Alameda’s C.J. and Lillian Smith House: Setting the record straight on C.C. Rich

When Dr. Charles Johnson Smith and Lillian Belle Guillford Smith built their mansion on Alameda Ridge in 1915, they had just come off his unsuccessful campaign for Oregon Governor, losing by a convincing margin to Republican James Withycombe, but considering a run for some other office or public service. They were also launching a new chapter in their lives—relocating to Portland from a quarter-century of public life and Dr. Smith’s medical practice in Pendleton.

Their new home at 864 The Alameda (readdressed during the Great Renumbering as 2834 NE Alameda) symbolized that ascendency: a graceful blend of English country house and Arts and Crafts style; a commanding view of downtown with a presence on the ridge among neighbors who were the captains of industry and Portland society; plenty of room to entertain.

The relatively unformed Alameda Park addition spreading out around them was just six years old and less than 15 percent of the available lots had been bought or built when the Smiths acquired two lots at the bend of The Alameda—as the street was known until the early 1930s—and hired local architect Charles C. Rich to design their dream home. Because of Smith’s prominence in the public eye, and the growing interest in residential development in this area, his real estate choices made news:

From The Oregon Journal, August 1, 1915

Homebuilding was in a slowdown due to economic conditions, so any building news was good news, and local newspapers paid close attention to milestones in their construction process. As the summer of 1915 unfolded, a series of short news items documented issuance of the building permit to builder James L. Quinn; excavation on the ridge and framing of the foundation as well as advertising for plumbing and electrical bids on August 25th; and construction of the retaining wall above Regents Drive on October 3, 1915. Capping off all the construction news coverage was this final piece, which appeared in the Oregon Journal on March 19, 1916:

In the 1980s, design of the home was mistakenly credited to Portland architectural giant Ellis Lawrence, who was active at this same time and in the same style, and who was friends with architect Charles C. Rich and with Smith family daughter Gwendoline (who in a big society wedding in the family home in 1917 married Harry Ashley Ely, another member of that friend group). All three men were involved in formation of the City Club of Portland. Rich and Lawrence were also faculty colleagues at the University of Oregon School of Architecture.

The original building permit documents, multiple news stories from 1915-1916, and the actual blue prints (which still exist, against all odds) make it very clear this house was designed by Charles C. Rich, not Ellis Lawrence. Just wanted to set that record straight.

The Smiths lived in the home until 1927, followed by the Arthur and Louise Nicolai family until 1946; Emily and Earl Grove until 1961; and the Kuzmaak family until 2019. The house was recently completely renovated by the Arnal family.

More builder & architect profiles

Our house history research practice provides a steady stream of insight about neighborhood development while also allowing us to get to know the builders, the buildings they built, the early residents, and the times they all lived through.

From The Oregonian, September 9, 1923

In addition to the recent piece on florist-turned-builder Carl F. Ruef, we’ve added 10 new names to The Builders page, joining background on more than 20 other builders. Below is a synopsis of these newly added crafts people. Click each name to see their stories and the addresses they’ve designed and built…you might find your home or one you know!

Forrest W. Ayers

Builder of eastside Craftsman bungalows in the teens and 1920s.

Willis Chandler

From 1926-1928, Chandler built more than a dozen homes in Beaumont near the intersection of NE 41st and Alameda.

Ernest L. Graves

Part booster, part builder, Graves parlayed his experience as an engineer in World War 1 into an ability to manage large projects, building more than 70 bungalows in Irvington during the height of the building boom 1925-1926. Graves worked with architect H.H. Menges whose motto was “You furnish the lot, and I’ll furnish the plans.”

Orlo Ray William Hossack

Architect of stately homes in the Irvington and Dolph Park neighborhoods and beyond, and large government and institutional buildings like the Washington County Courthouse and Masonic lodges throughout the region, Hossack paused his successful architectural practice in the mid 1930s to go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps and died on remote assignment in Idaho.

Emil Nelson

Advertising himself as “Master Builder” and Builder of Finer Homes,” this Swedish immigrant built dozens of homes in Alameda, Rose City Park and Eastmoreland.

Ralph Panhorst

Architect Ralph Panhorst grew up in Northeast Portland in the 19-teens and opened his own architectural practice at the age of 26, focusing on homes and apartment buildings. He was later known for his mid-century modern designs.

Ewald Theodore Pape

While not a registered architect, German immigrant E.T. Pape designed classic residences in Alameda, Laurelhurst, Eastmoreland and Dolph Park and a half-dozen mid-sized apartment buildings, three of which today are on the National Register of Historic Places.

James L. Quinn

This Scottish immigrant builder started out building bungalows in Montavilla and a four-square on NE Broadway before building Grant High School and multiple large projects in Portland and in the Klamath Falls area.

Charles C. Rich

A practicing architect in Portland and on the faculty at the University of Oregon School of Architecture in 1916-1917, Rich designed public buildings, wrote columns on architecture for The Oregonian, and finished a high profile Alameda home before leaving architecture and Oregon for good in 1918.

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