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.

Stories of Success by Homebuilders

I’ve been going through early issues of The Oregonian in search of stories and photos about homes and neighborhoods. It’s been a fascinating journey marked with some real jackpots of information about Alameda, Olmsted Park and Beaumont. Photos, catchy advertisements, stories about who was building what, and where. The Portland of 1909-1915 feels definitely more boastful, a little rowdier than today, with the challenge of meeting day-to-day necessities a little closer to the top.

When you get to reading these papers, you can just feel time flowing through your hands. Each news story or photo is a small thread in the fabric of time. Important at that moment, but entirely forgotten or unobserved today. 

I happened on a great series of stories that grew out of the boastfulness of new neighborhood development. The Portland Realty Board got together with The Oregonian to launch and run a series of columns that invited new Portland homeowners to tell their own stories about how they built (and financed) their new houses. Their modest houses, in most cases. This was not a focus on the big Craftsman or Dutch colonials being built (they had their own limelight on the pages of the Sunday Oregonian). These were grass roots stories about saving money under your mattress, living out of the tent on your new lot, and building your bungalow with your own two hands. Inspiring, really.

Called Stories of Success by Homebuilders, this column was the outgrowth of a weekly contest for the best story. Cash prizes were given, and winning essays were printed in the Sunday Oregonian. The unstated purpose was to help motivate first-time home buyers. In setting up the first essay, the Portland Realty Board wrote:

It was a difficult problem for the committee on awards to decide which of the number were the three best stories, as each contained features deemed of great value in emphasizing the purposes for which the contest is being held. The spirit which underlies the authorship of the essays is wholesome, cheery and inspiring.

So I’m going to pick out of a few of the best and share them, along with a translation of the address for the house today, in case you want to ride by on your bike for an informed look (and a tip of the hat to the first homeowners who made it happen).

Here’s Ed Mack’s submission from April 7, 1912. The home he and his wife built is at 3122 NE 47th Avenue. It appears there have been some significant changes made to the house since the Macks knew it.

 680 East Fortyseventh Street, North is today's 3122 NE 47th Avenue.

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