Adaptive reuse on NE 30th: A viable alternative to teardown

When the dumpsters and porta-potty arrived a few weeks ago out in front of the old house, we presumed the worst. We’d seen the 1921 Craftsman bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore decline as bags of garbage piled up on the front porch, bushes grew up over the car in the driveway and the electricity was turned off.

This compact 1921 bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore in Alameda is being revived from what looked like a sure path toward teardown. March 2, 2020.

Taken with its slow descent over the last couple of years, the recent signals seemed clear enough the property had changed hands and would be torn down to make way for another quickly-built three-story unit (or two) that maximized lot lines and financial returns. We’ve seen this story play out before, including for the old bungalow that used to stand right next door to this unlikely survivor.

But this story is headed in a different direction.

The 1,000-square-foot 1921 Alameda bungalow that looked like the next candidate for a teardown is now being revived, restored and repurposed by a nearby neighbor couple who couldn’t bear to see another teardown / big box happen and who wanted to make room for their extended family (they’re adding an addition to the back of the old bungalow to give the modern family a bit more space).

Harry Ford and Amy Garlock, who live in the house directly across the backyard lot line, watched back in 2016 as the former house kitty-corner across the backyard did get torn down and replaced by two three-story semi-attached boxes which sold for almost $1 million each. When it looked like the bungalow directly behind them was headed down the same path, they began to wonder if there was something they could do.

“We bought it partly so that there wouldn’t be another giant duplex in our backyard,” says Ford.

But Ford also explains the house—which will share a big now-open backyard with their own place on NE 29th—will help meet a very real contemporary need: a quality place to live for their aging-in-place parents.

It’s interesting to note that back in the day, a similar multi-generational family-as-neighbor arrangement was in place just around the corner with the family that once lived in the now-gone bungalow and their in-laws who lived right next door. Former residents of that house remembered dinners that went back and forth, the sharing of tools, supplies, grandparents helping with babysitting. It worked out great for everyone.

Today, Ford is looking forward to having his in-laws just across the backyard, and to interrupting the teardown trend by keeping—and adapting—the historic fabric of the neighborhood. He acknowledges that pretty much any other purchaser of the very run-down house would have razed, rebuilt and sold high to repay the construction loan, then moved on to the next project.

For his family though, the ability to acquire an existing older home at a reasonable price literally in their own backyard, combined with the ability to meet the families’ needs at the moment and for the foreseeable future, made this a reasonable thing to do. Ford and Garlock look at the investment in restoration as a good long-term proposition given the multiple types of “bottom lines” it helps them achieve: economics, quality of life, aesthetics and sustainability.

The origin of the house has an interesting story: when AH started exploring the home’s history this week, we determined that it’s a Sears Roebuck house, built in 1921 by builder Albert W. Horn. The floor plan is pure Sears Argyle, one of the company’s most successful kit homes, sold from 1917-1925. Here, take a look:

The Argyle page from a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908 through 1940, Sears sold more than 70,000 kit homes that were built in almost every major US city by homeowners, their friends and in some cases like this one, actual home builders.

 

1921 Sears Roebuck Argyle floor plan, from the catalog. A solid match with the NE 30th Avenue bungalow.

 

On a recent visit, the scope of the work necessary to bring back the 1921 bungalow was evident: Heating, plumbing, electrical, all interior walls, kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, chimney, exterior siding, finishes, window trim. The 100-year-old foundation and framing are solid. Everything else needs attention.

Standing in the kitchen looking toward the front door through the dining room and living room. There’s a bedroom in the front right, a bathroom down the hall and a bedroom in the back, just to the right in this picture. Turn 90 degrees to the right and there’s a stairway into the full basement. March 2, 2020.

“Sometimes, going down to the studs in an old house like this is just easier because you know exactly what you’re working with,” said Craig McNinch of McNinch Construction who is running the project utilizing drawings by Lynn Harritt. He also restored Ford and Garlock’s current bungalow on NE 29th. “This place has great bones,” says McNinch, gesturing to the full dimension 2 x 4 framing lumber, the solid oak floors and the foundation.

From the dining room looking into the living room. A portal wall framed the opening between the two rooms and came down to meet the columns that are atop the built-in cabinets. Behind the sheets of pressboard material on the left is a fireplace. Just like the historic Argyle plans. March 2, 2020.

McNinch has worked on many restoration projects in the area and acknowledges this one is indeed a challenge. But he likes the vision of restoring what was once a new and exciting home for a young family, the backyard connection of the two houses and families, and the constant stream of positive comments he’s had from neighbors and passersby who are happily surprised with the work. During a recent afternoon, we heard McNinch and his crew loudly encouraged to “keep up the good work” by a passing driver calling from a rolled-down window.

Asbestos abatement contractors recently removed the asphalt shingles revealing the original brown cedar shingle siding. March 2020.

Ford and Garlock’s project to revive the old place reminds all of us that there are alternatives to demolition; that it’s ok to adapt something old to meet current needs; that the grace and history of an old place adds its own kind of meaning to family life.

Stay tuned for updates and more on Sears Roebuck homes.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

We’ve been watching two commercial corners just a few blocks apart that share similar histories but are on very different pathways to the future.

We’ve written here about the Logan Grocery, the mom-and-pop grocery store that for more than 100 years has anchored the southwest corner of NE 33rd and Alberta and is now slated for demolition. Here’s a look just as a refresher:

NE 33rd and Alberta, December 2019

In the last week or so, a sign has been posted on the building showing a rendering of the future, which includes demolition of the historic building and then construction of a three-story mixed-use commercial building including a 19-apartment hotel (which we think probably means Airbnb-like short-term rentals) and no on-site parking. Yes, you read that right. Take a look (click to enlarge).

Interviewed in late September, developer Bob Bochsler of Box Real Estate Holdings explained that he wanted to consider ways to utilize the existing building, but that concerns associated with the cost of reinforcing the old foundation drove the demolition decision, nixing any kind of adaptive reuse that would allow the existing building to be repurposed for a new future.

Note that no informational meeting is required for this significant change, though there is contact information and a cryptic note that the project might be amended.

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Meanwhile, A few blocks over, at the northeast corner of 30th and Emerson, a similar but very different story is unfolding. Here, a 107-year-old wood-frame mixed-use commercial building that was once also a grocery store (and many other things) is being restored and repurposed as the home of a medical practice and neighborhood coffee shop. Take a look:

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter inspect the southwest corner of their future place of business. Clinic entry to the right, coffee shop entry to the far left. December 2019.


West side, coffee shop to the left, clinic to the right. Apartments upstairs. December 2019.

There’s lots more to learn about this old building, constructed in 1912, which once housed two businesses on the first floor facing NE 30th, and two apartments upstairs. Back in the day it was a grocery store. It’s been Cecilia’s Drapery Shop, Jack Emerald’s Barber Shop, The Quaint Shop (an art supply business), a men’s clothing shop, a dry goods store and many other things.

Here it is in the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, showing it’s pre-address-change addresses of 1122 and 1124 East 30th Street North (downstairs) and 1122 ½ (upstairs). Look in the lower right-hand corner. S=shop. D=dwelling. A=automobile or garage.

Detail from Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Plate 535, 1924.

Dr. Thomas Grace and Rachel Buckwalter bought the two-story building this last year and have been busy getting it ready for its next chapter, which begins this coming spring. The couple own and operate Natural Pain Solutions, a chiropractic practice focused on non-surgical spinal decompression, integrated care and treatment for pain. When it opens in spring, the practice will be Move Better Chiropractic.

Their former clinic had been located in the Macadam Center building which was destroyed by fire in January 2018. After the fire, Thomas and Rachel—who are Vernon neighborhood residents—were on the lookout for a new venue. When Rachel saw the for sale sign on the building last spring, she called on a whim, walked through later that day and fell in love with the building. Thomas saw it the next day and they knew renovating the space would work for them. Within weeks, they had started talking with architects.

Since then, there have been plenty of conversations with engineers, estimators, architects and contractors to determine the feasibility of adapting the building to meet their needs, but in their minds demolition was not a solution.

Yes, the foundation is 107 years old and like all old foundations in the neighborhood has its issues and needs. But instead of considering that a deal breaker, a partial new foundation wall has been added, seismic stabilization work has been done, and additional structural timber has been added.

The renovation design concept—by Portland firm Works Progress Architecture—starts with the structural work and completely renovates the interior space, fitting it inside the existing exterior building envelope, offering a contrast between old and new. The clinic and a new coffee shop will occupy the first floor, with glass roll-up garage doors in the coffee shop on the north face of the building opening onto an open outdoor patio and hanging-around space. Friends of Grace and Buckwalter own and operate Full City Rooster (a craft coffee roaster in Dallas, Texas) and will be helping Grace establish the coffee shop in the renovated building.

North side where the roll-up garage door will open into the patio/open space. December 2019.

Upstairs, the existing apartments are being renovated. In the future, Grace and Buckwalter hope to convert the two existing apartments into four studio apartments.

A repurposed small building in the open lot to the north will hold Buckwalter’s new business, “Moss,” which will feature an unusual mix of garden-related items and specialty intimate clothing for women.

The couple—who live a few blocks away in a 1912 bungalow with their four children—appreciate living and working in vintage spaces. The building is not far from the busy Foxchase corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth, and just a few blocks north of Alberta. Being on Trimet Bus 72 is also a plus (they’ve added a get-out-of-the-rain portico to the west face of the building for riders).

So, why did they decide not to go for the demolition option and to invest in making an old building work?

“We like the building and we think it will look beautiful with a couple upgrades and modifications,” said Grace. “We see this location as a natural transition between Killingsworth and Alberta Street, and hope to be a connection point in the community. We hope that the outdoor space will serve as a public area and place of informal gathering.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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