiences of others has allowed my family to know this place in a unique way during our 30-plus years here, to appreciate the changes in life, community and in the fabric of the house itself over that century.
During these pandemic years I’ve been busy with a special project to connect past and present that’s both tangible and personal. This week it all came to fruition when modern-day craftsmen carefully reinstalled the three original stained-glass windows—now restored—that were removed from the house almost 50 years ago.
As a lover of old buildings and a person who appreciates homecomings, it was a take-your-breath-away moment when Carl put the last panel in place this week. Here, have a look:
Tracking down these three windows, understanding the circumstance of their removal and their subsequent travels, and getting them back in shape to be reunited with the house has been a story marked by chapters of kindness, generosity, good luck and persistence. At the heart of this labor of love, it’s been a story about putting pieces back together.
In late 1911 and early 1912, builder William B. Donahue completed a lone bungalow on NE 30th Avenue, the only house on the block at the time, located just a half block east from the end point of the Broadway Streetcar line, right next to the temporary “tract office” of the Alameda Land Company. Donahue knew the house would be a demonstration of sorts to show what he could build for potential homebuyers. So even though it was just a simple bungalow, he added some nice touches, including stained-glass and beveled-glass windows in all the right places inside and out.
Donahue’s floorplan included a breakfast nook between the formal dining room and the kitchen, with full wainscot paneling and a plate rail. For this welcoming, family-friendly room he chose a bank of high window openings to install three rose-patterned stained-glass windows.
Which is where the windows presided as four families cycled through the house: wars, pandemics, business ventures, children, dogs, birthdays and deaths, leavetakings, joys and losses. All discussed and decided at the nook table under those three beautiful windows.
The family who lived here from 1961 to 1975 loved this house. And when it came time for them to leave, they wanted to bring a piece of it with them, a keepsake and reminder of all their good memories here. The daughters were fledging and they agreed to each take a window, a gift from their father, who removed the sash and replaced them with three plain sheets of glass. The stained-glass was removed from the old window frames and put into new oak frames for display. One went to Arizona. One went to Spokane, and one stayed with the parents in Milwaukie. The windows continued to bring the comfort of family memories from their old home. Time passed as four more families cycled through under the blank window-eyes of the breakfast nook. No one here knew anything different.
As I researched the story of this house, I sought out the families who lived here and I even found a relative of builder William B. Donahue. Through oral history interviews and letters, I learned about the view from the porch across empty lots clear to the 33rd Street Woods. Brothers playing on the roof. The goat and wagon that came for a visit. The upright piano that lived in the front hall. The life-long memory from the little boy sprawled out on the floor of the nook reading books while colored light streamed in around him, filtered through those stained glass windows. So many stories.
In November 2004, we hosted the Mom of the house from the 1960s on an impromptu visit when she dropped by the street to say hello to her old neighbors who still lived two doors down. When she walked through the house, wistfully, she mentioned the stained glass windows in the nook.
Because we had been dreaming about finding the old columns that were torn out of the living room in the 1940s by an earlier family (which we later faithfully rebuilt based on those I found still in existence in a similar Donahue-built house a few blocks away), her mention of stained glass windows in the nook was a very timely little bolt of lightning. Earlier that year we had restored the original front porch, which had also been demolished in the 1940s (a tough decade for old houses).
A few weeks after her visit, a photo and brief note arrived in the mail showing the old window she still had hanging in her kitchen. We almost couldn’t believe that rose-patterned window was once here.
Through conversation over the months and years that followed, it emerged that her daughters still had the other two which had become sentimental companions from their growing up years. I began to imagine bringing the windows back here where they started. That was 18 years ago.
In the last several years, with the thoughtful help of her son (now grown and with a family of his own), and through persistent friendly stories from me about the home’s history and our careful work of putting the pieces back together, a pathway began to emerge: when the family reached that point we all eventually reach of readiness to simplify our lives and possessions, the windows would be welcomed back home. Just as the family took solace in bringing them away when they left, we would find solace in their return.
Back and forth correspondence, phone calls, soul searching, acceptance and finally, readiness. Two of the windows came first: one of the daughters had passed away and the other was ready to release her window with her sister’s. Then a year later, the Mom of the house, now in her mid 80s, was ready to give us the third one. The day we met with her to receive it felt like an adoption.
By then, I had fortunately found Jakub Kucharczyk, the art glass master who runs The Glaziery based here in Northeast Portland. Jakub and his team are one of a handful of knowledgeable and capable artists and craftspeople nationally who know old glass like ours and more importantly have the expertise to restore it using old ways and original materials.
When Jakub examined our well-traveled windows he pointed out the hand-blown crackle glass from Germany that make up the tiles across the bottom, the subtle peach and rose colored Kokomo catspaw granite glass of the flower petals, the zinc channel borders that outline the shapes.
Most of the zinc joints were in pretty good shape but a few needed new flux and solder. One of the crackle glass panels needed to be replaced and Jakub had just the right old piece that looked like it came from the same batch. Even though a few pieces of the art glass were broken, we left them in favor of preserving the original materials, and Jakub made them as steady as could be. All the glass needed a good clean up, and all three panels were reputtied.
Working with glass like this has become a lost art. 110 years ago, most cities had a competitive art glass workforce and marketplace. Today, Jakub and his team service an international marketplace looking to them to restore worn out windows and to build fine new art glass. This winter, he and his team removed the oak display frames built in the 1970s and made our panels ready for the next 100 years.
Meanwhile Stephen Colvin and Carl Klimt at The Sashwright Co. came out to measure the openings and teach us about window stops, reveals and hardware. Dale Farley at Wooddale Windows (also here in northeast Portland) took those dimensions and built new Douglas-fir sash for our old glass just the way the old-timers would, another lost art.
Back and forth we shuttled, dropping off the windows with Jakub for restoration, retrieving the new sash from Dale and delivering it back so Jakub could install the restored windows. Once we had them home, we matched the stain to the existing interior window trim in the nook and Marie painstakingly painted and stained them. Marie is very good at painstaking work.
Fast forward to this week. Carl and his crew returned for the install. I believe they were as excited as we were to make this reunion possible. Out came the empty-eyed single panes. And very carefully one at a time the old windows, newly sashed, were fit and snugged back into the openings they once knew.
I still can’t quite believe they’re back. Every time we pass by, we stand and admire how these windows re-dignify that space, how they bring even more color and life back into the room. It’s still the place you want to sit in the morning with a cup of tea to contemplate the day ahead, or for friendly conversation at dinner.
But these time traveling windows now-come-home have made this space something more, a kind of shrine to the house itself, its builder, the craftspeople who have helped repair and restore it, and more than a century of friends and family who have passed through.