An exercise in seeing

It’s been a busy fall around here with work on national register nominations, house history studies completed and underway, guided history walks and some river time. But not a lot of blog posting…time to get back in that groove.

We’ve just wrapped up the study of a 1911 “Colonial revival” style home in Irvington that reinforces the importance of looking at a thing long enough to actually see it. This is an important lesson whenever it arrives, and we appreciated it as such. We thought you might too.

Maybe you’ve seen this house: the stately white two-plus story home at the southwest corner of NE 21st Avenue and Knott. It’s just come on the market.

Viewed from Knott Street looking south, this house wants you know it’s in the Colonial Revival style, complete with the Georgian style doorway, bay window and upstairs shutters. Photo courtesy of Lulu Barker.

Below, the same house, viewed from NE 21st looking west, and in context with the house just to the south—which as it turns out is actually its twin, built at the same time by the same builder.

A good way to gauge the magnitude of change is to stand east of the two houses and compare, knowing they were built as Arts and Crafts twins originally in 1911. Photographed October 2022.

The two houses were built between November 1910-March 1911 by brothers-in-law James E. Coleman and Robert J. Ginn doing business as Coleman & Ginn. Both men were farmers with ties to Moro in Sherman County and had been drawn to Portland by its booming real estate business. The house to the south sold quickly, but the corner house with its front porch and entry facing NE 21st didn’t sell, so the Coleman family moved in for a few years until departing Portland for Moro during the economic downturn of the late 19-teens.

The next family—George and Hulda Guild—made some big changes. For the first few years, all their documents of record used the NE 21st Avenue address (which was 555 East 21st Street North, in the taxonomy of Portland’s pre-Great Renumbering address change).

But in the fall of 1920, all of the official documents for this house and the newspaper social listings stop reciting the NE 21st address and begin orienting to Knott Street. The formal entrance to the house had been shifted from the east-facing front porch entry of the original Arts and Crafts house on NE 21st Avenue, to a new Colonial Revival front entry facing north toward Knott Street.

This choice may have been driven in part by the rising popularity of the Colonial Revival style. By the early 1920s, large three-story Arts and Crafts homes were slipping out of vogue in favor of multiple revival styles. Another factor may have been the prestige of having a Knott Street address. Irvington homes facing Knott Street are typically grander than many of the homes on numbered streets, and perhaps George Guild, as president of Columbia Paper Box Company, would rather have resided on Knott Street than on 21st.

Whatever the reason, conversion would not have been simple. The distinctive Arts and Crafts dormers (on the north side) overhanging eaves and other architectural details were removed and the interior configuration and floor plan dramatically changed to accommodate entry from the north side of the house. There’s no documentation of this work on file with the city, so no record of date or extent, though a reasonable guess is the summer of 1920 when the Guilds started using their new Knott Street address.

Being able to see this transformation is all in how you look at it, where you look at it from, and the clues that history can bring, reminding us in a helpful way to question our perceptions and the things we think we know.

In an interesting post-script, this was also the home of Alfred Powers, one of Oregon’s best known authors, Dean of Creative Writing and Publishing for the Oregon university system, editor at Binford & Mort, and author of 18 books. During the years Alfred and wife Molly lived there (1942-1961), this house also held one of the largest private libraries in Oregon.

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.

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 called Regents Center), was originally known as “Bungalow Church.” And a grocery on NE Going was known as “Bungalow grocery.”

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, columns, 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, Mediterranean (we have a good few in the neighborhood), and Colonial influences.

Our national love affair with bungalow style 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 be interested in checking out how one local family restored their 1921 Craftsman bungalow, built from a Sears Roebuck kit.

Consider having a look at 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 a profile I’ve written about him in 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).

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.


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