Oregon Encyclopedia adds Alameda

Students of Oregon history should know about the Oregon Encyclopedia (OE), our state’s comprehensive collection of on-line articles covering the history of everything from Obo Addy to Jan Zach and everything in between (some 1,694 topics, in fact, and 24 longer essays on various history themes). It’s a project of the Oregon Historical Society and a tremendous resource for students of all ages. And it’s just good reading.

We’re proud to serve on the Oregon Encyclopedia Editorial Board, and pleased to see OE has just published our essay on the Alameda Neighborhood. Click in and check it out. The article features a little-known photo of the Broadway Streetcar originally published in the Oregon Journal (we haven’t seen it and we’ve looked at lots of Broadway Streetcar photos).

Courtesy Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Oregon Journal, 49061, photo file 1686. Photo looking north on 24th as the streetcar rounds the corner to the west on Fremont headed for downtown. Autos to the right are parked in the former gas station lot now occupied by Childroots Fremont Center Daycare. Another view of this intersection is here.

Here’s an idea for your next trip across Oregon: there’s a great feature of OE called the Oregon History Wayfinder which allows you to identify articles by location. Next time you’re planning a trip, check out the history along your route.

On the topic of digital access to history stories, if you’re in Portland you should check out the excellent PDX Social History Guide, which is both website and ap and provides pictures, oral history audio snippets and other resources.

Oregon Home Builders Company: The rest of the story

If you’ve been following along on our exploration of the various builders who shaped our neighborhoods long ago, you’ve seen the pieces we’ve written about both the Oregon Home Builders Company and their factory building at NE 33rd and Broadway. This high-profile Portland company built more than 100 beautiful homes during its five years of operation from 1912-1917.

When we first dove in with both feet to explore the company, its people, its houses and its legacy, we were hooked by their compelling story; by their five-year arc from an auspicious launch with great promise, to their design and construction of durable and beautiful homes, to an embarrassing end, crashing in a mess of bankruptcy, unfulfilled promises and questionable business practices.

From The Oregonian, May 13, 1917

Recently we’ve come across some further insight which confirms our belief there was something fishy about company finances that led to their demise, despite their quality designs and construction methods.

A bit of background is necessary to fully appreciate this, so bear with us:

One of the fine homes the company built was for eastern industrialist Thomas Prince: it’s called the Thomas Prince House and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and we’ve written about it here.

From The Oregonian, July 22, 1917

Prince was a wealthy and successful captain of heavy industry from Massachusetts. In 1895, he retired to Oregon with a small fortune and with his son to grow walnuts near Dundee, which he did on a grand scale. By the time Oregon Home Builders was formed in 1912, he was 72 years old. Company president Oliver K. Jeffrey knew him from real estate circles and somehow convinced him to serve on the company’s board and to invest his own funds in getting the company started.

From the Oregon Daily Journal, November 15, 1907

The company built a house for Thomas Prince in perhaps the most visible place in the Alameda Park subdivision: right at the top of Regents Hill at the crest of the ridge where the Broadway Streetcar passed by dozens of times a day. It was a trophy house for the company, built to show investors and potential clients they knew what they were doing.

When this house was built in 1916, Prince was 76 years old and in ill health physically and cognitively. He lived there only briefly, before dying of a stroke in California. But still, it’s the Thomas Prince House—as it should be—named for its first owner and occupant. Somehow, in Prince’s final years, the persuasive Jeffery convinced him to invest in the company at a very large scale. We’ve recently come across court documents that provide a bit more insight about what happened.

Oliver K. Jeffrey, 1916. From the Photographic Business and Professional Directory, American Publishing Company, 1916.

Thanks to an Oregon Supreme Court Case heard on appeal of a Multnomah County Circuit Court ruling about Prince’s guardianship, we’ve learned the full story about where the company’s money was coming from. Read on:

“In 1915 his [Prince’s] faculties had become impaired by ill health and advanced age, in which condition he was induced by one O. K. Jeffrey to consent to finance the construction of dwelling-houses situated upon lots in Portland, Oregon, which lots, were acquired or controlled by Jeffrey. The money so advanced was to be repaid upon the sale of the dwellings so constructed. The enterprise was conducted under the unincorporated firm name of Oregon Home Builders, Jeffrey being the active head thereof: the dwellings did not sell readily, and from its inception, the concern lost money.”

“In May, 1917, Mr. Prince suffered a stroke of paralysis, in connection with which he was compelled to undergo a surgical operation, whereby he was confined in a hospital for several months. During that time, Jeffrey acquired a tract of land, and while Mr. Prince was convalescing the Oregon Home Builders erected a plant thereon for the manufacture of aeroplanes; Jeffrey prevailed upon Mr. Prince to advance the funds required to construct the plant and also to agree to advance the money necessary for the weekly pay-roll of those employed in the manufacture of aeroplanes, amounting to about $1,000 per week.”

Former Oregon Home Builders warehouse and workshop at NE 33rd and Broadway, briefly a factory to build World War 1 aircraft parts. Photo taken in 2012.

You may have known this building as Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, now closed. Oregon Home Builders built and used this building for almost two years as warehouse and workshop where the company constructed its built-ins and kitchen cabinetry until Jeffery transformed it—briefly in 1917 until funding reality caught up—into a place where spruce aircraft parts were built.

Photos from a January 1, 1918 spread in The Oregonian about the factory.

In an August 5, 1917 story in the Oregon Journal, Jeffrey was quoted as saying his workers were cutting 25,000 board feet of spruce parts daily for airplane stock and that the product would be shipped to eastern finishing plants. He told reporters: “Large orders for finished material have been secured by my company and the present force of 26 men will soon be doubled.”

Many different products have been manufactured in this building over the years: excelsior, pasta, furniture. It’s even hosted street-facing retail including barber shops and diners.

But let’s get back to the Oregon Supreme Court document for the clincher:

“By January 1, 1918, Mr. Prince had advanced in cash to the Oregon Home Builders about $157,000, and in addition had incurred a number of large obligations.”

“In part payment of the funds so advanced, Jeffrey, in the name of the Oregon Home Builders, conveyed to Mr. Prince, at excessive prices, nineteen or more dwelling-houses in Portland, Oregon, with the land upon which they were situated and a tract of acreage in Clackamas County, also eight sales contracts for the sale of dwelling-houses. All of the properties so transferred were already encumbered. Mr. Prince was compelled to borrow large sums to meet the demands for money made by Jeffrey.”

The brief goes on, but to summarize, a Prince family member from back east came to help the ailing Thomas, saw what was going on and immediately shut down the airplane factory and established a guardian for Prince, cutting Jeffery off.

This is what was actually going on behind the scenes, not reported on by any of the papers. And here’s what it looked like in The Oregonian during that time, with Jeffery as the prominent young businessman, patriot and pilot hero.

From The Oregonian, August 1, 1917

Did you catch the last two sentences? Sheesh.

“As president of the Oregon Home Builders, a concern which has gone far toward aiding those of small means in home building and owning, Mr. Jeffery is well known. The airplane factory is distinctly his own, although he will still retain his interest and presidency in the first firm.”

You can read the company history to see how it all ends (which we’ve updated with this new nugget). Proof that the early neighborhood-building years were a little crazy as investors and speculators jostled to get in on the profits.

At the moment—among several other research topics—we’re focusing in on another series of amazing neighborhood homes from the same era built by another company—Arnt Anderson’s construction company—which appears to have traveled a similar path, though Arnt was convicted and served time in a federal prison for larceny. More to follow.

Upcoming Local History Programs, Fall 2019

We’re working on two upcoming public programs that may be of interest to AH readers, and that continue our ongoing exploration of local history:  the evening of Monday, November 25th at Northeast Portland’s Kennedy School; and the morning of Saturday, December 7th at the Architectural Heritage Center.

The History Pub program at Kennedy School on November 25th will explore the layers of history in Alameda, Sabin, Beaumont, Wilshire, Concordia, and Vernon neighborhoods to examine how changes in the physical and human landscape have shaped the places we know today (and how little we actually know about earlier lives lived here).

The Architectural Heritage Center program on December 7th is our deep dive into the story of the Oregon Home Builders, a high-profile Portland company that built many beautiful homes during its five years of operation from 1912-1917 before crashing in a mess of bankruptcy, unfulfilled promises and questionable business practices.

Mark your calendars!

Remember the ANP Market at 15th and Fremont?

We’ve been focusing this spring on NE 15th and Fremont, which has seen significant change during the last 100 years, including zone changes, multiple demolitions and major commercial construction, and the coming and the going of the Irvington Streetcar.

Throughout all this change, there’s been one steady witness at the northeast corner of the intersection that has seen it all: the former Anderson’s Grocery Company building, 1501 NE Fremont. Today it’s Daddy Mojo’s Cafe, and it’s had a long and interesting history. Here are two views about 20 years apart that will help turn back the clock.

Looking east on Fremont at NE 15th, May 1963. Taken as part of a petition for a zoning change that would eventually remake this intersection. Courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, (ZC 4309). A2011-013. Click to enlarge the photo…there’s lots of detail there.

 

A similar view from 1985. In this photo, the ANP Market was in the process of becoming Roxanne’s, and the Fremont Pharmacy was the Full Holy Ghost Mission Church of God, Inc. Courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2008-008.2113.

 

Contemporary view, April 2019.

 

Built in 1923 by Andrew W. Anderson, this Mom-and-Pop corner grocery fed the neighborhood for many years, first as Anderson’s Grocery Company and then as the ANP Market. In the 1970s it served as a district office for the Multnomah County Juvenile Court.

 

Today’s sushi restaurant next door was Fremont Pharmacy from 1923 well into the early 1960s when it became a variety store. During the early pharmacy years, the business also doubled as the designated public polling place for the neighborhood in the mid-1920s.

We’re digging deep into the various chapters of this building’s stories (Anderson’s Grocery Co., the ANP Market, the district office Roxanne’s, Mojos and everything in between) and welcome memories and stories from AH readers. Drop us a note with your recollections (doug@alamedahistory.org) and we’ll share what we learn.

NE 33rd and Killingsworth: From rural road to busy intersection

In our ongoing pursuit of insight about the early days of Northeast neighborhoods, we’ve come across a zoning change petition filled with photos and maps from 1929 that allows an interesting glimpse into the evolution of today’s busy intersection at NE 33rd and Killingsworth in the Concordia neighborhood.

We’ll whet your appetite with this 1929 photo of a fine bungalow, owned by Frank and Louella Watson that was located at the northwest corner of NE 33rd and Killingsworth (facing 33rd), on property now occupied by the Mud Bay pet store.

Looking west across NE 33rd at the Watson house, a tidy-looking bungalow surrounded by highly manicured hedges and gardens, that occupied what is now the parking lot for Mud Bay. Photo taken on August 15, 1929. The sidewalk running off into the distance at left parallels Killingsworth. Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-062.57.

At the turn of the last century, John D. Kennedy owned much of the land between Killingsworth, Ainsworth, NE 33rd and NE 42nd, which he platted as the Kennedy Addition. By 1910, he was carving up the fields into building lots and a handful of houses were being built. In 1913 he sold the city a four-acre parcel that is now Kennedy School, which opened in 1914. Kennedy knew an emerging neighborhood would need a school and he was, after all, in the business of selling lots for homebuilders.

The Oregonian reported at the time this part of NE 33rd—which was also known as the Sunderland Road north of Prescott—was still unpaved and mostly used for moving cattle and sheep, and that the surrounding area was heavily wooded with only a few scattered houses.

By the mid 1920s, more homes had been built in the area, particularly along NE 33rd. At the southwest corner of 33rd and Killingsworth was a small Red and White Market. At the southeast and northwest corners, bungalows had been built. At the northeast corner of Killingsworth and 33rd pictured below, Kennedy owned an open field that once housed a barn (a kind-of local landmark known as “Kennedy’s Barn”). You can see some of the wood left over after the barn’s demolition.

Looking east across 33rd at the open lot at the northeast corner of 33rd and Killingsworth where Kennedy’s barn once stood, June 15, 1928. The street running off into the distance at right is Killingsworth. Taken from the Watson home pictured above. Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, A220-062.54. Contemporary photo showing the same view today.

Even though the area still had a strong rural residential feel, Kennedy could already visualize how things would go: the school and homes were ripe for their own commercial district. So, in the summer of 1929 he put the re-zoning wheels into motion to get his parcel ready for commercial development.

Here’s a look at the area from a 1925 aerial photo:

Detail of a 1925 aerial photo. Kennedy School is visible in the upper right corner. Kennedy’s field appears just above the “NG” in the original hand lettering on the photo (now a 76 gas station). The red dashed line indicates the location of present day New Seasons Concordia. Click for larger view. Aerial photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

In 1929, Portland’s zoning code was fairly simple: Zone 1 was for single-family residential use; Zone 2 was for multi-family residential use; Zone 3 was for business and manufacturing; and Zone 4 was unrestricted. (Here’s a link to a great history of zoning in Portland).

At the time, the northeast corner of the intersection owned by Kennedy had been zoned for residential use, but he wanted it to be Zone 3 to develop the property for commercial use. In his petition, Kennedy described his vision to build a commercial corner just like the one in Beaumont at 42nd and Fremont (he actually included a photo of that building), or a filling station. Kennedy pledged that if the zone change was allowed, he would personally see to it that “no cheap construction will be permitted,” and that “it will be so kept that it will be an attraction to any business Street intersection or residence district.”

Neighbors weren’t wild about the idea.

On October 12, 1929, adjacent property owners submitted a hand-drawn and color-coded map that recorded exactly how they felt. Owners with properties shaded green wanted the area to stay restricted to residential. Those shaded yellow were in favor of Kennedy’s petition for zone change to commercial. Have a good look and you’ll figure out pretty quickly which properties were owned by Kennedy. It’s also interesting to note the third category (yellowish green), which were neighbors in favor of the Kennedy petition at first but who then changed their minds.

Map drawn by neighbors showing opposition to rezoning of the Kennedy property for commercial use. Click to enlarge. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, File A2001-062.

Here’s where it gets visually interesting.

Along with their map, neighbors submitted photographs to help the Planning Commission understand the residential character of the neighborhood and the potential impact of a zone change. We paired these with similar views photographed on a snow day in early February 2019.

5434 NE 32nd Place (formerly 1160 E. Glenn Avenue, the Svensen family home). The southeast corner of NE 32nd Place and Killingsworth. Photographed on August 14, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.60.

 

5506 NE 32nd Place (formerly 1150 E. Glenn Avenue, the Eaton family home). The northeast corner of NE 32nd Place and Killingsworth. Photographed on August 14, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.61. We wonder if the homeowner realizes the house once had an extended front porch and pergola, and a completely different siding material.

 

5526 and 5606 NE 34th Avenue (formerly 1166 and 1168 E. 34th Avenue, the Nellie White and C.C. Cooper family homes, respectively). Photographed on September 19, 1929. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2001-062.65.

 

What was then a newly constructed building at the southwest corner of 33rd and Killingsworth, known as Hollinshead’s Corner, named for the developer who built the building. Looking southwest across Killingsworth. Note the entry archway and façade that is still standing. Photographed on September 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-062.67.

 

The market at Hollinshead’s Corner, looking west across 33rd, just south of Killingsworth. The edge of the decorative archway is visible at far right. Photographed on September 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, A2001-0672.66.

 

5343 NE 33rd and 5407 NE 33rd (formerly 1137 and 1139 E. 33rd Avenue, homes of Mrs. Mercier and H.C. Wright, respectively). Directly across from present day Canon’s Ribs. Photographed on August 30, 1929. Courtesy of Portland City Archives A2001-062.63.

 

The neighborhood submitted these photos and the map as the battle about Kennedy’s requested zoning change played out in late October 1929:

From The Oregonian, October 29, 1929.

Because of the local turmoil and the fact that any Planning Commission recommendation would have to come before City Council for a vote, the electeds took the item off the agenda for several months, and then wanted to come out and have a look for themselves. Action on Kennedy’s petition dragged into 1930.

From The Oregonian, March 15, 1930.

 

When City Council visited the site in March 1930, they had in hand the following do-pass recommendation from the Planning Commission:

Inasmuch as the southeast and southwest corners of this intersection have been changed to zone three, the Planning Commission recommends this change be granted providing the petition agrees to set all buildings fifteen feet back from the street lines on both 33rd Street and Killingsworth Avenue. This requirement was agreed to by property owners on the south side of the street when their change was granted.

Following the visit, Commissioner of Public Works A.L. Barbur recorded the following in support of Council’s eventual decision to approve the change.

The members of the Council viewed the site of the proposed change of zone, and after careful consideration of the matter were of the opinion that the zone change should be allowed provided the property was used for either of the purposes outlined by the petitioner in his letter, and a fifteen-foot set back line established.

Neighbors around 33rd and Killingsworth and teachers at Kennedy School couldn’t have been very happy, but the story fades into the background. The Great Depression intervened and the thought of any commercial construction was put on hold. Aerial photos from 1936, 1940 and 1951 show the intersection unchanged, Kennedy’s open field on the northeast corner still very much open. By 1956, filling stations had been built on both northeast and southeast corners, but Watson’s tidy bungalow was still there.

Meanwhile, there was either solidarity or sour grapes when in 1932—two years after the Kennedy petition decision—City Council denied a similar zone change request just a bit farther south on 33rd at Knott Street:

From The Oregonian, July 1, 1932.

Interesting how decisions from long ago do affect the way the landscape has turned out today (and the corollary that our decisions today shape future outcomes). Imagine if these council actions had been just the opposite, with 33rd and Knott transformed into a busy commercial intersection and Killingsworth and 33rd the quieter residential area.

Next up: How other decisions made by John D. Kennedy gave Concordia some of the longest blocks in the area.

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.

Gravel & Garbage: A history of NE 33rd and Fremont

Over the years, we’ve heard the notion that there was once a gravel pit and then a garbage dump at the corner of NE 33rd and Fremont. We remember in the 1990s when the house at the southwest corner—the one with the old swimming pool out back—was removed because of major foundation problems, which seems like reasonable evidence of the underlying problem.

But we wanted to know more, so we tracked down the details. Let’s start with a photo to put you in context.

Here is the area in a 1925 aerial photo, the earliest one we know of. There’s lots to look at here, but start at the large vacant lot in the lower right hand corner. The street running east-west is Fremont and the vacant lot just below it to the south is actually three blocks, between today’s NE 32nd Avenue on the left and “E 33rd” on the right. 32nd Place (then known as Glenn Avenue before the Great Renumbering) does not yet go through.

Detail from a 1925 aerial photo showing the intersection of Fremont and 33rd, two labels added for reference. Click to enlarge. Aerial photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

That’s a pretty steep slope to the south (just ask local kids with sleds hoping for snowfall) which is one reason it’s one of the few unbuilt pieces of ground you can see in this photo.

Back in the late 1890s and up until about 1910, that slope was heavily excavated for gravel, which makes sense. It’s right along the crest of the Alameda Ridge, which after all is one giant gravel deposit left over from the cataclysmic Lake Missoula Floods of 13,000-15,000 years ago. The Fremont gravel pit provided tons of rock for a young and growing Portland, which was busy building roads. In those early years, 33rd and Fremont even became known as Gravelly Hill, a name that stuck around for decades (we try to slip that name into a conversation whenever we can, you should try it just to keep it alive).

In the photo, you can see the disturbed area at the top of the slope all along the southern edge of Fremont. That was the top of the gravel pit. A few years later it was also the top of the garbage dump.

In 1910, Benjamin Lombard, who developed the Olmsted Park plat which you can see just up the hill in this photo (now considered part of the Alameda neighborhood), sued the city for violating its own ordinance that prohibited gravel pits within 100 feet of a public street. Fremont was a city-owned street, plus the city owned a good chunk (but not all) of that vacant lot to the south too. East 33rd had long been known simply as the County Road and was the county’s responsibility.

A letter to county commissioners in August 1910 reported “the roadway at Thirty-third and Fremont streets is in danger of caving in because of excavation in the Fremont gravel pit.” The county passed this complaint along to the city, which was also hearing from Lombard about the same time. Due to the undercutting of the slope required by the gravel mining operations, Fremont Street was just about ready to slide down the hill.

This 1910 kerfuffle ended the slope’s official function as a gravel pit, though other places—notably a nearby hollow on privately owned land at the corner of today’s NE 37th and Klickitat—stepped in to meet the gravel need.

Fast forward to the early 1920s. Portland was booming and rapidly running into a garbage disposal problem. The city’s Guilds Lake Incinerator, located in Northwest Portland at NW 25th and Nicolai, was operating at full capacity and the city needed to find another way to deal with garbage.

William G. Helber, Portland’s Superintendent of Garbage Disposal, had visited Seattle and seen a new technique called “sanitary fill,” whereby garbage was mixed with dirt and buried in layers on uneven ground. This had the double “benefit” of disposing of garbage and leveling off land that could then be used or sold for other uses.

When Helber looked out across the Portland landscape, he fixed on several locations he believed would function well as sanitary fills.

 

From The Oregonian, January 16, 1923

Because the city didn’t own the downslope part of the hill, it took some creative deal making with the adjacent private owner to make it all work. Downslope owners Joe and Frances Brooks also owned the gravel pit at 37th and Klickitat. They agreed to let the city use the lower end of the Fremont pit for the garbage fill as long as the city would also fill up their old gravel pit on Klickitat with garbage. This site became known as the “Beaumont Fill.” The Brooks were then free to sell that as viable real estate to the developer who wanted to build houses there.

Not everyone was happy with the idea of burying garbage so close to existing homes. Alameda neighbors, who were always ready to protest (schools, camps, churches), were particularly skeptical. But Helber took them out on the ground to have a look at what he had in mind and the neighbors seemed satisfied to give it a try.

From The Oregonian, January 20, 1923

Starting in February 1923 through June 1924, all non-commercial trash from Portland’s eastside was hauled to Alameda to fill up the old Fremont gravel pit.

From The Oregonian, February 7, 1923

When the summer of 1923 rolled around, everyone held their breath (and their noses) wondering if the heat and the garbage would create a smelly problem. No news must have been good news, because there was no further coverage.

 

From The Oregonian, June 6, 1923

 

Here’s a great photo from the early 1930s that shows both of the completed sanitary fills (and so much else to look at). We love this photo.

Aerial oblique photo from the early 1930s shows both former fill sites and a lot more, including a very brushy Wilshire Park and the new Beaumont School. Click to enlarge this amazing photo.

In 1924, one year after opening when it became time to shut down the Fremont Sanitary Fill, the city realized it had trained all of east Portland to bring its trash to Alameda, and that it would probably take some retraining and even some enforcement to break the habit.

From The Oregonian, May 30, 1924

In a final accounting contained in his January 1926 report to City Commissioner Charles A. Bigelow, Garbage Disposal Bureau Director Helber summarized the following statistics for the Fremont Street Sanitary Fill:

  • Estimated number of loads of garbage received: 1,618
  • Average number of loads received per day: 62 ½
  • Average tons of garbage dumped each day: 136
  • Estimated tons of garbage dumped: 3,541 ½
  • Average yards of dirt received per day: 3 ½
  • Total salary of all dump workers per month: $442
  • Monthly installment on new tractor used on site: $121.25

That’s a lot of garbage. Sixty-two loads arriving at the top of the hill on Fremont Street each day for more than a year, dumped over the edge, spread by tractor down the slope and covered over with a little dirt.

The city continued to use the sanitary fill method in other areas as it planned a larger incinerator—a long drawn out process because no neighborhood wanted it in their backyard—which was ultimately built in 1932 in St. Johns and is known today as Chimney Park.

But in the meantime while incinerator planning and location were being fought about in City Hall, the fill method was gaining critics. Here’s news of neighbors at NE 37th and Alberta (today’s Alberta Court) complaining about the stench to City Council.

From The Oregonian, October 20, 1927

Back at the Fremont fill in the early 1940s, home construction was just getting underway. Here’s a photo from 1943.

Detail from a 1943 aerial photo, green outline added to show former gravel pit and fill area.

When Northeast neighborhoods outgrew their dairies

Much of Northeast Portland at the turn of the last century went like this: a sparse grid of dirt roads, brushy open fields, clumps of thick forest, a scattering of orchards planted in the 1880s and 90s, limited central services, a few established rural residences, and houses with newcomers popping up here and there as the real estate business percolated. And dairies.

Portland’s fresh milk came from a relatively small number of commercial production dairies and hundreds of smaller operations scattered across the landscape—including right here in the backyards of neighborhoods we know today—consisting of a few cows and a small barn or garage. In 1914 there were 1,004 licensed dairies operating in Portland. In his report to City Council that year, Mayor Albee worried out loud about just how many more small dairies didn’t bother to get a license. Our hunch is there were many.

We know this for a few reasons: partly due to the trail of official documents required of dairy operators by the city, all still carefully filed away at City Archives. But also because as residential growth escalated in the 19-teens and early 1920s, neighbors and dairy operators came into conflict over the smells, sounds and hours of operation that were just natural to the dairy business. The leading edge of new neighborhoods as they were built formed a line of demarcation between an older way of life that involved open fields and agriculture and a new way of life with its grid and density of houses, people, schools and streetcars.

By 1915 in what is our part of town today, newly established neighbors were demanding City Council take action:

From The Oregon Journal, August 8, 1915.

Ordinances about the proximity of out-buildings couldn’t really address the fundamental land use conflict of agriculture and urbanizing residential life, particularly when a dairy operator was walking the cows up the street past the neighbors to graze in a vacant lot for much of the day and rounding them up in the evening for milking in the shed out behind the house.

The dairy mentioned in the news story at 969 East 21st Street North (today’s 4539 NE 21st, remember Great Renumbering) was run by Lizzie Goldstein. By 1915, most of the houses on that block were built and the street was a vibrant place. Here’s a view of the Goldstein house and block today. With some obvious modernizations, this street scene was pretty much the way things looked when the dairy operated out of a big barn out behind the house (which is no longer there).

The former Goldstein house (center) at 4539 NE 21st, and the driveway where the cows filed in and out each day. The barn was at the back of the lot, directly behind the house. Neighbors in the houses to the left and the right filed complaints with the City of Portland over the noise and smell of the Goldsteins’ 10 cows. December 2018.

Confirming our belief that all things are somehow connected, the Goldsteins lived on the same block as the Alberta Shul, where they were members (which we’ve written about), and directly next door to the Vernon Practice House (which we’ve also written about). The imposing Old Vernon School was just a block over (when you read this, be on the lookout for the part about kids walking to school getting manure on their shoes). And don’t forget the bungalow grocery just up the street. Lots going on here off of Going Street.

Lizzie and her husband Morris were Russian immigrants who became naturalized citizens in 1901 and moved in to their brand-new house in 1909 with their children Bertha (then age 11) and George (then age 9). Morris ran a store on Alberta and she ran the dairy. Evidently Lizzie knew her business well because milk from her dairy routinely won contests for quality. Did she grow up on a farm in Russia?

Lizzie and Morris felt the pressure of growth and the unhappiness of their immediate neighbors, but they also were committed to producing good milk and making their dairy business successful. Lizzie knew she needed to bolster her case in the face of the complaints piling up since the year before, triggering Mayor Albee to direct the city’s Bureau of Health to inspect the Goldstein dairy. Here’s the inspection report, and don’t let the first page fool you, even though Lizzie ran a tight ship, the City Health Officer was no fan of hers and clearly wanted to get dairies out of Portland’s emerging neighborhoods, even suggesting to Mayor Albee a model ordinance patterned on San Francisco:

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

 

Did you catch the language there on page two? “It is a personal wrong that anyone should be allowed to maintain a dairy in a nice residence or business district.” And, “…these dairies sometimes become a menace to public health.” Pretty strong stuff.

In November of 1915, in preparation for a pending City Council action on licensing her dairy, Lizzie brought her own strong case in the following petition to Mayor Albee and his council describing her investments made over time, all allowed by past city ordinances. Be sure to check out her fascinating signature.

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

Bolstering Lizzie’s petition—and seemingly undercutting her neighbors directly to the north and to the south who had complained (remarkably, the only people on the block to complain)—Lizzie filed this impressive petition signed by more than 80 neighbors in the immediate vicinity:

Courtesy Portland City Archives | Council Documents, Licenses-Miscellaneous-1916

Can you imagine getting the signatures of 80 people in the neighborhood today to support something as impactful as a dairy operating next door or up the street? She must have sold a lot of milk to many happy neighbors.

City council was in a jam: they were strongly pro-business and had after all passed policies that encouraged the kind of business investments Lizzie made in her dairy. Still, they had citizens demanding action and a major livability and possible public health issue on their hands (and maybe on their shoes). Throughout much of 1916, via continuance and delay, council kicked the can of decision making down the road about whether to relicense the Goldstein dairy.

Meanwhile, a few blocks north and east, council was ordering other dairies closed.

From The Oregonian, April 20, 1916.

 

Finally, on July 21, 1916, City Council ordered Lizzie’s dairy closed, which she seemed to accept surprisingly easily. Hard to know what was actually going on in these proceedings given all the reported smiles and cheerful atmosphere, but council direction was unambiguous:

From The Oregon Journal, July 21, 1916

There’s no further reporting about the Goldstein dairy after that encounter, and nothing conclusive in city council proceedings or archives. We examined every dairy license issued in Portland from 1916-1922, and Lizzie Goldstein was not among them. But she continued to operate for another seven years, winning contests and being listed each year in the newspaper as producing some of the very highest quality milk in Portland from the dairy behind her house. Lizzie must have decided she just couldn’t quit the business, and had the last laugh in the face of the city’s weak enforcement mechanisms.

In 1920 she even placed a classified ad for a milker to help out around the place.

But the tide of urbanization crested in the early 1920s (1922 was the busiest year for home construction according to building permit research we’ve done) and the pressure on the Goldsteins must have been overwhelming. By 1923 they were making other plans and put their home up for sale, the classified ad referring to the former dairy barn out behind the house as a “garage for 4 machines,” meaning autos. Not milking machines, or cows.

With the Goldsteins’ departure, the days of urban dairies in this neighborhood were done. City council was thinking deeper thoughts about planning and zoning, street paving eventually came along, the residential real estate business exploded building out most vacant lots, and the Alberta business district was going strong. No more room for cows. Lizzie, Morris, Bertha and George moved to Kenton and took over a furniture business on North Denver Street.

Our review of official dairy paperwork during those years shows a shrinking geography in which licenses were granted. In yet-to-be developed areas like the open fields around today’s Fernhill Park and north and west of NE 33rd and Knott, licenses were granted for small operations of 3-6 cows. But in established young neighborhoods like Vernon, Concordia and Homedale, long-shot applications were usually accompanied by petitions from understandably cranky neighbors citing the obvious concerns: smell, flies, mess, and the bellowing of cows.

By 1921, with a new milk inspector on board, the city was increasingly skeptical of small, local dairies, expressed in this letter seeking the revocation of another nearby dairyman’s operation:

Courtesy City of Portland Archives | Council Documents – Dairy Licenses

In a tragic postscript to this story, Lizzie was killed and Morris seriously injured in a freak automobile accident at NE 8th and Alberta on April 19, 1925. They were riding in an auto that was hit by another car and pushed in front of the Alberta streetcar, which could not stop and demolished the Goldstein car. Her memorial service was held two days later in what must have been a packed Congregation Tifereth Israel (Alberta Shul) just around the corner from the former Goldstein home and dairy. Down the years, on the anniversary of her death, Bertha and George published memorials in the newspaper in her honor. Morris died on June 23, 1933. Both are buried in the Neveh Shalom cemetery in southeast Portland.

Dairy & Orchards in the heart of Alameda | The Homedale Tract

Homedale is the name of the property plat—once part of an orchard and dairy—that occupies the landscape bounded roughly by Fremont and Ridgewood, between NE 19th and NE 24th. Today, it’s considered part of the Alameda neighborhood. Here’s a look at the geography.

Detail from the Homedale Plat, filed in 1921. Click to enlarge.

Think of a plat as a road map filed by developers for organizing property into individual lots and streets (read more about the relationship between plats and neighborhoods here). We all live somewhere in a plat and each has its own unique story, players and moment in history. We’ve created a category here on the blog (The Plats) to hold our ongoing exploration of these stories.

While today it’s an orderly grid of streets and homes dating from 1922, less than 100 years ago the sloping landscape just below Alameda ridge that you see here was an important part of Portland’s eastside agriculture. We’ve come across several interesting descriptions that will feed your curiosity and the way you think about this landscape. Read on, from local resident Rod Paulson written in January 1976:

“Before 1921 and 1922 when city lots were staked out, much of this was an apple orchard, the remnants of which can still be seen in some back yards. The trees grew right down to the edge of the Fremont Street [side]walk and there were several old buildings on the place, residential and otherwise, including a large farmhouse painted light brown which was located close to Fremont in the vicinity of 21st Avenue. This house dated back to the 1890s or before and people lived there in apparent comfort in a rural setting, yet in the midst of modern houses that [were being built] in all directions.”

“There was another farmhouse set back a considerable distance from the street more or less in the eastern part of the orchard, and a barn was situated opposite the end of 23rd Avenue.”

We’ve wondered about this: are isolated apple trees from the early orchard days still out there scattered across this part of the neighborhood? Can any readers confirm? In a happy coincidence, the Sabin Community Association has planted a small orchard of young trees near NE 19th and Mason, on ground that probably once was part of the old orchard:

The once and future orchard, near NE 19th and Mason, December 2018.

Owners Michael G. Munley and James T. Barron bought the future Homedale property in 1905 for $6,500 and kept it in agricultural use with an eye to eventual development, but market conditions didn’t make that worthwhile until the 1920s. Not coincidentally, Munley was son-in-law of E.Z. Ferguson, president of the Alameda Land Company which owned land just up the hill. Barron was a Ferguson business partner.

The Irvington Dairy operated from a barn situated at the northeast corner of NE 21st and Fremont from the 1890s until 1916 when a catastrophic fire destroyed much of the herd and the barn.

From the Oregon Journal, January 11, 1916. The address given–725 Fremont–is from Portland’s old addressing system and translates into the NE corner of 21st and Fremont. We did not find a follow-up news story about the fire investigation. The house remembered by Rod Paulson was home to dairy manager Grimm and his family.

Location of the former Irvington Dairy barn at NE 21st and Fremont, looking northeast, December 2018.

Between the terrible fire and an early 1920s resurgence in Portland’s real estate values, the time was nearing when Munley and Barron would execute the land use change and end the property’s agricultural past. In 1919, the Grimms and dairyman E.J. Bruns were selling off the last of the Munley herd:

From The Oregonian, March 30, 1919

A nearby dairy existed just to the east as well: the Pearson Place, the cow pasture where Alameda School was eventually built. The Pearson family operated their dairy there during this same time period and it too was subdivided into residential lots about the same time. You can read more about the Pearson Dairy and its time-traveling tree here (and we recommend putting on your walking shoes and your imagination to walk the perimeter of the farm).

Six years after the big fire at NE 21st and Fremont, Munley and Barron were underway with their plan to develop the property:

From The Oregonian, March 12, 1922

By the fall of 1922, the streets of Homedale had been carved into the south-facing slopes and the first homes had been built. Real estate ads even mentioned without explaining why that most lots had a fruit tree (but no mention of cows).

Interesting to note that prior to 1922, Regents Drive did not go all the way through to NE 21st because the orchard and open fields were in the way. Regents came down the hill and tee’d into NE 24th before heading south. Think of that next time you drive down Regents headed for NE 21st: the former orchard and pasture land you’re driving through.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve the reward of one of our all-time favorite news stories from that time illustrating the consequence of this early day change of land use from agriculture to residential (a subject that bears exploration in future posts). Dixon Place is the next subdivision to the west just a few blocks over, between Fremont to Shaver and from NE 15th to NE 19th, part of today’s Sabin neighborhood. What a great headline:

From The Oregonian, May 3, 1923

Dairies like the one at NE 21st and Fremont–and many more small dairies around town–occupied a unique niche in time as Portland grew between 1890 and the 19-teens. As population and growth exploded and property became more valuable for housing, the departure of the dairies was a bellwether of change. More from the front lines of subdivision-dairy conflict here. It’s a fascinating story.

Highland Congregational Church – Portland Playhouse

If you’ve traveled the west end of NE Prescott recently, you’ve seen lots of activity around the old church at the corner of NE 6th and Prescott. We know it today as the Portland Playhouse, but it started out life as the Highland Congregational Church on January 3, 1904.

Portland Playhouse, 602 N.E. Prescott. November 2018.

 

From The Oregonian, January 4, 1904. Note the original steeple cap.

A news story in The Oregonian from January 4, 1904 reported that its founding pastor, The Rev. D.B. Gray, explained to his new congregation that the building cost $4,709.15 to build and the two lots it sits on cost $800. The community raised $600 of the total and the Oregon Missionary Society provided the rest. The Sunday school associated with the church had 150 children. Plans for the church were furnished by L.B. Volk of Los Angeles, California and Peter Wiser was the builder. According to The Rev. Gray, the building is modeled after the Mizpah Church at East Thirteenth and Powell streets. Capacity was about 300 people, with room left for future expansion. Original interior finishes were natural wood.

The story went on to say why the new church was so symbolic for the surrounding community:

“The dedication signalizes strikingly the wonderful growth of the city to the northeast as fully 500 homes have been built in the Highland District in the last two years, besides a schoolhouse now occupied by 500 students.”

In 1904, this part of town was the eastern edge of Portland. Roads were dirt and the farther east you went, the wilder and brushier it got. The Broadway Bridge was still almost 10 years from being built, and central sewer, water and gas and streetcar systems were just working their way out to this edge of the city. Here’s a look at the surrounding area–known then as the “Lincoln Park Annex”–in the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 246, 1909. The address numbers you see here were completely renumbered in the early 1930s during Portland’s Great Renumbering.

This part of the neighborhood was platted as the Lincoln Park Annex in 1891, an 18-square-block area gridded by a collection of unimaginative street names that never made it to the map. In fact, most locals never used the “Lincoln Park” name either, preferring the term Highland back in the day, and today’s King Neighborhood.

The 1904 church building has always had a strong connection to the surrounding community. During its first year, it was the venue for a rousing anti-cigarette meeting featuring preachers and businessmen from near and far:

From The Oregonian, November 28, 1904

From the mid 1920s until the early 1950s, the building was referred to as Grace and Truth Hall. Its most recent faith community was the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, from the mid 1960s up until 2005. Following Mt. Sinai, the building was vacant for several years and like many older area churches was sinking under abandonment and deferred maintenance. It was bought by a private owner who lived in the old church for several years prior to its current incarnation as Portland Playhouse, a theater company.

The first play in the church was 2008 and since then, Portland Playhouse has built a solid reputation for high quality and well produced shows, and a loyal following.

Michael Weaver, Managing Director of Portland Playhouse, explains that the church has recently undergone a $2.4 million interior upgrade to better function as a theater, and to expand the theater company’s offices into the former fellowship hall in the basement and the former Shining Star Daycare, which was attached at the back of the church. While much has changed inside, the upgrade kept the bell tower, stained glass windows and much of the original flooring. “We wanted to honor the history of the building,” says Weaver.

Check out this Portland Playhouse photo gallery to see a nice documentation of the renovation, and information about what’s playing (A Christmas Carol starts next week!).

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