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.
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:
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 Hutchinson 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 Hutchinsons 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.