Part 3: Alberta Bungalow Grocery Restored

Third of three parts: Bringing a great old building back from the brink

store (corner view) (1)

In 2002, with much of its south-side clapboard replaced with T-111 siding, a clear southward slump, rotted floors, and replacement aluminum sliding windows, the bungalow-grocery at NE 27th and Going was crumbling and weeks away from being torn down. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

It’s been a while—regrettably, a very busy spring—but just to refresh from Part 1: In 1910, the neighborhoods around the busy young Alberta Street were at the edge of a very fast-growing Portland. As real estate values and more people caught up with the region north of Prescott and south of Killingsworth, a booming residential and retail area began to grow.

One particular building at the northwest corner of NE 27th and Going merged both residential and retail. In Part 2, we covered how the modest bungalow storefront opened originally as a men’s furnishings store, and was adapted over time and changed hands through the generations, closely integrated with neighborhood life until it went out of retail use in the mid 1960s.

Deferred maintenance began to catch up with the building, and when it was sold to a developer in 2002, the property was well on its way to becoming a vacant lot. Fortunately for the building, an adventurous fixer-upper couple named Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bought it four months later and began to bring it back to life.

porch exterior-untouched

Missing siding, aluminum sliders and a rotting back porch were the least of the worries. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

“I was attracted to its unusual live-work facade which I thought was very handsome, unique, and proportionally graceful,” remembers Crouch. But he also remembers that it was in very sorry shape. The southeast corner was rotted and sinking. The foundation and the floor of the store had to be completely replaced. The residential kitchen was a disaster.

 

kitchen untouched

The worn-out kitchen in the residence area, looking out the back door toward the porch. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

While it had been almost 40 years since being an active retail store, Crouch and Eckrich found two clues, including a Franz Bread ad and the word “LIPTON’s” etched into window glass. Other than that, the store space held no clues to generations of retail activity. “It was very spare: plaster walls and painted wood floors.  Florescent shop lighting.  No original fixtures, stencilling, or noteworthy mouldings. There was a wood stove taking up a lot of floor space.”

 

new concrete floor

Inside the store space looking toward the front windows. Note the new foundation wall on the right (the building had to be lifted by jacks and the new foundation poured underneath). The new floor shown here is a poured concrete slab piped with warm water to keep the floor toasty during the winter. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

guest room walls stripped (1)

One of the few clues to the building’s earlier retail life. An advertisement for Franz bread. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

Crouch and Eckrich invested sweat equity and financial capital in the restoration, and did so in a creative way. “We used some of the original wood flooring in a step-up elevated dining platform and perimeter bench in the main room.  It turned out to be more work than it was probably worth, as the planks had been compressed by traffic patterns of 100 yeas of foot traffic. Some hand planing was required to work out the refinishing.  We put up salvaged tin ceiling tiles on the new span joists we ran to accommodate a master bedroom in the 1/2 story above.”

 

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A view of the finished store space (front doors and windows are on the left). Note the fireplace, salvaged ceiling tiles, new hydronic slab, and built-in perimeter bench in the former store space. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

 

A gallery of photos was posted on a real estate website when the building was sold in November 2013, so click around and take a look. Chad and Sheryl have done a great service to the future and to the past with their careful, thoughtful restoration. The Smythes, the Coulters and the other proprietors–plus the generations of families and neighbors who bought their groceries and necessities here–would definitely recognize the building and think it’s in fine shape for being 105 years old.

Today, Alberta’s bungalow-grocery is an attractive and vibrant old building that serves as a kind of time capsule for the neighborhood, showing just how nicely old buildings can be restored and repurposed instead of razed and replaced. In a neighborhood where change is the common denominator, this success story holds hope for the future.

 

 

Part 2: Alberta’s bungalow grocery

Second of Three Parts: The life and times of a neighborhood store and its people

You get the picture from Part 1: In 1910, the neighborhoods around Alberta Street feels a bit thrown together and rough-and-tumble. But investment and expansion are impressive. A strong sense of neighborhood identity is emerging (thanks in part to business booster H.D. Wagnon other early business owners, early residents and real estate developers). People are coming from near and far because property is cheaper here than in other eastside neighborhoods and there’s a new streetcar that provides dependable service.

Plus, plans underway for a new Willamette River crossing that in 1913 would become the Broadway Bridge were changing the way people thought about living and working in Portland.

 

Built and Run by the Smyths

Enter Michael and Mary Jane Smyth, shopkeepers from Ireland who were running a mom-and-pop grocery near 79th and Southeast Stark (then known as Baseline Road). Michael was born in Ireland in 1842 and immigrated to the US in 1864. Mary Jane was born in 1850 and arrived in the US in 1875.

By 1910, the Smyths had run several small retail shops in Portland and at least one in eastern Oregon. The couple never had children and may have seen the Alberta District investment as setting themselves up for retirement. At ages 68 and 62, they were starting their new venture at NE 27th and Going somewhat late in life.

The original plumbing permit for the building shows construction complete at the end of September 1910, three years before the curbs and sidewalks were installed by local contractor Geibisch and Joplin, and well before the streets were even paved. According to the Polk City Directory, the Smyths opened their business in 1911 as a men’s furnishings store. By 1914, the listing had changed to dry goods and the Smyths were living six doors to the north, with the residence side of the new building rented out.

Mary Jane died on October 12, 1917 and her funeral mass was held at St. Charles Catholic Church, which was then located near the corner of NE 33rd and Webster, two blocks south of today’s Concordia New Seasons (the parish church relocated to NE 42nd years later following a devastating fire and financial hardships). After Mary Jane died, Michael took a rented room in the neighborhood and continued to run the dry goods store on his own until 1921 when he sold it for $3,375. Michael died on February 20, 1922.

 

The Coulters Take Over: Alameda Park Grocery

William and Isabella Coulter, immigrants from England via Canada, bought the business from Michael Smyth, having seen it advertised in the March 2, 1921 edition of The Oregonian as a “very fine bungalow-grocery.” They had shopkeeping experience from several years in Missoula, Montana. It’s unclear if they gave the store its name, or if they adopted the name used by the Smyths, but there it is, listed in the 1928 Polk Directory as the Alameda Park Grocery.

This is unusual for a couple reasons: 27th and Going is near but not actually inside the Alameda Park plat; and, there was a much more prominent store on the southwest corner of 24th and Fremont known as the Alameda Grocery. This must have been confusing, at least. No word about what that rivalry may have been like, but the 24th and Fremont business advertised widely with its name, and the bungalow grocery with its slight variation never shows up in any newspaper advertising or any other annual Polk Directory.

While the naming convention might have been confusing, we know it to be fact thanks to a photograph from David White, grandson of the Coulters, that clearly shows the name Alameda Grocery painted in big black letters on the side of the store. You can see the store and the letters here over the shoulder of these two best friends: William and Isabelle’s daughter Agnes is on the right and her friend Marjorie Ellis is on left. Taken about 1926, looking east on Going a few doors west of 27th. Photo courtesy of David White.

Looking south toward 27th and Going, 1926

William Coulter passed away in the mid 1920s, and Isabelle took over the business on her own, with help from daughter Agnes, until 1943. This 22-year period was probably the best era for this little building and its business: Isabelle ran a tight ship and took good care of the place.

Somewhere during the Coulter years, this incredible photo was taken, which we have paired with the same view today (spoiler alert for Part 3).

Isabelle Coulter, about 1930, 4601 NE 27th

Isabelle Coulter in front of her store, about 1930. Photo courtesy of David White. Click the photo for a larger view (there’s so much to see here you better take a closer look). Below, that same view today.

Alameda Park Grocery

 

From Retail to Church to Artist Studio

Charles and Vera Fiebke bought the property from Isabelle Coulter in 1943 and sold it on June 20, 1944 to Henry and Ruth Rieckers, who owned the business until 1953. During this time, the business was referred to as “Rieckers” and as “Rieckers Grocery.” A classified advertisement in The Oregonian on March 3, 1953 indicated the Rieckers were retiring and putting the business up for sale, asking $6,500.

On June 24, 1953, the property was purchased from the Rieckers by John Henry Moad and his wife Lucy Jane Moad. They operated the store—as Moad’s Grocery—until 1961 when it was sold to Robert A. and Louise M. Klatke, who changed the name to Bob’s Quik Stop Market. But not for long.

An article in The Oregonian on June 29, 1962 reports a robbery at Bob’s Quick Stop. Robert, age 56, was robbed with a knife to his throat. A few months later, he and Louise put the store back on the market, selling it to Agnes Martin on November 2, 1962. Sometime during the mid-1960s, the building ceased functioning as a store.

As we know from earlier posts here on the blog, this was the beginning of a tough time for mom and pop neighborhood grocery stores. The whole retail grocery business was changing and local grocery stores were quickly becoming convenience rather than primary shopping locations.

The Martin family owned the property for the next six years and at least one reference to the building shows it as the Mt. Zion Church of God in Christ. The Polk Directory for 1965 shows the building as vacant, and in 1967, it is listed simply as L.S. Martin. On September 17, 1968, the Martins sold the property to Carl E. Bass (son) and Viola Matheson (mother). Bass, who was a potter, turned the space into an artist’s studio and lived in the property until his death in April 2001 at the age of 73.

The property was purchased from the Bass estate by investor/developers George and Isabelle Zitcak, who held it for just four months before selling it in April 2002 to Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich. This is where the story gets interesting, which will be the subject of Part 3.

To whet your appetite for the next chapter of the bungalow grocery, we’ll leave you with this photograph, which shows just how far down the building had faded during its later years and why it was a leading candidate for the wrecking ball by 2002.

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The bungalow grocery at low ebb, about 2002. Photo courtesy of Chad Crouch.

Suffice to say that Mary Jane and Michael Smyth, and Isabelle Coulter, would probably have cried to see it in this shape.

Next up: Chad Crouch and Sheryl Eckrich bring the bungalow grocery back from the brink.

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now | “Dad & Lois” Long Ago

AH reader and fellow old-picture lover Chris Wilson has shared this photograph, found last year at a yard sale near Rocky Butte. Click on it for a close-up look. Lot’s of detail, including the original pre-address change address of 605 (on the column above the dad’s head).

2835 NE 55th

Our only clue: written on the back is “Dad & Lois at home place.” We love mysteries like this. With a little digging we’ve found this house in the Rose City Park neighborhood (not too far from Archbishop Howard School) known today as 2835 NE 55th Avenue. This stately Portland four-square was built in 1910. Apparently, Chris Wilson may have offered it to the current homeowners, who reportedly weren’t interested. So he wrote us, knowing that we love photos of old houses (especially with people in them), and that we love to solve old house and old picture mysteries.

Here it is today:

2835 NE 55th Today

After looking back at building permits, census records and a little deductive reasoning, our hunch is that this is Christopher J. (Dad) and Lois Schmiedeskamp. In the teens and early 1920s, the family owned and operated a grocery store and meat market at 7224 NE Sandy Blvd., right next to Fairley’s Pharmacy (home today to Berni’s Beauty Salon). Later, CJ went into real estate and mortgage banking.

Also at home around the time of the old photo were mom Mildred, brothers Charles and Karl, and sister Edith.

A quick look at the phone book today suggests the Schmiedeskamps are still in Portland. We’re guessing they could be interested in seeing this yard-sale-salvaged photo of their old home place.

Bring on the next mystery!

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 | George Asa Eastman Home

Eastman House Then Eastman House Now

Here’s the home of Portland architect George Asa Eastman, photographed 100 years ago to illustrate a story in the May 5, 1914 edition of The Oregonian about how the Alameda Park neighborhood was “forging ahead.” The subtitle to the headline was “Few districts enjoy more substantial growth than suburban park. New homes are sprinkled over many handsome streets.” Eastman designed this home and supervised its construction in 1912.

While the story didn’t recognize Eastman’s contribution to local construction trends, he was a principal architect for the Oregon Home Builders, which built more homes in Alameda Park and Olmsted Park than any other builder.

You’ll recognize this house today at 2628 NE Stuart Drive, where some recent major changes in landscaping have enabled a full appreciation of the Craftsman style home and the unique site on the sidehill of Alameda Ridge. For a short time after construction, NE Stuart Drive was known as Rugby Drive, a name that is still visible if you know where to look. An accident on the property in 1917 gave rise to the name–still in local usage–of Deadman’s Hill.

A careful look at then-and-now will reveal that the top floor open porch of the house has been enclosed; many windows have been replaced and a couple have been added; a new deck and walkway have been added along the lower level; trees have come and gone (but appear in similar locations); a power pole has been added in the foreground.

Eastman was active in Portland from about 1909 until he moved to Detroit in 1916. He died in 1920. Stay tuned for more on Eastman and the Oregon Home Builders: both are the subject of current inquiry and research.

Local Church Building Comes Back to Life

Zion Church Then and Now

We’ve been watching a significant transformation underway these days at the former Zion German Congregational Church, once also known as the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, just across from Irving Park at 831 NE Fremont Avenue. Maybe you’ve driven by in the evenings like we have, and seen the lights on in the sanctuary or the steeple tower.

Activity here is a switch. It’s been dark and quiet for years: one of those buildings whose future you worry about when you pass by. Not so today. Owned by Gresham Baptist Church, the building (built in 1914) and its adjacent parish house are coming back to life through a renovation by the Door of Hope Church, which plans to open its bright red doors early next month.

The building has a long and vibrant history. Part of the Volga German community in Portland, it was once teeming with Russian-German families engaged in worship, committees and community service, for a half a century, pretty much from its dedication on November 8, 1914.

Zion Church Cornerstone

Cornerstone of the Zion German Congregational Church, set on July 19, 1914. The building was opened in November 1914 and was in full and active use by the Russian-German community until the early 1970s.

In fact, only German language was allowed in the building up until the late 1950s when an English language service was first offered, a change that signaled the changing demographics in the Russian-German community that ultimately led to their departure from the building in 1967 1972 . In the mid 1980s, the building was home to the Zion Baptist Church.

For a fascinating and highly detailed examination of Northeast Portland’s Russian German community—including information on this and other churches in the neighborhood built and used about the same time—be sure to check out Steve Schrieber’s excellent website www.volgagermans.net where you can also find specifics on this church.

And as long as you’re clicking around, here’s a link to the Door of Hope Church community, which plans to move in full time in early February. During our recent visit to the building, we learned there are about 1,000 members in this church, and that there will be four services each Sunday. Here’s one more link: to the Sabin neighborhood website which does a nice job of reporting on developments in the neighborhood and is actively engaged on land use and historic building topics. The church building is actually in the King neighborhood.

Any time a dejected old building comes back to life, it’s worth having a look, so we dropped in recently for a visit, and toured from the ground up to the steeple. Here’s what we saw.

The basement, once a large, single, dark and open space, now holds multiple brightly painted classrooms designed with kids in mind. The new press-board floors have been treated with a clear Swedish finish, making them glow with warmth and light. Interesting and attractive flooring material, almost like cork.

Basement Rooms

In the far southeast corner of the building, you pass by the twin doorways that lead out onto Fremont and climb the stairs into bright light entering through the south gothic windows, and enter directly into the sanctuary, where more work becomes immediately evident: newly refinished stairs, floors and wainscot; repaired and painted walls; repaired stage area; restored lighting fixtures. It’s clear this has been a busy place lately. Prior to renovation, the floors were covered with a very worn red carpet and the walls were pink to match. Years of deferred maintenance was visible wherever you looked. Not so today: seemingly every surface has been stripped, finished and renewed.

Stairs

At the top of the stairs, you enter onto the main floor and become aware of the balcony overhead. Many of the pews here are original, but Door of Hope has brought in many chairs as well, creating a somewhat less formal and more flexible feel.

First Floor

The center of attention on the main floor (below) is the arched alcove area and stage, rimmed by lights and framed by the three windows. You can also see the new sound system, and glass railing added to the balcony edge. Electrical and other system updates are evident.

Stage

The stairs to the second floor are lit by bright light coming in through the window walls on the south side of the building making the newly refinished stair treads, railings and banisters glow.

Going Up

Top of Stairs

From the Balcony

The view from the balcony (above) provides a great vantage on the stage below, and a good look at the restored ceiling lights.

Crow's Nest

One of the most intriguing and comfortable spaces in the building (above) is the pastor’s study and office, which are located in the bell tower and provide a commanding view out on Irving Park and Fremont. The ladder at far right leads to additional office/study space above with desk, bookshelves and more great views. When the lights are left on in these rooms at night, the steeple tower glows, signaling the transformation that is happening to this building.

With the rising number of demolitions in the neighborhood and a growing pressure to redevelop properties (have you been watching the small abandoned 1930s service station at 7th and Knott, which probably won’t be around much longer?) it’s satisfying to see a once vibrant old icon of the neighborhood that shaped so many lives and memories come back from the brink.

Zion Church Night

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

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DSC_0020

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

Then and Now | Alameda Park Community Church

church-1923DSC_0012

In 1923, the Alameda Park Community Church was freshly built and attracting children from throughout the neighborhood. Construction of the church the year before created quite a stir and was even delayed due to a court injunction (check out this post which tells that story), but the building was eventually allowed to be sited in the triangular property near the corner of NE Regents and Mason. This view is looking north, standing at the southern tip of the triangle. Houses in the background of the 1923 photo are still there, but no longer visible due to vegetation and more recent construction (including a new wing of the church, visible on the right in the color photo). Click either photo to enlarge.

Known originally as “the bunaglow church,” the design of the building was carefully chosen to fit into a neighborhood fixated on building restrictions that prohibited everything but residential structures. Today the building is the home of the Subud Center.

Alameda Then and Now

In the course of research over the years, we’ve come across quite a few pictures of neighborhood homes, which we’ve always squirreled away into the archive for some future use. Many of them are grainy, some are half-toned from old newspapers. Some have coffee spilled on them. Each one tells a story, particularly when paired with a contemporary photo of the same view.

With the start of the new year, we’re inaugurating a regular feature that we call “Alameda Then and Now” to plumb the archive a bit and explore how time has changed the face of the neighborhood (or not, in some cases). The rule is that the then picture has to be before 1962, and the earlier the better. We’ll be pulling from our archive and will do our best to stay within the footprint of the Alameda Park plat. If you have images we should consider, please pass them along.

We’ve created a category here on the blog, and a menu button on the top right which you can use to check back on the growing collection.

Like a family’s picture album, the faces of our homes contain precious tales of our life and times.

This pair is a little eerie, like the family just stepped out of the frame.  The house, located on NE 30th Avenue, is substantially the same as when it was built in 1912. In the top photo, the Morrison family gathers on their front porch, about 1920. Below, the same view today. The wooden steps are long gone and the columns and porch walls have been restored, but the decorative rafter tails, door, windows and siding are the same this family knew almost 100 years ago. Click on each image for a larger view.

Stay tuned for the then and now next pair…

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