An old house has soul

Happy New Year Alameda History readers. Yes, you’re in the right place.

We’re starting out 2016 with a new look, which you will have noticed. Most things are about in the same places you would expect to find them. We’re doing some tidying up after the move to our new format, so if you have a question or see something out of place, let us know. Almost all of our original content is now here on the premises.

We’ve spent some time with back issues of The Oregonian over the quiet week between Christmas and New Years and have turned up all kinds of interesting gems and an actual real insight or two. We’d like to share one of the gems here as a way of getting our new format and new year off on the right foot. We’re glad to be the one out of ten and bet you are too. Enjoy.

11-3-1929 Old houses have soul

From The Oregonian, November 3, 1929

Stay tuned for a new look!

In the life of an old house, we know it’s important to renovate, refine, upkeep and maintain or things start to fall apart, or at least not work so well. This week, as we’ve begun to make a few improvements to the look and function of Alameda Old House History, we have learned the blog design framework we’re using is no longer supported. Uh oh. We’ve also been thinking for some time that it might be nice to use more of the visual page here on screen, and to continue to broaden the community of interest in connecting past and present in old homes, buildings and neighborhoods.

So for 2016, a few changes. First, a fresh look that we’ll be rolling out in the next day or so. Nothing fancy, it’s in keeping with our overall tone and style and we think it’s an improvement. Some things will look familiar, all of our existing content will move over, and you’ll be able to find your way around. Stay tuned, and let us know what you think.

Second, we’ve linked the site to a Facebook presence.  One of our goals with the blog has always been to get more people appreciating and hooked on the history of their homes, neighborhoods and old buildings. Click the Facebook like button on the sidebar and share with your friends.

We’ll start the new year with a great piece we’ve found in The Oregonian from 1929 about the soul of an old house. You’ll like it. And then we’ll wrap up the Beaumont photo series with one last great photo before moving into a list of topics for the year ahead including demolitions, the Alameda stairs, more on local mom-and-pop stores, a bunch of then-and-now paired photos and others. Any suggestions or things you’d like to see here? Neighborhood history mysteries to explore? Old photos or documents we should see?

Thanks for being along with us on the history ride, and Happy New Year.

-Doug

Beaumont 1927 Construction Photo Series

Four more tantalizing views of the Beaumont corner at 42nd and Fremont from the late 1920s (we think June 1927), all showing some major trenching and dirt-moving activity out in front of the shops on the north side of the street. All four are from the collection of Beaumont Dry Goods shopkeeper Bessie Kramer and her grandson Paul Kirkland. If you need help orienting yourself, we’ve placed current companion views to each of these at the bottom of this post.

You’ll recall from our earlier posts that Bessie Kramer ran the Beaumont Dry Goods and Book Shelf store in the 1930s, which—based on Polk City Directory records—we believe started out life as Fremont Dry Goods in 1927 here on the north side of Fremont, about where today’s Americana Frame shop is now, and later moved with a name and ownership change to the south side, where Shop Adorn is today, when construction of that building was finished in the fall of 1928.

Incidentally, we’re mapping the comings and goings of Beaumont’s various businesses over the years, and doing some homework on the Beaumont Market/Gazelle commercial building on the south side of Fremont at 41st (which is actually two buildings built seven years apart) so stay tuned for that. If you have photos or insights to contribute on the general topic of Beaumont business over the years, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, have a good look at the images below which we believe were shot all about the same time (click on each one for a larger view), and when you’re done, come back here for some discussion.

Beaumont Construction 1

East view

Let’s start by orienting ourselves here. Look carefully at the address over the door of the shop to the left, which is Fremont Dry Goods, 1213 East Fremont Street North. You can’t quite see the business name in the upper left, but you’ll see it in the next photograph. It reads “Fremont Dry Goods.” After Portland’s Great Renumbering in 1931, that address became 4223 NE Fremont, today’s Americana Frame. Next door to the right, at today’s 4225 NE Fremont, is Fremont Pharmacy, home of ice cream, cigars, drugs and on this day lots of fireworks. The pharmacy business shown here, (which moved across the street in 1929 and became a neighborhood fixture in the shop occupied by today’s Gazelle) is known to us today as Silhouette, a tailoring shop. There are two more businesses out of frame to the left–Buy Rite Grocery and Beaumont Hardware–but we’ll get to those in a moment. Click here to keep reading…

Then and Now | Criticize this house

A brief pause from the Beaumont photos here on AH to make a deep dive into back copies of The Oregonian and other research into several stories we’re working on, and to learn more about the early Beaumont business district. Interesting stuff, so stay tuned.

It’s always easy for us to lose ourselves in the serendipity of research, especially during the quiet days at the end of the year.

While looking for other things, we’ve come across some small gems. Here’s one from September 2, 1928: It’s either an interesting approach to real estate advertising, or a clever form of early market research, or both. It also makes for a good Then and Now. Check it out:

9-2-1928 House criticism ad (1)

 

4404 NE Cesar Chavez Blvd

926 East 39th Street North is today’s 4404 NE Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard, in northeast Portland’s Wilshire neighborhood.

Margaret Gray Montgomery took out several other classified advertisements during this period, including one that advertised her office being located at 910 East 40th Street North (4324 NE 40th). A site office in addition to the Porter Building address? Curiously, Margaret Gray Montgomery didn’t appear in city directories as a builder or otherwise connected to the real estate business, wasn’t listed as owner of this or the 40th Street property in construction or city records, and was invisible to the federal census of 1930 and 1940. For what it’s worth, the 11th floor of the Porter building (see bottom of ad) was a hot spot for real estate and mortgage companies in the late 1920s.

As a postscript with a story to tell: a three-line classified ad in the March 30, 1931 The Oregonian, sandwiched between other ads about house foreclosures and repossessed furniture, reports:

Crawford Range for sale, also dining room rug and Hoover; will sacrifice, leaving city tomorrow evening. Also equity in beautiful home, 926 E. 39th N.

Hmm.

Turning back the clock in Beaumont: Photo No. 2

For our second installment in the Beaumont-Wilshire photo series, let’s take a look at a scene that will be simultaneously familiar and a bit exotic, at least to our modern eyes. There’s lots to look at here in this view to the west on Fremont from NE 42nd, so let’s just stare at this for a minute (click on the picture twice to open up a larger view) and then come back here to analyze what we can see.

42nd and Fremont, about 1929

NE 42nd and Fremont, looking west, about 1929. Photo courtesy of Paul Kirkland.

The first thing that jumps out are the powerlines: high tension, high elevation, lots of them and probably lots of power thrumming through to feed the new homes in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood. Note the lines taking off to the left and right while the main feed runs east-west along the north side of Fremont. Good thing we’ve restrung these over the years. Poles are still there in what looks like the same places, just not quite as toweringly tall.

Back to the picture, look left of center and you’ll see the familiar form of today’s Beaumont Middle School, then known simply as Beaumont School, a fully-contained K-8. Built in 1926 by Stebinger Brothers general contractors at a total cost of $225,000 from a design by Portland school architect George Jones, the school was both hearth and namesake for the neighborhood, hosting generations of local kids. Look beyond the school to the left (west) and you can see one of the portable units that functioned as the first Beaumont School starting in 1915, and then after 1926 was the venue for Beaumont’s shop and “manual training” classes. Look carefully and you can see there were actually a couple of buildings there. Alameda School was based out of portable units in the early years as well: something that we’ve written about here on the blog. Check out these stories here and here.

Our photo shows a 1928 Ford Model A Truck in the mid-ground, backed up to four businesses located where Pizzicato, Americana Frame and Silhouette are today on the north side of Fremont at NE 42nd. These buildings were built in 1929 and are still standing today—with some significant modifications. The “Dutch Village” commercial block across the street on the southside, which houses today’s Beaumont Market, is not visible in this photo, but was built in 1929. More about that building and the commercial hustle and bustle of the neighborhood coming up in future posts.

The four businesses visible in this early photo are Beaumont Hardware (which has since moved east a block); Henry and Anna Witt’s Buy Rite Grocery; Fremont Dry Goods Company; and Beaumont Pharmacy (which later moved across the street to the southside where Gazelle is today, where it became a neighborhood fixture for its soda fountain among other things). Not visible in this picture but tucked into these spaces in the years that followed were John King, barber; Gustaf Pulos and Absolom Barnard Shoe Repair; and Charles E. Riggs, grocer.

Also visible is what looks like rough surfacing of Fremont. Looks like dirt or gravel to us in this picture. We know that paving was a premium in early Portland, but our research suggests this stretch of road had indeed been paved by then. The next several pictures will show some street and sidewalk work in front of these businesses—which may have been why the photos were taken in the first place—creating some paving and road surfacing needs.

Lastly, the arc and sweep of tire tracks in the lower left of this photo might suggest streetcar tracks to some. But just for clarity, that wasn’t the case. We’ll write about the Beaumont streetcar in a future post, but it didn’t pass through here: it came up Wisteria and NE 41st, stopping in the vicinity of Klickitat Street. Stay tuned for more on that.

Time travel’s kind of neat, eh? Thanks Paul. Wondering what this intersection will look like 100 years from now…

 

Amazing early photos from the Beaumont neighborhood

If you’re a frequent AH visitor, you know we love old photographs, particularly when they include a house or building still around today, a vintage street scene that transports us back in time, or maybe a neighborhood mystery that needs solving.

Here’s an amazing photo you might think was taken in rural Oregon, maybe in the thick Douglas-fir forest up near Mt. Hood. Have a good look at the picture before you scroll down to see exactly where it’s from (click on the image for a very sharp and enlarged version).

 

40th and Failing looking Northwest

Ready for its actual location: Northeast 40th and Failing, looking northwest. Seriously.

Here’s the same view today.

Today 40th and Failing looking Northwest

This is the first of a series of photographs we’re going to roll out over the next few posts, showing the very early days of the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, dating back to the 1920s. Life-long resident Paul Kirkland sought us out after learning of our passion for old photos and wanted to make sure his photos had a good digital home and were appreciated. Thank you Paul, and no problem there. We were thrilled to see these photos, which are about as close as possible to time travel.

The common denominator in these images that we’ll roll out in the next few weeks is Paul’s grandmother, Bessie Kramer, who lived in the neighborhood and ran Beaumont Dry Goods and Book Shelf store at the corner of NE 43rd and Fremont.

Bessie Bartos Kramer Weber was born in Iowa in 1894 and first appears in the Oregon record in the 1920 federal census with her husband Jessie and infant daughter Maxine. In the 1920s and 1930s, she lived in the neighborhood in several locations both as a boarder and then a renter.

Grandson Paul says that when this picture was taken, probably in the mid-1920s, Bessie and her husband Jessie Kramer were living in the small hip-roofed house on the left (which we think has been added to over time and is today’s 3829 NE Failing). The house on the right, which has recently been on the market, is 3905 NE 40th, built in 1922.

Stay tuned: some amazing pictures of Bessie’s Beaumont business at NE 43rd and Fremont are next, which will provide the basis for some good discussion about the early Beaumont business district.

Thanks Paul!

Portland’s Great Renumbering, 1931-1933: Bringing order out of chaos

Throw together a couple dozen scattered and growing neighborhoods, at least five incorporated towns with their own municipal governments, a public transportation system owned and operated by a handful of different authorities and private companies, a real estate market on fire, and an expanding network of streets and main arterials running across the whole complicated map. Sounds like an administrative headache, doesn’t it?

That was the challenge facing local leaders in 1931 when Portland decided it needed a new addressing system. The old way just wasn’t working: letters, visitors, homebuyers and even deliverymen were getting lost.

By the mid 1920s, Portland’s east side neighborhoods were booming. Research we’ve done into building permit history shows Alameda’s heyday of construction was 1922. In those early years, some homes started out with one address, but had to be renumbered—some several times—as lots were developed and new homes built.

A remnant of Portland's early addressing system

If you look carefully when out walking, you might find clues to our old address system. This artifact was cast into a neighbor’s front steps when the street was East 30th Street North.

By 1926, the city engineer recognized the need to change our address system. Except for the alphabet district in northwest Portland, where streets were (and still are) alphabetical, there was no numerical or organizational logic about how we told each other where we lived or worked. No baseline starting point for address numbers like today’s use of the Willamette River and Burnside. No predictable and sequential set of numbers that go with each block (i.e. the 2400 block of any particular street being 24 blocks north or south of anywhere else). No primary districts (northeast, northwest, north, southwest and southeast). Just cardinal directions and a pack of numbers. By the late 1920s, Portland Postmaster John M. Jones reported that 2,000 pieces of mail were going astray each day because of the confusing and random addressing system.

After all, the fraying system in place had been cobbled together in the early 1890s when the cities of Portland, East Portland and Albina merged. In the intervening years, both the population and the territory of the city more than doubled.

Reflecting on our system’s need for help, one reporter for The Oregonian wrote: “Many a city planner and civic engineer had thrown up his hands or uttered oracular warnings at the antiquated way in which our city was numbered.”

FullSizeRender (5)

More evidence of Portland’s early addressing system when all east side streets had two cardinal directions. Most of these early cast-in-place curb identifiers have been lost to modernizing curb cuts. Another name frequently cast into our sidewalks is builder Elwood Wiles. Click here for a photo and short biography of Mr. Wiles.

City Commissioner Asbury Lincoln (A.L.) Barbur recognized the problem and assembled a group to look at other cities for examples and to assemble a system that fit Portland’s needs. Barbur, whose name you will recognize from the southwest Portland boulevard named to honor him, was one of Portland’s most civic-minded early leaders. Elected five times to two-year terms as city auditor between 1907-1917, Barbur ran successfully in 1920 for commissioner (his election slogan was “Let the People Rule”). Read the reporting from the day and you’ll find him a pragmatic, smart, get-it-done elected leader who was almost single-handedly responsible for the business model that resulted in the paving of Portland streets, as well as the push to change the address system. Barbur’s street paving model is worthy of its own story: with so many new gravel streets in need of work, Barbur led the city to buy and operate its own paving plant rather than contract it all out, which saved the city millions of dollars, got the job done, and attracted the ire of local contractors who branded him a socialist.

In early 1930, Barbur’s addressing committee looked first at the system in Philadelphia, and then at Milwaukee, Wisconsin for ideas. As they did their scoping work, they also held public meetings in Portland neighborhoods to hear ideas and build support. By December 1930, Barbur’s committee had crafted a plan and received unanimous support from 18 different community organizations.

The essential framework was the system we know today: Divide the city into five sectors: NE, NW, SE, SW and North (owing to the bend in the river). Burnside was to be the new baseline north and south; the river was already an effective east-west baseline. Blocks would be divided into sets of 100 numbers. And some substantial renaming would add continuity and order. Here’s an editorial from The Oregonian on May 13, 1931 that endorses specifics of the plan and makes the case for change.

5-13-1931 Editorial

 

On September 2, 1931, city council unanimously and enthusiastically passed the plan, including $10,000 to pay for ceramic number tiles for every house and building, and it created a workforce of unemployed men to get the job done. Here in Alameda, renumbering and renaming resulted in a numeric transformation, and the changing of at least two street names, Glenn became NE 32nd Place; Laura Avenue became Edgehill.

Work is done photo

From the July 16, 1933 edition of The Oregonian. Click on the image to read the full story.

From the fall of 1931 through the summer of 1933, crews of workers fanned out across 66 square miles of Portland pulling wheeled carts filled with ceramic numbers, aluminum trays to hold the numbers, and hammers and nails to anchor them to every Portland house or business. It took 23 months. Not everyone was happy: some were superstitious if assigned anything with a 13 in it. Others who operated certain established and illegal businesses out of their homes took down the new numbers so as to not confuse their loyal customers. But most Portlanders embraced the new system and caught on to its logic quickly.

A ringing endorsement from The Oregonian on July 16, 1933, coinciding with completion of the renumbering, summed up how the community responded to the transformation:

“To the business man, the hundred and one small tradesmen and to the ordinary citizen, this new and uniform numbering system meant a logical and simple way out of a puzzling network of miscellaneous addresses.”

 

1934_curb-numbering-se-elliott-ave_a2009-009-31661

Painting a new address on the curb in Portland’s Eliot neighborhood following the Great Renumbering. Photo courtesy of City of Portland Archives.

Then and Now | 2445 SE Hawthorne

Our friend Irene wrote the other day to share a picture of her grandparents’ home on SE Hawthorne: a beautiful, three-story Crafstman, built in 1910. She had the original street address (797) from before Portland’s Great Renumbering, which took place between 1931-1933. And she had a picture. That’s more than we often get to begin our old house history detective work, so it didn’t take much digging before we were ready to set out in the rain to connect past and present.

Here’s the photo pair:

FullSizeRender (4)2445 SE Hawthorne Close

Kind of hard to line up exactly in the footsteps of the photographer. Hawthorne has definitely been widened over the years and the traffic in that stretch today is not interested in slowing down. Plus, the trees and bushes have pretty much taken over the house. You have to look hard for the graceful lines. The distinctive overhanging eaves, the row of dentals at the top of the second story, the columns and robust brick pedestals, the porch baluster. All are still there, but fading. When we visited recently, we noted a large group of young men exiting the house heading out in the neighborhood, which made us think it might be a group home. Chances are the interior has been divided up into many small apartment rooms.

Irene’s mother Phyllis Jones was born into the house, which at the time was occupied by two generations of the Jones family—both shipbuilders and real estate investors. The elder: Rome Volti Jones and his wife Lulu Bennett Jones; the younger: Robert V. Jones and his wife Luella (this sounds like a researcher’s minefield with multi-generational names so similar). The Jones family moved to Pasadena in 1921, and sold the house to Peter Connacher, a lumberman, from Yacolt, Washington: a Pacific Northwest logging family name we definitely know.

Mystery solved. Next?

Birkemeier always remembered his first house

Ken Birkemeier, the prolific Alameda neighborhood designer and homebuilder, always remembered the first house he ever built: a cute little English storybook style home at 829 NE 41st.

 

Scan (3) (1)

829 NE 41st Avenue. Ken Birkemeier’s first homebuilding project. Photograph is from a 1932 story in The Oregonian about the sale of unused public property. The lot, located on a small peninsula just across the street from Laurelhurst School, had been kept in reserve in case the city needed it for school purposes, but was eventually purchased and developed by Birkemeier.

Birkemeier, whose work has come to signify the best of the Mid-Century Modern movement in Portland, built more than two dozen homes here in Alameda alone, often on steep or challenging lots.

According to homeowner and AH reader Gary Groce, Birkemeier dropped by one day during his later life, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, like a salmon returning back to where it all began. Groce wrote us recently with this account of his impromptu visit with the Mid-century Master.

As I recall, I was outside the house working on something when this largish car pulled up with an older couple inside. They were looking at the house. I walked over to the car and he introduced himself. My impression was that he had recently married this charming woman and wanted to show her the first house that he built. We invited them in and showed them things we had done to restore the house as close to original as possible including the re-acquisition of original art-deco slipper shade lights, etc.

I vividly remember him telling me as he looked at the mahogany beamed ceiling… “when we got the garage up, I used that as a shop and I remember cutting those brackets for the beams on my band saw in the garage.”

I remember him saying, “I used the best materials I could find because I wanted it to be right.”

I lamented to him that the original fireplace façade in the living room had been changed at least twice and that someday, I hoped to restore it to original. He very graciously invited me to his home in the west hills as he thought he might have blue prints, and sketches of the fireplace. I took him up on his offer.  I remember his home being this unbelievable, sprawling mid century modern with a fantastic view.  In retrospect, that home was undoubtedly of his own design and build. Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to find anything of interest on our house so we just spent our time visiting.

I came away with the impression that this was a very successful, intelligent man who never lost the common touch. Very warm and personable.

In the years following the passing of his wife of 50 years (Marge), Birkemeier married Ramona, who he evidently wanted to see where all the homebuilding work began. Birkemeier died in 1996. The last house he built in Alameda is at 2830 NE Regents Drive (1952).

To read more about Birkemeier’s life and work, check out the profile here on the blog.

With thanks to Gary for sharing this memory.

Another tear down: 3416 NE Alameda

We’ve received word this week of another pending tear-down in the neighborhood: the 1928 Tudor located on multiple lots at 3416 NE Alameda, just east of 33rd.

FullSizeRender (3)

3416 NE Alameda, slated for demolition this summer.

We’ve walked past this home and noted the exceptional landscaping the high peaked-ceilings and the new roof. We’ve also noted that it contains several lots, which increasingly means it’s a sitting duck target for developers seeking tear-downs and rebuilds of multiple homes. Last week, we received a letter from the Bureau of Development Services letting us know of the impending tear-down, and that under Portland’s new demolition delay period, an appeal by a qualified organization (like a neighborhood association) is possible until July 6th.

The home has a for sale sign up at the moment, with a sticker that says pending, but the correspondence we received from the city indicates it has been purchased by Everett Custom Homes.

If you’d like to appreciate this fine example of Tudor revival, you’d better look fast.

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