Memory Map

I’ve been in touch with Dick Taylor, who grew up in Alameda during the 1930s. He’s one of the men whose brain I’ve been picking for details on the “old man” who I’ve heard stories about. Dick grew up on Shaver between NE 34th and NE 35th.

A few weeks back I sent him a copy of the Sanborn map of that vicinity from 1924. He kindly added some detail showing who lived where in the 1930s, and where the “old man” lived. Check out the annotated version of the map he sent me back, drawn from memory.

A couple of observations here: Note that the property on the south side of Shaver Street was a victory garden during the 1940s. Interesting too to point out there was an old brick house in the far southeast corner of Wilshire Park that Dick says was torn down. Have a look at his annotated map:


Click on the map for a larger image.

Here’s what Dick says about the “old man:”

He was the neighborhood character and had a reputation for starting fires. Almost everytime we would hear a fire engine, we knew the old man was up to starting a fire. He would always help extinguish it with a large gunny sack he always carried draped over his shoulder. As kids we used to play a game he taught us called “duck on the rock.”

Interesting to ponder the many interesting souls who have walked these streets…

Olmstead Park




Here’s the cadastral map from 1909 showing the Olmstead Park plat. This roughly five-block square area is north of the Alameda Ridge and tucks in under the southeast corner of Alameda Park. Today this part of the neighborhood is clearly considered part of the Alameda District. Out on the ground even in 1911, these two brand new districts were indistinguishable, interwoven by the same streets, the same water, gas and sewer mains, and many of the same architects and builders who were beginning to populate this area with homes.

The Olmsted in “Olmstead Park” was probably John Charles Olmsted, stepson and nephew of the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (this is not a typo…someone added an “a” into the plat name over the years). John Charles Olmsted and his brother Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. helped design Portland’s park system and were busy with other commissions here in Portland — including one for the Alameda Land Company — in the years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition (which they also designed).

By 1909, the neighborhoods to our north and south were already established, and the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company was opening its Broadway Streetcar line with a connection to the heart of Alameda Park and Olmstead Park.

In 1910, before home construction was underway, much of the property in Olmstead Park was owned by one man: B.M. Lombard, a real estate developer who owned large tracts in north and northeast Portland, and whose name is memorialized by North Portland’s Lombard Street. In fact if you look at the plat, you can see that today’s Dunckley Avenue was originally platted as Lombard. Other properties were owned by construction companies, investment banks and real estate developers, including Oregon Home Builders Inc., Colonial Construction Co., Hibernian Investment Bank, Provident Trust Company and Clodfelter Real Estate.

I’ll keep a copy of this in “The Maps” for future reference…

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps | 1924 Snapshot in Time

What started out as a monumental effort to map fire risk in neighborhoods built from combustible materials has become a trove of information for old house researchers. The Sanborn Company started out in the 1860s mapping neighborhoods and buildings to help give fire insurance underwriters information upon which to write their insurance policies. The maps show in impressive detail the construction materials of every structure in a neighborhood, the heat source of institutional buildings, the location and size of water mains, and basic construction information (as in, where was the front porch?), etc.


The outline of Alameda School, 1924, showing the location of the boiler and incinerator, and standpipes for water. Detail from Sanborn Plate 613, Volume 6.


The scope of the mapping effort is almost unbelievable: 12,000 U.S. towns and cities were mapped, most of them several times, by an army of surveyor / mapmakers. With this information, volumes of maps were drawn up and published producing a durable snapshot in time of neighborhood development. And all of this in the era before digitial mapping techniques.

Writer and public historian Kim Keister writes: “Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanization that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind.”

A quick spin through a few of the maps from Alameda, made in 1924, provides some interesting insight. Remember, this is before the address change of the 1930s, so the numbers you see won’t make sense today. You can click on any of these images for a closer look at the map selection.

Below, just look at how few homes there were in this part of the neighborhood. In some cases, streets weren’t even in yet. The northern part of the neighborhood — the Alameda Park Addition shown on the plat map here on the blog — was developed first, when the areas south of Alameda Elementary School were just open fields.



Detail from Plate 614, Volume 6.


From time to time you come across a building that must have pre-dated the grid of the neighborhood, like this one below where the building is sitting at odd angles to the street. Sometimes, you’ll find barns and outbuildings showing as well.


Detail from Plate 626, Volume 6

Check out this spot up at Alberta and NE 26th: my guess is that a lot of the wood and supplies to build our houses came out of here. Today it is a parking lot:


Detail from Plate 552, Volume 5.


Here’s a snapshot of the Alameda business district, which housed a dry goods store, a shoe repair, and a drug store. More on that in future posts. That’s Fremont running left and right, and NE 24th running up and down.


Detail from Plate 612, Volume 6

Small versions of these maps are available on-line through Multnomah County Library, which also has a hard copy of the original maps (so does the Oregon Historical Society). They are amazing and colorful documents to behold. If you have the time and interest, they’re well worth a look. I’ve printed out copies and assembled them together to give a full map of the neighborhood, circa 1924. An interesting snapshot. Click here for a link to the Library’s Sanborn database. If you click over to the Library site to look at the Alameda-related Sanborns, have your library card number ready, and look for the Portland, Oregon Sanborns from 1924. We are in both Volume 5 and Volume 6.

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