2933 NE Skidmore | Still standing, for now

Those of us paying attention to the trajectory of the doomed 95-year-old Craftsman bungalow at 2933 NE Skidmore are surprised to note that it’s still standing. We’ve asked why, since the plan was to be done by late August, and the folks at developer Green Canopy explained the contractor they had scheduled for the lead-based paint abatement is contracted on a large job and is booked out until November. That means Green Canopy is rebidding the work and demolition will be delayed by anywhere from two to four weeks.

2933 NE Skidmore taken on 9-8-16 2933 NE Skidmore, photographed on September 8, 2016

During our recent exchange with the company, we also had a chance to pass along a question from one of our readers about how building materials will be salvaged during the demolition. Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto explained that the process will be a mechanized demolition not a deconstruction, and that the wood will not be salvaged. Ryan writes:

“We are not planning on a full deconstruction of this structure, which is what would be required in order to salvage the dimensional lumber. Just to clarify, even if we were to salvage the lumber, in order for it to be reused for framing purposes it would likely need to be milled down to true nominal size.”

Ryan did point out that certain building components, as well as landscape features, have already been salvaged.

We asked about drawings: Green Canopy is still working with city permitting officials and is not ready to release plans or drawings at this point. Ryan did point out that the earlier reference to the roof peak being at 45 feet (as surmised from the sketchy photo of an early plan set) was incorrect and the roof height is more like 33 feet above ground.

Once demolition begins, the process will take about five days. We’ll let you know in advance when demolition is scheduled. In the meantime, take a last walk by and tip your hat to this time traveler.

The Countdown Begins at Skidmore and 30th

The Alameda neighborhood received notice last week from developer Green Canopy alerting us that demolition of the 95-year-old home at NE 30th and Skidmore will begin on Tuesday, August 30th, and will probably take five days. Click here for background on what’s coming and the context behind this demolition. And here’s a link to an earlier post we wrote that includes a photo of the house from 1921, the year it was built by the Wickman Building Company for the George Kettleberg family.

FullSizeRender (11)

2933 NE Skidmore

We know the date with the wrecking ball is coming, so we dropped by in the early morning light to have a last look around, seeking clues to the generations of families and neighbors who have know this place. Here are some photos that document what we found. If you are inclined to send us a photo or two, or your own recollections of the house, we’ll post them here. Might be a nice way to capture some stories and perspectives.

Stairs facing NE 30th, 2933 NE Skidmore

Stairs from the back door facing NE 30th Avenue.

Looking west, 2933 NE Skidmore

East side of the house from NE 30th.

 

Living room, dining room and reflection, 2933 NE Skidmore

Through the livingroom window (and a reflection) toward the dining room and kitchen.

 

Chimney and vinyl siding, 2933 NE Skidmore

Chimney on the east side of the house.

 

Mailbox, 2933 NE Skidmore

Front porch mail slot, boxed out by siding material.

 

From kitchen looking to front, 2933 NE Skidmore

Looking through the back porch, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room (basement stairs on the right). The demo crew has already removed the asbestos flooring from the kitchen.

 

Back door and enclosed porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door and enclosed porch. Note the close proximity to the house just to the west.

 

Back porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door, basement door.

Garden hose valve, 2933 NE Skidmore

Garden hose valve.

 

Original numbers, 2933 NE Skidmore

Original address tiles from the post 1930s address change. The original address was 915 Skidmore Street.

Get ready for demolition: 30th and Skidmore

The Alameda neighborhood’s initial hopes for renovation of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the corner of NE 30th and Skidmore are about to come tumbling down.

Attachment-1

Contractors removing contaminated soil last week from an oil tank in the backyard of 2933 N.E. Skidmore. Demolition permits have been issued and according to the developer, the 95-year-old home will be demolished in mid-August.

Over the next few weeks, this part of the neighborhood will experience a major transition: Seattle developer Green Canopy has bought the corner lot and plans to demolish the 95-year-old home and build two 45-foot tall, three-story, 3,000-square-foot houses in its place. Each home is expected to list for more than $800,000.

Activity on the property has picked up in the last week, including removal of an oil tank and contaminated soil, and interior asbestos abatement.

Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto writes that the company received its demolition permit on June 18th, but will likely not begin the process until mid-August. “We’ve been holding off the demolition for as long as possible, so we minimize the amount of time the lot has to sit empty,” wrote Nieto. “Before we mobilize for mechanical demolition, we’ll be properly abating the lead paint on the exterior of the home. 5 days prior we will pass out the required door hangers to the neighbors immediately adjacent to the property notifying them of the upcoming demolition.”

Nieto reports construction of the two homes will begin in early October.

Green Canopy owner Sam Lai, interviewed by AH in May, explained his vision for development of the new housing units at the neighborhood corner: his company is building environmentally-responsible, highly energy efficient homes to accommodate the growing need for housing in Portland and Seattle neighborhoods.

The company website summarizes Green Canopy’s mission and purpose:

What We Do: Our team is dedicated to building sustainable and resilient communities from the inside out. From re-building single family homes, to developing small scale communities, to impact investment and education – Green Canopy focuses on transforming the market to consider resource efficiency when homes are bought and sold. 

Why We Do it: Green Canopy has created a business ecosystem that is different and better than what traditional home building has had to offer in the past. We are a values-led organization with a staff that forges ahead with purpose, and a corporate culture that is built on respect, trust and love for each other, our children and future generations, and the planet. 

This spring, Lai and his design and construction team canvassed neighbors in the area and held meetings to hear concerns and desires for the new construction, offering a digital survey tool to gather input. “We like to give neighbors a seat at the table during design,” he said. They heard neighbor input on everything from building form and height, building materials, paint colors, construction noise and dust, and building setback from the street and sidewalk. The company’s website encourages neighbor input, allowing visitors to vote on paint colors for specific house projects.

AH interviews with neighbors, however, suggest that even though they had a chance to share their preferences and concerns, there’s been no indication how or if the company will respond.

Rachael Hoy, who lives next door to the west (see photo above), just feet away from the planned demolition, attended one of the two input meetings and recalls that the message from the 15 or so gathered neighbors was clear: don’t destroy this old bungalow.

“Most of the people who spoke asked the developer to please keep the home that’s here and do what’s needed to repair and get it back on the market,” said Hoy. “They (Green Canopy) made it clear the house was coming down. The next set of questions was about maintaining the traditional form and they made it clear that it’s probably not going to look like what’s here.”

Early drawings (pictured below) of the two houses to be built on the property turned up recently on Alameda Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking website, showing two buildings with 45-foot roof heights, built with minimal setbacks, and with multiple garages facing NE 30th Avenue. Neighbors have received no information from Green Canopy about how the company intends to respond to resident input. A written request AH made to the company three days ago seeking drawings or specifications was not returned.

2933 NE Skidmore Elevations

2933 NE Skidmore Plan

During meetings this spring, neighbors clearly expressed disappointment with the company’s plans for demolition instead of remodel. Lai said his team listened to the concerns and worries, and walked the neighbors through the economics of development and renovation, particularly in Portland’s strong real estate market.

“The economic opportunity for renovation of this home is so far past,” said Lai, citing significant costs associated with the instability of a nearly 100-year-old foundation and the need to essentially replace all building systems, windows, walls, floors, finishes and kitchen in order to make it viable for sale in this marketplace.

Green Canopy has come to its understanding of restoration vs. demolition economics through its experience in Seattle, where the company started out doing energy efficient old house renovations, completing 65 total renovations between 2010-2014. The company’s business model in its early years was to buy older homes in serious need of renovation and restore them to marketability and energy efficiency. But as real estate market values increased, costs made restoration prohibitive and the company learned that in order to be successful—and to pursue its mission of energy efficiency and sustainability—it needed to change the model from restoration to replacement utilizing sustainable design and construction practices to raze the older home and go with new construction

Lai acknowledges the seeming paradox of wanting to utilize sustainable practices while also beginning a project with demolition.

“We all get to choose the hypocrisies we get to live with,” he said, citing his own example of being dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon emissions but also owning a car. “Yes, I own a Prius, but I know I really should be riding a bicycle if I care about climate change.”

Portland’s zoning ordinances permit two houses to be built on the corner lot, but they must be attached. Neighbors we spoke with were concerned about the size of the new construction and how it will dominate the corner and the neighborhood. Others were concerned about the interruption and impact of demolition and the construction process, including air quality and health issues. At least one person expressed concern about how the new construction may lead to an increase in property taxes for surrounding homes.

Lai affirms that change is coming, and that the houses will stand out from the smaller, older homes. “They’re going to be bigger houses than people want to see,” he said. “But the basis cost of the land determines how big the houses need to be.” The lot and current home sold for $545,000. When it sold earlier this year, the listing referred to the property as “house of no value.”

“I expect the houses to be unsightly, so they will detract from the neighborhood,” said Gloria Berqquist, who lives kitty-corner from the bungalow. “It won’t fit with the other houses. They can call it whatever they want, but to me it’s a duplex. I think they said it’s going to be almost twice as tall as the current house. I won’t be able to see the trees that I now see behind the house.”

In the end, Mr. Lai’s philosophy is that change is inevitable, and that it is important to make good decisions and long-term choices about building practices and materials. As homes age, markets accelerate, populations, lifestyles and family needs evolve, a neighborhood and its housing stock must change as well.

“It’s not 100 years ago anymore,” he said. We have to use our space and materials more efficiently.

In the midst of the disappointment and neighborhood anger associated with the coming demolition, next-door neighbor Rachael Hoy is working on acceptance.

“Our single family neighborhoods are going to become denser, it’s just a reality,” she said. Because of that, neighbors need to weigh in with the city about land use and infill requirements and processes, and impress on developers that they must take some interest in and be responsive to the comments of neighbors.

“We’re trying to be positive,” she said. “However this unfolds, we’ll have two new sets of neighbors. We all want to be supportive of the people who will be moving in even if we don’t like the houses.”

AH will continue its coverage of the demolition and construction as the process proceeds.

“House of No Value” ~ 2933 NE Skidmore: The Next Alameda Tear-Down?

9-11 1921 Detail of 915 Skidmore (NE Corner of 30th)

A photo from The Oregonian, September 11, 1921. Built by the Wickman Building Company for the George A. Kettleberg family at a cost of $4,500.

FullSizeRender (11)

January 30, 2016

We were disappointed to read the language of a recent real estate advertisement for the 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the northwest corner of NE 30th and Skidmore.

The 50 x 100 corner lot was recently legally partitioned into two 50 x 50 lots and an allowance made for two houses on what has been (and still is for the moment) a single lot. (Read more about the practice of “lot splitting” and the demolition trend here). Among other things, the ad called out to builders and investors and made it clear this was a tear-down in waiting:

“House of no value. Value in land only.”

This week, the listing broker amended the ad noting that the seller would be willing to consider selling the house as is instead of tearing it down. This is good news. The price moved a bit too in the right direction: now asking $599,900. Last week’s language of “house of no value” was changed this week to this:

“Instant equity with this fixer; hardwood floors; classic floor plan; Seller willing to try conventional financing for full price offer – seller to do no repairs. Or Tear Down and Build 2 new houses! Approved for attached houses!”

AH readers know that old houses do indeed have value, and a multi-layered history that makes them unique and important. Yes, we know that all things (including houses and buildings) do have a life cycle, and that taking care of any older home is an investment. We haven’t had a chance to look around inside the house yet, but old-house-savvy people we respect have and report that yes indeed, it is a fixer with its share of deferred maintenance. But, the bones are solid, and they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Know anyone who’s looking for a bargain of an old house, wants to stem the tide of tear downs, and has a fixer upper in them? Time to make that call.

We’ll volunteer to do a full house history study as moral support for any successful fixer-upper purchaser…

Extra note: below is a screenshot from a faithful AH reader that shows a Google Maps street view image of the property from 2011. Our helpful reader reminds us that it’s possible to turn back street view time to see how this property has aged over the last few years. Try it yourself by searching the address and going to Google Maps street view, then drag the timeline bar back and forth to look for changes. Thanks John!

Skidmore House

New Section on The Builders

Today I’ve added a new section to the Alameda History website that provides a focus on the builders. Look up above and to the right and you’ll see the word “The Builders.” From there you can click into a sub-page that provides links off into biographies I’m writing about the men and women who shaped our neighborhood landscape. I’ve started out with three builders I am very familiar with, but soon there will be more.

Fans of houses built by Ken Birkemeier will be glad to know I’ve made contact with his family and will have lots to share soon, including early photos of some houses and a complete listing of Birkemeier houses in the neighborhood.

My goal in focusing on the builders is to pay tribute to them, to take account of and remember their work, and to create an interest, appreciation and curiosity about the homes we all live in.

“It lies on a slight eminence…”

It was 100 years ago this week that the first newspaper advertisements began to run extolling the virtues of the newly platted Alameda Park district. The text is pretty flowery and the ad is jammed with words. Here, take a look:
From The Oregonian, March 16, 1909

From The Oregonian, March 16, 1909

This ad tells us much more about the men behind the Alameda Land Company than it does about the development itself. You get a very clear idea of who they were pitching to, and their intent to offer a “first in” deal to the early wave of investors and potential homeowners. It’s important to point out that in March 1909, there wasn’t much up here on the ridge but mud, Douglas-fir trees, brush, some small orchards and a rutted dirt road running up the hill (today’s 33rd Avenue). Panoramic views of lakes? Hmm. Not sure where they got that one. There was a small pond in the area near today’s NE 28th and Siskiyou. Maybe you could see that from the ridge…

Just one month previous to this advertisement, the Alameda Land Company filed its first plat. Even though there were no streets or curbs or water or any service in place, this March push of advertising was aimed at creating a personality for the new district and to put it on buyers’ radar screens. Different (but similar) ads ran each day this week.

Interesting to note that the March 1909 ads, which seemed to claim well-paved streets, were roundly criticized by the developers of neighboring plats, particularly Irvington, which by 1909 actually had well-paved streets, homes, water, gas and curbs. In their own advertisements taken out the following weeks, the Irvington crew called the Alameda Land Company a pack of liars, literally, for their exaggerated claims. The ad sales guys at The Oregonian must have loved it!

History Walk | Alameda Park Perimeter

These fall evenings are great for a brisk walk. Leaves everywhere, woodsmoke in the air, raindrops. And local history ripe for the imagination.

Alameda Park Plat Map, c. 1912

Click on the map for a larger file you can print

The northwest corner of “The Park” (as in the Alameda Park subdivision) is a little confusing. Rather than trying to follow the zig-zag of the property boundary, I just walked Prescott to NE 20th to the shadow of the big water tower. Then south to Alameda Drive and around the corner to 21st, then west on Ridgewood to 20th, and then left down the hill. When you are on 20th above the ridge, from Prescott to Alameda, you can see the difference in the neighborhood plats, with Sabin to the west on one side of the street with smaller homes on smaller lots.

Turning left (east) on Fremont, you have the long straight south edge of The Park to walk, passing by where the streetcar ran up 24th and the busy commercial hub that included the Alameda Pharmacy, the old Safeway (now the bank) and what used to be two gas stations. I think of the northeast and northwest corners of NE 24th and Fremont as the gateway to The Park because that’s where the streetcar ran, and because of the business district here.

Next, you pass east by the school, built in 1921 after much lobbying by the locals and a few protests that the construction contract was awarded through some favoritism (future blog post, stay tuned). The plats off to your right are Waynewood, the Town of Wayne and Edgemont, names long forgotten.

Tip your hat to the Pearson Pine, the big old ponderosa pine tree on the southeast corner of NE 29th and Fremont. It’s been there since at least 1885.

Up the hill you go. As you pass the staircases that head up to the top of the ridge, keep in mind there are old water mains under those steps, placed when they were built in the teens. At one point, maybe in the 1920s and early 1930s, women from the Alameda Tuesday Club acted as ushers for young children passing up and down these stairs on their way to and from school.

The crest of the hill at Fremont and 33rd is Gravelly Hill, which was both a gravel pit and garbage dump for many years. The dump was under the southwest corner, where a fine house sits today.

As you walk north on 33rd, think about the 33rd street woods (today’s Wilshire Park), originally part of the Kamm Estate, which was a dense forest that played a large part in the memories of youngsters who grew up there in the 1930s and 1940s. While you’re enjoying the evening, you can also tip your hat to the home guard, made up of Alameda dads, who patrolled the neighborhood at night during the World War II years, enforcing blackout rules and making sure families kept blankets and light dampers up on their windows.

And then there are the thousands of stories that rise up from the generations who have lived in the homes you’ll pass. Lots to wonder about as you and the dog push on around the corner at Prescott and head into the home stretch. So nice to be out on a history walk on a brisk November night.

Next: Walking the route of the Broadway Streetcar.

Time Treasures | What have you found?

In some ways, our old houses are like unintentional time capsules. The guys who built them long ago — and who have patched them together over the years — were resourceful, using materials at hand to get the job done. When we opened up a bathroom wall recently, we found handfuls of heavy wrapping paper used to prop up an electrical junction box (gulp). Packing materials from the original porcelain fixtures were used for shims or to frame out the medicine cabinet. Old newspapers were used all the time for insulation. These little treasures give us a moment’s glimpse into the past: people here in this room were trying to solve a problem and they used what they could get their hands on.

One of my favorite time treasures is a series of sketches found on the rough shiplap sheathing underneath the clapboard exterior of the house.

sketch-2.jpg

Our builder, William B. Donahue (or his mason), used some unusual brick patterns on his chimney exteriors (I’ve found four other Donahue houses in the neighborhood…more on that in a future post). On the outside face of the firebox he used brick to create crosses, patterns and other symbols. When we were replacing some cracked siding a few years back,  I found a series of sketches on the sheathing right next to the chimney that showed he was thinking about a cross.

sketch-1.jpg

Strangely, he didn’t put a pattern in our brick, but the sketches show he was thinking about it. Elsewhere — pretty much everywhere when we take something apart — are quickly scrawled measurements in pencil, signs of a carpenter at work almost 100 years ago.

Over the years, past homeowners and their families have surrendered all kinds of items, lost to the crack at the edge of the floor, the space behind the plate rail trim, or that hole where the radiator pipe goes downstairs. We’ve found an ivory diaper pin, a buffalo-head nickel and a lovely heart-shaped locket that escaped from a necklace. On the back is the inscription “From grandpa.” How long did someone look for that? Did grandpa replace it with another keepsake when no one could find the precious lost locket?

grandpa-locket.jpg

Who knows what else is here in the walls, under the floors, lost in the garden bed, or scribbled in some long covered-up corner. Whenever we’re working on the house, I’m always on the lookout.

What have you found?

%d bloggers like this: