Lost and Found

We’ve just finished Val Ballestrem’s great new book Lost Portland Oregon, which profiles more than 50 iconic Portland buildings, all either demolished in the name of progress, or destroyed by fire or collapse. These were great buildings of our past that defined Portland’s skyline and sense of itself, most of which have slipped beyond living memory, a fact Ballestrem notes in his preface and that seems remarkable given the prominence and impact each building had on past generations: “Many of these places have been gone so long that few people remember that they ever existed.”

Profiles of these architectural and construction marvels make fascinating reading: how the buildings were the centerpieces of various communities, the hopes of investors and families trying to build their fortunes, to create something meaningful and durable, to leave a mark.

The Oregonian Tower, the Worcester Block, the Forestry Building, the Beth Israel Synagogue the distinctive Witch Hazel building (below), virtually every commercial building on Front Avenue. Any of these places would be a revered landmark today. It’s a sad parade of losses captured thoughtfully by Ballestrem and woven through with insight about decades of social and economic change in the Portland landscape: the up and down cycle of the economy and the perils of deferred maintenance; periodic Willamette River flooding; institutional racism and the dynamics of changing demographics; failures of long-term thinking and planning. The automobile.

The Witch Hazel Building–later known as the Ohio Hotel– stood at the southeast corner of SW Front and Madison near the foot of today’s Hawthorne Bridge from 1891-1941. It’s one of more than 50 buildings profiled in Val Ballestrem’s new book Lost Portland Oregon. Photo: Minor White, Witch Hazel Building and the Hawthorne Bridge, 1940. bb015335, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, public domain.

Despite their size, prominence and impact on the community, in the end none of these great built achievements survived. Their greatest common denominator today is that a majority of their footprints have been turned into parking lots. Sigh.

To reassure ourselves that it is possible (and admirable) for a building to survive a century in the midst of the great forces of change, we’ve tracked down three houses in our then-and-now travels in North and Northeast Portland to serve as inspiration. Enjoy these pairs (click each to enlarge)–with thanks to the Norm Gholston Collection for the oldies–and go pick up a copy of Val’s book for your Portland history bookshelf.

6309 NE Mallory | Built 1913

 

3917 NE 8th | Built 1899

 

2225 NE 22nd | Built 1913

 

 

 

Ramona’s Landscape: Echoes of Neighborhood History

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday this week, we wanted to reprise one of our favorite earlier posts from here on alamedahistory.org and to remind readers that the landscape of Ramona and friends is pretty close to home. Come check out just how closely the landscape we know today connects with the history of the neighborhood. This post ran here in May 2009.

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Exploring Neighborhood History With Henry, Ramona and Beezus

We’ve been re-reading some favorite books recently, and as it turns out, finding quite a few clues to the world of neighborhood history. Award winning children’s writer Beverly Cleary grew up in our neighborhood and if you read carefully, you’ll find real echoes of our past in her books.

Cleary imagined an entire universe in a few small blocks. Our favorite young residents—Ramona, Beezus, Henry, Ribsy—crisscrossed their kingdom on bikes and on foot walking to their beloved Glenwood School, delivering the evening Journal newspaper, and getting themselves into some memorable misadventures.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

The geography of that imagined place came from author Beverly Cleary’s own experience as a child growing up here in the 1920s and 1930s. She lived in a home on Northeast 37th Avenue, and attended the school now named for her: the Beverly Cleary School Fernwood Campus. The landmarks that define Henry and Ramona’s world—the churches, schools and houses, the hills and even the vacant lots—are drawn from places Cleary frequented as a young person.

It’s possible to find clues to Cleary’s own geography—and even a sense of Alameda neighborhood life in the 1950s—by exploring Henry and Ramona’s neighborhood as it unfolds on the pages of more than a dozen of her books.

A good place to begin looking for clues is Ramona Quimby’s house, just up the street from Henry Huggins on Klickitat Street. Cleary actually tells us in one of her books that Ramona lived with her mother, father and sister Beezus in a rented house near the corner of 28th and Klickitat. I remember reading that part of the story to my daughter one night and making a mental note that I needed to go look up that address on my next walk through the neighborhood.

As many astute readers will recognize, the corner of 28th and Klickitat is actually a “T” intersection adjacent to the playground at Alameda School. The day I walked past that spot and realized it was the setting for Ramona’s fictional house (a school playground), I laughed out loud and tipped my hat to Beverly Cleary.

All readers of the series know that Henry Huggins lives with his mother, his father and his dog Ribsy in a square white house on Klickitat Street. Cleary never really tells us exactly where on Klickitat that might be. But if it’s a square white house—let’s imagine an old Portland foursquare style house with a nice porch—chances are it’s west of Ramona’s house. In Henry And the Paper Route, Cleary hints that Henry’s square white house was slightly elevated above the sidewalk with a sloping lawn the kids rolled down. This sounds indeed like a four-square, built in the 19-teens. Now all we have to look for is Henry’s red bike and the barking Ribsy.

Ramona and Henry’s Glenwood School is an obvious stand in for Fernwood School, where the young Cleary attended before moving on to Grant High School. Why didn’t she create a fictionalized role for Alameda School? We do know there was a certain rivalry between neighborhood schools.  Kids from one school sometimes looked down their noses at kids from the other. Was omitting Alameda School a diss? Probably not. Just a little too complicated to explain why kids living in the playground of one school (wink) would be going to a different school a few blocks away.

Vacant lots…now there is a commodity of the 1950s that we just don’t have any more. By the late 1950s virtually every easily buildable lot in Alameda had been developed (many of the last ones by builder Ken Birkemeier). During Cleary’s growing up years—the 1920s and 1930s—there were plenty vacant lots to be found and they surely provided a refuge for everything from baseball to clubhouses. In Cleary’s 1955 Henry And the Paper Route, Henry watches as the ladies club sets up sawhorses and planks in a nearby vacant lot for the annual fundraising rummage sale. The vacant lot was a community commodity as well as landmark. Reading more closely between the lines, was the ladies club the fictional counterpart of our own Alameda Tuesday Club? Could be.

The business district of the fictional neighborhood bears some resemblance to places we all shop and frequent today. The movie theater, dime store, Rose City Barber Shop and even the “Colossal Market” are landmarks in today’s Hollywood neighborhood. The Colossal—where Henry’s mother bought everything from vegetables to hair clippers—was probably patterned after the original Fred Meyer store at 42nd and Sandy.

Al’s Thrifty Service Station, where Ribsy steals a policeman’s lunch, is today’s 76 station at 33rd and Broadway. Kids at Glenwood School watch from their classroom windows as a new supermarket is built: today’s QFC (formerly Kienows) just south of Fernwood. All the pieces line up.

In addition to the fun of hearing about these thinly disguised places we all know from our area’s past, there’s some wonderful imagery in these books that evokes an earlier time in the neighborhood, while also being timeless:

  • Ramona and Beezus playing outside on a summer’s evening until the street lights come on, when it’s time to go in.
  • The 11-year-old Henry riding his bicycle through the neighborhood in the late afternoon and early evening, delivering the afternoon newspapers hot off the press.
  • Kids jumping in puddles and playing in rivulets of muddy water on a rainy morning’s walk to school.
  • The Fuller Brush man in trenchcoat walking door-to-door selling his wares.
  • Henry crawling on all fours through Grant Park at night with flashlight in search of nightcrawlers for fishing.

And a timeless image that could have been borrowed from this winter: Ramona  sledding down the 37th Street hill on her dad’s old sled. Now there’s a scene drawn from the author’s personal experience, just a few doors up from her own childhood home.

Which gets to what makes Beverly Cleary’s work so appealing and enduring (and even instructive, for us students of history who also like to read to our kids): she crafts a slice of universal life through the experiences of her likeable, believable characters, and all through the lens of a remembered Northeast Portland childhood.

Finding Albina

I’ve just finished a research project on a century-old house in the Boise neighborhood, an area known in earlier years as Albina. The house, on North Borthwick, was a rental for many years that held at least 17 different families and dozens of occupants of all ages. The research task was to track down all of the past residents and to learn something about their lives. What a fascinating pleasure it was to unearth the stories from newspaper clips, Polk directories and a handful of remaining public documents.

The part of the neighborhood I was focusing on was a Scandinavian stronghold in the early years: the house was built by a Swedish immigrant and for the first 40 years of its rental life, the house knew only immigrant families.

In the course of the research, I had occasion to read and enjoy a great book by former Northeast Portland resident and author Roy Roos, The History of Albina, which I recommend to readers of this blog.

The back of the book contains a thumbnail history of many properties in the Boise, King, Humboldt and Piedmont neighborhoods. You’ll recognize some of these buildings, particularly the ones up and down Martin Luther King Boulevard. But it’s the front part of the book—the narrative that describes how neighborhood geography has changed over time, and particularly the maps—that will haunt you. So much has been lost in these neighborhoods. Virtually all of Albina has been altered by development of Emanuel Hospital, construction of Interstate 5, and construction of the Fremont Bridge and its various ramps and fly overs. Overlay the map of old Albina on the geography of today and you can get a sense of just how much is gone.

If you are haunted by layers of history and enjoy seeking clues that link today with the past, read Roy’s book and then get out there on the ground, maps in hand, to imagine what must have been. You can find his book at Powell’s and many other booksellers locally and on the internet. Here’s a link to a neat story that ran in The Oregonian following the book’s publication.

Hat’s off to Roy for keeping these stories and places alive.

The Geography of Imagination

Exploring Neighborhood History With Henry, Ramona and Beezus

We’ve been re-reading some favorite books recently, and as it turns out, finding quite a few clues to the world of neighborhood history. Award winning children’s writer Beverly Cleary grew up in the neighborhood and if you read carefully, you’ll find real echoes of our past in her books.

Cleary imagined an entire universe in a few small blocks. Our favorite young residents—Ramona, Beezus, Henry, Ribsy—crisscrossed their kingdom on bikes and on foot walking to their beloved Glenwood School, delivering the evening Journal newspaper, and getting themselves into some memorable misadventures.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

The geography of that imagined place came from author Beverly Cleary’s own experience as a child growing up here in the 1920s and 1930s. She lived in a home on Northeast 37th Avenue, and attended the school now named for her: the Beverly Cleary School Fernwood Campus. The landmarks that define Henry and Ramona’s world—the churches, schools and houses, the hills and even the vacant lots—are drawn from places Cleary frequented as a young person.

It’s possible to find clues to Cleary’s own geography—and even a sense of Alameda neighborhood life in the 1950s—by exploring Henry and Ramona’s neighborhood as it unfolds on the pages of more than a dozen of her books.

A good place to begin looking for clues is Ramona Quimby’s house, just up the street from Henry Huggins on Klickitat Street. Cleary actually tells us in one of her books that Ramona lived with her mother, father and sister Beezus in a rented house near the corner of 28th and Klickitat. I remember reading that part of the story to my daughter one night and making a mental note that I needed to go look up that address on my next walk through the neighborhood.

As many astute readers will recognize, the corner of 28th and Klickitat is actually a “T” intersection adjacent to the playground at Alameda School. The day I walked past that spot and realized it was the setting for Ramona’s fictional house (a school playground), I laughed out loud and tipped my hat to Beverly Cleary.

All readers of the series know that Henry Huggins lives with his mother, his father and his dog Ribsy in a square white house on Klickitat Street. Cleary never really tells us exactly where on Klickitat that might be. But if it’s a square white house—let’s imagine an old Portland foursquare style house with a nice porch—chances are it’s west of Ramona’s house. In Henry And the Paper Route, Cleary hints that Henry’s square white house was slightly elevated above the sidewalk with a sloping lawn the kids rolled down. This sounds indeed like a four-square, built in the 19-teens. Now all we have to look for is Henry’s red bike and the barking Ribsy.

Ramona and Henry’s Glenwood School is an obvious stand in for Fernwood School, where the young Cleary attended before moving on to Grant High School. Why didn’t she create a fictionalized role for Alameda School? We do know there was a certain rivalry between neighborhood schools.  Kids from one school sometimes looked down their noses at kids from the other. Was omitting Alameda School a diss? Probably not. Just a little too complicated to explain why kids living in the playground of one school (wink) would be going to a different school a few blocks away.

Vacant lots…now there is a commodity of the 1950s that we just don’t have any more. By the late 1950s virtually every easily buildable lot in Alameda had been developed (many of the last ones by builder Ken Birkemeier). During Cleary’s growing up years—the 1920s and 1930s—there were plenty vacant lots to be found and they surely provided a refuge for everything from baseball to clubhouses. In Cleary’s 1955 Henry And the Paper Route, Henry watches as the ladies club sets up sawhorses and planks in a nearby vacant lot for the annual fundraising rummage sale. The vacant lot was a community commodity as well as landmark. Reading more closely between the lines, was the ladies club the fictional counterpart of our own Alameda Tuesday Club? Could be.

The business district of the fictional neighborhood bears some resemblance to places we all shop and frequent today. The movie theater, dime store, Rose City Barber Shop and even the “Colossal Market” are landmarks in today’s Hollywood neighborhood. The Colossal—where Henry’s mother bought everything from vegetables to hair clippers—was probably patterned after the original Fred Meyer store at 42nd and Sandy.

Al’s Thrifty Service Station, where Ribsy steals a policeman’s lunch, is today’s 76 station at 33rd and Broadway. Kids at Glenwood School watch from their classroom windows as a new supermarket is built: today’s QFC (formerly Kienows) just south of Fernwood. All the pieces line up.

In addition to the fun of hearing about these thinly disguised places we all know from our area’s past, there’s some wonderful imagery in these books that evokes an earlier time in the neighborhood, while also being timeless:

  • Ramona and Beezus playing outside on a summer’s evening until the street lights come on, when it’s time to go in.
  • The 11-year-old Henry riding his bicycle through the neighborhood in the late afternoon and early evening, delivering the afternoon newspapers hot off the press.
  • Kids jumping in puddles and playing in rivulets of muddy water on a rainy morning’s walk to school.
  • The Fuller Brush man in trenchcoat walking door-to-door selling his wares.
  • Henry crawling on all fours through Grant Park at night with flashlight in search of nightcrawlers for fishing.

And a timeless image that could have been borrowed from this winter: Ramona  sledding down the 37th Street hill on her dad’s old sled. Now there’s a scene drawn from the author’s personal experience, just a few doors up from her own childhood home.

Which gets to what makes Beverly Cleary’s work so appealing and enduring (and even instructive, for us students of history who also like to read to our kids): she crafts a slice of universal life through the experiences of her likeable, believable characters, and all through the lens of a remembered Northeast Portland childhood.

Old House Book List

With less than a week until Christmas–and everyone talking about favorite books–I thought I would start a list of books you should have on your shelf if you are a fan of old houses. Please feel free to suggest from your library….

The Seattle Bungalow, by Janet Ore, University of Washington Press, 2007. This is an excellent, readable, personal and thought-provoking social history of the Pacific Northwest bungalow. Don’t get hung up by the title, though it does focus on the bungalow in the Seattle area, virtually all of what you read is applicable to how people were feeling about their beloved houses in Portland too. This could be renamed “How the Bungalow Saved The Industrializing World.” You need to read this book.

Wade Hampton Pipes: Arts and Crafts Architect in Portland, Oregon, by Anne Brewster Clarke, Binford and Mort Publishing, 1986. This thoughtfully researched and written monograph details the life and work of the prolific Portland architect and includes many photos and details about his houses, including one in the Alameda Park neighborhood.

Architects of Oregon: A Biographical Dictionary of Architects, by Richard Ellison Ritz, Lair Hill Publishing, 2002. This excellent source covers 650 Oregon architects, including many who specialized in residential work, including houses right here in Alameda. You’ll find it for sale at the Architectural Heritage Center.

The History & Development of Portland’s Irvington Neighborhood, by Roy E. Roos, self-published, 1997. This is a great home-grown work that describes how our next-door-neighborhood evolved. Roy’s work provides insight into prominent local builders, many of whom were busy in the Alameda neighborhood too.

The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain De Botton, Pantheon Books, 2006. While not directly about residential architecture, this book takes on the question of why and how we make connections with the spaces in which we live and work. This is a book that will have you appreciating your own four walls in new ways.

Other suggestions?

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