Another view of the Tourist Cabins at the Spur Tavern and a lesson in layers of history

It’s been a year since demolition of the old Spur Tavern and 42nd Avenue Tourist Cabins near the corner of NE 42nd and Holman. You might remember these buildings in their old age: bright green, broken down, painted over with graffiti, a little scary.

While researching them we met Mike Brink who spent some of his growing up years in one of the cabins, and also in his grandmother Ugar’s old farmhouse (now gone) a couple blocks away near the corner of NE 41st and Highland. Since that first conversation with Mike, we’ve been intrigued with his memory of walking through the open fields that are now built up neighborhoods west of Fernhill Park.

Whenever we’re over that way with the dog, we think of Mike’s open view across the fields toward Kennedy School; his every morning walk along the long block of Ainsworth to pick up the Alberta Streetcar at NE 30th and Ainsworth for the ride to St. Andrews school, at NE 9th and Alberta.

Recently, Mike sent along a few photos he came across taken out front at the tourist cabins. We thought AH readers might enjoy seeing them too, and a recent look at progress on what is now the construction site. So, have a look.

Here’s young Mike in about 1945 standing in front of his Uncle Joe’s pride and joy—a 1941 Packard convertible, parked in front of Cabin 6, behind the Spur Tavern.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

And here’s another: Mike’s dad, uncle and a pal in front of the tourist cabins, looking the other direction, open fields off to the north.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brink

Here’s the update photo of what’s rising where the Spur and tourist cabins once stood, taken right about where Mike and his family posed for snapshots back in 1945.

Nesika Illahee Apartments, NE 42nd Avenue and Holman, October 2019

And here’s where it gets even more interesting, particularly when we consider layers of history. Long before the Spur, the tourist cabins and the farms on these gentle slopes, this part of the landscape once held the native village known as Neerchokikoo, which existed here along the south banks of the Columbia Slough.

The Nesika Illahee Apartments, under construction on this early village site, are a joint venture between the Native American Youth and Family Center and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, and will provide 59 units of affordable housing and culturally specific support for tribal members. Read more about this unique and fitting development.

109-year old store on Alberta Street slated for demolition

Big changes are underway at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. The 109-year old grocery store building–built when there were more horses than cars in Portland and before streets in this area were paved–is slated for demolition and will be replaced by a three-story, mixed use condominium / office building. Public notices have recently been posted on the property by the City of Portland alerting its status as being in a 120-day demolition delay.

This photo from the 1920s shows the Logan Grocery, a view looking southwest from the corner of NE 33rd and Alberta. NE 33rd Avenue, then known as the “county road,” was not yet paved. Photo courtesy of Bob Wilson.

 

A similar angle, September 26, 2019

 

Looking north along the NE 33rd Avenue side of the store, September 26, 2019 

 

The public notice posted on the property, September 265, 2019.

Developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings in Portland expects demolition to take place in 2020 with construction to follow. While drawings for the new structure are not yet complete, Bochsler envisions a building with a pitched roof and an inner courtyard facing NE Alberta. “I want it to be in keeping with Pacific Northwest style,” said Bochsler.

When he first approached the project, Bochsler said he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but costs associated with reinforcing the foundation made adaptive reuse not cost effective.

The property is ranked in the City of Portland’s Historic Resource Inventory, recognizing its significance for potential historic register designation. However, because past owners have never listed the property in the National Register of Historic Places, it can be torn down after a brief delay.

Operated from the 19-teens until the 1940s as “Logan’s Grocery,” the building cycled through multiple owners in the 1950s-1970s, known as Zwhalen’s Market and then as Romoli’s. From the late 1970s until recently, the building contained the studio and residence of Portland artist Jay Backstrand.

The building in March 1962, as Ernie Zwhalen’s Market. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives, image A2011-013.

 

Concordia resident Bob Wilson, grandson of second-generation former storekeepers Anna and Earl Logan, has fond memories of the store from its heyday, and shared photos of the Logans behind the counter of their store taken in the 1940s.

Anna Logan and Earl Logan pictured inside their store at NE 33rd and Alberta during the 1940s. Courtesy of Bob Wilson.

In a recent e-mail, Wilson shared these memories:

“When I was a small child, my grandparents lived in the house just south of the store. My grandmother would fix lunch every day for my grandfather Earl and bring it over to him. Earl was the storekeeper. Anna was the butcher for the store. As a small boy it was so much fun to be with my grandparents, and then to go over to their store and see all of the people who dropped by.”

We welcome photos, memories and stories about the life of this building and its corner over the years, and will continue to follow plans for demolition and construction.

Read more here on the blog about the storefronts of NE Alberta, nearby mom-and-pop grocery stores, and some of our photo detective work identifying other old Alberta Street businesses.

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.

Fast flowing waters of Alameda

Alameda made a little history of its own yesterday. A 30-inch water main–one of the biggies of Portland’s arterial system–ruptured Saturday morning, March 16th along Skidmore just east of NE 23rd spewing more than a million gallons of water a minute through a new gaping hole and dozens of fissures in the pavement.

Looking west toward the intersection of NE 24th and Skidmore. Fractures in the street can be seen beyond the parked cars. Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Like an urban white-water obstacle course, our new river poured down Skidmore and around the corner at NE 24th on its way north toward the Columbia, washing the bottoms of cars parked along curbs and, unfortunately, spilling into more than a few below-grade garages in the area. Neighbors tracked the fast-moving giant amoeba of water on Twitter as it approached, swamped and then closed several businesses on Alberta. A few minutes later the flood had worked its way down the gentle slope to Killingsworth.

For most of the day, water flowed forth, rearranging the streetscape, making fresh cracks here and there and, producing a gravel bar in the middle of the intersection of NE 24th and Skidmore.

Gravel bars forming in the middle of the intersection at NE 24th and Skidmore. Saturday, March 16, 2019.

Emergency response was fast, with sand and sandbags strategically located almost immediately. First responders from police, fire and water bureaus and the power and gas companies were on it right away. Power was shut off to the neighborhood. And because it was the first sunny warm day of the season, neighbors came out of hibernation to visit. The Neighborhood Emergency Teams were out in the reflective vests to answer questions and add neighborliness. Inside the houses, screens and routers were dark, which no doubt encouraged people to get outside as well. Even Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty dropped by to take a look.

People stood around and talked, gawked and wondered. Some helped out others with flood clean-up. A few tailgate-type impromptus formed on front lawns that offered good views. Clearly there was loss and damage at the personal and civic level; the re-plumbing and re-paving costs are probably going to sting a bit. But at least among the neighbors we talked with, there was a reminder that we all live pretty close to each other–despite what might feel like anonymity and distance–and that we’re all connected by the same power, the same water, the same streets, and if we allow ourselves (or if we need to), with each other.

Of course, we kept thinking about what we know is buried beneath the surface of our streets, and the 1930s photos of a major plumbing disaster quite close to this intersection. Seeing the new gravel bars forming in a few places, we also wondered about the old gravel pits in the vicinity, filled in more than 100 years ago.

By this morning, the power is back on, the tap water appears pretty clear (though we’re still drinking from our disaster water stash for now), and the clean-up has begun.

Of Special Memories and Orchard Houses

We’ve been fortunate recently to spend some time with Jeanne Allen, a 98-year-old neighbor whose sharp and clear memory reaches well back into her childhood days here in the neighborhood. Jeanne has shared her memories about everything from the old St. Charles Church at NE 33rd and Webster Street, to exploring the brushy trails in the vacant lot at 24th and Fremont where Alameda Dental is now, to earning her girl scout campfire badge in the wilds of the 33rd Street Woods (today’s Wilshire Park, which is way more tame now than the wilderness it used to be).

One of our favorite images from her memory is the nighttime landscape from the darkened second floor room of a house where she grew up on NE 24th Avenue. At night, Jeanne recalls the Broadway Streetcar making its way north, the electrical pick-up mechanism skating along the overhead wires powering the streetcar’s forward motion. As it passed her house, electrical sparks off the wires just outside the window made a dance of shadow and light inside her bedroom, searing into her memory, vivid a lifetime later.

As we talked about change during a recent drive through the neighborhood, Jeanne told us about just how different things were around here in the early years. Pointing out a small home toward the back of one lot, she said something that caught our attention:

“I sure hate to see the orchard houses going away.”

Wait. What’s an orchard house? We’ve never heard that term. We want to know more.

When Jeanne and her husband Bob built their home in Concordia back in 1950, they were surrounded by orchards of cherries, apricots, pears and apples, planted in the early 1900s. 42nd Avenue—like its parallel twin to the west 33rd Avenue—was simply known as the “County Road” and doubled as Portland city limits. Most of the streets in the surrounding area between Prescott, Killingsworth, 42nd and 33rd weren’t paved. Some hadn’t even been constructed.

Jeanne remembers simple small buildings (she didn’t call them shacks, but that’s a term that comes to mind) scattered out among the orchards that served as temporary quarters for those tending the orchards during the year and harvesting during the fall. She and her family always called these little places “orchard houses,” which was a commonly known term and function during those years.

Orchard houses took a simple form: shed-roofed front and back porch; entry door in the middle and a backdoor lined up out the back; a bedroom and window on one side, an open living space on the other, maybe a counter for food preparation; often oriented in an unusual way on the lot, either toward the back or sitting at an angle.

Here’s one that Jeanne knows for certain was an orchard house (she remembers the actual nearby orchard). Plumbing was added to the house in 1924; it was described then as an old one-story frame residence.

An orchard house, seen on a walk through the neighborhood. The rear addition was added in later years. This home has been thoughtfully updated and maintained.

Jeanne’s description got us thinking about houses we’ve seen in the neighborhood, and about evidence of orchard houses appearing in old aerial photos we’ve been looking at, and in 1928 Sanborn maps of the area. Here, take a look at these two Sanborn plates (click for a larger view).

 

 

Do you know of any orchard houses? There are likely just a small handful left and we’d like to document them and explore their stories. If you have one in mind (or think you know a candidate), send us a photo or address and we’ll see what we can learn.

Thanks Jeanne!

Figuring out the Ainsworth long block

While walking in the neighborhood—the best way to observe history in action—we’ve wondered about the very long block between Ainsworth and Simpson, bounded by NE 33rd and NE 37th. Maybe you’ve wondered too: the north-south streets of 34th, 35th and 36th don’t go through, leaving unusually deep and narrow lots. These kinds of things—like the strange zig-zag on Prescott we call the Prescott Street Jog—make us ask: What’s the story behind that?

Here, take a look. It’s the block just west of Fernhill Park:

That’s one long block. A Google image looking northwest at the long block (outlined in green). Note that none of the numbered cross streets, from 33rd to 37th, cross this long block. How come?

The long, narrow configuration of this block stems from decisions made more than 100 years ago by John D. Kennedy, the man who once owned much of the property between Killingsworth, Ainsworth, NE 33rd and NE 42nd, and for whom Kennedy School was named.

We met John D. Kennedy in our recent post about his 1929 zone change petition to turn nearby residential land at 33rd and Killingsworth into commercial property.

Born in County Limerick, Ireland in 1852, Kennedy immigrated to Oregon in 1866, finding his way to Baker City where he worked in and then owned a dry goods store. After coming to Portland about 1881, Kennedy bought this property—then outside the city limits and far from anything that even looked like development—which was originally part of the 1855 Isaac Rennison Donation Land Claim.

John D. Kennedy, about 1920. Photo originally from the Ryerson Collection, borrowed here from McMenamin’s Kennedy School.

Kennedy was an early-in speculator, perhaps 15 years ahead of his time and the market. Northeast Portland’s ripeness for real estate didn’t really take place until the years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition when it seemed anyone who could was buying property or building houses.

But Kennedy had platted these lands as the Kennedy Addition back in 1890, a grid of 15 square blocks with more than 200 lots. Here’s his original plat:

 

Kennedy Addition plat filed with the Multnomah County Surveyor’s Office, 1890. The grid survived, even if the street names didn’t. Translation: County Road = NE 33rd; Cleveland Street = NE 34th; Harrison Street = NE 35th; Morton Street (which was built as Marguerite Avenue)= NE 35th Place; Thurman Street = NE 36th; Blaine Street = NE 37th Avenue; Cypress Avenue = Jessup Street; Myrtle Avenue = Simpson Street. Barkholtz was an inholding property owner who wasn’t Kennedy but who went along with the plat. Interesting to note that in later years, that is the one area of the long block where a cul de sac was built.

Two years later in 1892, he platted Kennedy’s Second Addition, adjacent to the east, with more street names that didn’t make it to today (Morrow, Gilliam, Hughes and Francis). His Second Addition contained plans for another 120 homes. Speculators filed several other nearby plats about that time, including Foxchase, Irvington Park, the Willamette Addition and Railroad Heights, but they were also just lines on paper. There was no market yet for residential development.

In 1906, Kennedy filed a petition with the city to “vacate” five of the blocks in his addition. The process of vacation officially eliminates platted streets (even if they don’t yet exist), and the 1906 action—approved by City Council in ordinances 15761 and 15762—essentially erased all of the north-south streets (then called Cleveland, Harrison, Morton, Thurman and Blaine, see above) in the block between Ainsworth and Simpson, from 33rd east to 37th.

 

From The Oregonian, May 10, 1906

Kennedy’s stated rationale was to sell the larger chunk of land as acreage for farm fields, which is what surrounded his property at the time. It seems he was eager to sell the property and was essentially repackaging it for what was at that moment the most active part of the market (even though Northeast Portland was on the cusp of a homebuilding explosion). Not long after the City Council action, Kennedy did just that:

Classified advertisement for the vacated property, from The Oregonian, October 21, 1906

In the years that followed as urbanization spread, neighborhoods were built to the north, south and west, and Kennedy’s smart and early real estate speculation paid off. But the 12-acre parcel, with no north-south through streets due to his 1906 decision to vacate streets from the property, stayed as one big block in farm use.

After Portland voters passed a $500,000 park acquisition bond measure in 1919, Kennedy courted the city with the long block tract—a perfect park size at 12 acres—suggesting it would make a great place for playgrounds, picnic tables and ball diamonds. This was long before Fernhill Park or Wilshire Park (which have their own interesting stories well worth reading), and concurrent with consideration of Alberta Park, which was ultimately selected over Kennedy’s tract for purchase and development. Think about that: what if today’s Alberta Park had become neighborhood streets as planned, and Kennedy’s long block was a park? Hmm.

Here’s an aerial photo of the area from 1936 that shows the long block with a few homes, the oldest dating back to 1909…purchased from Kennedy after the 1906 ordinance passed creating the 12-acre parcel. One home, on the Simpson Street side, actually pre-dates Kennedy’s 1890 plat.

Detail of 1936 aerial photo. Courtesy of University of Oregon Map & Aerial Photography Library.

Kennedy died in December 1936. In 1938, the property was controlled by Ward D. Cook, a Portland insurance and real estate agent, who designated 80 lots on the long block ready for construction. It wasn’t until after World War II when the market truly picked up, and most of the houses were built and sold between 1940 and 1950. Here’s a glimpse from 1951 that shows the property fully built out:

Detail of 1951 aerial photo. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

So there you have it: In the original Kennedy’s Addition plat, that one long block was going to be five blocks. But then Kennedy did away with the blocks to better sell the property. The market came and went and came back again. Then another speculator saw opportunity and turned the island of farm into the more than 50 lots there today, most of them a very long and narrow quarter-acre each.

Goodbye (again) Kienow’s

We heard news over the holiday that QFC will soon be closing its Grant Park market, located at NE 33rd and Hancock.

The imminent closure has sparked comments and memories here on AH and elsewhere, not about QFC (sorry about that, QFC), but about Kienow’s Market, which is what that place was for most of its life, from the mid 1930s until 1999 when this Kienow’s closed and the store became a QFC. For the record, we will miss the convenience of being able to slip into QFC for a few quick items on the way home.

Beyond living memory? Here’s the original store that stood at the southwest corner of 33rd and Hancock, pictured in 1939. The store also had a dwelling unit on the south end. This building was demolished in the mid 1940s when the full-block version of the store that most people remember was built. From The Oregonian, May 26, 1939.

You couldn’t grow up in this part of northeast Portland in the mid 20th Century and not have a Kienow’s memory, and AH readers have been sending us theirs, which we wanted to share here. We also wanted to reach back a bit before living memory to understand the earliest history of groceries at that corner.

We’ll do this chronologically, taking us back to 1912 when a small store attached to a home existed at the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Hancock. Building permits suggest that first store + house (you can see its grainy photo above from the late 1930s) was actually an old repurposed school building from 33rd and Tillamook (the first Fernwood School) that was moved to the Hancock corner, where a basement was dug, a chimney built, and a storefront stuck on the front.

At that time, the property was owned by Carl Abendroth and later by his brother Adolph and was known both as Abendroth’s and as Fernwood Grocery, after the school building we know today across the street was built in 1911.

Abendroths tried to sell the shop and property starting in late 1915. Here are two ads that help us imagine what the place was like:

From The Oregon Journal, November 28, 1915

From The Oregonian, January 9, 1916

 

The store and property was still in the Abendroth family in 1921, but by 1932 it was known as Randall’s and whoever owned the property placed classified ads selling off the “timbered land” adjacent to the shop to the south. Here’s the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of the property from 1924. The store is in the bottom right corner (but there’s a lot to look at here). Click to enlarge:

In this detail from the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, we can see a relatively small Fernwood School occupying the full block between Tillamook (which used to go through to 32nd) and Hancock. The precursor building to Kienows is there in the bottom right hand corner (see the “S” next to the “D,” that’s shop and dwelling). It’s interesting to see how little of the neighborhood to the north is built, and check out the greenhouse, sheds and old farm house in the fields to the north. Read more about Sanborn maps here.

Aerial photos from 1936 and 1939 show a vacant lot south of the original building that looks like it’s been planted in rows. A garden? Here it is in 1940, still a shop and house at the corner of NE 33rd and Hancock and a path through the vacant lot to the south, not yet the full-block store that became the Kienow’s that everyone remembers.

Detail of aerial photo from 1940. Click to enlarge. Aerial photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map & Aerial Photo Library.

 

The first mention of the site being owned and operated by Kienow’s is this full page ad in The Oregonian that appeared on May 26, 1939. Click to enlarge and inspect (10 cents for a box of Rice Krispies!):

Kienow’s was on the leading edge of transforming Portland’s grocery market from the more than 700 mom and pop grocery stores to a much smaller number of midsize and big stores. Fred Meyer and Safeway were also blowing up the small grocery world during these years. But it seemed that Kienow’s was just a bit more down home than its two biggest competitors.

Readers of Beverly Cleary’s Beezus, Ramona, Henry and Ribsy children’s books will also recognize Kienow’s as the grocery store seen out the window of the nearby school. Read more about the local geography of Cleary’s imagination.

Aerial photos from 1948 show the old store and house have been demolished and the full-block storefront is in place, setting the stage for most of the Kienow’s memories we’ve been reading in the last week. Here are a few:

From long-time resident John Hamnett: A few things that I remember about the old Kienow’s store was the meat section and the box bin. There were mirrors on the back of the counter where the meat was displayed. There was a button you could press for the butcher. He would slide open a section of the mirrors to talk to the customers. The box bin was next to the check out registers. Rather than paper bags, the groceries were put into boxes from items that were stocked in the store. The registers were the kind with the rows of numbered keys. The clerk rang up each item one by one and punched in the amount that was stamped on each item. I always marveled at how they could hit the correct keys without even looking at them. It was not like the scanner we have now. Kienow’s had a turnstile at the entrance. You had to leave the store by going out through a check stand and a separate door. As I recall, it didn’t last long before they took it out. There was a 5 & 10 cent store on the north end of the grocery store. I think it was called Lou’s, but I may be mistaken. It was a separate store, but it also had an opening into the grocery store. After school, kids would go over there a buy candy. My favorite was a Tootsie Pop for 2 cents or bubble gum for a penny. In later years, the Bohemian Bakery might have been in this space. 

In the early days of the new full-block Kienow’s, there was also a food counter / diner inside, maybe the precursor to what John mentions as Lou’s. In the late 1940s it was known as Smitty’s Fountain Lunch, and in the 1950s it was the Penguin Café (which relocated here after leaving the Sellwood area). All three businesses sponsored bowling teams (a very popular activity at the time) and searches in the newspaper for any of those names–Kienow’s, Smitty’s or Penguin Cafe–will lead you to a bowling score, not an important factoid about the business.

From Steve Goodman: I remember the original Kienow’s building. It had one row of parking in front, a larger parking lot in back. And the Bohemian Bakery counter that was always busy. In front was a mechanical horse, with leather fringes on the saddle, that I usually tried to beg my parents for a dime to ride up and down. A couple of gumball machines that took a penny were inside, as was an old Coke vending machine where you could see the bottles thru the window. I think a dime for a bottle of Coke.

A major fire struck Kienow’s at noon on March 7, 1952, causing $75,000 in damage, destroying stockrooms filled with cans, and bringing an end to the school day for the children at Fernwood School across the street who were let out to watch the spectacle.

What do you remember about Kienow’s?

We wonder what will happen next with that property. Given the growth of condos and apartments at the intersection to the south, we wonder if the entire two blocks that make up the former Kienow’s (QFC) and the long-vacant Jackson’s convenience store will soon transition to housing.

Lost and Found

We’ve just finished Val Ballestrem’s great new book Lost Portland Oregon, which profiles more than 50 iconic Portland buildings, all either demolished in the name of progress, or destroyed by fire or collapse. These were great buildings of our past that defined Portland’s skyline and sense of itself, most of which have slipped beyond living memory, a fact Ballestrem notes in his preface and that seems remarkable given the prominence and impact each building had on past generations: “Many of these places have been gone so long that few people remember that they ever existed.”

Profiles of these architectural and construction marvels make fascinating reading: how the buildings were the centerpieces of various communities, the hopes of investors and families trying to build their fortunes, to create something meaningful and durable, to leave a mark.

The Oregonian Tower, the Worcester Block, the Forestry Building, the Beth Israel Synagogue the distinctive Witch Hazel building (below), virtually every commercial building on Front Avenue. Any of these places would be a revered landmark today. It’s a sad parade of losses captured thoughtfully by Ballestrem and woven through with insight about decades of social and economic change in the Portland landscape: the up and down cycle of the economy and the perils of deferred maintenance; periodic Willamette River flooding; institutional racism and the dynamics of changing demographics; failures of long-term thinking and planning. The automobile.

The Witch Hazel Building–later known as the Ohio Hotel– stood at the southeast corner of SW Front and Madison near the foot of today’s Hawthorne Bridge from 1891-1941. It’s one of more than 50 buildings profiled in Val Ballestrem’s new book Lost Portland Oregon. Photo: Minor White, Witch Hazel Building and the Hawthorne Bridge, 1940. bb015335, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, public domain.

Despite their size, prominence and impact on the community, in the end none of these great built achievements survived. Their greatest common denominator today is that a majority of their footprints have been turned into parking lots. Sigh.

To reassure ourselves that it is possible (and admirable) for a building to survive a century in the midst of the great forces of change, we’ve tracked down three houses in our then-and-now travels in North and Northeast Portland to serve as inspiration. Enjoy these pairs (click each to enlarge)–with thanks to the Norm Gholston Collection for the oldies–and go pick up a copy of Val’s book for your Portland history bookshelf.

6309 NE Mallory | Built 1913

 

3917 NE 8th | Built 1899

 

2225 NE 22nd | Built 1913

 

 

 

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!).

Finding Ford’s Pool Hall | Adventures on Early Alberta Street

Here’s another outstanding turn-back-the-clock view of a business on NE Alberta Street: George and Sylvia Ford’s Pool Hall, Lunch Counter, Confectionery and Cigar Store, mid-block between 17th and 18th on the south side of Alberta, taken in September 1909. Click into this photo and have a good look around, there’s so much to see.

In front of Ford’s Pool Hall, 658 Alberta Street, 1909. Photo courtesy of the Gholston Collection, used with permission. Click to enlarge.

Things that jumped out at us: reflections in the windows showing the north side of the street; the faces and clothing of the men; the small advertisement in the left window advertising the “Special Masquerade” on Saturday evening, October 9th (that’s how we know this is 1909); that’s George Ford, by the way, in the middle of the group in the apron with his hand on the older gentleman’s shoulder. We guess the confection guy is on the far left in the bowtie and the cigar guy is holding the cigar. George and his friend (is he the baker from next door?) might be running the lunch counter.

Thanks to AH reader Norm Gholston for sending this photograph our way. Norm knows we enjoy being photo detective, and this one took some digging to make sure we were in the right place. Here’s the same view today:

1718 NE Alberta, formerly Ford’s Pool Hall. November 2018.

 

When Norm sent this one along, he knew it was on Alberta. And we could see the address over the door—658—which translates to today’s 1718 NE Alberta. Remember that all of Portland’s addresses were changed in the Great Renumbering of 1930-31.

With the current address in hand, we went out to take a look, and that’s when this got a bit puzzling because the next door neighbor building to the east—the one that houses Earl’s Barbershop—has many similar features to the building in the 1909 photo. Look at the dentals under the first and second level soffits and the short horizontal brackets that support them; the column-like pedestals along the building edges. On first glance at that block today, you’d say Earl’s is the right place, especially when you look at the modernized front of the Maggie Gibson Plaza building just to the west. Both buildings are owned today by Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, Inc.

South side of NE Alberta showing the entire block between NE 17th and NE 18th. Maggie Gibson Plaza building (on the right) once housed five distinct store fronts on the first floor and a large meeting space known as Baker Hall upstairs. In later years, the space was home to the Royal Esquire Club of Portland. Photo taken in November 2018. Click to enlarge.

 

But that notion doesn’t hold up when you dig into the details of building permits, city directories and old newspaper stories. 658 was clearly housed in the building to the west (right). Interesting to note that both were built in 1909 by the same builder for the same owner. Our hunch is they probably looked alike way back when.

The clincher is the old Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1924 (below), which shows all of the side-by-side stores in both buildings. You’ll find 658 on the east end of the Gibson Plaza building and there’s five feet of space to the next neighbor to the east. Remember that these maps were drawn primarily for fire insurance underwriters, so they show building proximities, location of plumbing, fire alarm systems, heating systems. S = shop; D = dwelling; FA = fire alarm box; F = Flat.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Plate 550, 1924. Click to enlarge.

 

The Sanborn (and city directories) show there was a lot going on in this block, on both sides of the street. Here’s a run down of the Ford’s Pool Hall neighbors, by address:

650      Vernon Drug Company

652      Peterson & Jackson Grocery, later J.H. Belshiser Grocery

654      Grite’s Barber Shop and entrance to Baker Hall, which was upstairs. Encompassing the second floor of the building was an open meeting space known as “Baker Hall,” which in the early days was where the Alberta Oddfellows Lodge met before building their own space, and in later days the first home of the Royal Esquire Club of Portland. In the 19-teens, Baker Hall was the frequent site of lectures, dances and community meetings.

656      Alberta Market, later Higbee’s Electric Radio and Hardware

Next door to the east in the building that houses Earl’s today:

660      Gabel & Son Bakery, later Alberta Bakery

662      Dr. William Luzader, Optometrist

The house on the corner to the east—addressed as 666 in the Sanborn plate—is still there today and was Freda’s Beauty Shop and home to Freda Baker.

Across the street:

651      Love’s Confectionery, Fountain and Deli

653      General Sewing Machine Repair Shop

655      Carl Nau, Taylor,  and Bell’s Reliable Hemstitching Shop

659      Alberta Realty Co.

661      Alberta Sheet Metal Co.

663      S. Salmonson Hardware and Appliance

665      Victoria Theater (with full stage and space for “MOVIES”)

The FA in front of the Victoria Theater was a fire alarm pull box.

Once we figured out the location of Ford’s Pool Hall, we wanted to know more about George and Sylvia. We found them during the pool hall days living just up the street at the corner of NE 18th and Wygant. Here’s the couple on their wedding day in Colfax Washington, October 26, 1892:

George and Sylvia Ford, October 26, 1892. Photo courtesy of Ford family.

 

George and Sylvie (as she was known) farmed for a while near Lapwai, Idaho in the 1890s and early 1900s before moving to Portland. They opened the pool hall, confectionary and lunch counter in 1909 and later ran a confectionary and cigar business at NE 21st and Alberta (two business lines that were frequently found together in the same retail store, candy and smokes). The Fords raised two children—George B. and John J.—and Sylvie had a busy dressmaking business as well. George died on July 23, 1937. His obit reads:

George P. Ford, Businessman, Passes Away

Geo P. Ford, who has conducted a cigar and confectionary store at Alberta and 21st Ave., for a number of years, and an old resident of this district, passed away at his home, 4925 N.E. 19th Ave., last Friday, at the age of 74 years. He leaves to mourn his death, his wife, Sylvia Ford, and two sons, George and John Ford, and several brothers and sisters. Funeral services were held Monday afternoon, Vault entombment, Riverview Abbey Mausoleum. Heartfelt sympathies goes out to the bereaved family in this, their sad bereavement.

We’re ready for the next photo mystery.

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