In the dining room…

Because many of us will be spending some time this week in our dining rooms participating in the annual giving of thanks with family and friends, we thought it would be of interest to share these plans and word picture of a state-of-the-art dining room, circa 1914.

Arthur C. Clausen was a Minneapolis and then Portland-based architect and writer who wrote a regular column for the Oregon Daily Journal from 1913-1914 on home design and construction. Often using interesting language (and clearly some dated expressions and ideas) Clausen was trying to influence the thinking of home buyers, architects and builders at a time when homebuilding on Portland’s eastside was taking off.

We like Clausen’s notion of the dining room as a place to welcome our best friends with the least formality and where both pleasant and problem-solving conversations flourish. Read on (click to enlarge):

From The Oregon Daily Journal, August 3, 1913

Clausen’s described dining room bears a striking resemblance to our own: bay window, wainscot and dust-collecting plate rails (he was right). Maybe you recognize elements of your own dining room? We’ll share more of his columns down the road, but this one just seemed timely.

Good Thanksgiving wishes from our dining room to yours.

Birkemeier always remembered his first house

Ken Birkemeier, the prolific Alameda neighborhood designer and homebuilder, always remembered the first house he ever built: a cute little English storybook style home at 829 NE 41st.


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829 NE 41st Avenue. Ken Birkemeier’s first homebuilding project. Photograph is from a 1932 story in The Oregonian about the sale of unused public property. The lot, located on a small peninsula just across the street from Laurelhurst School, had been kept in reserve in case the city needed it for school purposes, but was eventually purchased and developed by Birkemeier.

Birkemeier, whose work has come to signify the best of the Mid-Century Modern movement in Portland, built more than two dozen homes here in Alameda alone, often on steep or challenging lots.

According to homeowner and AH reader Gary Groce, Birkemeier dropped by one day during his later life, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, like a salmon returning back to where it all began. Groce wrote us recently with this account of his impromptu visit with the Mid-century Master.

As I recall, I was outside the house working on something when this largish car pulled up with an older couple inside. They were looking at the house. I walked over to the car and he introduced himself. My impression was that he had recently married this charming woman and wanted to show her the first house that he built. We invited them in and showed them things we had done to restore the house as close to original as possible including the re-acquisition of original art-deco slipper shade lights, etc.

I vividly remember him telling me as he looked at the mahogany beamed ceiling… “when we got the garage up, I used that as a shop and I remember cutting those brackets for the beams on my band saw in the garage.”

I remember him saying, “I used the best materials I could find because I wanted it to be right.”

I lamented to him that the original fireplace façade in the living room had been changed at least twice and that someday, I hoped to restore it to original. He very graciously invited me to his home in the west hills as he thought he might have blue prints, and sketches of the fireplace. I took him up on his offer.  I remember his home being this unbelievable, sprawling mid century modern with a fantastic view.  In retrospect, that home was undoubtedly of his own design and build. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to find anything of interest on our house so we just spent our time visiting.

I came away with the impression that this was a very successful, intelligent man who never lost the common touch. Very warm and personable.

In the years following the passing of his wife of 50 years (Marge), Birkemeier married Ramona, who he evidently wanted to see where all the homebuilding work began. Birkemeier died in 1996. The last house he built in Alameda is at 2830 NE Regents Drive (1952).

To read more about Birkemeier’s life and work, check out the profile here on the blog.

With thanks to Gary for sharing this memory.

Recovering Alameda real estate market means an increase in construction activity

Alameda residents have been building, rebuilding and changing the neighborhood now for more than 100 years. While most of the initial home construction in Alameda took place in the 1920s, a look back through historic building permits reveals a constant stream of repair, remodeling and renovation. History-inclined neighbors with an appreciation for period detail will agree that some of this work has been for the good, and some…well. That’s life: change is the constant.

This spring, change continues to shape homes here in Alameda. A strengthening real estate market, low interest rates and an improving overall economy have meant homeowners and developers are more willing to invest in work.

Alameda and other nearby northeast Portland neighborhoods have experienced an 18.4 percent increase in real estate values over last year at this time, according to the Portland Business Journal. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, there were 62 pending and closed property sales in the neighborhood. The result of this strengthening market is plainly visible in the form of renovations, additions, complete tear-downs, and partial re-builds.

Here are a few of the visible projects we’ve seen progress on during our walks through the neighborhood. Not an exhaustive inventory of major works underway, but a list of interesting projects to watch.

28th and Hamblet

As of mid-May, this double lot just north of the Alameda Ridge is a hole in the ground where once stood a stately 1922 Mediterranean style home built by Frederic Bowman. The home was demolished in February, and the lot subdivided in two. As a demonstration of Portland’s policy on infill development and the improving market conditions, developers of this project closed the door on the possibility of adaptively reusing the original structure, subdivided the lot, and decided to start over from scratch. Neighbors had to say farewell to the historic home, and now get to watch as construction of two houses unfolds—both with architectural styles that will attempt a linkage with the past.


37th and Bryce

OK, it’s technically just east of the Alameda neighborhood, but it’s a particularly interesting project to watch because the new structure is using some of the original materials and structural elements. We watched as the house was disassembled this spring and it looked like much of the original building material was stacked and recycled (unlike the demolition at 28th and Hamblet). Entire interior partition walls are being repurposed, and even window headers and doorframes now feature some old and some new material. Original foundation walls have been retained and new sections added. We remember this as a bungalow.

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This home at NE 37th and Bryce presents a reuse of existing structures and new materials. The old framing lumber appears dark in this picture, and new material is a lighter color.

Image 3A detail of the home at NE 37th and Bryce showing the original foundation, exterior wall and flooring system (left), joined with a new foundation and materials (right). Construction and remodeling projects across the neighborhood this spring are using a range of old and new materials.

21st and Regents

This corner bungalow has received a major facelift this spring. In the past, this house has been unsure if it wants to address the 21st Avenue side or the Regents side. Today, the house connects with both streets in its unusual position at the prow of the neighborhood. Siding, landscape and other upgrades are apparent.

30th Avenue, south of Fremont

Major reconstruction work on the bungalow on the west side of the street in the first block south of Fremont has removed the former Mansard-style roof (which was not original), expanded the footprint, and added back several traditional design elements including columns and a new front porch.

Alameda and Regents

Elements of the original house were retained and blended with a major expansion to the north, a new front porch (still underway), a completely new roofline and exterior shingles on the upper storey.

Mason and 27th

Work on this house is almost done now, but has involved a complete restoration both inside and out. Most of the original fabric of the home is still intact. This has been another interesting one to watch this spring.

One thing is for sure: in a neighborhood of older homes and with an improving real estate market, continued investment and renovation will shape the neighborhood. Do you have favorite home restoration projects you’re watching?

Tudor Cottage Design Featured in The Oregonian

Seeing as how the English Tudor Cottage stories and photos are among the most often viewed files here on the blog, I thought I would share an article and drawings that ran in The Oregonian homes section on December 20, 1925 (click on the image to enlarge). Interesting to note that plan sets like this were available in abundance. Every week, the newspaper focused on a different house style: the narrative describing each house could have been the same for every story, favoring words like roomy, inexpensive, tasteful, convenient. If you live in a Tudor, does this floor plan and design look familiar?

From The Oregonian, December 20, 1925

From The Oregonian, December 20, 1925

Style Points | The Mediterranean

There aren’t many of these in the neighborhood, so they tend to stand out proud and clear: the Mediterranean, with its distinctive tile roof and stucco exterior, is a time traveler from a very specific period in Portland’s residential architecture history.

This home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in 1925 by Emil G. Peterson, is a classic example of the Mediterranean style in the Alameda neighborhood. Current resident Clayton France is underway with restoration work.

This home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in 1925 by Emil Johnson, is a classic example of the Mediterranean style in the Alameda neighborhood. Current resident Clayton France is underway with restoration work.

First beginning to appear with the housing boom of 19-teens and early 1920s, the Mediterranean style quickly became popular, with multiple grand homes built particularly in high-end Portland Heights and Willamette Heights neighborhoods, but also with more modest versions scattered through Irvington and Alameda.

While much of the surrounding housing stock of the time was clad with shingles, clapboards and the distinctive angular features associated with the Craftsman era, the Mediterranean style offered a more exotic and even romantic feel. Characteristic design elements tie to centuries-old classic materials and structures, including terra-cotta tile roofs, graceful archways, white-washed smooth stucco exteriors, and hipped-roof towers. Look for small porch-like tile-roofed entries (called loggias), and long narrow—often arched—casement windows.

All of these features conjure up romantic visions of Tuscan villas, rolling hills and established old settlements rooted in generations of storied history, which of course young Portland didn’t have a lot of in the 19-teens. But the appeal of this stylistic message, particularly here in a brand new neighborhood at the edge of a booming western city, was clear enough for some speculative home builders to give it a try.

A perfect example of the style here in Alameda is the home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in the spring of 1925 by local builder Emil Johnson. Johnson, and his younger brother Ernie Johnson (both Swedish immigrants, and both home builders) were busy in Alameda and Irvington during these years, but this is the only Mediterranean he built. Johnson designed and built this house, and likely took special care in its construction because it’s where he and his family lived (his daughter Eileen lived in the house all her life).

Look at the arched and roofed front entrance, the long casement windows, the terra-cotta roof tiles, the hipped-roof stair tower at the entry, and the wrought iron balcony railings: design elements that trumpet the Mediterranean-Italian connection.

Like so many aspects of American life that changed in the early 1930s, the Great Depression signaled the end to the popularity of the Mediterranean style as well. People went back to basics and the seemingly frivolous romance of the 1920s was seen as part of the problem. But this home, like several other Mediterraneans in the neighborhood, remain as a classy souvenir from the past, and a fine example of the diversity of architectural styles that make up our neighborhood.

Style Points | The Four Square

It’s all in the name: four square.

Four sides of equal dimension, and each side equal in height and in width. In essence, that’s the four square house, though a variation on the style added a bit more space by making the front-to-back walls longer. These practical, attractive, stately beauties can be found in Alameda mostly north of the ridge, throughout Irvington, and in just about every other Portland neighborhood. The style was most popular in the 19-teens-Portland’s biggest residential building boom-and is seldom seen after the 1920s when builders and buyers turned their attention to the Tudor, the colonial, and other modern styles.


Here’s a shot of a classic four-square, which ran in The Oregonian on January 21, 1912.

The four square is almost always a two-storey house and is capped off with a hipped roof: a pyramid shaped top-hat that reflects the symmetry of the four walls. Sometimes the eaves extend out far beyond the walls with solid or ornate brackets (in a kind-of Prairie School style reference). Often four squares have a dormer or two up top which add a little head room to the attic and bring in some natural light.

In the purest form, the interior floor plan of the four square was also (you guessed it) a square: four rooms of equal size, which ensured a corner for each space and precious cross-ventilation.

Porches, ever-popular during the first part of the last century, almost always span the entire front wall. Interesting to note that lots of front porches simply wore out in the middle of the 20th Century. A review of building permits for the Alameda neighborhood shows a high frequency of porch demolition and reconstruction in the 1940s and 1950s. All that wood just couldn’t hold up against all that water. Sometimes the rebuilt porches, while practical and often concrete, left a lot to be desired historically. It’s not uncommon to see a lovely four square with a tiny porch roof just over the front door, with concrete stairs and wrought iron railings…clear clues to some early remodeling.

Most four square houses have some visible influence from the Craftsman style, whether inside with door and window trim and other details, or outside in the form of eave brackets, window trim, porch columns or other details. That’s just natural: the builders who constructed these houses were also building bungalows and larger houses. And the Craftsman style was popular with home buyers and home owners at the time. Over the years, as styles changed, often these details were removed or altered to keep up appearances.

A note about taxonomy: you might hear these houses referred to as “Old Portland Style.” Portland didn’t have a corner on the market for four squares…they are everywhere that homes were being built in the U.S. during this era. The Old Portland reference is a relatively new term, likely coined by realtors, that lumps together all two-storey, square, “boxy” looking houses. Don’t be fooled. Now you know: just look for four walls of equal dimension.

Style Points | The Colonials

Rooted in American history and tradition, the Colonial Revival style and its popular angled-roof cousin, the Dutch Colonial Revival, were some of the Alameda neighborhood’s earliest and sturdiest looking homes. The style takes it primary influence from New England homes of the 1700s and 1800s and is intended to call to mind the traditional American virtues of civility, practicality, and patriotism. Alameda’s early builders were searching for designs that would appeal to the aesthetic interests of well-to-do buyers. The Colonial, and its variations, were an important part of the style palette for builders of that era.

This Colonial Revival home at the corner of NE Regents and Dunckley was built in 1939 by Frank A. Read, a prolific Alameda builder of the 1930s and early 1940s. Use of brick around the entry door brings a modernizing touch to the traditional clapboard exterior. The plunging roofline from the roof peak to above the entry traces a link to early 17th Century New England homes. The use of a garrison style overhang between the first and second floor, and pendant drops at the corners, clearly ties the design to its colonial influences. Other Frank Read homes of this period use many of the same building materials and design references. Photo courtesy of John Haleston.

While not the most common house style in Alameda, the Colonial and Dutch Colonial are notable because they mark both the earliest wave of building in the neighborhood during 1911-1912, as well as some of the last houses built on the dwindling supply of vacant lots in the 1950s. The early Colonial Revivals (such as the Harold Prince house at 2815 NE Alameda) are classic examples of the style, while the later homes more freely interpret the Colonial style and add in other influences like the bungalow or the Norman farmhouse.

Here are some telltale signs of the Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival:

Colonial Revival

  • Rectangular shape;
  • Typically symmetrical form and placement of double-hung windows, often with decorative shutters;
  • Front door placed at the center, often with ornate portico;
  • Second floor dormers with double-hung windows and decorative shutters, placed symmetrically on the building face;
  • Clapboard exteriors, typically painted white;
  • Sometimes featuring a slightly overhanging second floor, known as a “garrison style;”
  • Decorative pendants, drops or spheres.
  • Central (and sometime grand) staircases that lead direct from the entryway to the second floor.

Dutch Colonial Revival

The Dutch Colonials often feature some or all of the features noted above, but have the distinctive angled roof, called a gambrel style (a barn-like roof) and are typically smaller than the Colonial Revivals.

The most prolific designer and builder of the Colonial Revival in Alameda was Frank A. Read. Between 1926 and 1941, Read built 15 homes in the neighborhood, most of them Colonial Revivals, many of them clustered together in locations north of the Alameda Ridge.

In addition to Read’s sense for design, he had good business sense for real estate development and for construction economies of scale. Located within 100 yards of each other in this portion of the neighborhood are a dozen other homes built by Read. The places where he chose to build were a quick walk from a stop on the Broadway streetcar which ran to 29th and Mason. Read was born in Portland in 1885 and lived on the east side most of his life. He died in June 1950, survived by his wife Mae and three brothers. His obituary in the Oregon Journal described him as a builder and contractor for more than 40 years.

Of Purple Boxes

A great observation about old houses and their sometimes brash new neighbors. This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian on March 16, 2008.


One thoughtful reader, responding to Emma’s column, writes:

Don’t you wonder what story the purple box is telling us? If the older homes were about family, and a love of making things that are handsomely decorated, or about sitting in the sun on our porches, maybe the purple box is about amnesia, or something like it.

What do you think the purple box is telling us?

Style Points | The Bungalow


Jean and Robert Morrison in front of their Alameda Arts and Crafts Bungalow, about 1925. Note the front porch with squared columns, wide bank of casement windows, overhanging eaves and low profile, all hallmarks of the bungalow style. Photo courtesy of the Morrison-Munson family.

The Bungalow
If you’re passing through a residential area of Northeast Portland, (or southeast Portland for that matter) it’s impossible to be more than a stone’s throw from a bungalow. Distinguishing features of this much-loved style include its typical storey-and-a-half height, prominent overhanging eaves and front porch, often angular lines, and square-tapered columns.

Indoors, family interaction was facilitated by a more open plan than the closed off parlors associated with earlier times. Larger windows, often in banks of two or three, invited natural light and fresh air inside and connected the home’s residents with the surrounding landscape outside.

Rooted in the English Arts and Crafts movement – as much a social revolution as it was a design aesthetic – bungalow designs seemed to say solid, simple, natural, durable, practical, healthy, rustic. Some architectural historians credit this venerable building form with permanently altering America’s relationship with the home, breaking with pretentious Victorian and Queen Anne styles and putting a simple, attractive, dwelling within reach of would-be owners.

While Portland didn’t invent the bungalow (credit is given to British ex-pats living in India), prolific local builders at the turn of the 20th Century got a lot of practice perfecting their style. In mid-April 1912, perhaps the peak of our bungalow love affair, Portland was third in the nation behind only New York and Chicago in terms of the total number of building permits issued (667), two thirds of which were for homes…and many of them bungalows.

The era in which our bungalows were built was one of incredible growth in Portland and other West Coast cities. A study I’m making of The Oregonian from 1909-1920 paints the picture of our city in a total building and expansion frenzy in a way us current residents can’t fully appreciate. New neighborhoods were being born on a monthly basis. Hardly a week passed without some mention in the paper about the bungalow style (often referred to as the California bungalow, in deference to its popularity in Los Angeles and other California cities). This article below, from The Oregonian on 21 May 1911, provides a narrative blueprint for what a bungalow should be. I live in a bungalow built about the time the article was written and it sounds like a turn-by-turn description of our house…


From The Oregonian, 21 May 1911. Click to see larger image of this story.

A testament to the cultural popularity of the bungalow can be seen in other segments of Portland life beyond housing: Movie theaters, community centers and even churches were built in the bungalow style. The Alameda Park Community Church near Regents and NE 31st, built in 1922 (now the Subud Center), was originally known as “the Bungalow Church.” Stay tuned for more in a future post on the story of how that original building came to be – it’s an interesting tale that includes a misunderstanding, a protest, a lawsuit and eventual neighborhood acceptance.

The Craftsman / Arts and Crafts bungalow style was popular into the early 1930s, when the English cottage and Tudor cottage became more popular, as family sizes changed, and as the economy contracted. As homeowners’ design preferences changed, some of them remodeled (some might say remuddled) their bungalows to become more “modern.” Past owners of my house removed crown mouldings, portions of dining room plate rail, leaded glass and light fixtures as they pursued their vision of modernity. Fortunately, the solid bones of most bungalows have survived those bad ideas, and homeowners today have access to many resources and materials to restore the original look and feel of the bungalow era.

It’s interesting to track development of our neighborhood simply by looking at house styles, with the bungalow, the four-square, and other Craftsman-style homes built first, giving way to the formal Tudor revival, the English cottage style, Spanish (we have a good few in the neighborhood), and Colonial influences.

Today, there is a growing obsession with bungalow style that has given rise to at least one national magazine, dozens of books, friends groups, websites, conventions and retail businesses. The themes embodied in Portland’s first bungalows – family, simplicity, connection with the natural world, practicality – are very much part of our design ethic today.

For further exploration
If you grew up in, live in, or just care about a bungalow, you have to read Janet Ore’s fine book The Seattle Bungalow, published in 2007 by the University of Washington Press.

You might also want to check into the American Bungalow Magazine.

What features make the bungalow special for you?

Style Points | The Tudor Cottage


This Alameda Tudor Cottage, located at 3143 NE 32nd Place, was built in 1929 by architect and builder Albert H. Irwin. Irwin built more than 25 Tudor Cottage and Tudor-Norman farmhouse style homes in Alameda, Beaumont, Portland Heights and other locations. For more information on Albert Irwin, click into my page about The Builders. Photo Courtesy of Albert Irwin Collection-Paul Crocker.

The Tudor

  • References to an earlier time period;
  • Distinguishing between Tudor Revival and English Tudor Cottage
  • The Style in Alameda and other Northeast Portland Neighborhoods

We’ll distinguish between Tudor Revival and Tudor English Cottage. But first, some background on key elements of Tudor.

Roots in Tudor England

Based loosely on English style from 16th Century England-the period when the Tudor family ruled England-and evolved from a type of architecture and construction known as post and beam.

Large timbers framed the buildings and plaster was used to fill in the areas inside the posts and beams (the ancestor of stucco), providing a rustic appeal. The form included steeply pitched roofs, elongated windows, often ornate use of patterned brick or stone, small window panes, a cross gabled structure, large chimneys (with chimney pots).

Reviving the Tudor in America

Tudor Revival refers to those homes-usually larger and often two or three stories-built in Portland as early as 1910, though the style began to be used elsewhere in the country just before the turn of the last century. These larger homes mimicked the early post and beam style, but not the actual structural use of posts and beams, by using half-timbers affixed to a stucco exterior. Alameda’s “Autzen Mansion” near 26th and Alameda is a good example of a classic Tudor Revival residence.

Tudor Revival homes were costly to build. Their steep and complex roof systems, decorative brick work, use of stucco and wood trim all took time and extra care.

Why was the Tudor Revival popular? For many the style was attractive because of the reference it made to early England, to a more “romantic” time. At a time of great industrial growth and change, it provided a link to a “simpler” era. It was also a distinctive look, different from the Victorian and Queen Anne periods which it followed.

The English Tudor Cottage-A Simpler and Popular Form

A variation on this, which was very popular here in Portland and elsewhere, was referred to as the English Tudor Cottage, English Revival Cottage, or simply as “English” style. It differed from the classic Tudor Revival in several ways:

  • These were smaller and more modest homes, built for middle-income families, usually one story.
  • They were built on smaller lots, typically between the mid 1920s and late 1930s.
  • The cottage version might have the half-timber over stucco style. But often not. The exterior material might be all stucco, or brick, or even shingle.
  • Look for the long rectangular windows, and often-even on the cottage-use of leaded glass windows.
  • The steeply pitched roof is still a common feature on these homes, as is a cross gable style…where the roof ridgelines run perpendicular to each other, with the gable end facing forward.
  • The market for these homes in the late 1920s and 1930s was strong. Sears and Roebuck even produced a very popular kit version of this house.

The Portland Context

A study of Sanborn maps from the mid 1920s shows that much of the northerly portions of Alameda (and other nearby neighborhoods like Beaumont and Rose City Park) had been developed. The predominant house type built during the earlier years was the bungalow, though there are plenty of four-squares, arts and crafts and colonials as well.

The English Tudor Cottage style was indeed popular and commonly used in the areas built after the mid-1920s, again typically in the southern and eastern portions of the neighborhood. Home construction was strong in parts of Northeast Portland in the late 1920s but then slowed after 1929 and didn’t really recover until the late 1930s.

The English Tudor Cottage would have been popular during this era because it was less expensive to build and to buy; it had an attractive feel and look, with references to classic and higher-end homes; it was more “modern” compared to the common and aging bungalows that were all around; it was typically a bit smaller than homes built in the teens and early 1920s (smaller families).

-Doug Decker

Be sure to take a look at the Tudor English Cottage plans and story that ran in the December 20, 1925 issue of The Oregonian. Click here for a link to that post.


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