Still walking

Back in March when the pandemic changed the way the world works, we were amazed and inspired by all the walkers, runners, riders and extra-neighborliness afoot in these Northeast Portland neighborhoods. With all of us under shelter-in-place orders back then and still trying to come to terms with what was going on around us, we needed a new routine, some activity, a little uplift to our spirits and some exercise.

That’s walking.

Back then, we wrote up a few exploratory history walks around the neighborhood, and a little historical perspective on pandemics from 1918. If you haven’t walked those walks, they’re still there for you: the Broadway streetcar loop, the jaunt around the Pearson farm, the Alameda Park perimeter walk.

This afternoon when we were out for a long walk at dusk–which begins about 4:15 p.m. here at the bottom of the year–we were once again impressed with just how many people were out, even in the cold. Most everyone was wearing masks, all of us politely shifting to the other side of the street or up the middle, often with a wave, to make way for walkers headed in our direction. It’s the new social compact: we wondered how in a post-pandemic environment we’re going to train ourselves out of what has become an instinctual response to cross the street.

There’s plenty of other interesting history walks you might add to your walking routine. Don’t forget about the system of alleys between Ainsworth and Prescott from 33rd to 24th. You could cover a lot of territory in that network and get a whole other perspective on the neighborhood. Maybe walk the old Alberta Streetcar route. Or go find and walk around the block where Old Vernon School used to sit and see if you can find the clues of change.

Here’s another idea for a build-your-own history walk: There’s a section here on the blog called The Builders that features biographies of 12 of the most prolific homebuilders in this part of Northeast Portland. With each builder, we’ve also included a pretty complete list of houses and addresses built by that person. Pick out any of the builders and go walk by their work, spot the design or construction similarities.

Go, for instance, to the Kenny Birkemeier entry and string together a route past the addresses of 20 homes he built, all within walking distance. There’s even some old photos to compare against when you get there. You’d get a chance to climb some hills. Could be fun for an old house wonk like you.

If you have a young person in your midst looking for a lesson plan that’s a little different, check out the seven Home History School lesson plans we put together this spring. Good for kids of all ages.

How to get started? Start small with a simple stroll around your own block. There are intriguing clues to look for.

Stay well. Wear the mask. Keep walking.

One more for Billy Rowe

Like a giant postcard from 1946, the western wall of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern reappeared yesterday at NE 29th and Alberta as workers removed shingle tiles during a major building renovation. When we visited yesterday morning, workers had exposed the vibrant colors of the Coca-Cola ad painted in 1946, but something more had yet to be revealed. Check it out:

The former Billy Rowe’s Tavern, in restoration November 25, 2020.

Naturally, we wondered about Billy.

William Chauncey Rowe and wife Doris Isabelle Rowe opened the tavern at 2904 NE Alberta in 1943. Billy was a commissioner in the Boy Scouts, a member of the Portland Elks lodge and an active member in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Doris was a member of the Elks Auxiliary. Before going into the tavern business, Billy was vice president of Ballif Distributing Company, a beer distributor based in southeast Portland.

Maybe he’s one of the overcoats here in this photo, from the incredible collection of Oregon Journal photos at the Oregon Historical Society. This photo is not specifically dated, but caption information indicates sometime between 1933-1941 (old car aficionados could probably pin that down, guessing late 1930s).

Photo credit: Oregon Journal Negative Collection; Org. Lot 1368; Box 372; 372A1164

After leaving Ballif Distributing, Billy and Doris operated the tavern until their sudden death on the night of January 2, 1951 in a road accident north of Klamath Falls while returning to Portland. Newspaper reports describe a head-on crash in icy conditions. They were survived by two sons, Earl and Calvin.

The tavern appears to have passed out of Rowe family hands after that, but the name stuck (perhaps because it was painted in three-foot letters across the side of the building…the place was a local institution). In 1957, new owner Joseph Hoover was arrested on charges of promoting gambling on the premises and having a horoscope machine that made small payoffs to customers. Later that year, Portland City Council refused to renew Hoover’s tavern license.

Sometime after that–perhaps when the shingles went up on that west wall covering up Billy Rowe’s name–the place transitioned to Duke’s. Any AH readers able to share a story from the Billy Rowe era?

Update: On December 6th, the owners let us know the mural wall will have to come down due to high levels of lead paint. Click here to read more.

Peeling back the layers

We always love to see layers of history being revealed in buildings and places we think we know. Check out this view from today’s walk up Alberta. Here we are at the southeast corner of Alberta and NE 29th, the building that used to house Bernie’s Southern Bistro.

Looking at the west side of the building from NE 29th. Sunshine!

Workers were carefully removing the green shingles, exposing a huge advertisement for the real thing painted directly onto the original shiplap siding.

According to the permit, it looks like the building is getting a complete renovation, with all interior walls, stairs and fixtures on both floors coming out; construction of a new stair, an upgrade to the old storefront and a complete seismic upgrade. Big job.

Built in 1921-1922 by D.L. Duncan, the building housed multiple businesses in its early days: a repair shop, a shoe store, a print shop. In its middle years and most recently it’s been a place to meet for a drink or a meal. From about 1940 until the late 1960s, it was Billy Rowe’s Tavern and then Duke’s Tavern before becoming Bernie’s Bistro.

Small lettering just below the real thing suggests this advertisement was from the Billy Rowe’s era. Can you read the lettering? Looks like June 11, 1948. We know a few sign painters and will ask around for insights…there’s more to this story.

Alberta was a busy place in the 1920s-1930s. Research we’ve done shows that in 1930, there were more than 200 businesses on Alberta between MLK and NE 33rd, from pool halls to bakeries to grocery stores.

Here’s a post-script on Billy Rowe with another photo of the building later in the day.

Just for fun–and you’ll be forgiven for being distracted by what’s in the foreground–here’s another view of the same building. Yep, that’s the corner of Billy Rowe’s Tavern there on the left by the streetcar, on February 3, 1948, at NE 29th and Alberta. The photo was published in the Portland Transit Company’s 1947 Annual Report to illustrate the end of an era. The caption: “Walt Baker, trolley skipper since 1911, greets Merritt Lutman, pilot of a new Mack bus.”

Steeplejack Brewery coming soon to the church building at NE 24th and Broadway

For more than a century, the old church at the southeast corner of NE 24th and Broadway has been one of our neighborhood’s most visible landmarks, its distinctive Arts and Crafts steeple and bracketed gables signaling “turn here” to generations of neighbors heading home to Irvington, Alameda and points north.

Looking east on Broadway at the corner with NE 24th Avenue, about 1930. Courtesy of Portland City Archives, image 1999-004.319

Built at a time when much of the surrounding land was in transition from agriculture to residential and all the surrounding streets were gravel, this time traveler has witnessed generations of change.

Today, the old church is in the middle of its own significant change, having narrowly avoided being torn down and replaced by a five-story condominium. The Metropolitan Community Church sold the building in April 2019 to two northeast Portland business partners who are now adapting the old church into a brewery.

If you’ve recently passed by in the evenings and seen the stained glass windows all lighted up, you might have wondered what was happening. Neighborhood residents Brody Day and Dustin Harder have been busy taking things apart inside to see exactly what they have to work with and to coordinate with architects, engineers and designers as they develop the concept for the Steeplejack Brewing Company, which they hope to open in the summer of 2021.

The main sanctuary with pews (left), and recently with flooring material removed revealing floor joists. Photo courtesy Harder-Day.

Harder and Day are old college roommates from UC Santa Cruz who shared their first beer together in Austria way back when during a memorable study abroad term. That experience ignited a passion for brewing in Day who went on to become an accomplished home brewer and nationally recognized judge for brewing competitions. Over the years, Day has traveled across North America judging beers (and visiting breweries) and has always thought about how he’d like to start a commercial brewery of his own.

Following a move to Portland, Day connected with Harder and the two started planning a brewing business. In 2018 they began looking at properties and found the old church for sale, then owned by the Metropolitan Community Church of Portland. The congregation had been in the building since 1977 and had made the difficult decision to downsize to a building in Southeast Portland, putting the old church on the market for just over $1 million.

Day and Harder were one of two bids for the building: the other was from a local developer who wanted to demolish the church and build a five-story condo on the site. In April 2019, following a meeting with the pastor and the congregation—and assurance that Harder and Day wanted to keep the building intact—they successfully closed the deal.

Since then, it’s been a flurry of design activity, permitting meetings with the city and explorations of the old building to discover what they were working with structurally, and with the building’s fascinating history.

Opened in October 1909 as the First Universalist Church of Good Tidings, the building has been home to four separate church congregations over the years: First Universalist Church from 1909-1917; Grace English Lutheran Church 1919-1963; First Church of Divine Science, 1963-1977; and Metropolitan Community Church of Portland from 1977-2019.

The church cornerstone was laid by U.S. President William Howard Taft on October 3, 1909 in front of a crowd of 15,000 onlookers who crammed the streets in all directions to watch and listen as Taft set the stone and told the crowd he hoped the church would thrive.

From The Oregonian, October 4, 1909. Taft is pictured here during the cornerstone ceremony. Note church construction still underway in the background (click to enlarge).

A time capsule set by Taft in the cornerstone has since been opened by earlier church congregations.  But the building remains one of few in Portland with the distinction of having been dedicated by a U.S. President. Day hopes to re-establish a time capsule in the same location when the business opens in the summer of 2021.

Over the years, the church has been a source of community and a venue for so many rites of passage: baptisms and christenings, weddings, funerals and the day-to-day offering of hopes and prayers. Day recognizes and affirms the sacred aspects of the building’s former life and wants to honor the space and the stories in a respectful way. His hope is that the building can once again be a community gathering spot, a comfortable place where neighbors of all ages—including families—just want to be.

One key element of the interior will be the brewing deck, which will be front and center at eye level in the bar, allowing visitors a close look at the brewing process.

Rendering of the brewing deck area above, and bar below. Courtesy Harder-Day and Open Concept Architecture.

Steeplejack will serve its own beers brewed on site and will feature guest taps as well. In his years as judge and beer connoisseur, Day has found there aren’t enough breweries who make great tasting low-alcohol content beers. Steeplejack intends to have the finest selection of excellent “sessionable” beers (which means you can have a few without being over the limit for the drive home).

The food menu is still in development, but Day says he’s thinking about a simple and affordable menu of a few excellent dishes that will make people want to come back.

He’s also thinking about how adaptive re-use of the building can carry through to other aspects of the new brewery. All of the tables, chairs and furniture, for instance, will be built from wood salvaged during the interior remodel.

One of the spaces Day is most excited about is the bell tower and steeple itself, which will be opened up from the inside so visitors can look up and admire the matrix of full-dimension structural wood—all cut and placed by hand in a time before power tools.

“The biggest surprise in all of this for me is how extremely well this building was built,” says Day. “So much of what we’re doing in the design is to showcase the quality of the craftsmanship and the pride they took in their work.”

And the name? A steeplejack was the most daring and accomplished worker on a job willing and able to climb to the highest and most precarious perch. To take a risk, to climb with confidence, to get a job done that most others couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do.

The pandemic has slowed things down, without a doubt, but Day is philosophical and feels the unanticipated interruption has actually allowed time to work out the details of their designs and plans, and to prepare the permitting pathway with the city. Watch for construction to begin in earnest soon with significant maintenance and upkeep on the exterior walls, windows and roof, and interior construction to create a tap room, brewing area and other interior brewery and restaurant spaces.

Another Williams Avenue View – Looking South

We’ve come across another outstanding early 1900s vantage point from Williams Avenue that you’re going to want to see (thanks Norm). This one is a nice southward-looking companion to the northward shot we featured a few months back. Be sure to study both and to take a good look at the Sanborn we assembled to get a feel for this long-gone place that was once a hub of activity for this part of Portland.

First, have a good look at the south view; then check out the north view that we’ve seen before. Then let’s discuss.

Looking south on Williams Avenue from Graham. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.


Looking north on Williams Avenue from Russell. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.

What do you see?

Let’s start by looking at the northward image, where you can just about see where this southward view was taken. See the picket fence that appears below the steeple of the Immaculate Heart Church and the bushy tree? Nearby, check out the utility pole that is leaning toward the street.

Now, look at the southward view: there’s the picket fence and the bushy tree behind our man in the hat scratching his face (and the leaning utility pole). That should help put things in perspective and establishes the photo was taken from the corner of Graham and Williams.

The crank on the pole (you can see others like it in the northward photo) allows for periodic maintenance of the carbon arc streetlight hanging overheard.

Look how fresh and clean those curbs and sidewalks look. Chances are they were built by Elwood Wiles, a household name you can still see today stamped into sidewalks all over the eastside.

The Willliams Avenue streetcar tracks owned the middle of the street, with streetcars headed north/south to St. Johns, which were shifted over to Union Avenue about 1911. No automobiles to be seen.

Look at all the awnings: in the southward photo shading the west side of the street from morning sunlight (and it might still be somewhat early judging on the length of the shadows that spill out into the street).

Check out the onion-shaped dome from the old Hill Block building at the corner of NE Russell and Williams, which can be seen today in Dawson Park. That intersection was the center of the universe for early Albina and a crucial part of the African-American cultural landscape well up until when it was torn down in 1969. That block has been vacant ever since, but planning conversations are underway.

Beaumont Corner, 1928

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

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

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

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

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

Our Legacy

It’s 1953.

An African-American family is looking at a home for sale in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. A real estate agent takes the family in for a visit, they like it.

Remember what it’s like when you’re checking out a new place hoping you can make it your home? Maybe you think about carpets, curtains, the garden, the view out the window. Where the kids are going to play. It’s exciting and hopeful.

The realtor agrees to write the offer.

But other forces quickly intervene: Portland’s formal and informal systems of racial and economic oppression.

Realtors start talking to realtors. Neighbors start talking to neighbors.

By the end of the week, families on the block have met and decided to pool their money to buy the house out from underneath the African-American family’s offer. Weeks later, the neighbor-owners turn around and sell it on contract to a white family. For several years, envelopes of money pass back and forth across the street and up the block as loans are paid back, knowing glances exchanged.

Welcome to the real world.

The children of those neighborhood families—now in their 70s—shared this story with us, sheepishly. Another example of Portland’s long line of racial intolerance.

As we look back across the years, we must acknowledge the exclusion and privilege that has shaped these neighborhoods as surely as any architect, builder or crushing windstorm ever did.

These layers of racism and intolerance are here with us too, right along with the memories and hopes of the generations. Moving forward means keeping this history visible through an ongoing acknowledgement of its legacy and a conscious commitment to a different response in our daily lives.

Time to make art – Engage in The Change

A few months back we participated in Concordia Conversations, a program about how change has affected Northeast Portland neighborhoods. It was a helpful and provocative gathering involving multiple generations, cultures and perspectives. Our message—as you might guess—was that this has always been a place of change.

Program host, neighbor and artist Jordana Leeb shared a great 25-minute documentary about how recent changes have affected her part of the Concordia neighborhood, which we recommend (you can watch it here).

Continuing to build on the theme this summer, Jordana is curating a community art show called “Engage in the Change.” For now, it will be virtual but later this summer and fall (think Phase 2 opening) she’s hoping to exhibit the art somewhere in the neighborhood.

She’s asking for creativity from you and your family members–art, poetry, music–to explore the topic of neighborhood change. And there’s a chance you might even win some $ for your submittal.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Artwork can include visual art of any kind, written poetry, spoken word, video or music. Cash prizes are available (and there’s a category with a $100 prize for artists under age 18).
  • Art should explore what community means; how our community has changed; how neighborhoods bring us together (or keep us apart); changes you have seen and how they have affected you; what makes us resilient.
  • Deadline for submittal is August 15, 2020.

Here’s a link for more information about this community art show. Plenty of time yet for your creativity, and it would be great to see a bunch of submissions from young people!

Arnt Anderson: Talented Builder + Con Man

We’ve just finished a detailed look at local builder Arnt Anderson, which we’ve added to our section on The Builders. Anderson was responsible for about 20 large Craftsman-style homes in Alameda, Irvington, Beaumont and Montavilla between 1912-1915. These durable and graceful homes were some of the first built in the newly-established plats, including the plat known as Gleneyrie, which today is part of Irvington and Alameda.

Back then when the neighborhood was just starting out, the Tate Investment Company wanted you to come see Gleneyrie. And to have a look at a big house by Arnt Anderson. Check out this ad which includes a genuine Anderson and a stylized look at NE 24th Avenue (complete with the Broadway Streetcar).

From The Oregonian, April 20, 1913

We’ll be writing more here soon about development of Gleneyrie (which sits between NE 24th and NE 29th, from Knott to Stanton).

But for now, check out this biography (and list of houses) of the builder-turned-con artist who built some nice homes here in the neighborhood, but left town on a scam spree across the West and Midwest that ended in a Billings jail, a felony conviction and trip to the Washington state pen in Walla Walla.

The Barnes Mansion: Beaumont’s Century Old Family Compound

We’ve had an opportunity recently to delve into the history of a Northeast Portland landmark home: the 106-year-old Barnes Mansion at 3533 N.E. Klickitat named for Isabelle Payne Barnes and Frank Charles Barnes, the visionary and driving forces behind this building and its surroundings.

The Barnes Mansion in 2020, 3533 NE Klickitat. Several of the houses in this photo were built by and for one family.

The story of this almost 12,000-square foot, 32-room giant is about more than just a house though, it’s the story of one family and an entire neighborhood established for its children.

We’ll begin with Barnes family history for a frame of reference to understand the magnitude of the initial vision. And here’s a clue to that: It’s big. Frank Barnes operated in big brush strokes in business, in family and in life.

Frank’s professional life was all about food: growing, raising and making it; packing it; distributing it; selling it. And in later years, his fortune came from investments and real estate. Together, Frank and Isabelle built a business, a family and a family compound that came to define the western edge of today’s Beaumont neighborhood.

Early Years

Frank’s story begins on the Oregon Trail. Born in Albany, New York in 1854, Barnes spent the first years of his life on the family farm in Clark County, Iowa. In 1858 his family—parents William and Elizabeth Barnes—set out with an ox-drawn wagon along the Oregon Trail, eventually making it to the Willamette Valley.

Isabelle Payne was born in 1857, daughter of a homestead-era farming and dairying family that lived along Columbia Slough.

In 1858 when four-year-old Frank Barnes and his family arrived, Portland was a small town with limited roads and commerce. Soon after arriving, William Barnes launched into the lumber and milling business and quickly found success in any business depended on transportation. He was elected Road Supervisor and opened the route known today as Barnes Road, connecting Portland with the Tualatin Valley.

With commerce connected by new roads, the Barnes family moved into the grocery business. Think of it as an early farm-to-table establishment where father and son—William and Frank—bought and sold produce from eastside and westside to a growing population, including lands they owned and farmed themselves.

In 1876 Frank and Isabelle were married and the couple began their own family. Isabelle took care of home and family and was clearly the center of the universe for the couple’s children and grandchildren.

Frank Barnes builds a food business

As a young man building on the family business, Frank Barnes established Portland’s earliest and busiest grocery market at the corner of SW 3rd and Morrison downtown. It was an integrated business with 40 employees, seven wagons, farming acreage, a poultry farm, a fruit packing plant, a commercial ice and cold storage facility, and a huge warehouse for salting, smoking and canning salmon.

Every Portlander knew Barnes Market and Packing, and most had done business with Frank in one way or another. It was the place to go for delectable items: check it out:

From The Oregonian, November 25, 1900

Over the years, Frank’s success and the influence of his businesses propelled him into public office, serving multiple terms as Multnomah County Commissioner, a state legislator, a roads commissioner like his father, and even as police commissioner. With accumulated wealth and influence, Barnes began to invest in real estate. On the home front, the children were becoming like a big company of their own.

In the 20 years between 1875 and 1898, Isabelle had seven children: Clara; Lila; Ivy; Gladys; Frank; Helen; and Irene. Six daughters and one son. It’s important to have this in mind as we contemplate how this place came to be. As the kids grew, they married and each took on different aspects of the family business.

Given Frank’s desire to think big, what was the logical progression? How about development of a family headquarters—a kind of sanctuary, shrine and safe haven—done in a way that extended both the reach of the community and the family businesses.

These were the drivers behind what happened next.

A family compound takes shape on the eastern city limits

Barnes lived the example of anticipating the place where opportunity would exist and then getting there before others. As John Jacob Astor wrote: “Buy on the fringe of a growing city and wait.” Which is exactly what Barnes did. He and Isabelle had earlier bought a piece of the prominent ridgeline on the eastside known as Gravelly Hill. And in 1911, it was time to merge the vision for a family compound with the family real estate development business. He was 58 years old and Isabelle was 55.

Here’s the official plat of what they had in mind: three square blocks between Fremont and Klickitat, 35th and 27th. 10 acres. They named the plat for their youngest daughter: little Ruth Irene.

Irene Heights Plat, 1911

First and foremost, this was to be a family bastion. Barnes carved out a property in the plat for each child all clustered around a main residence—like a central castle—which is what neighborhood kids in the 1920s called the big house: the Barnes Castle.

Remember, this was a sparsely populated area with dirt roads during the early years. The house was on its own septic system until sewers arrived in 1915. But the remote location didn’t hold Barnes back. He and business partner E.E. Merges owned this part of the forested slope. Their friends E.Z. Ferguson, Harry Hamblet, William Dunckley and John Bryce, with the Alameda Land Company, owned the slope just to the west. And in 1909-1911 everybody saw opportunity and acted on it with their own plats.

Back to Irene Heights…with the table set on the Barnes family acreage, construction started on the houses. First to be built in 1912 was the home for Gladys and her husband John J. Reynolds (who worked for Frank) to the north of the mansion at 3425 NE 35th Place, which has since been torn down.

Next came the big house for Frank and Isabelle; and the home at 3601 NE Maltby for daughter Lila and her husband Charles Starr, who ran one of the largest fruit packing companies in the northwest. These two houses were built at the same time between 1913-1914.

An undated but early view of the facade.

In 1915, young Frank Barnes—Frank Scott Barnes, for the record—and his wife Doris built the next family home at 3414 NE 36th Avenue. Young Frank ran the family salmon canning and packing company out of Wrangell, Alaska in the late 1920s and 1930s, where he served as mayor. Frank was killed by a grizzly bear in 1940 on a bear hunting trip in Southeast Alaska, interestingly hunting with his close friend Francis Marion Stokes, the son of the contractor who built all the Barnes houses. In a point of interest, in the mid 1940s, several years after Frank’s death, his wife Doris became the very popular and effective mayor of Wrangell, serving several terms.

Clara Barnes married Frank Collinson, who helped run the Barnes family business, and they built a home at 3460 NE 36th.

Helen married Alfred Allen and they built the house at 3526 NE Fremont. Alfred ran a subsidiary salmon packing company.

Irene married J. Wilbur Hendrickson, another partner in the salmon packing business, and they built the house at 3603 NE Klickitat.

Ivy married Louis Starr, brother of her brother-in-law (Lila’s husband) and they actually decided against living so close, a topic that probably riled Frank and Isabelle: Ivy and Louis built their home at NE 25th and Hancock, not too far away, but far enough…

And a point of order about the plat and street naming and numbering: Marguerite Avenue which you see on the plat was renamed when Portland went through a major re-addressing initiative from 1931-1933.

Here’s an illustrated map that may help put the pieces together:

The Barnes Mansion

Some have attributed design of the Barnes Mansion to David L. Williams, who designed the Lytle house located on NE 22nd, known today as Portland’s White House. Researchers have not come across conclusive proof, but there are certain family resemblances.

But we’re not from that school of thought, and tend to believe the home was designed and built by Stokes & Zeller, which was a large architecture and construction company in Portland during those years.

A few reasons behind this hunch: Francis Marion Stokes—the noted architect who was comfortable working in these styles and forms—was a personal friend of the family—remember that he and young Frank were on that fateful bear hunting trip together. And, Stokes & Zeller designed and built the other Barnes family homes in the neighborhood.

Regardless, the house is a masterpiece, filled with careful craftsmanship including:

  • Tile floors and marble fireplace installed by Italian craftsmen;
  • Honduran mahogany paneling;
  • Custom-made carpeting and lighting;
  • 18-carat gold threaded wall coverings in the drawing room;
  • Beautiful art glass, likely by Povey Glass.

During the Barnes years, this place was a temple for the family. A look back through newspapers of the day shows that if there was an important event, holiday or gathering, the Barnes were hosting it: weddings, masquerade balls, Christmas parties. All of the daughters were married from the home, walking down the main staircase with their wedding trains.

When Isabelle died in the house on September 19, 1930, there was only one place for the funeral and memorial: at home. The same when Frank died there one year later, mourners came to the house for a funeral and reception, and a procession to nearby Rose City Cemetery.

The next several decades were not the best for the house. Immediately after Frank’s death, the house was a rental and came into the hands for a few years of a real estate investor named Charles J. Derbes and his wife Carmen. They left by the mid 1930s, and city directories show it vacant for a few years in the depths of the Great Depression.

By 1937 a Portland attorney named Bill Illidge owned the house. He was disbarred in 1939 over sketchy financial and real estate dealings and through the 1940s, he gradually descended into a lonely hermit-like existence as the house and landscaping declined. He reportedly closed up most of the place and lived only in the east solarium near the front door, with a cot and a hot plate.

Illidge died in the house on December 1, 1958 and the macabre detail in the second paragraph was remembered for many years by the kids of the neighborhood.

From The Oregonian, December 3, 1958

Older kids apparently weren’t scared. The home was vacant for two more years and continued its downward slide.

From The Oregonian, October 18, 1959

Father and son Carl and Deane Hutchison and Deane’s friend William McReynolds purchased the house in 1960 and began the slow uphill climb of restoration, which was set back by the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, which ripped off the roof, damaged the balustrades and uprooted 19 trees on the property.

The Hutchisons and McReynolds, and eventually a friend named John Jensen, continued to restore the house and added a 100-stop pipe organ and a small chapel in the house. Since 1997, the house has been owned by Merrit and Anna Quarum, who have continued its careful stewardship, which is no small feat for a 106-year-old property of this size and complexity.

The Barnes Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and in mid-2020 is currently for sale. Go check out the current real estate listing website, for a closer look inside.

Contemporary view from the balcony looking southwest.

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