Oliver K. Jeffery and his short-lived airplane factory

Looking south on Northeast 33rd at Broadway about 1956 during construction of a new viaduct over the Banfield Freeway. The former Oliver K. Jeffery aircraft factory is on the left. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives. 

When it comes to time travel here in the neighborhood, one of our favorite old timers is the former Gordon’s Fireplace building on the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway. We take it as a small history victory that recent marketing for the building includes the context that it was once for a very brief interlude an aircraft factory, which we brought to light in this post from November 2012, which includes photos from inside the upper floors and is filled with background on the building.

What’s happening with that building today is not new news, but in case you haven’t seen, here’s a link to plans from developer Interurban, which is planning an $11 million overhaul to create three floors of creative offices and retail space, plus a penthouse and outdoor decks, with completion planned for summer 2019.

And here’s some very old news we’ve come across: the 1916 newspaper story about factory construction, which took what had been a shed built by the Oregon Home Builders and upgraded it into a full manufacturing hub for the built-in cabinets, shelves, window and door casements and furniture that went into the company’s homes.

From Oregon Journal, December 29, 1916.

 

Since our post a few years back, we’ve come across a couple of other tidbits: check out these two great photos and story from the January 1, 1918 edition of The Oregonian about Oregon spruce in the war effort. Take what it says about the building with a grain of salt.

 

 

From The Oregonian, January 1, 1918. The table on Portland firefighters was a bonus thrown in by early editors jamming the New Years’ edition full of interesting facts. A similar story appeared in aviation and lumber related publications about this time, likely part of a PR campaign carried out by O.K. Jeffery.

 

Hold on a second…the reality of what was actually going on with that building is evident in a news story from January 20, 1918 explaining the building, which had been vacant after O.K. Jeffrey’s airplane factory folded–apparently in late 1917–had been sold to Portland Box and Excelsior and was well on its way into a new manufacturing realm. Check it out:

From Oregon Journal, January 20, 1918.

 

We’ve been thinking about this building lately because we’ve been exploring the company that built it—Oregon Home Builders—and company president Oliver K. Jeffery. We had the occasion on a recent evening to visit with neighbors and friends in the Alameda neighborhood home O.K. Jeffery built for himself and his wife Margaret in 1915. It’s a beauty—one of Alameda’s five national register homes—perhaps Portland’s largest Dutch colonial revival building, built as a show house for Oregon Home Builders. The house fell on hard times in the 1970s when it served as a halfway house for wayward boys and then sat vacant for seven years. But today, thanks to the last two history-conscious owners, it’s been restored to the look and feel of the O.K. Jeffery years.

From the Oregon Journal, June 6, 1915.

At the moment, we’re working on a profile of the Oregon Home Builders that we’ll share here soon. OHB was prolific between 1912-1917, designing and constructing hundreds of homes and commercial buildings and even speculating in Willamette Valley farming property before going bankrupt when Portland’s economy went south in the late teens. It’s a fascinating story mirrored by the unusual story of Mr. Jeffery himself, the son of an old Portland family, reportedly founder of the Rose Festival parade, real estate speculator, lifelong MAC Club member, auto enthusiast, pilot and visionary aviation entrepreneur. Oh, and he was a corporal in the tank corps during World War 1 too, though he never saw active duty.

Oliver K. Jeffery, April 30, 1916 from the Oregon Journal.

 

Somehow, after bankrupting the company and leaving stockholders in the lurch in 1917, and then closing down  his airplane factory after its very brief life, Jeffery was able to stay active and visible in Portland’s business and social scene, attracting heavyweight local investors to his aviation ideas. In 1920 he launched the Oregon, Washington, Idaho Airplane Company with an eye to establishing regional scheduled passenger flights, long before aircraft could actually carry many passengers. The business didn’t take hold, and Jeffery survived that ending too and went on to become a local distributor for airplanes built by Curtis and Avro. And a pilot. We guess he may have been happiest just flying people around. Here’s an ad for his business. Just a great big ride. Maybe that’s who he was in a nutshell.

From the Oregon Journal, June 20, 1920.

 

Jeffery eventually found his way back to the mortgage business in 1926 when he opened First Bond and Mortgage, which vanished from the public record after the Depression. By then—after the divorce—he had moved in with his mother in a big house in Northwest Portland where he lived quietly until his death at age 46 in December 1936.

From The Oregonian, December 10, 1934

Makes you want to know more, doesn’t it? Stay tuned.

Then and Now | Thomas Prince House

1923 Frank Moore Photo DSC_0038

Here’s the Thomas Prince House, at 2903 NE Alameda Street, right at the top of Regents Hill. The then photo is from about 1922, taken by leaders of the Alameda Park Community Church who were out snapping several other photos of the neighborhood in those years, about the time the church was being built. The now view is from approximately the same location.

Some notable changes:

  • The landscaping has taken over;
  • More recently built houses now obstruct the view through to the next block;
  • The power poles (both of them) are gone;
  • The house is still in very good shape;
  • And, the house is for sale at $1.375 million.
  • (What else do you see?)

As long as we are focusing in on the Thomas Prince house, we should look at another photo pair, this time a view from The Oregonian on July 22, 1917. The caption of the 1917 story says the $25,000 house featured a “fountain room.”

Thomas Prince House 1917

Thomas Prince House 2014

We visited the house recently and didn’t see any sign of the fountain room, though we did note the beautiful almost 3-D woven tile in the upstairs bathrooms; the marble fireplace (and a signature etched into the hearth); and the beautiful and stately birch paneled entryway. See the photos below by Emma Decker. The house is worthy of its national register status (Here is a link to the nomination form filed in 1985 Thomas Prince House HNR Nomination complete with floor-by-floor drawings and descriptions).

Bathroom Tile Detail - Thomas Prince House

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Prince was an interesting person with at least two major careers behind him when at age 71 in 1912 he agreed to be the financial backer for Oliver K. Jeffrey and the Oregon Home Builders Inc. Jeffrey and his company built more than two dozen homes in Alameda and Olmsted Park—many of them unique, grand and built for wealthy clients—and as regular readers of the blog will recall, also built the building that now houses Gordon’s Fireplace Shop at NE 33rd and Broadway (check out the story if you haven’t read it. We know you’ve driven by this place and wondered what it’s all about). More soon about the Oregon Home Builders, a fascinating story that ends in a broken business model and bankruptcy.

Prince’s roots were in Massachusetts, where he was a founding partner in Reed and Prince, a manufacturer of nuts and bolts with national market share (still in operation today). Something happened in the Prince family in the 1890s, and Thomas, accompanied only by his developmentally disabled son Harold Thomas Prince, left on their own for Oregon, where the elder became a walnut and fruit grower near Dundee. When he died in February 1920 at age 79, Prince owned and operated the largest walnut orchard in Oregon.

Though it’s known today on the National Register of Historic Places as the Thomas Prince House, the elder Thomas didn’t spend much time here. He died in California in 1920 and his death set off a feeding frenzy among heirs and beneficiaries as his $2 million estate was divided up. A sad series of stories in The Oregonian in the three years after his death documents the infighting and finger pointing (as well as the occasional sale of property like Prince’s seven-passenger Pierce Arrow touring car sold at auction in 1920). Son Harold Thomas Prince lived in the house with his wife Marjorie until the 1950s.

As a bonus for reading all the way to the bottom, here’s an interesting tidbit about the house that turned up in the August 11, 1918 edition of The Oregonian:

Skunk 8-11-1918

Irvington and Alameda: What’s in a name?

We’ve been listening to a fairly heated conversation this last week about the location of the western boundary of what people think of as the Alameda neighborhood. The debate has been spawned by a pending proposal to create the Irvington National Historic District. The proposal has been in the works for several years and is about to be submitted to the federal list keeper back in Washington DC for final decision. But just recently, some residents in one portion of the neighborhood—known as the “Alameda-Irvington overlap” – have learned their blocks are to be included. Problem is—from the standpoint of some who live there—they aren’t part of Irvington, and they’re concerned about permit review fees and other constraints if they want to undertake exterior house projects. Reasonable concerns.

We won’t focus on the complexities of historic district status, building codes and permit review costs because that’s not our expertise or particular interest (we support the notion of historic districts and feel they are an important tool to conserve the historic integrity of a neighborhood), but we will explore the Alameda western boundary question. Some longtime residents of the neighborhood are more concerned about the historic identity of the area, which is also a reasonable concern. In their view, the proposal overreaches the more logical boundary at NE 24th, which we all know was the location of the Broadway Streetcar. The Irvington proposal would draw the eastern boundary to include the east side of NE 27th Avenue, directly across from Alameda Elementary School.

In the past, we’ve written about the difference between neighborhood boundaries (established by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement), and plats (established by the developer, typically many years ago). Sometimes plat names survive and are part of the identify of a place (as in Alameda). And sometimes they don’t. It’s not an exact science.

What does seem clear to us—and we think this is a compelling point—is that long-time residents we know who have lived in this overlap for 50 years or more have not thought of themselves as living in Irvington, but rather in Alameda.

Never mind that Alameda takes its name from the Alameda Park Addition, a whole other piece of real estate platted in 1909 and occupying the area north of Fremont, south of Prescott, west of 33rd and east of 21st (more or less…the western boundary squiggles around north of the ridge). The “Park” part of our name began to fade from usage in the 1950s (we’d like to see it revived, actually).

To get technical about it, as far as the city is concerned, the overlap area is part of the Alameda neighborhood. And it exists within several plats whose names have been lost to time: Edgemont, Pearson’s Addition, the Bowering Tract. Those plats have been around since the late 1800s, which would be more concurrent with development of Irvington than Alameda (platted 1909). On the other side of the coin, the vast majority of the houses in the overlap area weren’t built until the mid 1920s, much later than most of Irvington and more concurrent in style and feel with Alameda and other plats that people think of today as Alameda.

An hour spent browsing through real estate ads in The Oregonian from the early 1920s is less conclusive. The vast majority of advertisements for homes and lots in the overlap area actually do refer to the district as “Irvington.” Some refer to it as “Alameda Park” which is patently not correct. Some refer to “East Irvington.” Of course advertisements are designed to sell homes and both Irvington and Alameda had a certain cachet that any real estate agent might want to stand next to.

The upshot for us: pushing the eastern boundary of Irvington into an area that has been considered Alameda for generations, that has architectural similarities and patterns of life more connected with Alameda than with Irvington, and that claims a boundary directly across the street from Alameda School, does seem like a reach. Many of today’s residents of the overlap aren’t concerned with historical identity,  but are more focused on the costs and constraints of permit review, and about the public involvement process behind the proposal. Realistically, the proposal looks ready to sail through the final approval process.

Historic district status will help conserve the historic integrity of the neighborhood, no matter what it’s called. But a different neighborhood name that far into what most think of as Alameda does feel like pushing the envelope. Perhaps it could be the Alameda annex to the Irvington Historic District, or the first installment of an Alameda Historic District of its own.

Amazing, isn’t it: the power of a name, a place and a little history.

Alameda Home Listed on National Register

Word has arrived from Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) that a prominent home in Alameda has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Edward and Bertha Keller House, located at 3028 NE Alameda Street.

The Edward and Bertha Keller House, 3028 NE Alameda. Photo courtesy of Oregon SHPO.

Here’s the official word from SHPO, which was shared via the Oregon Preservation e-mail list:

Constructed in 1924, the Keller House is important as an example of the early works of master designer Elmer E. Feig and the English Cottage Revival style. Feig began his career in 1921 when he obtained a building contractor license while employed by the City of Portland Buildings Bureau as a plans examiner. Feig’s early work included a handful of homes, but he quickly transitioned to apartment buildings where he creatively merged a variety of European-revival styles such as Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean, and California Mission. Among his commissions are 24 properties noted in the Portland Historic Resource Inventory as “having architectural merit” and the National Register-listed Spanish Colonial Revival-style Santa Barbara Apartments built in 1928.

SHPO has placed a copy of the nomination form on its website. Do take a look, (click here for a PDF of the application) which will give you appreciation both for the home, and the thoroughness of the application and review process.

This brings to five the total number of homes in the original Olmsted Park or Alameda Park plats that have made it onto the list. The other four are the Thomas J. Autzen house, located at 2425 NE Alameda; the Thomas Prince House, located at 2903 NE Alameda; the Louis and Elizabeth Woerner House, located at 2815 NE Alameda; and the Oliver K. and Margaret Jeffrey House 3033 NE Bryce.

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