Beaumont Corner, 1928

Photo friend Norm Gholston has shared another view of a favorite corner, this one shows something important that’s missing, which gives us a good clue about when it was taken. Do you see it (or rather not see it)? Have a good look.

NE 41st and Fremont Avenue, looking southeast, about 1929. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston Collection.

What’s missing is the Beaumont Market, which exists today immediately adjacent to the far left of this building. Here’s a post we wrote last year that includes a similar but slightly later photo, and beautiful color-pencil renderings of the market building (which came along seven years after the pharmacy), submitted to the city in 1935 by architect Charles Ertz.

Other things to note in this photograph include the absence of the McMarr Stores sign, which was present in the 1929 photo. Our hunch is that this photo was taken soon after construction–late 1928 or very early 1929–and used by J. Benjamin Lowe, Proprietor to get the word out about his new pharmacy, and his phone number. Note the Beaumont exchange was GA (someone trying to phone Proprietor Lowe would pick up the phone and say to the operator, “please ring Garfield 1614”). Do you know about old phone exchanges? Read more here.

The hinged box sitting on the curb: in more snowy climates, a box like this might hold gravel or sand for when the crosswalk and intersection become hard-packed and slippery, but Portland? Maybe. A drop box to keep the bundle of early-morning newspapers dry until the owner opened up? Other ideas?

One More for the Vernon Tank

The reality, of course, is that research is never really done. That’s what makes it fun. Sometimes after you think you’ve found enough to be able to understand a thing, you come across another nugget that adds perspective.

Such is the case today: It’s a photo from the summer of 1920 showing construction of the concrete base for the one-million gallon Vernon tank that replaced the old standpipe, which is looming over the whole scene at NE 19th and Prescott. Have a good look:

Courtesy of City of Portland Archives, A2008-009

This was undoubtedly a big day on the job:

  • The concrete forms for the new tower foundation have been intricately prepared;
  • The engineers are there in their coats and ties with their instrument and tripod to keep everything on the level and in the right place;
  • The steam donkey is belching dark smoke, meaning it’s working hard to turn the mixer;
  • The men on the far left are shoveling from a pile of rock into the mixer to make the concrete;
  • The men with the two-wheeled wheelbarrows (called Jersey buckets) are wheeling the fresh concrete across the plank ramps as the pour begins;
  • Sections of the new tank are carefully stacked in readiness at the edge of the site;

This view looks north; the houses in the center and on the right are still there on the north side of Prescott. If you know these neighbors, pass along this photo…they might enjoy seeing their houses 100 years ago.

Vernon Tanks: 1959 shortage produces an even bigger tank

With a high-capacity pipeline laid in by hand in 1915 between the Mt. Tabor reservoirs and the new 1-million-gallon tank at NE 19th and Prescott replacing the old standpipe in 1920-1921, neighbors could water their lawns to their hearts’ content.

The old hand-me-down Vernon Standpipe was shuffled off to Willamette Bluff and the only conversation about the tank site for the next generation had to do with Water Board allowing students at the Vernon Practice House and Vernon School to plant gardens on the site. In 1922, a load of bricks from the old Palatine Hill pumping station, which was being demolished, was sent over to help beautify the site.

In July 1945—in the years before air traffic control and computer-aided navigation—a pilot for United Airlines suggested the city install a red beacon light atop the tank to serve as a guide for passenger airplanes trying to find Portland Airport.

But mostly, water needs were met. Until the long, hot summer of 1959.

Lots of lawn sprinkling and a lot more users completely drained the Vernon Tank. And public attention once again turned to the need for water and what the city was going to do about it. Fortunately, plans were already afoot to upgrade Vernon’s storage capacity by creating the largest storage tank of its kind in the nation: 5.5 million gallons.

From The Oregonian, August 1, 1959

Due to a steel strike, and local opposition from neighbors who were initially opposed to the size of the tank, it took a few years, but in February 1961 the Water Bureau selected Chicago Bridge and Tank to build the new tank for $469,000. And thankfully, once again, a city photographer chronicled progress in this great series of photos, all courtesy of Portland City Archives, series A2012-005. Be sure to check out the view from the top. All of these are worth a double click to see the detail. These guys were proud of their work.

The tank construction crew posed for a photo, June 11, 1962.

 

Using one of the on-site cranes, the photographer captured this aerial view looking northwest from the tank, NE Prescott crossing in the foreground, March 12, 1962.

 

Looking southeast from the corner of NE 18th and Prescott, March 12, 1962.

 

Looking up inside the tank, March 12, 1962.

 

Workers inside the tank, March 12, 1962.

 

Looking southeast from NE 18th and Prescott, May 4, 1962.

 

Looking west on Prescott at NE 20th, June 11, 1962.

 

Workers atop the tank during final stages of construction, June 11, 1962

 

Water Bureau Engineer Palmer North (left) and Commissioner Mark A. “Buck” Grayson (right) turn the valve filling the new tank, October 5, 1962.

 

Portland was proud of its crowning distinction of having the largest water tank in the country.  On its Golden Anniversary celebration in December 1963, the American Society of Civil Engineers added the Vernon Tank—along with Bonneville Dam, the St. Johns Bridge and Timberline Lodge—to its engineering hall of fame.

 

In an interesting post script to history (and with thanks to attentive reader Grant), we’ve confirmed with the Portland Water Bureau that the 1 million gallon tank–the one built in 1920 atop the tower–has not held water for more than 40 years due to being made obsolete in the late 1970s or early 1980s due the construction of other storage facilities.

Vernon Tanks: Water arrives, but more storage capacity needed

We’ve been thinking these days about the history of the big green giants that anchor the block at NE 19th and Prescott. In our last post we learned about the “Vernon Standpipe” as it was called, and the challenge in the 19-teens of keeping it filled with enough water to supply the neighborhood that grew up around it. That is, until this tank came along almost exactly 100 years ago.

The senior of the two tanks at NE 19th and Prescott, constructed in the fall and winter of 1920-1921 for $100,000 by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, holding 1 million gallons. Photographed April 21, 2020.

 

In our first installment, we left our expectant City Commissioners at the corner of NE 57th and Fremont with a shovel in their hands ready to dig a 14,280-foot long trench for a big new pipeline that would push more water from the Mt. Tabor reservoirs into our thirsty neighborhoods.

From The Daily Oregon Journal, August 8, 1915. This wooded street scene is likely somewhere along NE Skidmore before the residential neighborhood we know today had taken shape.

 

The pipeline dig began on April 16, 1915 powered by 59 unemployed men hired from the city’s standing civil service list. By May, workers at both ends of the project were working toward each other. Promises had been made to alleviate the water shortage by summer, so momentum was important and the newspapers took note.

From The Oregonian, May 16, 1915. Interesting to note that the picture in the lower right shows the intersection of NE 24th and Skidmore, the spot where this water main broke in March 2019 flooding homes and local businesses.

 

By July 1915, crews had met in the middle and the golden spike moment seemed close at hand:

From The Oregonian, July 20, 1915.

These were the headlines everyone wanted to see and even though the big pipeline job was done, Water Board engineers knew volume and supply were only part of the equation. The hand-me-down Vernon Standpipe just didn’t have sufficient storage capacity to keep up with the growing need here and on the Peninsula. But the new main bought time for more thinking and engineering.

Water officials must have been relieved that the most pressing problem over the next few years seemed to be finding someone to paint the 100-foot-tall, 25-foot-diameter Vernon Standpipe, expressed in this September 19, 1917 headline: LOFTY PAINTING JOB GOES BEGGING. No bidders, so the standpipe’s bare panels became its trademark.

By August 1920, the city announced plans for construction of a new 1 million gallon storage tank for the site that would replace the 350,000 gallon Vernon Standpipe. And fortunately for us, a city photographer documented the progress, which went like this (double click into any of these for a closer look…there’s lots to see):

By late summer 1920, workers were busy on the plumbing for the new tank and establishing a concrete foundation that would support the tower and the million-gallon tank above. The water alone weighed 8.3 million pounds. This view is looking north from the tank site; the houses are on the north side of Prescott.

 

By the fall of 1920, the round base had been poured (foreground) and was ready for tower construction. This view is looking north showing the standpipe behind (nice stairway and railing, eh?), and the T intersection of NE 19th and Prescott.

 

By late 1920 or early 1921 the new tower and tank are taking shape. This view looks north with the standpipe behind and snow on the ground.

 

In this view looking north in early summer of 1921, workers are in their shirtsleeves and the tank is done.

 

In August 1921 the city paid Portland-based Le Doux and Le Doux Construction $10,477 to dismantle the former Vernon Standpipe (underway in this photo) now that the new tank was in place, and to relocate the pipe to a new venue in St. Johns at the corner of N. Princeton Street and N. Oswego  Avenue, where it stands to this day (below), still in service at more than 120 years old:

 

Next up: The 1920 tank is eventually dwarfed by the biggest tank in the nation.

Vernon Tanks: Landmarks hidden in plain sight

The thing about the Vernon tanks is that we see them so often they’ve somehow slipped from view.

Like wallpaper, we take their faded green bulk for granted. But when we pay attention, they loom large, visible from all corners of the neighborhood. Even arriving by air into the Portland area—remember flying on airplanes?—the tanks jump up out of the grid to announce the presence of the Vernon-Sabin-Alameda neighborhood, the start of the Alameda Ridge.

What if we looked at them in a new way with fresh eyes? Can you do that?

The Vernon Tanks, NE 19th and Prescott, April 21, 2020

The story of these tanks is a neighborhood story about water. A lot of water. Because it involves so much water and so much time, we should break it into a few parts:

In this first part we’ll describe the early days of Portland’s amazing water system and how it arrived in our neighborhood.

In the second part, we’ll describe the pivotal role this area played as a kind of water waypoint: how the city was able to get a lot more water here where it could pause for a bit before being moved farther out the line to other thirsty neighborhoods.

In the third part, we’ll focus on the water tank building effort that produced the green behemoth we know today.

In a post-script, we’ll have a look at a great photo from the big day the guys poured concrete in 1920.

To help tell these stories, we’ll share a bunch of 100-year-old photos that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, some 50-year-old negatives that don’t even have prints for them, and lots of news clippings that help us piece it all together. So, grab a glass of water and let’s go.

 

Watering the Grid

Fortunately for all of us in Portland, water runs downhill. Our abundant clean water starts in Bull Run on the forested slopes of Mt. Hood and through an engineering miracle beyond your wildest imagination courses through pipes and headgates, valves and meters all the way to your kitchen.

Back at the turn of the last century as eastside neighborhoods were just taking off, one of the many challenges of carving out the grid of streets had to do with getting city services in here. We’ve already written about the sewer system, which was available to most of our homes by 1914. But water was first.

Here’s a look at the neighborhood in 1909, thanks to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. It’s an index of the many individual map pages (each big black number represents a more detailed map). Double click for a closer look.

 

Note the city limits boundary just east of NE 33rd. Also note the open fields that were soon to be filled in by Alameda and Beaumont. When this map was drawn, this part of our city had been Portland for less than 20 years. Imagine the biggest subdivision you’ve ever seen rolling off east through the fields to the horizon.

Look carefully at the corner of NE 19th and Prescott (we’ve circled it in red). That’s the Vernon Standpipe, the earliest predecessor of the tanks standing there today, built and plumbed in 1906. Here’s what the Vernon Standpipe looked like in August 1920, courtesy of City of Portland Archives, A2008-009.

Looking southwest from Prescott and NE 20th.

A standpipe is basically a fancy name for a tank that is taller than it is wide and is used to create pressure down the line in the system, which is exactly what the neighborhood needed in its earliest days. Think of it as a miniature above-ground version of the Mt. Tabor Reservoirs, where water could be stored waiting for you to turn on your tap.

Water in the standpipe came from Mt. Tabor in an elaborate system of pipes. The problem was—as the grid spread out and more houses were built—the pipes were too small to carry enough water, the standpipe wasn’t big enough and couldn’t exert enough pressure, and people were running out of water.

That first standpipe was installed at NE 19th and Prescott because of its elevation on the ridge. It used to stand at the corner of NE 13th and Schuyler, but was shifted uphill in 1906 (at a cost of about $10,000) to get the extra pressure. Interestingly, it took the city nine more years to eventually sell the empty 100 x 100 lot on Schuyler for $4,500 after neighbors complained it had become an unsightly dumping ground.

By 1910, water engineers knew they needed to increase capacity to north and northeast Portland and by 1912 the Water Board had acquired adjacent property at 19th and Prescott for a more elaborate storage facility.

A water crisis in July 1914 created political pressure: the standpipe went dry when all the new homeowners in the area decided to water their new lawns at the same time (seriously). On July 14, 1914, a rationing program was put in place allowing odd-numbered houses to use the hose on odd-numbered dates and even-numbered houses on even-numbered dates. Neighbors glared at offending neighbors. Tickets were written. And the Water Board quickly reminded an unhappy public that no cut in water rates was planned even though homeowners were rationing.

The hubbub of the July water crisis focused public attention on water and led to reporting on plans already underway by the Water Board. From The Oregonian on July 21, 1914:

“At present, the 30-inch trunk main for the district extends only one mile from the [Mt. Tabor] reservoirs. It is proposed to extend this to the Vernon standpipe, a distance of two and one-half miles, so that the supply at that point will be more than ample even on the hottest days.”

By September 1914, the city had completed plans to extend a much larger 30-inch water main from the intersection of NE 57th and Fremont north to Skidmore and then straight west all the way to the Vernon Standpipe, a distance of 14,280 feet. The job would cost $113,000.

Months before the work would even begin (and in light of consternation about running dry and rationing), city commissioners were celebrating what this would mean: “This will treble our capacity,” said Commissioner Will Daly. “We expect to have the new work completed by next summer. As all the property in this locality is unplatted, we do not expect difficulty in obtaining the rights of way.”

Open fields and a straight shot down Skidmore all the way to the Standpipe.

Next up: More water arrives, but limited storage capacity creates problems.

Anderson’s on Alberta | Post Script

We’ve enjoyed hearing your thoughts about the great Anderson’s Grocery photo from a couple days back: memories of Green River Phosphate sodas; recollections of other Anderson’s stores, speculations on what else might be in the back out of view from the front window. We even heard from the folks at Grasshopper who occupy the store today.

Check out this original work sent to us by photo wiz and fellow history friend Brian Rooney showing Jim Frost and his crew lingering at the doorway today. Nice Brian.

 

And a bit of original research by long-time AH friend John Hamnett who found this estate sale advertisement for the leftover stores from the Anderson empire after Carl’s death in July 1940. We think that’s how Jim Frost eventually got situated into his store at NE 30th and Killingsworth:

From The Oregonian, January 21, 1941

 

Always in search of more context, we looked up Carl G. Anderson’s obituary for you. He died at home on Thursday, July 18, 1940.

From The Oregonian, July 24, 1940

And kudos to our sister Bonnie Hull for inventorying the vegetables (most of which never made it to our table growing up). From left to right on display: zucchini, celery, fennel root, turnips, chard, a squash, peppers, Brussels sprouts, garlic hanging in the window, canned clams in the background and sooo much pancake flour!

Be sure to check out the reflection in the window, too. Look carefully and you can see the overhead lines that powered the Alberta Streetcar. There’s always more to see.

 

More Time Travel on Alberta Street

It’s time for another Alberta Street merchant portrait to add to the growing collection. Meet the crew from Anderson’s Grocery Store Number 5 at 676 Alberta Street, about 1930. That’s 1816 NE Alberta today (thanks to the Great Renumbering). Sent by AH photo friend Norm Gholston, this one is definitely worth a close look so click in for a good look around.

Here’s a challenge: Think you can identify all of the produce on display?

Anderson’s Store, 676 Alberta Street, about 1930. Courtesy of Norm Gholston.

1816 NE Alberta Street, April 2020

At its peak, Anderson’s Grocery was a 39-store chain of “cash stores” (all on Portland’s eastside) built by Carl G. Anderson starting in 1905, so called because there was no book of credit kept; business was “cash on the counter” only. This particular store was Anderson’s fifth and was well established by the time this photo was taken in the early 1930s. On the back of this photo are cryptic notes explaining that the young man in the middle was the person managing the store: James Franklin Frost.

Jim Frost was born in Selma, Oregon in 1905, married Emma Doering from Saskatchewan in 1927, worked for Anderson’s in the 1930s, enlisted in the service in 1943 and returned from the war to run Frost’s Grocery on the southeast corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth. He and Emma lived within walking distance of Anderson’s, and they ran small neighborhood mom and pop grocery stores all their lives.

We’re still working on the identity of the other two gentlemen—the butcher on the left and Frost’s stock clerk partner on the right. All of them in shirts and ties and shiny shoes, how about that?

Grocer Carl Anderson was a bit of an empire builder, and definitely thought of himself that way. This business profile, written not long after the photograph was taken, provides further insight into Anderson’s humble beginnings and rise to grocery stardom.

From The Oregonian, May 4, 1935

In the year after this story, Anderson opened a grocery in a new building at the heart of the Beaumont business district which we know today as Beaumont Market.

For the record, there was also an Anderson’s Grocery at NE 15th and Fremont, but that’s a different Anderson and a story for another day…

Albina’s Williams Avenue, 1909

The loss and complete transformation of what was once a vital Albina main street will always haunt this North Portland neighborhood, in so many different ways. Important chapters of Portland history have played out here, from the early days of being its own city before becoming part of Portland, through waves of immigration, to Civil Rights protests and the vibrancy of African-American owned business, life and culture.

Today, if you don’t know this history, you might drive north on Williams past Emanuel Hospital and not know you are traveling through a kind of sacred ground.

To help us imagine this lost place, here’s a pretty amazing photo from AH photo friend Norm Gholston, and a then-and-now shot we matched up during a recent outing. Norm shared this great old pic recently: it’s the image side of a “real photo” postard, popular in this era. Click to enlarge and take a good look.

Taken from just north of the intersection with Russell Street, the 1909 photo features a look at the Kennard and Adams department store on the left, which carried a little bit of everything. The first intersection in the distance is Knott Street. That’s the Immaculate Heart Church steeple at Williams and Stanton you can see in the distance, the only common denominator that really jumps out at you from the two photos (known back in the day as St. Mary’s Church, not St. Mark’s as the Sanborn implies).

Here’s a composite of several Sanborn maps we put together to be able to visualize where Norm’s 1909 photo was taken. The red box indicates the approximate photo point. Click to enlarge.

Details from Sanborn plates 268, 273 and 274, from 1909.

If you ride, walk or drive this way—or if you didn’t know the history of this amazing stretch of street—take a moment to check out the following  multiple sources of insight about what this neighborhood meant during its heyday, and how its loss has affected the people who knew it:

Historic Black Williams Project

An article about Albina in the Oregon Encyclopedia

A nice rewind that looks back across the years by The Oregonian

Parlor stories

It’s been a quiet year so far on the AH blog, in deference to a busy batch of research for home owners and architects, several presentations, and ongoing exploration of our standing lines of history inquiry. We’ve been saving up some favorite old photos sent our way by history friend and photo collector Norm Gholston. Here’s one you’re going to want to take a close look at: the interior of a home in the vicinity of North Albina and Webster just after the turn of the last century.

Click in for a good look and then let’s take it apart in the way we like to do with Norm’s great old photos.

Part gallery, part living room, part library, apparently part dining room, this room is dressed to the nines. These picture rails are fully engaged with local art: Mt. Hood, the Coast, maybe the Columbia River.

The mantlepiece tells multiple chapters of the family story and serves as home for the heirloom clock (and the rabbit). Our very favorite thing in this whole picture is the yawning baby on the wall.

Formal table setting, with two forks at each plate, cloth napkins, the good china. Are the flowers silk or the real thing?

The texture of the plaster—and the various cracks and wear marks—make us think this house has seen a few years. And interesting fireplace: we’ve never seen a wooden fireplace surround quite like that one with corner trim that steps back following the line of bricks.

Bookcases filled. Thin carpet. Painted antlers. Victorian parlor lamp. So much to see.

The actual location of the house remains a bit of mystery. Norm tells us that on the back of the photo is written the address “5021 N. Albina,” which is curious for several reasons:

The address format is post-address change, meaning someone wrote that on there after 1931, which certainly could have happened. But the photo appears earlier than that to us.

The current building at that address is a mid-century brick duplex at the southwest corner of N. Albina and Webster…definitely not this place.

A look back at aerial photography of that corner in 1939 and in 1925 shows a vacant lot, as does the 1924 Sanborn map.

Could be that this is the interior of a house that stood there but was demolished before the 1925 aerial photography, but why would someone write 5021 Albina on the back given that it was never known as 5021? Hmm.

So we’re glad to consider this the interior of a house in the neighborhood from the turn of the last century and leave it at that. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. We like to solve them, but we’re glad just to continue contemplating too.

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.

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