More Favorite Old Houses

Remembering that during the last week of the year we are encouraging readers to share photos and memories of their favorite houses, wherever they may be. Son of Alameda, old-house fan and sometime AH correspondent Brian Rooney sends the following celebration of the Rooney family home on Dunkley. Thanks Brian!

This photo-in-a-photo is nice example of how fond memories influence decisions. In 1965, when recent Portland arrivals Bill and Kathleen Rooney went looking for a house to raise their small but growing family. Their search was over as soon as they drove past 3215 Dunckley.

3215 Dunckley & 1846 Sunnyside

The portico on the Alameda house struck my mother’s heartstrings as it reminded her of the house she grew up in on the banks above the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa (seen inset here). The Iowa house was originally a square brick structure believed to have been built around 1850. It was Kathleen Rooney’s grandfather who saw great potential, purchased the house and added the grand portico with pillars (and complimentary side porches) to the brick box transforming it into something special.

The Dunckley house is also very special in that it is one of the last remaining double lot homes in the Alameda neighborhood. It was wonderful growing up with a large yard to play in, countless hours having been spent digging, swinging, climbing, sliding and getting muddy there. I dearly hope the house holds onto its own small park so that future families and children can continue to enjoy it forever.

3215 Dunckley is having two anniversaries in 2015: it’s 100th birthday and the 50thanniversary of the Rooney family having called it home. Let the celebrations begin!

-Brian Rooney

Then and Now | Delmer Shaver House

Shaver House ThenShaver House Now

Here’s a photo of a house you’ll recognize at 3119 NE Alameda Street, built by Captain Delmer Shaver and his wife Nellie. Shaver spent his life (1867-1950) working with his father and brothers to create and operate the Shaver Transportation Company, which started out as a steamship company on the Columbia and Willamette rivers and has become a leading tugboat and barge company still on the waters today. Delmer and Nellie had three children (James, Ellen and Doris) who grew up in this house, and attended Alameda School and Grant High School.

The then photo is from the August 9, 1914 edition of The Oregonian. The caption described that construction (which cost $10,000 which was a fair amount in 1914) began in February, was nearly complete in August, but the house would not be occupied until late fall. The second floor included a sleeping porch (which can be seen on the far right), and service quarters on the third floor. The unusually large lot was described as being a “park,” and the garage being large and “commodious.”

Not necessarily related to the house, but of note in the Shavers’ life in August 1914 was a gathering to mark their 25th wedding anniversary, held at the couple’s other home near Cannon Beach, which was poetically described in a brief article that appeared in the August 24th edition of The Oregonian.

Captain and Mrs. Shaver celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary early this week at their country place. An elaborate dinner was served at tables arranged on the lawn. In the evening Japanese lanterns lighted the grounds and added dashes of color most effective among the deep green of the trees. The tables were decorated attractively. A bonfire followed the supper. Congratulations and good wishes were extended to the host and hostess.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Once they moved in, the Shavers hosted similar gatherings at the Alameda home, some of which also made it onto the pages of The Oregonian, including soiree-like block parties that shut down The Alameda (as the street was known then) with lanterns hung across the road, music and other entertainments, and neighbors coming from throughout Portland to enjoy summer evenings.

We think Captain Shaver would definitely recognize the house today, and would be pleased with its upkeep and the recent landscaping work that has been completed.

Then and Now | Thomas Prince House

1923 Frank Moore Photo DSC_0038

Here’s the Thomas Prince House, at 2903 NE Alameda Street, right at the top of Regents Hill. The then photo is from about 1922, taken by leaders of the Alameda Park Community Church who were out snapping several other photos of the neighborhood in those years, about the time the church was being built. The now view is from approximately the same location.

Some notable changes:

  • The landscaping has taken over;
  • More recently built houses now obstruct the view through to the next block;
  • The power poles (both of them) are gone;
  • The house is still in very good shape;
  • And, the house is for sale at $1.375 million.
  • (What else do you see?)

As long as we are focusing in on the Thomas Prince house, we should look at another photo pair, this time a view from The Oregonian on July 22, 1917. The caption of the 1917 story says the $25,000 house featured a “fountain room.”

Thomas Prince House 1917

Thomas Prince House 2014

We visited the house recently and didn’t see any sign of the fountain room, though we did note the beautiful almost 3-D woven tile in the upstairs bathrooms; the marble fireplace (and a signature etched into the hearth); and the beautiful and stately birch paneled entryway. See the photos below by Emma Decker. The house is worthy of its national register status (Here is a link to the nomination form filed in 1985 Thomas Prince House HNR Nomination complete with floor-by-floor drawings and descriptions).

Bathroom Tile Detail - Thomas Prince House



Prince was an interesting person with at least two major careers behind him when at age 71 in 1912 he agreed to be the financial backer for Oliver K. Jeffrey and the Oregon Home Builders Inc. Jeffrey and his company built more than two dozen homes in Alameda and Olmsted Park—many of them unique, grand and built for wealthy clients—and as regular readers of the blog will recall, also built the building that now houses Gordon’s Fireplace Shop at NE 33rd and Broadway (check out the story if you haven’t read it. We know you’ve driven by this place and wondered what it’s all about). More soon about the Oregon Home Builders, a fascinating story that ends in a broken business model and bankruptcy.

Prince’s roots were in Massachusetts, where he was a founding partner in Reed and Prince, a manufacturer of nuts and bolts with national market share (still in operation today). Something happened in the Prince family in the 1890s, and Thomas, accompanied only by his developmentally disabled son Harold Thomas Prince, left on their own for Oregon, where the elder became a walnut and fruit grower near Dundee. When he died in February 1920 at age 79, Prince owned and operated the largest walnut orchard in Oregon.

Though it’s known today on the National Register of Historic Places as the Thomas Prince House, the elder Thomas didn’t spend much time here. He died in California in 1920 and his death set off a feeding frenzy among heirs and beneficiaries as his $2 million estate was divided up. A sad series of stories in The Oregonian in the three years after his death documents the infighting and finger pointing (as well as the occasional sale of property like Prince’s seven-passenger Pierce Arrow touring car sold at auction in 1920). Son Harold Thomas Prince lived in the house with his wife Marjorie until the 1950s.

As a bonus for reading all the way to the bottom, here’s an interesting tidbit about the house that turned up in the August 11, 1918 edition of The Oregonian:

Skunk 8-11-1918

Don & Peggy Sarason Re-Craft the “Library”


Since last fall, Alameda neighbors have watched with interest as the brick house at NE Dunckley and Regents has had a major overhaul. I had been particularly interested in the house after hearing (and debunking) an urban myth that it was built as a library, which I wrote about here on the blog back in January 2008.

The home was originally built in 1923 by C.O. Waller at a cost of $12,000, which was a lot of money for a house at that time, even in this neighborhood. 

As the construction project has entered the home stretch, I’ve wondered—as an amateur old house archaeologist—about what clues the owner may have found, and of course about the extent of the remodeling work. So, last week I dropped in on owner Don Sarason for a visit and a walk through the house.

The word remodeling doesn’t quite do it. Let’s stick with construction project. Here’s why:

Sarason and his contractors have virtually rebuilt the 6,000-square foot house, almost literally from the ground up.

The sun porch on the southwest side of the house, with the distinctive bank of windows, as well as the front porch area, is being rebuilt.

The brick exterior was in serious need of tuck pointing, so all of the old bricks have been removed and a fully new brick exterior is now in place.

The heating system wasn’t operating well, so crews removed the old radiators, put in a new boiler, and added radiant heat into the floor surfaces.

The plumbing system needed an upgrade: out with the galvanized and in with the PEX.

Wiring? That’s been upgraded too. Sarason added a 400 amp electrical service, and category 5 computer cable throughout to boot.

One of the most distinctive features of the house—its windows—needed help too. The originals have been sensitively replaced with all new insulated aluminum-clad wood windows. And the unique oculus window above the front door has been added.


Don Sarason stands in the sun porch area backed by all new wood windows. It's an impressive space.

The Sarasons chose the house when the family moved from San Francisco to Portland in May 2008. The family of five—two boys and one girl—was drawn to the neighborhood because of its location and character: all the big city amenities very close to home. “When we saw this house in this neighborhood, it became clear what this ‘once wonderful’ house could become again,” said Don. The family purchased the house in May 2008 and by August 2008 had secured necessary permits for the work.

The project might be a classic case of being glad they didn’t know then what they know now. Like most remodeling jobs, it’s turned out to be more work than they expected. But with all of the system upgrades and expansion,  it’s also turned out to be more house.

Under the guidance of historic preservation architect Bill Hawkins, they have enlarged the existing dormers, added one more, and given them all a unique look that includes a graceful radius and distinctive trim that represents a combination of Craftsman and has Asian design.

In the public spaces, they’ve completely rearranged the floor plan and traffic flow on the first floor: you can now access the kitchen from the dining room. They’ve opened up the kitchen and family room area (including a spacious, barrel-ceilinged gathering space), added a direct link to the back terrace, and added more windows. Upstairs, they’ve taken what were two big, undefined spaces and crafted three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and some very nice “perching spots” to read or just look out the window. A haven for kids.

It’s basically a new house tucked into the original envelope that honors the original design. Take, for instance, the two beautiful tight-grained Douglas-fir fireplace mantles that have been carefully removed, painstakingly stripped, re-stained and put back in place. Or the ceiling cove molding, stripped clean of generations of paint and reinstalled. Or the decorative wall sconces, all cleaned up and put back in place.

Stripping the fireplace mantle on the first floor.

Stripping the fireplace mantle on the first floor.

During our walk around, I asked about what kind of clues had turned up from the past (“any old library books?” I asked with a smile). Nope. The biggest artifact was a built-in safe, which Sarason was able to open (thanks to finding the combination scrawled conveniently nearby). Nothing inside. And not too big a surprise…thinking back to the era of their construction and the crumbling banking system of the Great Depression, other Alameda homes had safes for the owners to keep a close eye on their precious assets.

During the construction process, several people who have lived in the house over the years dropped by, providing great stories about the home’s earlier years.

Sarason says the target for completion is the end of this month. The work is clearly wrapping up: the construction fences have come down and now it’s time for the final details.

And he’s proud to show off what has become a labor of love.

Olmstead Park




Here’s the cadastral map from 1909 showing the Olmstead Park plat. This roughly five-block square area is north of the Alameda Ridge and tucks in under the southeast corner of Alameda Park. Today this part of the neighborhood is clearly considered part of the Alameda District. Out on the ground even in 1911, these two brand new districts were indistinguishable, interwoven by the same streets, the same water, gas and sewer mains, and many of the same architects and builders who were beginning to populate this area with homes.

The Olmsted in “Olmstead Park” was probably John Charles Olmsted, stepson and nephew of the legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (this is not a typo…someone added an “a” into the plat name over the years). John Charles Olmsted and his brother Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. helped design Portland’s park system and were busy with other commissions here in Portland — including one for the Alameda Land Company — in the years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition (which they also designed).

By 1909, the neighborhoods to our north and south were already established, and the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company was opening its Broadway Streetcar line with a connection to the heart of Alameda Park and Olmstead Park.

In 1910, before home construction was underway, much of the property in Olmstead Park was owned by one man: B.M. Lombard, a real estate developer who owned large tracts in north and northeast Portland, and whose name is memorialized by North Portland’s Lombard Street. In fact if you look at the plat, you can see that today’s Dunckley Avenue was originally platted as Lombard. Other properties were owned by construction companies, investment banks and real estate developers, including Oregon Home Builders Inc., Colonial Construction Co., Hibernian Investment Bank, Provident Trust Company and Clodfelter Real Estate.

I’ll keep a copy of this in “The Maps” for future reference…

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