More History of Snow

In honor of the recent heavy snowfall here in Portland (about 13 inches here at our house so far, with up to five more inches on the way), we’re going to reprise and slightly update one of our favorite posts from the AH blog archive, “A History of Snow,” written in December 2008 after Portland received more than a foot of snow. Yes, we have a lot of snow on the ground at the moment, but for perspective, 67 years ago on this date, Portland was in the process of receiving 44 inches of snow, one of its heaviest snowfalls in recorded history. Enjoy this look back as we celebrate how a heavy snowfall is timeless and brings quiet to the neighborhood.

DD

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Winter 1936

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason.

Winter 1936, looking north on NE 30th toward intersection with Mason. Click for a larger size image.

Winter 2008

Winter 2008. Looking north on Northeast 30th toward Mason.

Winter 2008, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason. Click for a larger size image.

 

Winter 2017

january-2017-snowstorm

Winter 2017, looking north on NE 30th toward Mason.

 

December 23, 2008–There’s a great Billy Collins poem called “A History of Weather” that I’ve been thinking about all week. We’ve had a lot of snow here in Portland, not record-breaking, but still more than anyone has seen around these parts for 40 years. Right now we have about 15 inches on the ground and the city has been at a virtual stop for the last couple days. We started to thaw today, but another 4-8 inches of snow are in the forecast for the next couple days.

In the poem, Collins creates a funny, wistful elegy for atmospheres of the past, and contemplates weather as a common human bond across the ages. Contemplating what a weather history poem should include, Collins writes, “There will be a section on the frozen nights of antiquity…” I’ve been thinking about the frozen days and nights of the past, the transforming quiet and joy visited on the kids of this street and neighborhood over the years.

So after shoveling the front walk yesterday, I dug into my Alameda archive and found a picture taken a few doors south of my house in 1936, the year Portland received about 35 inches of snow. The photo has been passed down to me by the family of the little boy who grew up here in the teens and twenties. He was fledged by 1936 (family members were in the house til the late 1950s), but the photo stayed in his family because it depicted remarkable conditions.

Being obsessed with lining up past and present for clues, I prowled around this morning hunting — camera in one hand, old photo in the other — for the original photographer’s footprints, which are not entirely available today due to some landscaping changes down the block.

The big house on the corner (white in 1936, blue today) is the Copenhagen House, built in 1912 by the family of Les Copenhagen. Today’s big beech in the sideyard is just a start of a tree in 1936. Power poles have thinned out a bit, though still an eyesore. The gable end of the house facing the camera up the block can be seen in both images. A little closer in, if you squint at the 1936 image, you can see Walter Morrison out shoveling the front walk of my house. Farther up the block and across the street, today’s yellow Dutch colonial was just a vacant lot. Other vacant lots allow a view off into the distance.

Families in 1936 probably took pictures of their unusual winter weather event, just like we have this week. Unfortunately, most of those images are lost to time. We’re lucky to have this one, 71 years old. Makes you think about the pictures you take, the pictures you save, the pictures you decide to throw. I’m always on the lookout for old pictures of Alameda…

To cap off this entry about the history of snow, thought I’d share a very interesting info-graphic from The Oregonian today that clearly indicates that our predecessors knew a lot more about snow than we do. Check it out:

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08

From The Oregonian, Page 1, 12-23-08. Click for a larger size image.

 

Some notable observations from this 2017 storm:

  1. NE 33rd Avenue is closed up Gravelly Hill (from Knott to Fremont).
  2. Deadman’s Hill is jammed with skiers, snowboarders and sledders of all ages.
  3. Pretty much everything official is closed and the city is requiring chains on all Portland streets.
  4. 33,000 PGE customers are without power.

What’s your snow story today?

Alameda History Lecture at Architectural Heritage Center | January 28

Stories of Alameda’s founding and early life will be topics of a presentation we’re making at Portland’s Architectural Heritage Center on Saturday morning, January 28, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. Here’s a link to more information and how to register (registration through AHC is required).

church-1923

Students pose in front of the Alameda Park Community Church in 1923, one year after its construction. Located near the corner of Northeast Regents and Skidmore, the building is known today as the Subud Center and looks much like it did then. The upcoming presentation at AHC will explore the history of this building and many other Alameda institutions.

Through maps, photos, stories and memories, we’ll explore how the pre-neighborhood landscape evolved, how it was developed by the Alameda Land Company, and then how architects, builders and families shaped it into the neighborhood we know today. We’ll also examine neighborhood institutions including our business district, the streetcar that served the neighborhood, schools, churches and parks. This is an encore presentation that will bear a resemblance to other programs we’ve done for AHC, but with significant updates based on ongoing research.

We’re always glad to consider requests for group programs or guided neighborhood history walks. Just drop us a line.

 

Backstory of a favorite local fire station

Picking up the local fire station thread where we left it: here’s a story about how the siting of public facilities in the early days was more about administrative prerogative and less about public input. Portland Fire Station 14 as we know it today is one such story.

station-14

Portland Fire Bureau Station 14, NE 19th and Killingsworth

In 1958, with the closure of the old fire station on NE 33rd and with a new fire chief in place, Portland set about reconfiguring its overall fire response network. Several of the older smaller stations across the city were closed. New stations were planned. A $3 million bond levy passed by popular vote, and seven new stations went into development across the city, serving (and changing) the neighborhoods where they landed.

Fire officials wanted something more central to the Concordia neighborhood, and they didn’t mind something that would also be expedient. Those criteria focused planners on a parcel the city already owned: a quarter-acre at the southwest corner of the popular 16-acre Alberta City Park, bounded by Killingsworth on the south, Ainsworth on the north, NE 19th on the west and NE 22nd on the east. It’s a great park.

From an expediency standpoint, this made sense: lots of surrounding housing that needed fire protection; it was near a school that would also benefit from quick response; it was on a major east-west thoroughfare for good access. Not quite like building a tennis court or swimming pool, but doable.

Problem was, there wasn’t much conversation with the neighbors.

3-4-1959-construction-men-enter-park

The back-and-forth between the city and the neighborhood that followed would give even the most veteran city PR person the heebie-jeebies. Articles in The Oregonian from July 1958 until March 1959 describe how the neighbors opposed construction at first politely, which ratcheted up to petitions signed by 400 neighbors and sit-in protests against the station by the Vernon PTA, letters from the pastor at the Vernon Presbyterian Church, formation of a lobbying group called “Save Portland Parks,” a strident letter writing campaign by neighbors, and—after the city decided to go forward with the project even in the face of local opposition—an arson attack on the construction site on the night of March 3, 1959. Yes, you read that correctly.

The opposition group leader eventually gave up when the city persisted: “We don’t like it, but we can’t do any more,” Dorothy Rapp told The Oregonian on March 5, 1959. “It’s fruitless to fight city hall any longer. There’s no sense in beating our heads against the wall.”

Today, Station 14 has become part of the fabric of the neighborhood, welcomed and appreciated by all, or at least taken for granted. The engine and four personnel stationed there respond to 2,500 calls for service each year.

We’ve overcome this particular history (and hopefully learned from it), but as we know, it’s always insightful to remember how things came to be.

Fire stations and our changing neighborhoods

Long-time AH readers know about our focus on trying to better understand neighborhood institutions and the legacies they’ve left. Over the years, we’ve looked closely at things like Mom and Pop grocery stores, local schools, the Broadway Streetcar, Wilshire Park, local churches, business districts.

Here’s another institution that has left a legacy: our local fire stations.

12-3-2016-concordia-fire-station

In the 1920s, single-engine fire stations blended in to east side neighborhoods. Here’s Station 18, at 2200 NE 24th Avenue, built in 1912 to look like its bungalow neighbors and in active use until 1964. Nice fountain!

If you like to look at old buildings, you’ve probably noticed the red brick building on the east side of NE 33rd near Alberta Court, now home of the Oregon Stamp Society (4828 NE 33rd). If you’ve thought there’s something institutional about it, you’d be right.

attachment-1-3

Here’s the former home of Engine 34, 4828 NE 33rd, in the early 1960s, not long after the Oregon Stamp Society purchased the building. We’re on the lookout for earlier photos showing the station in active use.

Opened on November 1, 1928, with Captain Dan Shaw in charge and R. Mitchell as junior captain, the station was originally the home of Engine Company 34.

Over the years, the station also served as neighborhood polling place, toy drop-off during Christmas charity drives, and the focus of summer community barbecues and open houses.

During the teens and 1920s, several similar small fire stations housing just one engine and known as “three-man stations” were constructed in the heart of Portland’s residential neighborhoods. They were designed to fit in: have a look at similar stations in Irvington at 2200 NE 24th Avenue, and in Sellwood at SE 13th and Tenino (both of which were also decommissioned in the late 1950s and early 1960s). Portland Fire Chief Lee Holden (1925-1927), who was also an amateur architect, designed these stations. Holden’s attention to details—on NE 33rd, the choice of red brick, the wide and inviting gables and exterior columns, the operating multi-pane casement windows, the interior boxed-beam ceilings and classic interior wood trim—all speak to popular residential design elements of the period.

Much of the original station interior on NE 33rd has been remodeled over the last 50 years to serve the needs of the stamp club, but a recent visit turned up clues to its earlier life: The fire station kitchen in the basement is original, with a bank of lockers to hold firefighters’ food; the entry and waiting area (including fireplace, mantel and built-in inglenook bench); the captain’s office; the roof dormer, which was once the top end of a tower for drying wet fire hose. Mechanical systems, according to OSS President Eric Hummel, have been replaced several times since the society acquired the building in 1960. The original garage door for the fire engine was on the front right of the station, but a casement window from the south side was transplanted to the front and the remainder was bricked over in the early 1960s.

The station was functional until August 1959, when fire operations for the area shifted to the new station at NE 19th and Killingsworth (more on that in a future post…it’s an interesting story), and Engine Company 34 was sent to serve the St. Johns neighborhood. The closure was the result of a reorganization of the Portland Fire Bureau by City Commissioner Stanley W. Earl and a $3 million bond measure passed by voters in 1957 to build seven new stations across the city.

The Oregon Stamp Society purchased the decommissioned building in 1960 for $13,500.

One aspect of its original siting is a coincidence worth observing: the station was sited one block north of one of Northeast Portland’s memorable conflagrations of the 1920s: the former St. Charles Catholic Church, which was located at the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Webster. The wooden building, constructed in 1916, was significantly damaged by fire late on the night of June 27, 1924. In November 1950, the parish relocated to its current site on NE 42nd (we’ve often looked for photos or memories of that original building, by the way, in case you know of someone who might have one, or a memory of what it was like).

No connection between the station and the church. Just clues and food for thought about how much NE 33rd Avenue has changed over the years. Not so long ago, it was the far eastern edge of Portland’s city limits.

Next: More fire station changes for Northeast, this time in the 1950s near Alberta Park.

Figuring out the Prescott Jog

AH readers know we like nothing better than a good history mystery, so we were intrigued when a reader asked recently about why NE Prescott makes a jog south between NE 33rd and NE 37th. In this case there is no one single reason: it’s multiple reasons related to changes in surveying proficiency, the passage of time, the helter-skelter nature of developers operating at the edge of the city limits in 1900, and a complete absence of planning in our turn-of-the-last-century city.

The Prescott Jog near 37th

The jog at NE Prescott and 37th

Let’s look at the basic ingredients:

The Grid: Back in 1850, surveyors used a grid to map Oregon and to organize our landscape into big boxes and small boxes, known as townships, ranges and sections. In Northeast Portland, our main east-west streets are organized on section or half-section lines. Prescott (all but the four-block stretch we’re talking about here) rests on a half section line.

The Plats: Portland has more than 900 of these: a plat is basically a plan that divides the land into lots and streets. Developers were in charge of their own plats, and gave them unique names, some of which are pretty interesting. A plat called “Willamette Addition,” drawn and filed in 1888, contains the area from Skidmore to Killingsworth and from NE 33rd to NE 37th. Of particular note: running along the bottom of that plat is our mystery stretch of Prescott between 33rd and 37th.

So here’s what happened:

The Willamette Addition was anchored on the south boundary to what in 1888 was thought to be the half-section line (the future Prescott). Actual development of the Willamette Addition didn’t happen until the 1920s, and in many cases much later.

Our maps pages shows both Alameda Park (the neighboring plat to the west, 1909) and Wilshire (the neighboring plat to the east, 1921), which were laid out decades later by different developers using different survey technology. And guess what: the location of the real Prescott (in alignment with the more-recently-surveyed half-section line) moved about 75 feet to the north.

But meanwhile the Willamette Addition was still just a drawing and raw land owned by different developers, with it’s weirdly offset four-block southern boundary, which was referred to as Columbia Street, stuck on the grid of 1888 and quickly becoming irrelevant. The developers of Alameda and Wilshire weren’t in control of the Willamette Addition, but they had to build streets around it and needed to tie their new neighborhoods into the actual half-section-line-based street we know today as Prescott. So, build they did, marooning this yet-to-be developed four-block stretch of “Columbia Street” 75 feet to the south, and necessitating eventual construction of the s-curve jogs we know today when development of the Willamette Addition finally followed years later.

There’s a story behind everything. That’s why we love history!

What does the future hold for Northeast Portland’s old aircraft factory?

Thought we’d bring back up to the top a post from a few years back that has new meaning this week. Gordon’s Fireplace Store at the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway is closing. We bet you didn’t know that building was actually an aircraft factory for a short time, and that it was originally built by Alameda resident Oliver K. Jeffrey, who was the prime force behind Oregon Homebuilders, which was a prolific early building firm in Alameda and Olmsted Park before going broke in the late 19-teens.

Here’s a visual reminder of the Gordon’s we all know:

Oregon Home Builders Factory

And here’s a link to our post that takes you inside the building, and the story from this week’s Oregonian describing the store closure. No word yet on what might be next for that building or that corner, but we have hunch the answer might look a lot like the neighbors to the west.

Alameda-Irvington rivalry produces memorable 1920 baseball game

This is a story about neighborhoods and about baseball. About community spirit, pride and rivalry. About fundraising. And about fun.

It’s Spring 1920 in Alameda: our recently platted neighborhood is still growing here on Gravelly Hill, streets not long paved, at least a third of the landscape consisting of vacant unbuilt lots. A new streetcar line carries Alamedans across the recently constructed Broadway Bridge.

6-4-1920 Baseball Rivalry

Detail from a story in the June 4, 1920 edition of The Oregonian.

Not quite summer, baseball fever grips Portland, where our Pacific Coast League home team, the Portland Beavers, is hosting visiting teams at Vaughn Street Park, a 12,000-seat grandstand that occupied several square blocks in Northwest Portland from 1901-1955.

Here in the neighborhood, kids of all ages are out on vacant lots playing ball. Which leads to inspiration for Alameda and Irvington moms and dads raising funds to do good works under the auspices of the Irvington Club: a Saturday afternoon baseball fundraiser, pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, at Multnomah field, today’s Providence Park (also known as Civic Stadium).

A series of articles in The Oregonian in May and June 1920 tells the story of a friendly neighborhood rivalry and a love for the game, in the tongue-firmly-in-cheek writing style visible in newspapers of the 1920s—a slightly over the top, sarcastic-ironic flavor of feigned bravado—that says “this is all in fun, we’re just playing it up.”

Let’s start at the top:

The May 27, 1920 edition of The Oregonian features the headline “ALAMEDA GANG GETS SET; Plans to humble Irvington being made,” calling for practice sessions on the old Alameda School grounds, which at the time was a collection of five temporary buildings at the edge of a dairy pasture on Fremont near where today’s school stands.

“The material for the team includes some 25 prominent residents of Alameda who have already signified their desire to return once more to their schoolboy days. It is desired, however, to have as strong a team as possible and Skipper Bale has invited all the neighbors of the Alameda district to turn out.”

By June 4, 1920 interest was building, and a photograph of the two opposing pitchers appeared in the front of the paper. The reporter was having fun with the story, referring to the pitchers as mound artists, flingers, chuckers and twirlers. The teams were forming, made up of neighborhood men in their 40s and 50s, a few of which had baseball or some form of athletics in their past.

6-5-1920 Baseball Hype

From The Oregonian, June 4, 1920. Um, interesting lingo from the 1920s…

As the week progressed, more stories appeared, bragging on the former baseball greatness of a few players and the extended age and questionable physical condition of others. Anticipation was amping up in the neighborhood and ticket sales were strong for the “greatest baseball fundraiser of all time.”

The final result, announced in the June 6, 1920 edition of The Oregonian:

      IRVINGTON BEATS ALAMEDA

“In a game that went 10 innings before a winner was decided, Irvington nosed out Alameda Park yesterday afternoon on Multnomah field by a score of 4-3. The players surprised even themselves by the brand of ball which they put up.”

Two days later, the story was still in the news as the untallied proceeds were being counted on behalf of the Irvington Club, and the neighborhood “elders” recovered their form:

      STARS REGAINING TONE

“The ball players of Irvington and Alameda Park who participated in the big benefit game on Multnomah field last Saturday afternoon are slowly recovering from their ‘charley horses,’ strains, bruises and ‘knocking cylinders.’”

“The baseball fans who journeyed out to Multnomah field last Saturday were treated to a real session of the national pastime and had much more enjoyment than if they had gone out to Vaughn street park and watched Salt Lake trim Portland.”

A thinly veiled reference to the Beaver’s near last place finishes in the Pacific Coast League of the early 1920s.

No final fundraising tally was ever printed, but for a few weeks in the spring of 1920, baseball and a friendly neighborhood rivalry gave people something to talk about.

Ramona’s Landscape: Echoes of Neighborhood History

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday this week, we wanted to reprise one of our favorite earlier posts from here on alamedahistory.org and to remind readers that the landscape of Ramona and friends is pretty close to home. Come check out just how closely the landscape we know today connects with the history of the neighborhood. This post ran here in May 2009.

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Exploring Neighborhood History With Henry, Ramona and Beezus

We’ve been re-reading some favorite books recently, and as it turns out, finding quite a few clues to the world of neighborhood history. Award winning children’s writer Beverly Cleary grew up in our neighborhood and if you read carefully, you’ll find real echoes of our past in her books.

Cleary imagined an entire universe in a few small blocks. Our favorite young residents—Ramona, Beezus, Henry, Ribsy—crisscrossed their kingdom on bikes and on foot walking to their beloved Glenwood School, delivering the evening Journal newspaper, and getting themselves into some memorable misadventures.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

Ramona Rides downhill (is that Regents or maybe NE 37th?) in a drawing by Louis Darling.

The geography of that imagined place came from author Beverly Cleary’s own experience as a child growing up here in the 1920s and 1930s. She lived in a home on Northeast 37th Avenue, and attended the school now named for her: the Beverly Cleary School Fernwood Campus. The landmarks that define Henry and Ramona’s world—the churches, schools and houses, the hills and even the vacant lots—are drawn from places Cleary frequented as a young person.

It’s possible to find clues to Cleary’s own geography—and even a sense of Alameda neighborhood life in the 1950s—by exploring Henry and Ramona’s neighborhood as it unfolds on the pages of more than a dozen of her books.

A good place to begin looking for clues is Ramona Quimby’s house, just up the street from Henry Huggins on Klickitat Street. Cleary actually tells us in one of her books that Ramona lived with her mother, father and sister Beezus in a rented house near the corner of 28th and Klickitat. I remember reading that part of the story to my daughter one night and making a mental note that I needed to go look up that address on my next walk through the neighborhood.

As many astute readers will recognize, the corner of 28th and Klickitat is actually a “T” intersection adjacent to the playground at Alameda School. The day I walked past that spot and realized it was the setting for Ramona’s fictional house (a school playground), I laughed out loud and tipped my hat to Beverly Cleary.

All readers of the series know that Henry Huggins lives with his mother, his father and his dog Ribsy in a square white house on Klickitat Street. Cleary never really tells us exactly where on Klickitat that might be. But if it’s a square white house—let’s imagine an old Portland foursquare style house with a nice porch—chances are it’s west of Ramona’s house. In Henry And the Paper Route, Cleary hints that Henry’s square white house was slightly elevated above the sidewalk with a sloping lawn the kids rolled down. This sounds indeed like a four-square, built in the 19-teens. Now all we have to look for is Henry’s red bike and the barking Ribsy.

Ramona and Henry’s Glenwood School is an obvious stand in for Fernwood School, where the young Cleary attended before moving on to Grant High School. Why didn’t she create a fictionalized role for Alameda School? We do know there was a certain rivalry between neighborhood schools.  Kids from one school sometimes looked down their noses at kids from the other. Was omitting Alameda School a diss? Probably not. Just a little too complicated to explain why kids living in the playground of one school (wink) would be going to a different school a few blocks away.

Vacant lots…now there is a commodity of the 1950s that we just don’t have any more. By the late 1950s virtually every easily buildable lot in Alameda had been developed (many of the last ones by builder Ken Birkemeier). During Cleary’s growing up years—the 1920s and 1930s—there were plenty vacant lots to be found and they surely provided a refuge for everything from baseball to clubhouses. In Cleary’s 1955 Henry And the Paper Route, Henry watches as the ladies club sets up sawhorses and planks in a nearby vacant lot for the annual fundraising rummage sale. The vacant lot was a community commodity as well as landmark. Reading more closely between the lines, was the ladies club the fictional counterpart of our own Alameda Tuesday Club? Could be.

The business district of the fictional neighborhood bears some resemblance to places we all shop and frequent today. The movie theater, dime store, Rose City Barber Shop and even the “Colossal Market” are landmarks in today’s Hollywood neighborhood. The Colossal—where Henry’s mother bought everything from vegetables to hair clippers—was probably patterned after the original Fred Meyer store at 42nd and Sandy.

Al’s Thrifty Service Station, where Ribsy steals a policeman’s lunch, is today’s 76 station at 33rd and Broadway. Kids at Glenwood School watch from their classroom windows as a new supermarket is built: today’s QFC (formerly Kienows) just south of Fernwood. All the pieces line up.

In addition to the fun of hearing about these thinly disguised places we all know from our area’s past, there’s some wonderful imagery in these books that evokes an earlier time in the neighborhood, while also being timeless:

  • Ramona and Beezus playing outside on a summer’s evening until the street lights come on, when it’s time to go in.
  • The 11-year-old Henry riding his bicycle through the neighborhood in the late afternoon and early evening, delivering the afternoon newspapers hot off the press.
  • Kids jumping in puddles and playing in rivulets of muddy water on a rainy morning’s walk to school.
  • The Fuller Brush man in trenchcoat walking door-to-door selling his wares.
  • Henry crawling on all fours through Grant Park at night with flashlight in search of nightcrawlers for fishing.

And a timeless image that could have been borrowed from this winter: Ramona  sledding down the 37th Street hill on her dad’s old sled. Now there’s a scene drawn from the author’s personal experience, just a few doors up from her own childhood home.

Which gets to what makes Beverly Cleary’s work so appealing and enduring (and even instructive, for us students of history who also like to read to our kids): she crafts a slice of universal life through the experiences of her likeable, believable characters, and all through the lens of a remembered Northeast Portland childhood.

Portland’s Great Renumbering, 1931-1933: Bringing order out of chaos

Throw together a couple dozen scattered and growing neighborhoods, at least five incorporated towns with their own municipal governments, a public transportation system owned and operated by a handful of different authorities and private companies, a real estate market on fire, and an expanding network of streets and main arterials running across the whole complicated map. Sounds like an administrative headache, doesn’t it?

That was the challenge facing local leaders in 1931 when Portland decided it needed a new addressing system. The old way just wasn’t working: letters, visitors, homebuyers and even deliverymen were getting lost.

By the mid 1920s, Portland’s east side neighborhoods were booming. Research we’ve done into building permit history shows Alameda’s heyday of construction was 1922. In those early years, some homes started out with one address, but had to be renumbered—some several times—as lots were developed and new homes built.

A remnant of Portland's early addressing system

If you look carefully when out walking, you might find clues to our old address system. This artifact was cast into a neighbor’s front steps when the street was East 30th Street North.

By 1926, the city engineer recognized the need to change our address system. Except for the alphabet district in northwest Portland, where streets were (and still are) alphabetical, there was no numerical or organizational logic about how we told each other where we lived or worked. No baseline starting point for address numbers like today’s use of the Willamette River and Burnside. No predictable and sequential set of numbers that go with each block (i.e. the 2400 block of any particular street being 24 blocks north or south of anywhere else). No primary districts (northeast, northwest, north, southwest and southeast). Just cardinal directions and a pack of numbers. By the late 1920s, Portland Postmaster John M. Jones reported that 2,000 pieces of mail were going astray each day because of the confusing and random addressing system.

After all, the fraying system in place had been cobbled together in the early 1890s when the cities of Portland, East Portland and Albina merged. In the intervening years, both the population and the territory of the city more than doubled.

Reflecting on our system’s need for help, one reporter for The Oregonian wrote: “Many a city planner and civic engineer had thrown up his hands or uttered oracular warnings at the antiquated way in which our city was numbered.”

FullSizeRender (5)

More evidence of Portland’s early addressing system when all east side streets had two cardinal directions. Most of these early cast-in-place curb identifiers have been lost to modernizing curb cuts. Another name frequently cast into our sidewalks is builder Elwood Wiles. Click here for a photo and short biography of Mr. Wiles.

City Commissioner Asbury Lincoln (A.L.) Barbur recognized the problem and assembled a group to look at other cities for examples and to assemble a system that fit Portland’s needs. Barbur, whose name you will recognize from the southwest Portland boulevard named to honor him, was one of Portland’s most civic-minded early leaders. Elected five times to two-year terms as city auditor between 1907-1917, Barbur ran successfully in 1920 for commissioner (his election slogan was “Let the People Rule”). Read the reporting from the day and you’ll find him a pragmatic, smart, get-it-done elected leader who was almost single-handedly responsible for the business model that resulted in the paving of Portland streets, as well as the push to change the address system. Barbur’s street paving model is worthy of its own story: with so many new gravel streets in need of work, Barbur led the city to buy and operate its own paving plant rather than contract it all out, which saved the city millions of dollars, got the job done, and attracted the ire of local contractors who branded him a socialist.

In early 1930, Barbur’s addressing committee looked first at the system in Philadelphia, and then at Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ideas. As they did their scoping work, they also held public meetings in Portland neighborhoods to hear ideas and build support. By December 1930, Barbur’s committee had crafted a plan and received unanimous support from 18 different community organizations.

The essential framework was the system we know today: Divide the city into five sectors: NE, NW, SE, SW and North (owing to the bend in the river). Burnside was to be the new baseline north and south; the river was already an effective east-west baseline. Blocks would be divided into sets of 100 numbers. And some substantial renaming would add continuity and order. Here’s an editorial from The Oregonian on May 13, 1931 that endorses specifics of the plan and makes the case for change.

5-13-1931 Editorial

 

On September 2, 1931, city council unanimously and enthusiastically passed the plan, including $10,000 to pay for ceramic number tiles for every house and building, and it created a workforce of unemployed men to get the job done. Here in Alameda, renumbering and renaming resulted in a numeric transformation, and the changing of at least two street names, Glenn became NE 32nd Place; Laura Avenue became Edgehill.

Work is done photo

From the July 16, 1933 edition of The Oregonian. Click on the image to read the full story.

From the fall of 1931 through the summer of 1933, crews of workers fanned out across 66 square miles of Portland pulling wheeled carts filled with ceramic numbers, aluminum trays to hold the numbers, and hammers and nails to anchor them to every Portland house or business. It took 23 months. Not everyone was happy: some were superstitious if assigned anything with a 13 in it. Others who operated certain established and illegal businesses out of their homes took down the new numbers so as to not confuse their loyal customers. But most Portlanders embraced the new system and caught on to its logic quickly.

A ringing endorsement from The Oregonian on July 16, 1933, coinciding with completion of the renumbering, summed up how the community responded to the transformation:

“To the business man, the hundred and one small tradesmen and to the ordinary citizen, this new and uniform numbering system meant a logical and simple way out of a puzzling network of miscellaneous addresses.”

 

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Painting a new address on the curb in Portland’s Eliot neighborhood following the Great Renumbering. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

Alameda Walking Tour | Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Still more than a month off, but plenty of time left to sign up for an Alameda neighborhood walking tour we’re leading on the morning of Saturday, July 25th for the Architectural Heritage Center. Here’s a link to more information and to sign up. 10:00 a.m. to noon on what we hope will be a sunny day.

The blurb says “moderately strenuous,” but the trickiest part is walking up Deadman’s Hill, where we pause halfway up anyway to appreciate the George A. Eastman Arts and Crafts style home on the south slope. We’ve led tours like this in the past, both for the Architectural Heritage Center and for interested neighbors. We love to explore the neighborhood with like-minded participants, and to share the many interesting history stories we’ve gathered up over the years. And of course you know our mantra: that understanding the past is the key to appreciating the moment and to shaping the future.

 

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