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.

Tear down on Alameda Ridge

We know that change is our constant companion, and we believe that change and design diversity can be invigorating and even inspiring in the right context and range. But that doesn’t mean we don’t regret seeing a time traveler removed from its prominent spot on the Alameda Ridge.

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2122 NE Alameda, May 24, 2015.

This week, wrecking crews demolished the lifetime home of the late Maryon Lewis Kinsey at 2122 NE Alameda. You’ve seen it: a blue blend of Cape Cod and English Cottage, just before you turn down the hill on NE 21st. Maybe you’ve read our post about Maryon, which you can find here. We recommend it: a short read to understand what it was like to grow up in Alameda.

Here’s what the house looked like when it was built and put on the market in 1928.

726 The Alameda

It’s an advertisement from a 1928 edition of The Oregonian that attracted Maryon Lewis Kinsey’s parents, who bought the house brand new to raise their family in, and the house where Maryon and her husband Lloyd raised their family until her death in 2013.

Here’s a picture of the house, with Maryon on the steps, from our visit there a few years back:

maryon-kinsey-lewis

We know the house and its foundation had serious structural problems, and that the current owners have reportedly wrestled with the idea of taking it all the way down. We appreciate that. We’ve struggled ourselves with the economics of restoration vs. new construction. Of course, we always lean toward restoration and are always ready to make the case for conserving the historic fabric. But not everyone does.

Now that the original house is gone, the really hard part for us has to do with the plans for its replacement. Here’s the rendering:

2122 NE Alameda New

The new and improved 2122 NE Alameda, from a news story that ran in the Portland Chronicle on May 10, 2015.

Not sure what exactly to say about this. The beautiful brick tudor style house immediately to the east (built 1932) and the Colonial to the west (built 1928)–and all of the 1920s-era houses up and down the Alameda Ridge–will have some adjusting to do.

There’s been an active discussion about the demo and the reconstruction plan on the Nextdoor website, which is a social media conversation place for the neighborhood. Roughly speaking, the comments are running against the design, but some neighbors (we bet not the exact next door neighbors) are endorsing the design.

What do you think?

 

5-24-15 Alameda Ridge 1

 

More Favorite Old Houses

Remembering that during the last week of the year we are encouraging readers to share photos and memories of their favorite houses, wherever they may be. Son of Alameda, old-house fan and sometime AH correspondent Brian Rooney sends the following celebration of the Rooney family home on Dunkley. Thanks Brian!

This photo-in-a-photo is nice example of how fond memories influence decisions. In 1965, when recent Portland arrivals Bill and Kathleen Rooney went looking for a house to raise their small but growing family. Their search was over as soon as they drove past 3215 Dunckley.

3215 Dunckley & 1846 Sunnyside

The portico on the Alameda house struck my mother’s heartstrings as it reminded her of the house she grew up in on the banks above the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa (seen inset here). The Iowa house was originally a square brick structure believed to have been built around 1850. It was Kathleen Rooney’s grandfather who saw great potential, purchased the house and added the grand portico with pillars (and complimentary side porches) to the brick box transforming it into something special.

The Dunckley house is also very special in that it is one of the last remaining double lot homes in the Alameda neighborhood. It was wonderful growing up with a large yard to play in, countless hours having been spent digging, swinging, climbing, sliding and getting muddy there. I dearly hope the house holds onto its own small park so that future families and children can continue to enjoy it forever.

3215 Dunckley is having two anniversaries in 2015: it’s 100th birthday and the 50thanniversary of the Rooney family having called it home. Let the celebrations begin!

-Brian Rooney

Favorite Old Houses

Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago, Illinois. About 1918.

We always think of the last couple weeks here at the bottom of the year—with a little more time and space for reflection—as a good time to flip back through some of our favorite old photos and memories. Since we are a blog dedicated (mostly) to old houses, we’d like to open it up for AH readers to share a favorite old house picture or story, from Northeast Portland or far beyond.

To get us started we’ll offer these two gems, taken in 1918 on the steps of the Chicago home where our Dad was born. This is one of our favorite old houses, probably because it was the first old house picture we ever saw, and one we grew up with. Look at the dentals, the Palladian window, the oversize lintel moulding creating its own gravity. We’ve been back to this house many times, and even knocked on the door (no one home). Definitely recognizable 100 years later. We have lots of other photos of this house we’d be pleased to share with the owner. Like this one:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

Aunt Vivien and Dad, Diversey Parkway Steps, about 1918.

OK readers, this is your chance to share a picture or story of your favorite old house. Drop us a note. Time to appreciate old homes!

Then and Now | “Dad & Lois” Long Ago

AH reader and fellow old-picture lover Chris Wilson has shared this photograph, found last year at a yard sale near Rocky Butte. Click on it for a close-up look. Lot’s of detail, including the original pre-address change address of 605 (on the column above the dad’s head).

2835 NE 55th

Our only clue: written on the back is “Dad & Lois at home place.” We love mysteries like this. With a little digging we’ve found this house in the Rose City Park neighborhood (not too far from Archbishop Howard School) known today as 2835 NE 55th Avenue. This stately Portland four-square was built in 1910. Apparently, Chris Wilson may have offered it to the current homeowners, who reportedly weren’t interested. So he wrote us, knowing that we love photos of old houses (especially with people in them), and that we love to solve old house and old picture mysteries.

Here it is today:

2835 NE 55th Today

After looking back at building permits, census records and a little deductive reasoning, our hunch is that this is Christopher J. (Dad) and Lois Schmiedeskamp. In the teens and early 1920s, the family owned and operated a grocery store and meat market at 7224 NE Sandy Blvd., right next to Fairley’s Pharmacy (home today to Berni’s Beauty Salon). Later, CJ went into real estate and mortgage banking.

Also at home around the time of the old photo were mom Mildred, brothers Charles and Karl, and sister Edith.

A quick look at the phone book today suggests the Schmiedeskamps are still in Portland. We’re guessing they could be interested in seeing this yard-sale-salvaged photo of their old home place.

Bring on the next mystery!

When Mom & Pop Stores Ruled

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The former Marble Palace Grocery and Market building (later known as Prescott Foods), 3587 NE Prescott, has recently been restored and is now alive and well as an art studio.

While looking into the history of the Wilshire Market building, we’ve become interested in the grocery and market world of years gone past.

In a day when large supermarkets did not exist, mom-and-pop stores were everywhere on the eastside. So were butcher shops, bakeries, and candy stores. A quick look at Portland’s business directory for 1931 lists more than 750 individual grocery stores, most of them owned and operated by families.

Here in the Alameda Park Addition, commercial development was prohibited. But just beyond our borders, small business was booming.

In past posts here on the blog, we’ve explored a few of those places, including Hunderups, at NE 29th and Prescott (today’s Food King Market); Alameda Grocery (today’s corner of NE 24th and Fremont); Davis Dairy Store at NE 30th and Killingsworth; and Grant Park Grocery at NE 33rd and Knott.

Here’s a look at three more markets, all of them clustered close together near NE 33rd and Prescott. We’re interested in hearing memories about these places or finding photos from the past. Can you help?

 

3133 NE Prescott (Bradford’s Market; Serv-Us Grocery)

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Today it’s the Community Health Center, an acupuncture and Chinese medicine office, but it started out as a store. Ever noticed the parking lot just west of the building, making it perfect for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread on the way home? Built in 1921 as a grocery, this building was known for most of its life as Bradford’s Market, operated by Paul and Bernice Bradford from the mid-1920s until the mid-1950s. The Bradfords lived in Alameda at NE 30th and Mason (nice commute). Following its long run as Bradford’s, the store was known briefly as the Serv-Us Grocery, owned by Roy and Hazel Turnbaugh. From the early 1960s until the late 1970s, the building was the dental office of Dr. Herman Reisbick. Most recently, before becoming an acupuncture office, it’s been a barber shop and hair salon.

 

3587 NE Prescott (Marble Palace Grocery; Prescott Foods)

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This is a notable building today with its fresh coat of black paint and recent makeover as an arts studio (Affiche Studio). And it’s been memorable in the recent past, as an upholstery business with a bright blue paint job.

This handsome one-story brick structure was built in 1924 by Joe Dellasin, and was operated in its early years as the Marble Palace Grocery and Market by George A. Peters, who owned another market by the same name near NE 15th and Fremont. Several proprietors ran it through the 1930s and 1940s before it became Prescott Foods, the name that stuck with the business through multiple mom-and-pop owners up until the mid 1980s (Loomis, Breshears, Dickerman, Patrick and Wallis). Grace and Earl Dickerman ran the business from 1948 until 1966 when they sold it and bought a small hardware store on SE Hawthorne. By 1985 the building had succumbed to the changing grocery shopping patterns of nearby residents (like most other small neighborhood groceries), and it became an upholstery shop, which it served as until 2012 when Affiche Studios moved in and fixed it up.

 

4518 NE 32nd Ave. (Thirty Second Street Grocery; Smith’s Cash Grocery)

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This one is an oldie: 1910. We haven’t yet been able to determine its business name prior to 1930, but by then it was known as Thirty Second Street Grocery, operated by Henry C. Parker. In the 1930s, it was owned by the Skoog family, which owned and operated other markets in Portland. In 1940, it was well established as Smith’s Cash Grocery, a name that stuck into the late 1950s.

One local resident remembers this place in the 1950s as Doc’s Market, and can recall going in as a very young person saying “Hi Doc!” to the shopkeeper (who he remembers as having a flat-top haircut and a big smile). Grove M. Smith was the proprietor all those years, and probably was the “Doc” behind the counter.

City directories show the building as being vacant from the 1960s until recently, when it was transformed into an arts studio called FalseFront Studio.

We’d love to learn more about these buildings, see pictures of their earlier selves, or connect with family members of past owners. We’ll share what we learn, and will keep plugging along with research on several other storefronts nearby.

Mark your calendar: Alameda History at the Mission Theater and Pub, Monday, January 13

After a pause in our ongoing quest and passion for Alameda history, we’re back on track in the New Year with a free program as part of the Oregon Encyclopedia History Night series, at 7:00 p.m., Monday, January 13 at the Mission Theater in Northwest Portland. Consider yourself invited.

In pictures and words, we’ll track the early development of Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood, profile key builders and building styles, and share a social history of the homes, families and changing generations of this 100-plus-year-old neighborhood.

Come experience how these layers of local history add up to a deeper understanding of the neighborhood today. This updated presentation will touch on Alameda School, the Pearson Ponderosa Pine, Wilshire Park, the Subud Center/Alameda Park Community Church, the Broadway Streetcar and other institutions and businesses that have defined Alameda life over the years.

It’s free. The beer is good. You might see your neighbors and other history-inclined folks.

7:00 pm, Monday, January 13 at the Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan, Portland.

Time Passes in Alameda

Walking through the neighborhood during these cold evenings at the end of the year always puts us in a mind to reflect on the passage of time. While we think we know this place, and that this is our neighborhood, there are so many stories and layers of history lurking around every corner here — most of which are lost to time, but a few of which we can find and examine.

When we find reference to a small tree planted more than a hundred years ago to mark the far corner of a farmer’s field, and can go to the actual giant today; when we find the place in the house where the first family gathered around the piano, and can stand in the room and imagine the music and laughter; when we learn about the orchards and tall trees atop the ridge, and can walk in the evenings appreciating where they once stood; experiences like these bring us in touch with our past and are about as close to time travel as possible. They are a fringe benefit of studying the history, and of paying attention to the small things that layer up and give meaning to the passage of time.

And they are a reminder to each of us of our temporary nature here: stewardship of these old homes and their histories is our responsibility at the moment, but in a blink this will be someone else’s story, just as it was for generations before us.

Here’s a little gem we found recently that we’ll pass along as a New Years treat for faithful readers. From The Oregonian on September 18, 1921, the story focuses on local “hermit” Joseph Albert O’Donaghue, who reportedly lived in a shack here in Alameda on Bryce Street. A grain of salt is probably helpful as you track old Joe’s story, travels and age. But even if it seems a long shot that he was hanging around the Alameda Ridge back in the 1880s, the fact is he had been living for a while in the brush near today’s Bryce Street when the reporter found him. That’s enough to reset our mental picture of the neighborhood we think we know, and to feed our imagination.

Think about this the next time you’re out on an evening stroll up Bryce on a cold night at the end of the year.

Click on the story above for a larger view of the file, or the link below to download a PDF copy.

9-18-1921 Hermit lives in woods near Alameda

Rochester’s Lost Neighborhood

If you are as captivated as we are about lining up clues from memory and the geography of the past as a way of understanding the present and thinking about the future, you need to read an excellent series of essays coming out of Rochester, New York in the last few weeks. At turns heartbreaking, insightful, maddening and maybe even hopeful, these posts by the architect and urbanist Howard Decker reveal what happens when a community loses its sense of itself, when it forgets its own stories. There is a cautionary tale here for all of us.

Check out the post on Franklin Square, but be sure to look around at the other posts. Howard’s message to us is that the form of our community tells a story about what’s important to us; that it reflects our values and the choices we make about who we are, what we want to be.

While we struggle with growth and change right here in our own neighborhood and city, a quick look elsewhere can remind us how lucky we are, and what’s at stake as we make choices about the future.

Full disclosure: along with being a terrific urban archaeologist and geographer, Howard is also my big brother. Nice work bro!

Broadway Streetcar Stick-up | A Memory

Here’s a neighborhood memory that brings together a couple of favorite topics we like to wonder about: The open spaces of the early unbuilt neighborhood, and the Broadway Streetcar.

Long-time Alameda Tuesday Club member Terry O’Hanlon checked in with us recently to share these memories. Part of her growing up years – and most of her adult life – has been spent right here in the Alameda neighborhood. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, she and her family lived in the bungalow at 4016 NE 28th.  Here’s a picture:

4016 NE 28th, taken about 1932. Photo Courtesy of Terry O’Hanlon.

The house, built in 1921 by the Wickman Building Company, looks much the same today. As a very young person, Terry remembers playing with the neighbor kids, romping out front with her little white dog, and adventuring around the open spaces and empty lots nearby.

She also has an enduring memory of the night her living room provided a convenient stake-out location for the Portland Police.

A spate of robberies had been plaguing the Broadway Streetcar. As Alameda History Blog readers will know, 29th and Mason was the end of the streetcar line, where the conductor stepped outside to switch the overhead electrical connection, flipped the seats so they’d be facing forward, and then took a break before the inbound trip back downtown to Broadway and Jefferson. 29th and Mason was a quiet, somewhat out of the limelight spot – perfect for a motorman’s momentary pause. But also perfect for a stick up. The car, and its accumulated collected fares, was a sitting duck out there in the dark at the end of the line.

That’s where Terry’s living room came in handy: at the time, it provided a perfect view to the end of the line—about one block east—so the good guys could keep an eye out for the bad guys. Look back at the photo: See that empty lot to the left (north)? 20 years later, Kenny Birkemeier would build a house on that spot, filling up that open view to the end of the line.

Here’s something to think about: Watching out your window as all around you a neighborhood is being built up. Elder Alamedans remember this phenomenon well, and some have even lamented the loss of their favorite empty lot, hiding spot, or fort location. It was one of the defining experiences of growing up in Alameda up until the late 1940s. A topic for some future post. But back to the living room and the streetcar stick up…

Terry remembers coming downstairs to a darkened first floor, into a room filled with cops all craning their necks to watch the streetcar when it finally came to a stop. The shock of it all seared that image into Terry’s memory banks for these many years. But don’t ask if her if Portland’s Finest got their man…she’s never been sure about that. The image of her darkened house filled with police soaked up all available memory-making bandwidth for the very young person she was at the time.

We’ve seen news stories from 1920s editions of The Oregonian about a burglar operating in the neighborhood, but have never come across any official telling of the streetcar stick-up to help us know how it all turned out. Chances are the Portland Traction Company, which operated the Broadway car during those years, would have wanted to keep a lid on the whole thing anyway so as to not put every carline in jeopardy.

There are other memories about the end of our car line: about the old man and his German shepherd who used to nap on the lawn of the house at the southwest corner of 29th and Mason, watching streetcars come and go. And the enterprising teenager who “hijacked” a driver-less streetcar parked momentarily at 24th and Fremont. And, what if felt like for some on the last ride of the last day.

So many memories to explore, so little time…

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