Albina’s Williams Avenue, 1909

The loss and complete transformation of what was once a vital Albina main street will always haunt this North Portland neighborhood, in so many different ways. Important chapters of Portland history have played out here, from the early days of being its own city before becoming part of Portland, through waves of immigration, to Civil Rights protests and the vibrancy of African-American owned business, life and culture.

Today, if you don’t know this history, you might drive north on Williams past Emanuel Hospital and not know you are traveling through a kind of sacred ground.

To help us imagine this lost place, here’s a pretty amazing photo from AH photo friend Norm Gholston, and a then-and-now shot we matched up during a recent outing. Norm shared this great old pic recently: it’s the image side of a “real photo” postard, popular in this era. Click to enlarge and take a good look.

Taken from just north of the intersection with Russell Street, the 1909 photo features a look at the Kennard and Adams department store on the left, which carried a little bit of everything. The first intersection in the distance is Knott Street. That’s the Immaculate Heart Church steeple at Williams and Stanton you can see in the distance, the only common denominator that really jumps out at you from the two photos (known back in the day as St. Mary’s Church, not St. Mark’s as the Sanborn implies).

Here’s a composite of several Sanborn maps we put together to be able to visualize where Norm’s 1909 photo was taken. The red box indicates the approximate photo point. Click to enlarge.

Details from Sanborn plates 268, 273 and 274, from 1909.

If you ride, walk or drive this way—or if you didn’t know the history of this amazing stretch of street—take a moment to check out the following  multiple sources of insight about what this neighborhood meant during its heyday, and how its loss has affected the people who knew it:

Historic Black Williams Project

An article about Albina in the Oregon Encyclopedia

A nice rewind that looks back across the years by The Oregonian

Parlor stories

It’s been a quiet year so far on the AH blog, in deference to a busy batch of research for home owners and architects, several presentations, and ongoing exploration of our standing lines of history inquiry. We’ve been saving up some favorite old photos sent our way by history friend and photo collector Norm Gholston. Here’s one you’re going to want to take a close look at: the interior of a home in the vicinity of North Albina and Webster just after the turn of the last century.

Click in for a good look and then let’s take it apart in the way we like to do with Norm’s great old photos.

Part gallery, part living room, part library, apparently part dining room, this room is dressed to the nines. These picture rails are fully engaged with local art: Mt. Hood, the Coast, maybe the Columbia River.

The mantlepiece tells multiple chapters of the family story and serves as home for the heirloom clock (and the rabbit). Our very favorite thing in this whole picture is the yawning baby on the wall.

Formal table setting, with two forks at each plate, cloth napkins, the good china. Are the flowers silk or the real thing?

The texture of the plaster—and the various cracks and wear marks—make us think this house has seen a few years. And interesting fireplace: we’ve never seen a wooden fireplace surround quite like that one with corner trim that steps back following the line of bricks.

Bookcases filled. Thin carpet. Painted antlers. Victorian parlor lamp. So much to see.

The actual location of the house remains a bit of mystery. Norm tells us that on the back of the photo is written the address “5021 N. Albina,” which is curious for several reasons:

The address format is post-address change, meaning someone wrote that on there after 1931, which certainly could have happened. But the photo appears earlier than that to us.

The current building at that address is a mid-century brick duplex at the southwest corner of N. Albina and Webster…definitely not this place.

A look back at aerial photography of that corner in 1939 and in 1925 shows a vacant lot, as does the 1924 Sanborn map.

Could be that this is the interior of a house that stood there but was demolished before the 1925 aerial photography, but why would someone write 5021 Albina on the back given that it was never known as 5021? Hmm.

So we’re glad to consider this the interior of a house in the neighborhood from the turn of the last century and leave it at that. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. We like to solve them, but we’re glad just to continue contemplating too.

In 1911, it’s snowing

With thoughts about snow in the air, let’s turn back the clock to 1911.

From time to time, AH reader and Portland photo collector Norm Gholston sends along a gem or two from neighborhoods we know well—and some we’re still learning about. Here’s a killer image Norm shared recently, a “real photo” postcard from 1911 that shows a mom and pop grocery from Killingsworth Avenue at the southern edge of today’s Arbor Lodge neighborhood.

There’s so much to see and think about in this photo. Click in for a good look and we’ll share some insights:

Photo courtesy Norm Gholston

Snow! Those four-legged traction devices look pretty steady, don’t they?

As the writing on the wagon to the left says (and the numbers on the window to the left of the front door suggest), this is 155 Killingsworth Avenue, which before Portland’s Great Renumbering was actually 155 West Killingsworth. When you map that out today, it takes you to 2225 N. Killingsworth, located on the north side of the street just east of the N. Omaha Tree Way, a four-block-long Arbor Lodge boulevard.

Here’s where this is today, first by map, and then by Google Streetview

 

In this contemporary Google Streetview image, the horses and wagons would be parked near the utility pole in front of the white gate.

 

Detail from Sanborn Plate 521 shows the area in 1924. Arrow indicates location of Ockley Green Groceries and Meat.

Interestingly enough, there must be some remnant of the old market building underneath the existing structure of the auto shop that exists at that address today, because a plumbing permit still on file for that address tracks back to construction of the market building in July 1909, and tells us it was indeed a store.

The wagon on the right, with the grinning driver in his great gauntlet gloves, buttoned-up tunic and basket of greens, is driving for Pierson Brothers Grocery, also housed at 155 W. Killingsworth (look very carefully at the writing on his wagon). What was in that drinking jug on the far right next to the kerosene can?

Neither the Pierson Brothers nor Ockley Green Groceries and Meat appear in any of the Polk city directories either side of 1911 when this photo was taken, but don’t tell these guys that. We’ve scoured through newspapers and other business listings of the era and don’t find reference to these businesses either, though the grocery operated for years after the photo was taken. Help wanted ads from 1910 sought an experienced meat cutter to come in on Saturdays. Perhaps that’s when the fresh meat arrived from the nearby Portland Union Stockyards.

Be sure to appreciate the school girls: the younger girl on the right pulling a sled; both are layered up in their wool coats and hats and good winter boots.

Some clever volunteer editor has scratched out the words under the sign near the stairs, readable between the two utility poles. Yes, we can read “Grocery & Meat Market.” No, we can’t read whatever you crossed out. Was it a person’s name? The scratch-out edits were applied directly to the postcard, not to the actual Foster and Kleiser sign. Why?

Thanks to the 1910 census, we know who is living up those unpainted stairs, behind the open screen door. It’s Frank B. and Margaret Ford, who built the building. Ford was a real estate speculator dealing primarily in grocery stores like this and other simple first-floor commercial properties. Frank and Margaret bought and sold many properties on the eastside over the years and when things got tight, Frank took some liberties with certain documents, which got him arrested in 1929 for real estate fraud. But in 1909, he knew the right place to build a market with the new and booming Overlook neighborhood all around.

Frank B. Ford and his partner Theil also built the commercial block across the street which now houses the Milk Glass Market (which is well worth a visit by the way for a coffee and look around at the neat old market building insides). Back to the photo, look carefully at the reflection in the market window panes and you might even be able to make out the form of the building across the street and its clapboard siding. Check out the Sanborn plate again (and the streetview) and you can see the Milk and Glass Market building directly across the street.

Be sure to note the rails running east-west on Killingsworth, visible in the far left bottom of the photo. This is the St. Johns car line. In the 1890s,  somewhere nearby behind the photographer was the re-load point where the steam train came and went to St. Johns and riders transferred to the electric trolley line that ran east and then south toward Portland. A station was built here–at the corner of Killingsworth and Omaha on the south side of the street–and it was called the Ockley Green Station; later it served the electric trolley that went all the way through to St. Johns. You’ll find dozens of references to it in early newspapers of the day. Real estate ads selling houses or renting apartments all say “near Ockley Green Station.” No need for an address or even a cross-streets, everyone knew where Ockley Green Station was (though, thankfully, some did explain Omaha and Killingsworth was the spot).

There’s another mystery we’ve been puzzling over that will remain unsolved for the moment (we’re not without our hunches): the name Ockley Green taken by the station and the market, and eventually the school.

Here’s what we know for sure:

  • Ockley Green was the name of the station from early days. It was not named for a person. There is no person in any of the Portland decadal censuses during that time or in any city directory of that era that we examined with that name.
  • The school that exists today at Ainsworth and Interstate (10 blocks to the northeast) built in 1925 takes its name from the Ockley Green Station. Documents from the Portland Public School archive tell us this fact. The original building was actually built as “Multnomah Public School” in 1893 at N. Missouri and Shaver, but was moved to Interstate and Ainsworth about 1901, and its name changed to Ockley Green (for the station) in about 1909. The first building was demolished and the one we know today built in 1925. But that’s another story.
  • There is no underlying plat or development plan with this name, no streets or other features. It was more of a “district” than a specific place.
  • Ockley is a picturesque town in Surrey in southern England with a much-written about commons or “green.” Even today, Surrey’s heritage authority reports the most important feature of little Ockley town…”is the long, broad green, which is said to be one of the most impressive in southern England.” Both the green and the town were celebrated in writing and in art during the 1800s. Here’s an example:

From London News, 1851.

We’ve had a good look around on this naming mystery, talked to the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, consulted all of our usual helpful print and public document sources and even stumped a few research librarians. The definitive story behind origin of the name Ockley Green has apparently slipped away, at least for the moment. We have our hunches: immigrant Portlanders with roots in Surrey saw something about the open landscape of the early neighborhood that reminded them of home, and it was comforting to have the place and the memory with them. We completely understand this.

Meanwhile in 1911, it was snowing at 155 West Killingsworth and the grocerymen were still delivering, the kids ready for adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

We’ve been watching two commercial corners just a few blocks apart that share similar histories but are on very different pathways to the future.

We’ve written here about the Logan Grocery, the mom-and-pop grocery store that for more than 100 years has anchored the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta and is now slated for demolition. Here’s a look just as a refresher:

NE 33rd and Alberta, December 2019

In the last week or so, a sign has been posted on the building showing a rendering of the future, which includes demolition of the historic building and then construction of a three-story mixed-use commercial building including a 19-apartment hotel (which we think probably means Airbnb-like short-term rentals) and no on-site parking. Yes, you read that right. Take a look (click to enlarge).

Interviewed in late September, developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings explained that he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but that concerns associated with the cost of reinforcing the old foundation drove the demolition decision, nixing any kind of adaptive reuse that would allow the existing building to be repurposed for a new future.

Note that no informational meeting is required for this significant change, though there is contact information and a cryptic note that the project might be amended.

~

Meanwhile, A few blocks over, at the northeast corner of 30th and Emerson, a similar but very different story is unfolding. Here, a 107-year-old wood-frame mixed-use commercial building that was once also a grocery store (and many other things) is being restored and repurposed as the home of a medical practice and neighborhood coffee shop. Take a look:

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter inspect the southwest corner of their future place of business. Clinic entry to the right, coffee shop entry to the far left. December 2019.


West side, coffee shop to the left, clinic to the right. Apartments upstairs. December 2019.

There’s lots more to learn about this old building, constructed in 1912, which once housed two businesses on the first floor facing NE 30th, and two apartments upstairs. Back in the day it was a grocery store. It’s been Cecilia’s Drapery Shop, Jack Emerald’s Barber Shop, The Quaint Shop (an art supply business), a men’s clothing shop, a dry goods store and many other things.

Here it is in the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, showing it’s pre-address-change addresses of 1122 and 1124 East 30th Street North (downstairs) and 1122 ½ (upstairs). Look in the lower right-hand corner. S=shop. D=dwelling. A=automobile or garage.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 535, 1924.

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter bought the two-story building this last year and have been busy getting it ready for its next chapter, which begins this coming spring. The couple own and operate Natural Pain Solutions, a chiropractic practice focused on non-surgical spinal decompression, integrated care and treatment for pain. When it opens in spring, the practice will be Move Better Chiropractic.

Their former clinic had been located in the Macadam Center building which was destroyed by fire in January 2018. After the fire, Thomas and Rachel—who are Vernon neighborhood residents—were on the lookout for a new venue. When Rachel saw the for sale sign on the building last spring, she called on a whim, walked through later that day and fell in love with the building. Thomas saw it the next day and they knew renovating the space would work for them. Within weeks, they had started talking with architects.

Since then, there have been plenty of conversations with engineers, estimators, architects and contractors to determine the feasibility of adapting the building to meet their needs, but in their minds demolition was not a solution.

Yes, the foundation is 107 years old and like all old foundations in the neighborhood has its issues and needs. But instead of considering that a deal breaker, a partial new foundation wall has been added, seismic stabilization work has been done, and additional structural timber has been added.

The renovation design concept—by Portland firm Works Progress Architecture—starts with the structural work and completely renovates the interior space, fitting it inside the existing exterior building envelope, offering a contrast between old and new. The clinic and a new coffee shop will occupy the first floor, with glass roll-up garage doors in the coffee shop on the north face of the building opening onto an open outdoor patio and hanging-around space. Friends of Grace and Buckwalter own and operate Full City Rooster (a craft coffee roaster in Dallas, Texas) and will be helping Grace establish the coffee shop in the renovated building.

North side where the roll-up garage door will open into the patio/open space. December 2019.

Upstairs, the existing apartments are being renovated. In the future, Grace and Buckwalter hope to convert the two existing apartments into four studio apartments.

A repurposed small building in the open lot to the north will hold Buckwalter’s new business, “Moss,” which will feature an unusual mix of garden-related items and specialty intimate clothing for women.

The couple—who live a few blocks away in a 1912 bungalow with their four children—appreciate living and working in vintage spaces. The building is not far from the busy Foxchase corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth, and just a few blocks north of Alberta. Being on Trimet Bus 72 is also a plus (they’ve added a get-out-of-the-rain portico to the west face of the building for riders).

So, why did they decide not to go for the demolition option and to invest in making an old building work?

“We like the building and we think it will look beautiful with a couple upgrades and modifications,” said Grace. “We see this location as a natural transition between Killingsworth and Alberta Street, and hope to be a connection point in the community. We hope that the outdoor space will serve as a public area and place of informal gathering.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Another view of the Tourist Cabins at the Spur Tavern and a lesson in layers of history

It’s been a year since demolition of the old Spur Tavern and 42nd Avenue Tourist Cabins near the corner of NE 42nd and Holman. You might remember these buildings in their old age: bright green, broken down, painted over with graffiti, a little scary.

While researching them we met Mike Brink who spent some of his growing up years in one of the cabins, and also in his grandmother Ugar’s old farmhouse (now gone) a couple blocks away near the corner of NE 41st and Highland. Since that first conversation with Mike, we’ve been intrigued with his memory of walking through the open fields that are now built up neighborhoods west of Fernhill Park.

Whenever we’re over that way with the dog, we think of Mike’s open view across the fields toward Kennedy School; his every morning walk along the long block of Ainsworth to pick up the Alberta Streetcar at NE 30th and Ainsworth for the ride to St. Andrews school, at NE 9th and Alberta.

Recently, Mike sent along a few photos he came across taken out front at the tourist cabins. We thought AH readers might enjoy seeing them too, and a recent look at progress on what is now the construction site. So, have a look.

Here’s young Mike in about 1945 standing in front of his Uncle Joe’s pride and joy—a 1941 Packard convertible, parked in front of Cabin 6, behind the Spur Tavern.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

And here’s another: Mike’s dad, uncle and a pal in front of the tourist cabins, looking the other direction, open fields off to the north.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

Here’s the update photo of what’s rising where the Spur and tourist cabins once stood, taken right about where Mike and his family posed for snapshots back in 1945.

Nesika Illahee Apartments, NE 42nd Avenue and Holman, October 2019

And here’s where it gets even more interesting, particularly when we consider layers of history. Long before the Spur, the tourist cabins and the farms on these gentle slopes, this part of the landscape once held the native village known as Neerchokikoo, which existed here along the south banks of the Columbia Slough.

The Nesika Illahee Apartments, under construction on this early village site, are a joint venture between the Native American Youth and Family Center and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, and will provide 59 units of affordable housing and culturally specific support for tribal members. Read more about this unique and fitting development.

109-year old store on Alberta Street slated for demolition

Big changes are underway at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. The 109-year old grocery store building–built when there were more horses than cars in Portland and before streets in this area were paved–is slated for demolition and will be replaced by a three-story, mixed use condominium / office building. Public notices have recently been posted on the property by the City of Portland alerting its status as being in a 120-day demolition delay.

This photo from the 1920s shows the Logan Grocery, a view looking southwest from the corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. NE 33rd Avenue, then known as the “county road,” was not yet paved. Photo courtesy of Bob Wilson.

 

A similar angle, September 26, 2019

 

Looking north along the NE 33rd Avenue side of the store, September 26, 2019 

 

The public notice posted on the property, September 265, 2019.

Developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings in Portland expects demolition to take place in 2020 with construction to follow. While drawings for the new structure are not yet complete, Bochsler envisions a building with a pitched roof and an inner courtyard facing NE Alberta. “I want it to be in keeping with Pacific Northwest style,” said Bochsler.

When he first approached the project, Bochsler said he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but costs associated with reinforcing the foundation made adaptive reuse not cost effective.

The property is ranked in the City of Portland’s Historic Resource Inventory, recognizing its significance for potential historic register designation. However, because past owners have never listed the property in the National Register of Historic Places, it can be torn down after a brief delay.

Operated from the 19-teens until the 1940s as “Logan’s Grocery,” the building cycled through multiple owners in the 1950s-1970s, known as Zwhalen’s Market and then as Romoli’s. From the late 1970s until recently, the building contained the studio and residence of Portland artist Jay Backstrand.

The building in March 1962, as Ernie Zwhalen’s Market. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2011-013.

 

Concordia resident Bob Wilson, grandson of second-generation former storekeepers Anna and Earl Logan, has fond memories of the store from its heyday, and shared photos of the Logans behind the counter of their store taken in the 1940s.

Anna Logan and Earl Logan pictured inside their store at NE 33rd and Alberta during the 1940s. Courtesy of Bob Wilson.

In a recent e-mail, Wilson shared these memories:

“When I was a small child, my grandparents lived in the house just south of the store. My grandmother would fix lunch every day for my grandfather Earl and bring it over to him. Earl was the storekeeper. Anna was the butcher for the store. As a small boy it was so much fun to be with my grandparents, and then to go over to their store and see all of the people who dropped by.”

We welcome photos, memories and stories about the life of this building and its corner over the years, and will continue to follow plans for demolition and construction.

Read more here on the blog about the storefronts of NE Alberta, nearby mom-and-pop grocery stores, and some of our photo detective work identifying other old Alberta Street businesses.

Of Special Memories and Orchard Houses

We’ve been fortunate recently to spend some time with Jeanne Allen, a 98-year-old neighbor whose sharp and clear memory reaches well back into her childhood days here in the neighborhood. Jeanne has shared her memories about everything from the old St. Charles Church at NE 33rd and Webster Street, to exploring the brushy trails in the vacant lot at 24th and Fremont where Alameda Dental is now, to earning her girl scout campfire badge in the wilds of the 33rd Street Woods (today’s Wilshire Park, which is way more tame now than the wilderness it used to be).

One of our favorite images from her memory is the nighttime landscape from the darkened second floor room of a house where she grew up on NE 24th Avenue. At night, Jeanne recalls the Broadway Streetcar making its way north, the electrical pick-up mechanism skating along the overhead wires powering the streetcar’s forward motion. As it passed her house, electrical sparks off the wires just outside the window made a dance of shadow and light inside her bedroom, searing into her memory, vivid a lifetime later.

As we talked about change during a recent drive through the neighborhood, Jeanne told us about just how different things were around here in the early years. Pointing out a small home toward the back of one lot, she said something that caught our attention:

“I sure hate to see the orchard houses going away.”

Wait. What’s an orchard house? We’ve never heard that term. We want to know more.

When Jeanne and her husband Bob built their home in Concordia back in 1950, they were surrounded by orchards of cherries, apricots, pears and apples, planted in the early 1900s. 42nd Avenue—like its parallel twin to the west 33rd Avenue—was simply known as the “County Road” and doubled as Portland city limits. Most of the streets in the surrounding area between Prescott, Killingsworth, 42nd and 33rd weren’t paved. Some hadn’t even been constructed.

Jeanne remembers simple small buildings (she didn’t call them shacks, but that’s a term that comes to mind) scattered out among the orchards that served as temporary quarters for those tending the orchards during the year and harvesting during the fall. She and her family always called these little places “orchard houses,” which was a commonly known term and function during those years.

Orchard houses took a simple form: shed-roofed front and back porch; entry door in the middle and a backdoor lined up out the back; a bedroom and window on one side, an open living space on the other, maybe a counter for food preparation; often oriented in an unusual way on the lot, either toward the back or sitting at an angle.

Here’s one that Jeanne knows for certain was an orchard house (she remembers the actual nearby orchard). Plumbing was added to the house in 1924; it was described then as an old one-story frame residence.

An orchard house, seen on a walk through the neighborhood. The rear addition was added in later years. This home has been thoughtfully updated and maintained.

Jeanne’s description got us thinking about houses we’ve seen in the neighborhood, and about evidence of orchard houses appearing in old aerial photos we’ve been looking at, and in 1928 Sanborn maps of the area. Here, take a look at these two Sanborn plates (click for a larger view).

 

 

Do you know of any orchard houses? There are likely just a small handful left and we’d like to document them and explore their stories. If you have one in mind (or think you know a candidate), send us a photo or address and we’ll see what we can learn.

Thanks Jeanne!

Remembering the landmark at 33rd and Webster | Old St. Charles Church

For more than 40 years, a dignified and simple clapboard-sided wood frame church presided over the corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster, serving as a local landmark for its parishioners and for the neighborhood that was steadily growing up around it.

Old St. Charles Church, March 1931. Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster. Note that 33rd (at right) is paved, Webster (to the left) is not paved. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon Archives. 

The original St. Charles Catholic Church has been gone now for almost 70 years and recollections about its life and times are slipping close to the edge of living memory. The parish relocated to its current home on NE 42nd in 1950 and demolished the original building. But when you know where it once stood and its place in the evolution of the Concordia, Vernon, Cully and Beaumont-Wilshire area, you’ll want to keep it alive in your own imagination and sense of place.

Let’s put the ghost of this old building on the map: Webster is the east-west street intersecting NE 33rd Avenue just north of Alberta and just south of today’s New Seasons Concordia grocery store. The church was sited with its long side adjacent to Webster, and front doors and stairs facing 33rd, right at the corner.

Detail of 1940 aerial photo showing location of original St. Charles Church at the southeast corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster Street. Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map and Aerial Photography Library.

In February 2019, construction is underway on the site: a three-story 12-plex apartment building, which is being built pretty much in the footprint of where the church stood from 1916 until its demolition in 1950. In fact, while excavating recently for new footings, workers came across parts of the foundation and basement slab of the old church.

Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, February 2019 (above). The same view in much earlier years (below), photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee.

 

Below is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map plate from 1924 that will give you a good snapshot of where the building stood (upper left hand corner), and just how sparsely built up the surrounding area was then (click to enlarge the view). Read more and see other old photos in this recent post about the intersection of 33rd and Killingsworth, this post about Ainsworth and 33rd, and this post about the old fire station one block south at Alberta Court and 33rd.

 

Knowing what you know now about the prominent role local property owner John D. Kennedy played in shaping the area from 1900-1930 (his early influence can’t be overstated), you won’t be surprised to learn the church building and the entire St. Charles Catholic Parish trace its founding back to him. Parish historians Jeanne Allen and Joseph Schiwek Jr. both credit Kennedy with encouraging then Archbishop Alexander Christie to found St. Charles Parish in the first place, sometime in late 1913. Kennedy did all he could (including providing property for a public school) to create a community from the surrounding rural landscape.

In March 1915, the Catholic Sentinel newspaper characterized the area and its scattered population like this:

“This parish, which is in sparsely settled territory in the northeast portion of the city is made up of earnest workers.”

Said a little less carefully, everyone knew this area was out in the middle of nowhere in comparison to the rest of Portland proper, and that most of the people who lived here were immigrants and first-generation citizens from Italy, Ireland and Germany.

The newly founded St. Charles Parish congregation of 25 families held its first mass on February 3, 1914, in a grocery store built and owned by Henry Hall near the corner of NE Alberta and 32nd Place. Here’s a look at that old store, which stands today. It’s one of the older buildings on Alberta Street, by the way, dating to 1911. The congregation held mass there every Sunday from February 1914 until the completed church was dedicated and opened on October 1, 1916.

3266 NE Alberta (formerly 986 East Alberta before Portland’s addressing system was changed in 1931), originally known as the Hall building and later as Herliska Grocery. Photographed in February 2019. High mass was said here every Sunday between 1914-1916. The building is one of the oldest in this section of NE Alberta.

News stories during that interim reported on the new building’s planning and construction, sharing details from Portland architects Houghtaling and Dougan about the 40’ x 80’ wood frame building with its full concrete basement hall (think potluck dinners and parish events), including this rendering (we particularly like the clouds):

From The Oregonian, June 4, 1916

The church steeple, rising some 50 feet above the street, didn’t turn out quite like the rendering: an octagonal tower with cross was built instead of the traditional peaked steeple. Here’s another view, from sometime in the 1940s.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

The dedication was covered by The Oregonian, the Oregon Journal and the Catholic Sentinel. All three newspapers noted the church building was just the first phase of construction that would eventually include a parish school and a rectory.

By 1918, with help from John D. Kennedy, the parish bought the two lots immediately to the south with the future in mind: one was vacant and the other held a house that became the rectory. A growing number of young people in the St. Charles parish—many of whom traveled to St. Andrews at NE 9th and Alberta and some to The Madeleine at 24th and Klickitat—had hopes of a school closer to home and the congregation was doing everything it could to save and raise money.

These photos show the rectory (inset) and its location two lots south of the church. You can see the northwest corner of the rectory at far right in the larger photo. From The Catholic Sentinel, March 4, 1939. The rectory was moved to the new site on NE 42nd in 1950, and destroyed by fire in 1978.

But in 1924, the parish experienced a major setback when an overnight fire on June 27th did significant damage to the church building, altar, pews, statues and paintings that added up to almost $3,500: a major loss that would not soon be overcome.

The origin of the fire was disputed at first (fire investigators not really wanting to talk about arson) but then emerged in the stranger-than-fiction tale of Portland firefighter Chester Buchtel. A capable firefighter from an established Portland pioneer family, Buchtel admitted to setting at least 16 fires in 1923-1924–destroying Temple Beth Israel and the German Lutheran Church, both downtown, the St. Charles Church, lumber mills, garages and barns city wide–and causing more than $1 million in damage.

Repairs were made and the building was rededicated on November 23, 1924, but the wind was out of the sails for any school development fund, which continued to be the case through the Great Depression years and beyond.

Parish historian Schiwek picks up the story in the mid 1940s at the end of World War 2, from his book, Building a House Where Love Can Dwell: Celebrating the first 100 years of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 1914-2014:

“There were now thousands of GIs coming home to start life afresh with new homes and new families. Such was the case in Northeast Portland. Many new houses were built as families moved into the parish, with the result that by 1950, the old church, that was only capable of seating 300 persons, was fast becoming obsolete. Moreover, demand for a school was increasing and there was no land available at the existing site to build one. There were over 300 Catholic children in the parish at this time and at least half of them were attending neighboring parish schools that were themselves overcrowded and the rest were in public schools without any religious education.”

In the spring of 1950, Archbishop Edward Howard made a change in parish leadership. By that summer, the parish had obtained a site and was into construction on the St. Charles school and campus that exists today 12 blocks east at NE 42nd and Emerson. The old rectory was jacked up from the lot south of the old church and trucked to the new site in a careful two-day moving process.

The final mass at the old church was held on October 15, 1950. A photograph was taken from the church balcony to document the end of an era. And on October 22, the new St. Charles was dedicated with mass held in temporary quarters on the new site until the new church building could be completed in 1954.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

Long-time parishioner Jeanne Allen remembers that while there was excitement about the move to a new site and anticipation about the brand-new school and fresh start as a community, leaving the old building was hard on some of the established families who had known it all their lives. So many family events—baptisms, weddings, funerals and every Sunday in between—took place there at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster.

“There was something very comforting about the inside of the old church,” she recalled recently. “It was simple, dignified, spiritual.”

With the parish installed in its new quarters, the old church was demolished, likely sometime in 1950. No parish records remain about the demolition and property sale, nothing in the newspapers and no one we’ve spoken to remembers those final actions.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

Rest of the Story: The Lost House at 33rd and Fremont

Our recent post about the old gravel pit and landfill at NE 33rd and Fremont produced some interesting mail and conversation that helps complete the picture of the house that once stood at the southwest corner of that intersection.

First, a photo from frequent AH source and long-time neighborhood resident John Hamnett showing the house. John and his father were out in the neighborhood with a camera on the sunny day following the great Columbus Day Storm of Friday, October 12, 1962 documenting damage and downed trees. John remembers they came upon this toppled fence and wall on the south side of the house. The blue and white enclosure surrounded the swimming pool. The Oregon Encyclopedia entry about the storm reports wind speeds were clocked as high as 170 mph.

Looking north at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Fremont, October 13, 1962. Photo courtesy of John Hamnett.

Next, we re-discovered this 1954 photo looking north up the hill toward Fremont from the corner with Klickitat. When you click into this image, you can see both the mid-century modern house that was eventually removed from the site, and the house behind it, which still stands. Looks like a vacant lot just downslope.

Photo Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2005-001.955. Click to enlarge.

And last, this helpful comment from Judy Wathen, who used to own the house, and remembers it from its heyday of the 1950s.

My husband and I were the ones who bought the house with the swimming pool on the corner of 33rd and Fremont in the ’90’s. Before we bought it we had two different geological engineering firms test the soil and evaluate it’s stability. Both said that it was stable and leveling the house could easily be done. Both were wrong. The cost to stabilize the house was beyond our resources. Fortunately, a grade school classmate, Terry Emmert, offered to buy the house and move it to become the first remolded home on the Street of Dreams. We sold the lot with all the engineering studies to a builder who hopefully did what was required to stabilize the land before he build what is there today.

A little bit more history about the house. I grew up in Laurelhurst in the 50’s-60’s. Our family drove by that house regularly on the way to Riverside Country Club, where we were members. My father told us about the house. My father’s friend, who owned the well known Fox Furniture Co., built the house with the swimming pool  as a wedding gift to his daughter and her husband and that it was built and finished to the highest quality. That certainly was true, except for understanding the engineering of the foundation.

Goodbye (again) Kienow’s

We heard news over the holiday that QFC will soon be closing its Grant Park market, located at NE 33rd and Hancock.

The imminent closure has sparked comments and memories here on AH and elsewhere, not about QFC (sorry about that, QFC), but about Kienow’s Market, which is what that place was for most of its life, from the mid 1930s until 1999 when this Kienow’s closed and the store became a QFC. For the record, we will miss the convenience of being able to slip into QFC for a few quick items on the way home.

Beyond living memory? Here’s the original store that stood at the southwest corner of 33rd and Hancock, pictured in 1939. The store also had a dwelling unit on the south end. This building was demolished in the mid 1940s when the full-block version of the store that most people remember was built. From The Oregonian, May 26, 1939.

You couldn’t grow up in this part of northeast Portland in the mid 20th Century and not have a Kienow’s memory, and AH readers have been sending us theirs, which we wanted to share here. We also wanted to reach back a bit before living memory to understand the earliest history of groceries at that corner.

We’ll do this chronologically, taking us back to 1912 when a small store attached to a home existed at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Hancock. Building permits suggest that first store + house (you can see its grainy photo above from the late 1930s) was actually an old repurposed school building from 33rd and Tillamook (the first Fernwood School) that was moved to the Hancock corner, where a basement was dug, a chimney built, and a storefront stuck on the front.

At that time, the property was owned by Carl Abendroth and later by his brother Adolph and was known both as Abendroth’s and as Fernwood Grocery, after the school building we know today across the street was built in 1911.

Abendroths tried to sell the shop and property starting in late 1915. Here are two ads that help us imagine what the place was like:

From The Oregon Journal, November 28, 1915

From The Oregonian, January 9, 1916

 

The store and property was still in the Abendroth family in 1921, but by 1932 it was known as Randall’s and whoever owned the property placed classified ads selling off the “timbered land” adjacent to the shop to the south. Here’s the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the property from 1924. The store is in the bottom right corner (but there’s a lot to look at here). Click to enlarge:

In this detail from the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, we can see a relatively small Fernwood School occupying the full block between Tillamook (which used to go through to 32nd) and Hancock. The precursor building to Kienows is there in the bottom right hand corner (see the “S” next to the “D,” that’s shop and dwelling). It’s interesting to see how little of the neighborhood to the north is built, and check out the greenhouse, sheds and old farm house in the fields to the north. Read more about Sanborn maps here.

Aerial photos from 1936 and 1939 show a vacant lot south of the original building that looks like it’s been planted in rows. A garden? Here it is in 1940, still a shop and house at the corner of NE 33rd and Hancock and a path through the vacant lot to the south, not yet the full-block store that became the Kienow’s that everyone remembers.

Detail of aerial photo from 1940. Click to enlarge. Aerial photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map & Aerial Photo Library.

 

The first mention of the site being owned and operated by Kienow’s is this full page ad in The Oregonian that appeared on May 26, 1939. Click to enlarge and inspect (10 cents for a box of Rice Krispies!):

Kienow’s was on the leading edge of transforming Portland’s grocery market from the more than 700 mom and pop grocery stores to a much smaller number of midsize and big stores. Fred Meyer and Safeway were also blowing up the small grocery world during these years. But it seemed that Kienow’s was just a bit more down home than its two biggest competitors.

Readers of Beverly Cleary’s Beezus, Ramona, Henry and Ribsy children’s books will also recognize Kienow’s as the grocery store seen out the window of the nearby school. Read more about the local geography of Cleary’s imagination.

Aerial photos from 1948 show the old store and house have been demolished and the full-block storefront is in place, setting the stage for most of the Kienow’s memories we’ve been reading in the last week. Here are a few:

From long-time resident John Hamnett: A few things that I remember about the old Kienow’s store was the meat section and the box bin. There were mirrors on the back of the counter where the meat was displayed. There was a button you could press for the butcher. He would slide open a section of the mirrors to talk to the customers. The box bin was next to the check out registers. Rather than paper bags, the groceries were put into boxes from items that were stocked in the store. The registers were the kind with the rows of numbered keys. The clerk rang up each item one by one and punched in the amount that was stamped on each item. I always marveled at how they could hit the correct keys without even looking at them. It was not like the scanner we have now. Kienow’s had a turnstile at the entrance. You had to leave the store by going out through a check stand and a separate door. As I recall, it didn’t last long before they took it out. There was a 5 & 10 cent store on the north end of the grocery store. I think it was called Lou’s, but I may be mistaken. It was a separate store, but it also had an opening into the grocery store. After school, kids would go over there a buy candy. My favorite was a Tootsie Pop for 2 cents or bubble gum for a penny. In later years, the Bohemian Bakery might have been in this space. 

In the early days of the new full-block Kienow’s, there was also a food counter / diner inside, maybe the precursor to what John mentions as Lou’s. In the late 1940s it was known as Smitty’s Fountain Lunch, and in the 1950s it was the Penguin Café (which relocated here after leaving the Sellwood area). All three businesses sponsored bowling teams (a very popular activity at the time) and searches in the newspaper for any of those names–Kienow’s, Smitty’s or Penguin Cafe–will lead you to a bowling score, not an important factoid about the business.

From Steve Goodman: I remember the original Kienow’s building. It had one row of parking in front, a larger parking lot in back. And the Bohemian Bakery counter that was always busy. In front was a mechanical horse, with leather fringes on the saddle, that I usually tried to beg my parents for a dime to ride up and down. A couple of gumball machines that took a penny were inside, as was an old Coke vending machine where you could see the bottles thru the window. I think a dime for a bottle of Coke.

A major fire struck Kienow’s at noon on March 7, 1952, causing $75,000 in damage, destroying stockrooms filled with cans, and bringing an end to the school day for the children at Fernwood School across the street who were let out to watch the spectacle.

What do you remember about Kienow’s?

We wonder what will happen next with that property. Given the growth of condos and apartments at the intersection to the south, we wonder if the entire two blocks that make up the former Kienow’s (QFC) and the long-vacant Jackson’s convenience store will soon transition to housing.

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