Remembering the landmark at 33rd and Webster | Old St. Charles Church

For more than 40 years, a dignified and simple clapboard-sided wood frame church presided over the corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster, serving as a local landmark for its parishioners and for the neighborhood that was steadily growing up around it.

Old St. Charles Church, March 1931. Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster. Note that 33rd (at right) is paved, Webster (to the left) is not paved. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon Archives. 

The original St. Charles Catholic Church has been gone now for almost 70 years and recollections about its life and times are slipping close to the edge of living memory. The parish relocated to its current home on NE 42nd in 1950 and demolished the original building. But when you know where it once stood and its place in the evolution of the Concordia, Vernon, Cully and Beaumont-Wilshire area, you’ll want to keep it alive in your own imagination and sense of place.

Let’s put the ghost of this old building on the map: Webster is the east-west street intersecting NE 33rd Avenue just north of Alberta and just south of today’s New Seasons Concordia grocery store. The church was sited with its long side adjacent to Webster, and front doors and stairs facing 33rd, right at the corner.

Detail of 1940 aerial photo showing location of original St. Charles Church at the southeast corner of NE 33rd Avenue and Webster Street. Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Map and Aerial Photography Library.

In February 2019, construction is underway on the site: a three-story 12-plex apartment building, which is being built pretty much in the footprint of where the church stood from 1916 until its demolition in 1950. In fact, while excavating recently for new footings, workers came across parts of the foundation and basement slab of the old church.

Looking southeast at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, February 2019 (above). The same view in much earlier years (below), photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee.

 

Below is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map plate from 1924 that will give you a good snapshot of where the building stood (upper left hand corner), and just how sparsely built up the surrounding area was then (click to enlarge the view). Read more and see other old photos in this recent post about the intersection of 33rd and Killingsworth, this post about Ainsworth and 33rd, and this post about the old fire station one block south at Alberta Court and 33rd.

 

Knowing what you know now about the prominent role local property owner John D. Kennedy played in shaping the area from 1900-1930 (his early influence can’t be overstated), you won’t be surprised to learn the church building and the entire St. Charles Catholic Parish trace its founding back to him. Parish historians Jeanne Allen and Joseph Schiwek Jr. both credit Kennedy with encouraging then Archbishop Alexander Christie to found St. Charles Parish in the first place, sometime in late 1913. Kennedy did all he could (including providing property for a public school) to create a community from the surrounding rural landscape.

In March 1915, the Catholic Sentinel newspaper characterized the area and its scattered population like this:

“This parish, which is in sparsely settled territory in the northeast portion of the city is made up of earnest workers.”

Said a little less carefully, everyone knew this area was out in the middle of nowhere in comparison to the rest of Portland proper, and that most of the people who lived here were immigrants and first-generation citizens from Italy, Ireland and Germany.

The newly founded St. Charles Parish congregation of 25 families held its first mass on February 3, 1914, in a grocery store built and owned by Henry Hall near the corner of NE Alberta and 32nd Place. Here’s a look at that old store, which stands today. It’s one of the older buildings on Alberta Street, by the way, dating to 1911. The congregation held mass there every Sunday from February 1914 until the completed church was dedicated and opened on October 1, 1916.

3266 NE Alberta (formerly 986 East Alberta before Portland’s addressing system was changed in 1931), originally known as the Hall building and later as Herliska Grocery. Photographed in February 2019. High mass was said here every Sunday between 1914-1916. The building is one of the oldest in this section of NE Alberta.

News stories during that interim reported on the new building’s planning and construction, sharing details from Portland architects Houghtaling and Dougan about the 40’ x 80’ wood frame building with its full concrete basement hall (think potluck dinners and parish events), including this rendering (we particularly like the clouds):

From The Oregonian, June 4, 1916

The church steeple, rising some 50 feet above the street, didn’t turn out quite like the rendering: an octagonal tower with cross was built instead of the traditional peaked steeple. Here’s another view, from sometime in the 1940s.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

The dedication was covered by The Oregonian, the Oregon Journal and the Catholic Sentinel. All three newspapers noted the church building was just the first phase of construction that would eventually include a parish school and a rectory.

By 1918, with help from John D. Kennedy, the parish bought the two lots immediately to the south with the future in mind: one was vacant and the other held a house that became the rectory. A growing number of young people in the St. Charles parish—many of whom traveled to St. Andrews at NE 9th and Alberta and some to The Madeleine at 24th and Klickitat—had hopes of a school closer to home and the congregation was doing everything it could to save and raise money.

These photos show the rectory (inset) and its location two lots south of the church. You can see the northwest corner of the rectory at far right in the larger photo. From The Catholic Sentinel, March 4, 1939. The rectory was moved to the new site on NE 42nd in 1950, and destroyed by fire in 1978.

But in 1924, the parish experienced a major setback when an overnight fire on June 27th did significant damage to the church building, altar, pews, statues and paintings that added up to almost $3,500: a major loss that would not soon be overcome.

The origin of the fire was disputed at first (fire investigators not really wanting to talk about arson) but then emerged in the stranger-than-fiction tale of Portland firefighter Chester Buchtel. A capable firefighter from an established Portland pioneer family, Buchtel admitted to setting at least 16 fires in 1923-1924–destroying Temple Beth Israel and the German Lutheran Church, both downtown, the St. Charles Church, lumber mills, garages and barns city wide–and causing more than $1 million in damage.

Repairs were made and the building was rededicated on November 23, 1924, but the wind was out of the sails for any school development fund, which continued to be the case through the Great Depression years and beyond.

Parish historian Schiwek picks up the story in the mid 1940s at the end of World War 2, from his book, Building a House Where Love Can Dwell: Celebrating the first 100 years of the St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 1914-2014:

“There were now thousands of GIs coming home to start life afresh with new homes and new families. Such was the case in Northeast Portland. Many new houses were built as families moved into the parish, with the result that by 1950, the old church, that was only capable of seating 300 persons, was fast becoming obsolete. Moreover, demand for a school was increasing and there was no land available at the existing site to build one. There were over 300 Catholic children in the parish at this time and at least half of them were attending neighboring parish schools that were themselves overcrowded and the rest were in public schools without any religious education.”

In the spring of 1950, Archbishop Edward Howard made a change in parish leadership. By that summer, the parish had obtained a site and was into construction on the St. Charles school and campus that exists today 12 blocks east at NE 42nd and Emerson. The old rectory was jacked up from the lot south of the old church and trucked to the new site in a careful two-day moving process.

The final mass at the old church was held on October 15, 1950. A photograph was taken from the church balcony to document the end of an era. And on October 22, the new St. Charles was dedicated with mass held in temporary quarters on the new site until the new church building could be completed in 1954.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

Long-time parishioner Jeanne Allen remembers that while there was excitement about the move to a new site and anticipation about the brand-new school and fresh start as a community, leaving the old building was hard on some of the established families who had known it all their lives. So many family events—baptisms, weddings, funerals and every Sunday in between—took place there at the corner of NE 33rd and Webster.

“There was something very comforting about the inside of the old church,” she recalled recently. “It was simple, dignified, spiritual.”

With the parish installed in its new quarters, the old church was demolished, likely sometime in 1950. No parish records remain about the demolition and property sale, nothing in the newspapers and no one we’ve spoken to remembers those final actions.

Photo courtesy of St. Charles Parish Archive Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neighbors weren’t wild about the idea.

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

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

Here’s where it gets visually interesting.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

From The Oregonian, October 29, 1929.

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

From The Oregonian, March 15, 1930.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Oregonian, July 1, 1932.

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

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

Then and Now | Wrenn Auto Delivery

AH reader and photo collector Norm Gholston recently sent along this amazing photo from 1929, so we’ve enjoyed doing some of our favorite photo detective work. Have a good look first and we’ll take it apart to learn a bit more about Wrenn Auto Delivery.

The Wrenn Auto Delivery team in front of company offices on N. Tillamook near Interstate. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston. Click to enlarge.

First things first: Wrenn Auto Delivery is not a company that delivers autos. They were essentially an around-town trucking firm. The name “auto delivery” was an artifact of the horse-drawn earlier days when it was a novelty to have something other than a horse and carriage deliver goods. When the company started out just four years after the Broadway Bridge was built, it was a major innovation (and quicker) to have an automobile deliver your load of heavy wax paper or whatever you might be needing.

To our eye, it looks like this photo has been touched up a bit, though the sparkling chrome on the Mack truck at far right looks completely genuine. The labels “Western Wax”—referring to the Western Wax Paper Company, a major customer of Wrenn’s in 1929—have been penciled in, and the hood of the Mack on the far left looks like it’s been doctored (nice fingerprint there too, which gives us a clue about the size of the original photo). But everything else looks authentic, including the surly looking dog in the middle truck.

Wrenn Auto Delivery was started in about 1916 by Nolia Gray Wrenn and her three stepsons Moultrie, Grover and Ashby. The rise of autos—and relationships the family had with various industry sectors—probably spurred the start, combined with the family’s economic necessity. Samuel E. Wrenn, Nolia’s husband and the boys’ father, died unexpectedly in 1915 following a career in the lumber and wooden box industry.

By 1917, Nolia had bought a new truck, had a contract with the Union Meat Company, and was pioneering a whole new business model, a notable accomplishment for a woman-owned small business in the heavy industrial sector in the 19-teens. Read on:

From The Oregonian, March 25, 1917. Click to enlarge.

During the first few years, the company operated out of the family home near NW 22nd and Johnson, but by the mid 1920s Nolia had moved to the Paramount Apartments at 253 N. Broadway and the business headquarters was a garage and warehouse near today’s N. Tillamook and Interstate. In 1933, the family launched something they called Wrenn’s Auto Laundry…an early car wash for trucks and cars?

Advertisements for the company during those years referred to 155 N. Tillamook, which after great renumbering translates roughly to today’s 687 N. Tillamook. Building landmarks are hard to discern in the 1929 photo (awnings, big doorways, windows, ivy), but after much looking we think we came pretty close with this view.

The 600 block of North Tillamook, former home of Wrenn Auto Delivery. January 2018.

Nolia died in September 1952. By the mid 1970s when the trail of the business goes cold, it was operating out of the Mt. Scott area in southeast Portland. Can you tell us more about Wrenn Auto Delivery or these three great delivery trucks and their smiling drivers?

Favorite views of NE 24th and Fremont

We love to find and collect old views that feed our curiosity and tell us something about the place we live. Today’s post assembles photos we’ve retrieved recently from a few archives that allow a look at changes at NE 24th and Fremont, which has always served as a kind of gateway to Alameda Park.

Here is the earliest view of this intersection that we’ve ever come across, taken in September 1921 from just north of Fremont, looking north along the Broadway Streetcar tracks toward Regents, with Ridgewood in the distance. It’s a good, sharp photo, so click into it and have a look around and we’ll take it apart in the way we usually do:

NE 24th and Fremont looking north, courtesy of Portland City Archives, image A2009-009.1858

This image is labeled “PRL&P tracks, September 1921.” Like so many of the images at City Archives, it was taken to document the engineering, in this case the road and track condition. Maybe it was those bricks adjacent to the track that look sunk and a hazard for car tires. Or maybe it was just documenting the street scene before other work began.

PRL&P was Portland Railway Light and Power: they ran the streetcar system and were in frequent cooperation and conflict with the city about infrastructure. The brickwork bordering the rails is a signature of the system. These days you can still see the rails during street maintenance or sewer construction, like just up the hill from here in 2014. Look carefully here and you can see the tracks round the corner at Regents and head east and up the hill.

Your first thought as you look at this might be that the down slope from Fremont north to Regents is not quite that steep. But go stand and look at it and you realize that it is. The focal length of the lens and the absence of houses along the street trick the eye.

An Alameda elder we interviewed a few years back told us that when he was a mischievous teenager in the mid 1940s, he once released the brake on a momentarily parked streetcar waiting at 24th and Fremont (the driver had gone into the pharmacy to use the facilities) and the streetcar absolutely knew there was a slope: it drifted driverless down from Fremont and made it most of the way around the corner on Regents before its gravity was spent.

Both houses pictured here are still place, the one on the right is 3808 NE 24th built in June 1921. On the left, 3803 NE 24th, which was still under construction in the fall of 1921 (is that a for sale sign out front?).

The cutbank you see at the end of the street is where Ridgewood, running east-west, cuts along the Alameda ridge.

In the foreground to the left you can see planks placed over the curb that allow a tractor or wheeled vehicle to turn into the farmyard, which looks like it includes a small orchard. This open stretch of land was pasture for cows and orchards, as we learned recently about the adjacent Homedale plat.

Here’s another favorite shot, from not too far away from our first photo, looking to the southwest, today’s Lucca and Garden Fever. We wrote about the life of this building a few years back. Check it out.

Looking southwest at the corner of NE 24th and Fremont, early 1920s. Note delivery bike visible behind power pole. OrHi 49061.

These next two are pretty amazing. They’re from City Archives and our guess is they accompanied the building permit request associated with construction of the building that now houses Alameda Dental and Union Bank, which was originally a Safeway. You can read more about that in the post we mentioned earlier, which includes a drawing of that building from its grand opening.

Check out the view from the air on this rainy winter day in 1935:

1935 Aerial of NE 24th and Fremont A2205-05.1421.2. Courtesy of Portland City Archives. Click to enlarge.

 

There’s so much here to observe and wonder about, it’s hard to know where to start. This is 14 years after the first image in this post, and you can see both houses on NE 24th pictured earlier, and clearly locate the path of the Broadway Streetcar. In fact, look close and you can see the actual streetcar stopped there at 24th and Fremont.

Check out the notable empty lots, and how about that forest where the Madeleine soccer field is today? A billboard put up on the corner at 25th probably advertises property for sale. The filling station at 24th and Fremont. A few people out walking. A sharp eye will locate the Eastman House on NE Stuart Drive. What jumps out at you?

Down on the ground, still contemplating the coming changes at the intersection, we have this view, from January 28, 1938, another killer tack-sharp photo from a 5 x 7 negative you’re going to want to explore:

Looking west on Fremont between NE 24th and NE 25th. Courtesy Portland City Archives, A2009-009.107

 

The same view in December 2018.

This 1938 image looks like it was taken from about where the front door of Alameda Dental is today. The elevation of the vacant lot to the left and its brushy slope is amazing. The building that today is Lucca—Alameda Drugs—sports the signs for Sunfreze Ice Cream and a pay phone, and the delivery bike is still there. Down the line is the shoe repair shop of John Rumpakis, a barber shop, and the stairs that lead up to the dentist on the second floor.

Across the street we have the Standard Oil service station that operated up into the 1970s and some people waiting for the Broadway streetcar.

Speaking of the streetcar, here’s another image we found, taken at this intersection in 1940.

Broadway line car 809 rounds the corner at 24th and Fremont, looking east, 1940. Courtesy of Portland City Archives A2011-007.65.

In this shot we can see the corner of the Standard Oil station in the far left; a new building in the lot on the northeast corner—partially hidden by the streetcar—where Childroots Daycare is today (which was a Hancock Gasoline station up until the mid 1970s); the new Safeway building that had just been built; and the sign mounted to corner of Alameda Drugs. No telling if the delivery bike is still there.

Do you have a photo of this intersection or memory you’d like to share? We’re always on the lookout.

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!).

Vernon Then and Now

While the pace and scale of change can often take your breath away (for good and not so good), it’s surprising how some aspects of our neighborhood landscape are recognizable from a distance of more than 100 years.

We’re preparing a program for Wednesday night, April 18th about Vernon neighborhood history—come on along if you like, 7:00 p.m. at the Leaven Community Center, 5431 NE 20th Avenue—so we’ve been out recently scouting around. Vernon is the neighborhood loosely bounded on the north and south between NE Ainsworth and NE Wygant, and the west and east from NE 11th to NE 21st. Walkabouts for us usually begin with finding a handful of old photos, reference points or things to look for and then sleuthing around the neighborhood looking for the right vantage point. Here’s a couple examples.

We love this old newspaper advertisement placed in the Oregon Journal on October 25, 1908 by developers of the Vernon addition. Imagine: $1,000. The house was built in 1907 for O.G. Goldberg.

Here’s the Goldberg House today:

 

And here’s another great pair, just a few blocks north, this time looking at the heart of the Vernon business district, from the Oregon Journal on October 30, 1920. Check out the streetcar tracks and overhead lines.

And today:

Looking east on Alberta at NE 16th Avenue, April 2018. The distinctive building on the northeast corner (left) was built in 1909 during the rise of the Vernon-Alberta business district.

Some of our favorite stories are from Vernon: the ghost of Old Vernon and its practice houses, the Alberta Streetcar, the mystery of Crane Street, Alberta storefronts, Alberta Park, opposition to (and even arson at) the new local fire station. So many stories to tell, including an upcoming post that shares the intriguing real estate drama about how Vernon almost didn’t become Vernon. Stay tuned.

 

Alberta Lodge: Rescued and revived

Walking and wondering about history go hand-in-hand, especially here in Northeast Portland. On a recent adventure down Concordia neighborhood alleys, we came across a distinctive building at the corner of NE 23rd and Sumner that made us wonder: what was that? Too big to be a family house; too small and house-shaped to be an apartment building. Maybe you’ve seen this and wondered too. Take a look:

5131 NE 23rd Avenue

When you stand and stare for a moment, many possibilities come to mind: hostel, church, school, chalet, rooming house, theater. Hmm, what could it be?

How about fraternal lodge?

Yes, the two-story, bracket-eaved old beauty was purpose-built in 1923 as the home of the Alberta Lodge Number 172 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Here’s the news from July 1923 about the ceremonial placing of the cornerstone, and a construction rendering of the building:

From The Oregonian, July 8, 1923

 

Those big gable-ended walls at front and back: they’re made out of concrete, formed and poured in place (all four walls are concrete, making moving a window or door no simple task, just ask the current owners). Inside, there were small rooms and chambers for the various aspects of the secret Masonic rites, and a beautiful theater-like gathering space. A kitchen, offices, cloak rooms.

During its heyday, the Alberta Lodge No. 172 had 450 members and was jammed busy on multiple nights each week, often with a ceremony and the many social gatherings that preceded or followed: picnics, breakfasts, dinners, work parties.

In 1986, with Lodge membership dipping to just 150 members—most of them senior citizens—the Masons decided to sell the building and consolidate several other shrinking lodges under one roof in Parkrose. Masonic elders came to reclaim the ceremonial cornerstone and extinguish its service in one last ceremony. A January 14, 1986 news story in The Oregonian quotes the wife of one former Alberta Lodge leader: “It’s been our whole life.” Another, reflecting on our changing society: “People live a different lifestyle these days. All the fraternities are dwindling.”

Click to enlarge. From The Oregonian, January 14, 1986. 

Following its time as a lodge, the building was the Fellowship Church of God until 2005 when that growing community moved first to the Doubletree Hotel near Lloyd Center then to a new and larger facility on NE 122nd. The space was rented on and off for several years, and served as the home of Heaven Bound Deliverance Center before slipping into receivership and an accumulated ocean of deferred maintenance.

That’s where current owner Randall Stuart and his colleagues found it during their search for just the right building to serve as a convening space for art, theater, music, learning and community.

The 8,000-square-foot concrete building was headed for demolition when Stuart and his team purchased it in 2013 launching a two-year renovation effort that involved restoring virtually every surface and moving part in the place. And then some: new interior walls and spaces, including a major interior stairway; an ADA ramp and exterior access; outdoor spaces and landscaping; a total overhaul of building systems.

Prior to finding the Alberta Lodge, Stuart and his colleagues had formed the foundation that now runs it: Cerimon House is a 501(c)(3) humanities organization dedicated to creating and celebrating community through arts and humanities.

“It’s definitely been a labor of love. Our board is very proud of saving the building and keeping it aligned with a fellowship mission” he says, tipping his hat to the generations of Mason families who have gathered in the space.

Today, the old Alberta lodge building is definitely back to life as gathering space for art, music, readings and lectures—and lots of other interesting events, including weddings, meetings and family gatherings (the space is available to rent). Stuart invites neighbors who want to see inside Cerimon House to book a tour online at the website or take a virtual tour to learn more: www.cerimonhouse.org

Time Travel on NE 19th

Ready for a little time travel?

AH reader Sam Parrish was browsing around here on the blog recently and found a photo that captured his imagination. It’s the shot looking north on NE 19th Avenue just north of Thompson, taken about 1910 that illustrated a brochure about the new Alameda Park subdivision. Like us, Sam enjoys lining up in the footprints of the past so he went for a walk to find the exact spot and rephotographed it. Here, take a look:

The photo was one of several in the 107-year-old brochure that tried to establish the credibility of Alameda Park by referencing the well-established Irvington neighborhood to the south. The green text in the old photo is faded, but it’s pointing out that tiny patch of mud and trees at the far north end of this Irvington street view, as if to say: “Alameda…it’s up there.” At the time of its publication in 1910, the Alameda Park neighborhood was still on the drawing board, so boosters shamelessly borrowed Irvington imagery to make Alameda seem like it actually existed. Go check out our post on that brochure which does feature some examples of our favorite views across the open fields of early Alameda Park.

What was it about that particular image that captured Sam’s imagination? He writes:

“These houses seem to stand right on the edge of civilization. The juxtaposition of the freshly built homes against the sidewalk-lined forest across the street forces one to consider what is lost when a city expands; the urban growth boundary just outside your door.  I thought it would be neat to see these same houses in their current state. Lost in the sea of neighborhoods. It was a fun mystery to solve. Since I knew this is now NE 19th and it is within view of Alameda ridge it seemed a simple matter to start where 19th jogs at Tillamook and look for the house with the double gabled dormer. It turned out to be only one block north, just past the intersection of NE Thompson and 19th.”

Thanks Sam.

Since we’re on the topic of time travel and getting out for a walk to experience the history of the neighborhood (always a fun thing to do, particularly on a holiday evening with family or friends), check out these suggested local walks:

A walk around the Pearson dairy farm.

A walk along the Broadway streetcar route.

A walk around the perimeter of the Alameda Park plat.

Hoping you enjoy Christmas past and present this week, and best wishes for the New Year.

-Doug

Alameda sewer geek-out

We’ve been spending some time at the City of Portland Archives lately, which is something we recommend. The staff there are always helpful, knowledgeable, patient and friendly too. One of the nice things about visiting is that you might run into something you didn’t know you needed to know, and that might just amaze you when you really think about it. Like this:

Courtesy City of Portland Archives file AP/25016, January 5, 1934.

The same view, looking north on NE 24th at Alameda, in December 2017.

On a recent visit, we bumped into some old city documents and photographs that provide a major archival document and engineering geek-out for us and possibly for one or two AH other readers: 110-year-old sewer plans for Alameda and repair photos from the 1930s.

OK, we know this isn’t going to interest everyone, but the drawings below pertain to the very earliest construction activity in our neighborhood. When you really look at them—and realize this universe of sloping interconnected pipes was carefully thought up and then dug deep into the ground and placed by hand—you have to appreciate the early planners and builders. Have a look (click to enlarge) and then we’ll analyze what we see.

Courtesy City of Portland Archives, record number M/13197.

What we’re looking at here are elevation drawings that show a cross-section of Alameda streets and slopes and how the sewer system relates to the grid above the surface. The measurement between the dashed line (which is ground level shown as feet above sea level, 243′ at the top of the ridge) and pipe placement shows how deep these pipes are. Pretty deep in some places. The red numbers indicate the number of feet between the indicated junctions. The percentage numbers indicate the slope of each line (up to 22 percent slope coming off the ridge). The whole idea here is to have positive drainage through the entire system (thank you, gravity). The label “SP” indicates the diameter of the pipe used. Pipe dimensions start smaller to the north and get larger as the sewers run south, a function of the growing number of connections into the main line as the sewers head for the main trunk collector sewer which is under Sullivan’s Gulch. There are many nuances to be seen here. Interested in learning more about the history of sewers (not a question that gets asked very often, I’d say)? I’ve probably lost you by here, but just in case, check this out.

This sewer system was one of the first construction items completed when Alameda was built. Grading for the streets, curbs and sidewalk construction followed. If you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Elwood Wiles” stamp on our sidewalks and wondered who he was, check out this earlier post. Among many other things, Wiles was a former Alameda resident (maybe you’ve walked by his house on Bryce just east of Regents).

Evidently, aside from the engineering challenge of getting sewage safely and predictably down from Alameda Ridge, construction of that first sewer system posed financial and legal challenges as well. The Alameda Land Company wanted to be able to hook its sewer system into the existing Irvington sewer system, which made sense since it was all downhill on its way to Sullivan’s Gulch (where today’s I-84 runs) which was home to the major sewer line that drained into the Willamette River. (Read more about how the eastside gulches drained sewage directly into the Willamette River and were eventually filled in. But that’s a different topic…let’s stay on track here).

Irvington and Alameda were in competition for real estate sales and there was no love lost between the two development companies. Irvington was not about to foot the bill for construction of a sewer system just to have it be used for free by neighbors up the hill. A restraining order was filed by Irvington against the Alameda Land Company in 1910 and eventually the city had to step in and referee exactly how system development charges were going to be apportioned. Ultimately, Alamedans paid for construction of their own sewer system, a portion of the costs for their sewer that drained into Irvington, and their share of the costs when the city constructed the main collector sewer in Sullivan’s Gulch in 1911. Interesting to note that over the years the usually friendly Irvington-Alameda rivalry took on a life of its own beyond sewer lawsuits, which you can read more about here and here.

During our recent visit to City Archives we also learned that Alameda’s sewer system did not stand the test of time. Things started falling apart in the 1930s. We came across photos and an engineering report from 1934 that details the very expensive reconstruction of more than 1,700 feet of sewer all along NE 24th from north of Prescott to south of Alameda. Here’s another view of that work, looking north on 24th. The house near the center of the frame is on the northwest corner of 24th and Prescott.

Courtesy City of Portland Archives, file AP/20614, January 5, 1934.

Similar view in December 2017

This was a costly job: $13,622.57 which employed a small army of 48 laborers for two months and required trenching in some places 30 feet below the surface of the street. The construction report placed blame for the work squarely on methods used by the Alameda Land Company when they were hurrying their system into the ground back in 1911:

City of Portland Civil Works Administration Report 35-26W-76, March 20, 1934.

Back in 1911, using the drawings referenced here, workers dug deep trenches under what would become Alameda’s streets. At the bottom of these trenches, they used heavy wooden timbers to build long three-sided “box tunnels” without tops. Into these continuous long narrow boxes they placed fill dirt and sewer pipe. Using this common method, they were supposed to completely fill around the pipe with sand and dirt then close off the top of the box with a heavy wood cover before filling the trenches back in to street level. But that didn’t happen.

Eventually the unsupported weight of sand and gravel settling in from above crushed the box and the sewer pipe. The surface of NE 24th also dropped as all the soil below street level began to work its way lower and lower into the collapsed box tunnel. The result: a cave-in at the surface of the street, crushed sewer pipes below and one heck of an expensive mess.

Fortunately, for City Engineer L.G. Apperson, the city had the original drawings on hand and knew where to start looking to solve the problem.

Never underestimate the value of a good archive!

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