NE 33rd and Broadway, 1930. Wow.

Every once in a while a photograph comes along that completely pulls you in with so many stories to tell. Here’s one you’re going to want to spend some time with.

We were at City of Portland Archives this week researching a piece we’re writing about the 1929-1930 widening of East Broadway, which completely transformed what was a sleepy street into the major arterial we know today between the Broadway Bridge and Sandy Boulevard. It’s a fascinating, sad, complicated, inevitable story that we think you’re going to enjoy reading about.

In the process, we ran into this picture of an intersection many of us know well, anchored by a building we’ve written a lot about. There is so much to see in this photo: you’re going to want to click to enlarge it and climb inside to see all there is to know.

Looking east on Broadway at the corner of NE 33rd. Photo courtesy of City of Portland (OR) Archives, image A1999-004.326.

The main building on the right was built by Oregon Home Builders in 1916 and served briefly as a manufacturing site for aircraft parts during World War 1. You can read more about that here and see some other photos of the building and the intersection from a different angle, including some interior shots .

The tallest portion of that building is actually a freight elevator (which we’ve had a chance to ride in…the largest freight elevator in Portland, or so it was explained to us). Painted on the exterior of the elevator tower is an advertisement for wholesale hardwood flooring. The building continues quite a ways east into what is a parking lot today.

Looks like heavy storage was popular even then: a banner advertises heated space with trackage (the rail runs just the other side of the building). And how about the grocery, beauty parlor and even a cafe in the first floor retail space. Who knew?

The Texaco on the left is still a filling station. And see the billboard at the far end of the street advertising the Hollywood Theater? On the north side of the street, the Frank L. McGuire company has a bungalow for sale.

So many stories.

Oliver K. Jeffery and his short-lived airplane factory

Looking south on Northeast 33rd at Broadway about 1956 during construction of a new viaduct over the Banfield Freeway. The former Oliver K. Jeffery aircraft factory is on the left. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives. 

When it comes to time travel here in the neighborhood, one of our favorite old timers is the former Gordon’s Fireplace building on the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway. We take it as a small history victory that recent marketing for the building includes the context that it was once for a very brief interlude an aircraft factory, which we brought to light in this post from November 2012, which includes photos from inside the upper floors and is filled with background on the building.

What’s happening with that building today is not new news, but in case you haven’t seen, here’s a link to plans from developer Interurban, which is planning an $11 million overhaul to create three floors of creative offices and retail space, plus a penthouse and outdoor decks, with completion planned for summer 2019.

And here’s some very old news we’ve come across: the 1916 newspaper story about factory construction, which took what had been a shed built by the Oregon Home Builders and upgraded it into a full manufacturing hub for the built-in cabinets, shelves, window and door casements and furniture that went into the company’s homes.

From Oregon Journal, December 29, 1916.

 

Since our post a few years back, we’ve come across a couple of other tidbits: check out these two great photos and story from the January 1, 1918 edition of The Oregonian about Oregon spruce in the war effort. Take what it says about the building with a grain of salt.

 

 

From The Oregonian, January 1, 1918. The table on Portland firefighters was a bonus thrown in by early editors jamming the New Years’ edition full of interesting facts. A similar story appeared in aviation and lumber related publications about this time, likely part of a PR campaign carried out by O.K. Jeffery.

 

Hold on a second…the reality of what was actually going on with that building is evident in a news story from January 20, 1918 explaining the building, which had been vacant after O.K. Jeffrey’s airplane factory folded–apparently in late 1917–had been sold to Portland Box and Excelsior and was well on its way into a new manufacturing realm. Check it out:

From Oregon Journal, January 20, 1918.

 

We’ve been thinking about this building lately because we’ve been exploring the company that built it—Oregon Home Builders—and company president Oliver K. Jeffery. We had the occasion on a recent evening to visit with neighbors and friends in the Alameda neighborhood home O.K. Jeffery built for himself and his wife Margaret in 1915. It’s a beauty—one of Alameda’s five national register homes—perhaps Portland’s largest Dutch colonial revival building, built as a show house for Oregon Home Builders. The house fell on hard times in the 1970s when it served as a halfway house for wayward boys and then sat vacant for seven years. But today, thanks to the last two history-conscious owners, it’s been restored to the look and feel of the O.K. Jeffery years.

From the Oregon Journal, June 6, 1915.

At the moment, we’re working on a profile of the Oregon Home Builders that we’ll share here soon. OHB was prolific between 1912-1917, designing and constructing hundreds of homes and commercial buildings and even speculating in Willamette Valley farming property before going bankrupt when Portland’s economy went south in the late teens. It’s a fascinating story mirrored by the unusual story of Mr. Jeffery himself, the son of an old Portland family, reportedly founder of the Rose Festival parade, real estate speculator, lifelong MAC Club member, auto enthusiast, pilot and visionary aviation entrepreneur. Oh, and he was a corporal in the tank corps during World War 1 too, though he never saw active duty.

Oliver K. Jeffery, April 30, 1916 from the Oregon Journal.

 

Somehow, after bankrupting the company and leaving stockholders in the lurch in 1917, and then closing down  his airplane factory after its very brief life, Jeffery was able to stay active and visible in Portland’s business and social scene, attracting heavyweight local investors to his aviation ideas. In 1920 he launched the Oregon, Washington, Idaho Airplane Company with an eye to establishing regional scheduled passenger flights, long before aircraft could actually carry many passengers. The business didn’t take hold, and Jeffery survived that ending too and went on to become a local distributor for airplanes built by Curtis and Avro. And a pilot. We guess he may have been happiest just flying people around. Here’s an ad for his business. Just a great big ride. Maybe that’s who he was in a nutshell.

From the Oregon Journal, June 20, 1920.

 

Jeffery eventually found his way back to the mortgage business in 1926 when he opened First Bond and Mortgage, which vanished from the public record after the Depression. By then—after the divorce—he had moved in with his mother in a big house in Northwest Portland where he lived quietly until his death at age 46 in December 1936.

From The Oregonian, December 10, 1934

Makes you want to know more, doesn’t it? Stay tuned.

Northeast Portland’s Aircraft Factory

Gordon’s Fireplace Shop, 3300 NE Broadway. Home of a former aircraft manufacturing plant owned by Oregon Home Builder’s President Oliver K. Jeffrey.

One of Alameda’s most prolific home building companies—The Oregon Home Builders, Inc.—is also responsible for building an aircraft manufacturing facility in the neighborhood that endures to this day.

You probably know this building as Gordon’s Fireplace Shop on the southeast corner of NE 33rd and Broadway. But in the late 19-teens, after serving as a workshop for house parts and domestic carpentry projects that now reside as built-in cabinets in homes across Northeast Portland, the building moved into full aircraft production mode and began churning out spruce struts, beams and braces for “flying machines.”

First a little context about Oregon Home Builders and its president Oliver K. Jeffrey…

There is much to be written about Oregon Home Builders, Inc.—and we’ve been on their trail for several years now—but suffice to say its owners had a big vision. They founded the company on a business model that involved selling shares of stock at .25 cents each to investors at large, and building and selling homes. They also built some of Alameda’s prized national register houses, including the Oliver K. Jeffrey House at Regents and Shaver, and the Thomas Prince House at Alameda and Regents. Others, including the George Eastman House on Stuart Avenue—designed and built by Oregon Home Builders—should be on the register.

In 1914, the company built 45 houses here in northeast Portland, and drew plans for many more. As a base of operations for this big vision, Oliver K. Jeffrey and his colleagues needed a workshop and warehouse near the market they were serving, and near transportation. So in 1915 they set out to build a warehouse on the Oregon Railway and Navigation Line in Sullivan’s Gulch, today’s Banfield corridor. Here’s a snippet that’s a tad fuzzy but readable from the January 17, 1915 pages of The Oregonian.

From The Oregonian, January 17, 1915.

But by 1917, O.K. Jeffrey’s passions—and the Oregon Home Builders warehouse—were focusing more on airplanes. A flamboyant character in Portland business and social life, and a man of means, Jeffrey received much coverage in the pages of The Oregonian during these years, whether in his role as a top Rosarian, his very public divorce proceedings, or his role as a brave tank commander during World War I. The story below in the August 1, 1917 edition focuses on the airplane factory building at 33rd and Broadway.

Click to read full size. From The Oregonian, August 1, 1917.

The O.K. Jeffrey story takes several more interesting turns, including bankruptcy for Oregon Home Builders by 1918, further innovations in aircraft design and operation, and his untimely death due to blood poisoning from a freak accident in December 1934.

Much more to come about Mr. Jeffrey, his company, and the homes they built, but back to the airplane factory in our midst.

Perhaps like us, you’ve driven by the building a million times and wondered about it. Following on that curiosity, and hoping for clues to the company that might have been forgotten in some nook or cranny in its upstairs floors, we dropped in for a visit over the weekend and can offer the following observations:

The folks at Gordon’s are helpful, and interested in the history of their building (which they’ve been in since 1990), but their collective memory of the building can’t see back around the corner of time. They do have a story here and there about a pasta manufacturing company that once inhabited the building. Some sense of the retail furniture company that operated there for 30 years. And a fabulous picture from 1929 that was first and foremost a portrait of Union Pacific Engine 17 coming around a bend in the track, but secondarily a picture of the building. See the distinctive brick pattern along the parapet? Look also how the building extends quite a ways east around the bend of the gulch.

Looking east in Sullivan’s Gulch on January 20, 1929 at Union Pacific Engine 17. The “Beaver State Furniture” building is no longer an aircraft parts factory. The building wraps around the rim of the gulch. Note also how much narrower the gulch is…widened in the 1950s to make room for the Banfield Freeway, requiring replacement of the viaduct. Photo courtesy of Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

Check out this image below as well, which shows our aircraft factory building in 1956 as Erickson’s Furniture. The new viaduct associated with construction of the Banfield freeway (I-84).

Looking south on Northeast 33rd at Broadway. Construction of a new viaduct. Courtesy of City of Portland Archives. 

During our visit this weekend, we learned that the building houses the second oldest freight elevator in Portland, and it’s big. Like a two-car garage that levitates between the first and third floors. It doesn’t take much imagination to see it filled with furniture or spruce airplane parts. But pasta? Hmm.

A detailed look at aerial photography of the area over the years (with thanks to Ed McClaran), confirms that the building did indeed once extend east across what is today’s parking lot, and connected up with the building that now houses Rose City Furnishings in the 3400 block of Northeast Broadway.

The view from the top floor is impressive: both up and down Sullivan’s Gulch to the east and west. North across the busy intersection toward the Dolph Park neighborhood. But there are no hidden nooks or crannies with artifacts from Oregon Home Builders. It’s a tidy and well-organized warehouse on the upper floors. Here and there you can tell from marks on the floor where heavy machines and equipment may have been anchored, or workbenches secured to the walls.

No aircraft machinery to be found here. Just a warehouse for Gordon’s Fireplace Shop.

But the aircraft heyday of the building has passed and it stands on the north rim of Sullivan’s Gulch as an artifact itself while the busy intersection below surges with traffic and big development plans are underway for the blocks to the west. In the midst of the shuffle and change, it’s a time traveler with stories to tell.

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