Old Building + New Purpose: Good Tidings Church is now Steeplejack Brewing Company

The scaffolds and fences have come down from around the former First Universalist Church of Good Tidings / Metropolitan Community Church at NE 24th and Broadway, and soon the doors will open on the restored and repurposed 112-year-old church building.

The former First Universalist Church of Good Tidings was built in 1909 and has recently been restored and repurposed. It opens to the public soon. Photographed July 2021.

We wrote about the project here last November: neighborhood residents Brody Day and Dustin Harder have been adapting the old church into the new Steeplejack Brewing Company. The two acquired the building in April 2019 from the Metropolitan Community Church which was downsizing to a building in Southeast Portland following 42 years in the space. At the time, another offer was on the table from a local developer who wanted to demolish the church and build a five-story condominium on the site. After a meeting with the pastor and the congregation—and assurance that Harder and Day were planning to keep the building intact—they successfully closed the deal.

Steeplejack opens quietly to the public starting on Friday, July 23rd from 3:00-10:00 p.m. with a grand opening scheduled for Saturday, July 31st, when regular hours begin from 7:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.

The old church has the distinction of being one of a few buildings in Portland dedicated by U.S. Presidents. William Howard Taft sealed up a small time capsule and set the cornerstone during the building’s opening on October 4, 1909. Day and Harder have the original box (it had been opened some years ago) and plan to set a new cornerstone, sealing in the old box, at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 31st. Next week, they’ll be accepting very small time-travel items that might go into the box.

We had a chance to visit the newly-completed restoration as part of Steeplejack’s soft opening this week and offer these glimpses of the “new” old space:

The front door and location of the historic cornerstone and time capsule, which will be placed on Saturday. July 31 at 2:00 p.m. The original cornerstone was set by U.S. President William Howard Taft on October 4, 1909.
The west face of the building. Note the heart shape in the large stained-glass window, and then have a look on the wall inside (below) as the sun shines through.
An interior scene. Tables built with original structural wood reclaimed during the restoration.

A winter return to Deadman’s Hill

For more than 100 years, young people of the neighborhood have brought their sleds, toboggans, skis, chunks of cardboard, plastic bags and pretty much everything else that slides to the top of slippery, snowy Stuart Drive for a run downhill.

This weekend’s snow-ice event brought out the crowds and a strange sense of pre-pandemic normalcy. These kids still can’t be together in the classroom. Judging from the spirit and smiles visible on the hill today, gravity and speed weren’t the only joys bringing people out. Kids laughed. Parents stood and talked. Plenty of masks were in evidence. “The kids really deserve this,” said one Mom.

Of course, whenever we’re on Deadman’s Hill we’re thinking of the dead man and the auto accident that claimed his life. Fred Jacobs was killed here on the morning of June 5, 1917. You should read the whole sad story of this freak accident. And while you’re here, you might want to read about the beautiful Craftsman house at the top of the hill that is as much of a landmark as the hill itself, designed and built in 1912 by George Asa Eastman, who was principal architect for the Oregon Home Builders Company, which built hundreds of local homes.

This weekend’s weather is memorable for many reasons, but lest we think this was a big-time snow event, you might want to check out this history of snow, including some interesting photos from the neighborhood during the big snow of 1936.

Lead paint sinks Billy Rowe’s wall mural

We’ve heard from the property owner working on restoration of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern building (recently known as Bernie’s Southern Bistro) at the southeast corner of NE 29th and Alberta.

Unfortunately, the mural on the west wall must go.

We’ve been watching this week as an amazing wall-size advertisement from the 1940s has resurfaced during restoration, and as we’ve learned more about Billy Rowe.

O’Cardinal Properties—the current building owner—was as amazed with the find as the neighborhood was, and intrigued with the possibility of incorporating the original material of the painted wall into the renovated space. But testing for lead late last week returned results that have ruled that out.

“We love the signs and would like to preserve it,” wrote O’Cardinal’s Property Manager Monica Geller in a weekend e-mail exchange.

“However, last week we got the paint tested for lead and it came back with extreme lead paint ratings that will not allow us to retain the mural as is, even with a strong clear coat intended to contain the lead paint.”

Geller and her colleagues are disappointed, especially given their interest and track record of adaptively re-using and renovating older buildings. In southeast Portland at SE 14th and Stark, O’Cardinal updated the 1929 Luxury Bread Building, carrying forward aspects of its history—including old siding, photos of the old bakery operation and family photos and stories from the former owners. Here’s a photo from inside Luxury Bread showing how O’Cardinal used a former painted mural there:

Repurposed wall siding inside the Luxury Bread Building recently restored by O’Cardinal Properties, 1403 SE Stark. Due to high levels of lead found in the Billy Rowe’s mural, something like this is not possible, according to O’Cardinal.

“We have a plan to take a hi-res photo and reproduce the image to use on the building to retain some of the heritage, “Geller continued.

“I know it is going to be hard for the neighborhood to see the boards come down,” she acknowledged, “but there is no feasible way for us to keep the mural in place, so it will be removed.”

One more for Billy Rowe

Like a giant postcard from 1946, the western wall of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern reappeared yesterday at NE 29th and Alberta as workers removed shingle tiles during a major building renovation. When we visited yesterday morning, workers had exposed the vibrant colors of the Coca-Cola ad painted in 1946, but something more had yet to be revealed. Check it out:

The former Billy Rowe’s Tavern, in restoration November 25, 2020.

Naturally, we wondered about Billy.

William Chauncey Rowe and wife Doris Isabelle Rowe opened the tavern at 2904 NE Alberta in 1943. Billy was a commissioner in the Boy Scouts, a member of the Portland Elks lodge and an active member in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Doris was a member of the Elks Auxiliary. Before going into the tavern business, Billy was vice president of Ballif Distributing Company, a beer distributor based in southeast Portland.

Maybe he’s one of the overcoats here in this photo, from the incredible collection of Oregon Journal photos at the Oregon Historical Society. This photo is not specifically dated, but caption information indicates sometime between 1933-1941 (old car aficionados could probably pin that down, guessing late 1930s).

Photo credit: Oregon Journal Negative Collection; Org. Lot 1368; Box 372; 372A1164

After leaving Ballif Distributing, Billy and Doris operated the tavern until their sudden death on the night of January 2, 1951 in a road accident north of Klamath Falls while returning to Portland. Newspaper reports describe a head-on crash in icy conditions. They were survived by two sons, Earl and Calvin.

The tavern appears to have passed out of Rowe family hands after that, but the name stuck (perhaps because it was painted in three-foot letters across the side of the building…the place was a local institution). In 1957, new owner Joseph Hoover was arrested on charges of promoting gambling on the premises and having a horoscope machine that made small payoffs to customers. Later that year, Portland City Council refused to renew Hoover’s tavern license.

Sometime after that–perhaps when the shingles went up on that west wall covering up Billy Rowe’s name–the place transitioned to Duke’s. Any AH readers able to share a story from the Billy Rowe era?

Update: On December 6th, the owners let us know the mural wall will have to come down due to high levels of lead paint. Click here to read more.

Peeling back the layers

We always love to see layers of history being revealed in buildings and places we think we know. Check out this view from today’s walk up Alberta. Here we are at the southeast corner of Alberta and NE 29th, the building that used to house Bernie’s Southern Bistro.

Looking at the west side of the building from NE 29th. Sunshine!

Workers were carefully removing the green shingles, exposing a huge advertisement for the real thing painted directly onto the original shiplap siding.

According to the permit, it looks like the building is getting a complete renovation, with all interior walls, stairs and fixtures on both floors coming out; construction of a new stair, an upgrade to the old storefront and a complete seismic upgrade. Big job.

Built in 1921-1922 by D.L. Duncan, the building housed multiple businesses in its early days: a repair shop, a shoe store, a print shop. In its middle years and most recently it’s been a place to meet for a drink or a meal. From about 1940 until the late 1960s, it was Billy Rowe’s Tavern and then Duke’s Tavern before becoming Bernie’s Bistro.

Small lettering just below the real thing suggests this advertisement was from the Billy Rowe’s era. Can you read the lettering? Looks like June 11, 1948. We know a few sign painters and will ask around for insights…there’s more to this story.

Alberta was a busy place in the 1920s-1930s. Research we’ve done shows that in 1930, there were more than 200 businesses on Alberta between MLK and NE 33rd, from pool halls to bakeries to grocery stores.

Here’s a post-script on Billy Rowe with another photo of the building later in the day.

Just for fun–and you’ll be forgiven for being distracted by what’s in the foreground–here’s another view of the same building. Yep, that’s the corner of Billy Rowe’s Tavern there on the left by the streetcar, on February 3, 1948, at NE 29th and Alberta. The photo was published in the Portland Transit Company’s 1947 Annual Report to illustrate the end of an era. The caption: “Walt Baker, trolley skipper since 1911, greets Merritt Lutman, pilot of a new Mack bus.”

Home History School | History Detective

When was the last time you had a really good look at the clues from your house’s history? Cooped up with a little extra time on their hands, some AH readers have shared clues they’ve been wondering about, like this one. What the heck is that?

It’s an old central vacuum port, which was an amazing modern luxury when it was installed back in the 19-teens. Central systems, powered by an electric motor in the basement, began to appear by 1910 and by 1915-1920 were fairly common.

To indulge your curiosity and powers of observation–and with a little extra time on your hands to look around–enlist the support of your young historians in this week’s suggestions of things to think about and do. Click in below for this week’s installment:

History Detective: What’s Your Story?

 

 

 

Adaptive reuse on NE 30th: A viable alternative to teardown

When the dumpsters and porta-potty arrived a few weeks ago out in front of the old house, we presumed the worst. We’d seen the 1921 Craftsman bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore decline as bags of garbage piled up on the front porch, bushes grew up over the car in the driveway and the electricity was turned off.

This compact 1921 bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore in Alameda is being revived from what looked like a sure path toward teardown. March 2, 2020.

Taken with its slow descent over the last couple of years, the recent signals seemed clear enough the property had changed hands and would be torn down to make way for another quickly-built three-story unit (or two) that maximized lot lines and financial returns. We’ve seen this story play out before, including for the old bungalow that used to stand right next door to this unlikely survivor.

But this story is headed in a different direction.

The 1,000-square-foot 1921 Alameda bungalow that looked like the next candidate for a teardown is now being revived, restored and repurposed by a nearby neighbor couple who couldn’t bear to see another teardown / big box happen and who wanted to make room for their extended family (they’re adding an addition to the back of the old bungalow to give the modern family a bit more space).

Harry Ford and Amy Garlock, who live in the house directly across the backyard lot line, watched back in 2016 as the former house kitty-corner across the backyard did get torn down and replaced by two three-story semi-attached boxes which sold for almost $1 million each. When it looked like the bungalow directly behind them was headed down the same path, they began to wonder if there was something they could do.

“We bought it partly so that there wouldn’t be another giant duplex in our backyard,” says Ford.

But Ford also explains the house—which will share a big now-open backyard with their own place on NE 29th—will help meet a very real contemporary need: a quality place to live for their aging-in-place parents.

It’s interesting to note that back in the day, a similar multi-generational family-as-neighbor arrangement was in place just around the corner with the family that once lived in the now-gone bungalow and their in-laws who lived right next door. Former residents of that house remembered dinners that went back and forth, the sharing of tools, supplies, grandparents helping with babysitting. It worked out great for everyone.

Today, Ford is looking forward to having his in-laws just across the backyard, and to interrupting the teardown trend by keeping—and adapting—the historic fabric of the neighborhood. He acknowledges that pretty much any other purchaser of the very run-down house would have razed, rebuilt and sold high to repay the construction loan, then moved on to the next project.

For his family though, the ability to acquire an existing older home at a reasonable price literally in their own backyard, combined with the ability to meet the families’ needs at the moment and for the foreseeable future, made this a reasonable thing to do. Ford and Garlock look at the investment in restoration as a good long-term proposition given the multiple types of “bottom lines” it helps them achieve: economics, quality of life, aesthetics and sustainability.

The origin of the house has an interesting story: when AH started exploring the home’s history this week, we determined that it’s a Sears Roebuck house, built in 1921 by builder Albert W. Horn. The floor plan is pure Sears Argyle, one of the company’s most successful kit homes, sold from 1917-1925. Here, take a look:

The Argyle page from a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908 through 1940, Sears sold more than 70,000 kit homes that were built in almost every major US city by homeowners, their friends and in some cases like this one, actual home builders.

 

1921 Sears Roebuck Argyle floor plan, from the catalog. A solid match with the NE 30th Avenue bungalow.

 

On a recent visit, the scope of the work necessary to bring back the 1921 bungalow was evident: Heating, plumbing, electrical, all interior walls, kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, chimney, exterior siding, finishes, window trim. The 100-year-old foundation and framing are solid. Everything else needs attention.

Standing in the kitchen looking toward the front door through the dining room and living room. There’s a bedroom in the front right, a bathroom down the hall and a bedroom in the back, just to the right in this picture. Turn 90 degrees to the right and there’s a stairway into the full basement. March 2, 2020.

“Sometimes, going down to the studs in an old house like this is just easier because you know exactly what you’re working with,” said Craig McNinch of McNinch Construction who is running the project utilizing drawings by Lynn Harritt. He also restored Ford and Garlock’s current bungalow on NE 29th. “This place has great bones,” says McNinch, gesturing to the full dimension 2 x 4 framing lumber, the solid oak floors and the foundation.

From the dining room looking into the living room. A portal wall framed the opening between the two rooms and came down to meet the columns that are atop the built-in cabinets. Behind the sheets of pressboard material on the left is a fireplace. Just like the historic Argyle plans. March 2, 2020.

McNinch has worked on many restoration projects in the area and acknowledges this one is indeed a challenge. But he likes the vision of restoring what was once a new and exciting home for a young family, the backyard connection of the two houses and families, and the constant stream of positive comments he’s had from neighbors and passersby who are happily surprised with the work. During a recent afternoon, we heard McNinch and his crew loudly encouraged to “keep up the good work” by a passing driver calling from a rolled-down window.

Asbestos abatement contractors recently removed the asphalt shingles revealing the original brown cedar shingle siding. March 2020.

Ford and Garlock’s project to revive the old place reminds all of us that there are alternatives to demolition; that it’s ok to adapt something old to meet current needs; that the grace and history of an old place adds its own kind of meaning to family life.

Stay tuned for updates and more on Sears Roebuck homes.

Another neighborhood goodbye: Food King Market

We know change is the only real constant in our neighborhood life, but it seems we’ve been saying goodbye to businesses and buildings more frequently than usual these days.

Today is the last day of business for Food King Market, located at 2909 NE Prescott. The building has recently sold and the family that has met the neighborhood’s convenience store needs for the last 20-plus years is closing up shop. There most certainly is a story here about owners David and Kaybee and their own history in the place and where their path leads from here. The neighborhood will miss them and the convenience of having a small market nearby for last-minute needs.

For the building, it’s unclear where the path will lead. The new owner is in conversation with the city regarding permitting and here’s what the official status of remodeling plans says:

“Remodel and change the use of the existing structure (which is now consisting of three units: a grocery store, a residence, and a current vacant unit), to either 100% office or a combination of office and retail sales and service. Also proposed is to convert approximately 500-800 sq ft of existing footprint into covered or partially-covered outdoor areas.”

The silver lining at this point for the neighborhood appears that this is not a multi-story Airbnb hotel or condominium. It seems the new owners are considering repurposing aspects of the original building.

Which leads us to this photo, which accompanied this post we wrote 11 years ago describing the history of the stores that have operated on the site, and shared memories of some of the “kids” who dropped by for iced cokes on credit.

1955, looking northeast from the corner of NE 29th and Prescott. Photo courtesy of Tom Robinson.

Thanks David and Kaybee. We’ll miss being able to zip over for the missing ingredient at the last moment, and we wish you well. And we’ll continue to follow remodel plans for this building which has been a neighborhood institution of sorts for almost 100 years.

In 1911, it’s snowing

With thoughts about snow in the air, let’s turn back the clock to 1911.

From time to time, AH reader and Portland photo collector Norm Gholston sends along a gem or two from neighborhoods we know well—and some we’re still learning about. Here’s a killer image Norm shared recently, a “real photo” postcard from 1911 that shows a mom and pop grocery from Killingsworth Avenue at the southern edge of today’s Arbor Lodge neighborhood.

There’s so much to see and think about in this photo. Click in for a good look and we’ll share some insights:

Photo courtesy Norm Gholston

Snow! Those four-legged traction devices look pretty steady, don’t they?

As the writing on the wagon to the left says (and the numbers on the window to the left of the front door suggest), this is 155 Killingsworth Avenue, which before Portland’s Great Renumbering was actually 155 West Killingsworth. When you map that out today, it takes you to 2225 N. Killingsworth, located on the north side of the street just east of the N. Omaha Tree Way, a four-block-long Arbor Lodge boulevard.

Here’s where this is today, first by map, and then by Google Streetview

 

In this contemporary Google Streetview image, the horses and wagons would be parked near the utility pole in front of the white gate.

 

Detail from Sanborn Plate 521 shows the area in 1924. Arrow indicates location of Ockley Green Groceries and Meat.

Interestingly enough, there must be some remnant of the old market building underneath the existing structure of the auto shop that exists at that address today, because a plumbing permit still on file for that address tracks back to construction of the market building in July 1909, and tells us it was indeed a store.

The wagon on the right, with the grinning driver in his great gauntlet gloves, buttoned-up tunic and basket of greens, is driving for Pierson Brothers Grocery, also housed at 155 W. Killingsworth (look very carefully at the writing on his wagon). What was in that drinking jug on the far right next to the kerosene can?

Neither the Pierson Brothers nor Ockley Green Groceries and Meat appear in any of the Polk city directories either side of 1911 when this photo was taken, but don’t tell these guys that. We’ve scoured through newspapers and other business listings of the era and don’t find reference to these businesses either, though the grocery operated for years after the photo was taken. Help wanted ads from 1910 sought an experienced meat cutter to come in on Saturdays. Perhaps that’s when the fresh meat arrived from the nearby Portland Union Stockyards.

Be sure to appreciate the school girls: the younger girl on the right pulling a sled; both are layered up in their wool coats and hats and good winter boots.

Some clever volunteer editor has scratched out the words under the sign near the stairs, readable between the two utility poles. Yes, we can read “Grocery & Meat Market.” No, we can’t read whatever you crossed out. Was it a person’s name? The scratch-out edits were applied directly to the postcard, not to the actual Foster and Kleiser sign. Why?

Thanks to the 1910 census, we know who is living up those unpainted stairs, behind the open screen door. It’s Frank B. and Margaret Ford, who built the building. Ford was a real estate speculator dealing primarily in grocery stores like this and other simple first-floor commercial properties. Frank and Margaret bought and sold many properties on the eastside over the years and when things got tight, Frank took some liberties with certain documents, which got him arrested in 1929 for real estate fraud. But in 1909, he knew the right place to build a market with the new and booming Overlook neighborhood all around.

Frank B. Ford and his partner Theil also built the commercial block across the street which now houses the Milk Glass Market (which is well worth a visit by the way for a coffee and look around at the neat old market building insides). Back to the photo, look carefully at the reflection in the market window panes and you might even be able to make out the form of the building across the street and its clapboard siding. Check out the Sanborn plate again (and the streetview) and you can see the Milk and Glass Market building directly across the street.

Be sure to note the rails running east-west on Killingsworth, visible in the far left bottom of the photo. This is the St. Johns car line. In the 1890s,  somewhere nearby behind the photographer was the re-load point where the steam train came and went to St. Johns and riders transferred to the electric trolley line that ran east and then south toward Portland. A station was built here–at the corner of Killingsworth and Omaha on the south side of the street–and it was called the Ockley Green Station; later it served the electric trolley that went all the way through to St. Johns. You’ll find dozens of references to it in early newspapers of the day. Real estate ads selling houses or renting apartments all say “near Ockley Green Station.” No need for an address or even a cross-streets, everyone knew where Ockley Green Station was (though, thankfully, some did explain Omaha and Killingsworth was the spot).

There’s another mystery we’ve been puzzling over that will remain unsolved for the moment (we’re not without our hunches): the name Ockley Green taken by the station and the market, and eventually the school.

Here’s what we know for sure:

  • Ockley Green was the name of the station from early days. It was not named for a person. There is no person in any of the Portland decadal censuses during that time or in any city directory of that era that we examined with that name.
  • The school that exists today at Ainsworth and Interstate (10 blocks to the northeast) built in 1925 takes its name from the Ockley Green Station. Documents from the Portland Public School archive tell us this fact. The original building was actually built as “Multnomah Public School” in 1893 at N. Missouri and Shaver, but was moved to Interstate and Ainsworth about 1901, and its name changed to Ockley Green (for the station) in about 1909. The first building was demolished and the one we know today built in 1925. But that’s another story.
  • There is no underlying plat or development plan with this name, no streets or other features. It was more of a “district” than a specific place.
  • Ockley is a picturesque town in Surrey in southern England with a much-written about commons or “green.” Even today, Surrey’s heritage authority reports the most important feature of little Ockley town…”is the long, broad green, which is said to be one of the most impressive in southern England.” Both the green and the town were celebrated in writing and in art during the 1800s. Here’s an example:

From London News, 1851.

We’ve had a good look around on this naming mystery, talked to the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, consulted all of our usual helpful print and public document sources and even stumped a few research librarians. The definitive story behind origin of the name Ockley Green has apparently slipped away, at least for the moment. We have our hunches: immigrant Portlanders with roots in Surrey saw something about the open landscape of the early neighborhood that reminded them of home, and it was comforting to have the place and the memory with them. We completely understand this.

Meanwhile in 1911, it was snowing at 155 West Killingsworth and the grocerymen were still delivering, the kids ready for adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concordia Conversations: January 12th

Here’s an upcoming free neighborhood event that will bridge past, present and future that might be of interest to AH readers:

“Concordia Conversations,” on the afternoon of Sunday, January 12th, will bring together a panel of neighbors to reflect on the drivers of change in Northeast Portland and to view a short film titled “Diary of a Street,” by Portland artist and neighbor Jordana Leeb. The program will be held at the Cerimon House (5131 NE 23rd) from 3:00-5:30 p.m. on Sunday January 12th.

Panelists include: Bob Boyer, long-time Concordia resident, former State Senator and Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods chair; Chris Guinn III, owner of Dwell Realty and Elevated Coffee; P. Elise Scolnick, current Board Vice-President for Alberta Main Street and long-time resident; and Diane Linn, Executive Director of Proud Ground, a Portland-based community land trust.

We’ll be there too with a brief program looking back at the early years of neighborhood history.

The program is free, though an RSVP is requested. For more information: tinyurl.com/concordiaconversations

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