There aren’t many of these in the neighborhood, so they tend to stand out proud and clear: the Mediterranean, with its distinctive tile roof and stucco exterior, is a time traveler from a very specific period in Portland’s residential architecture history.
First beginning to appear with the housing boom of 19-teens and early 1920s, the Mediterranean style quickly became popular, with multiple grand homes built particularly in high-end Portland Heights and Willamette Heights neighborhoods, but also with more modest versions scattered through Irvington and Alameda.
While much of the surrounding housing stock of the time was clad with shingles, clapboards and the distinctive angular features associated with the Craftsman era, the Mediterranean style offered a more exotic and even romantic feel. Characteristic design elements tie to centuries-old classic materials and structures, including terra-cotta tile roofs, graceful archways, white-washed smooth stucco exteriors, and hipped-roof towers. Look for small porch-like tile-roofed entries (called loggias), and long narrow—often arched—casement windows.
All of these features conjure up romantic visions of Tuscan villas, rolling hills and established old settlements rooted in generations of storied history, which of course young Portland didn’t have a lot of in the 19-teens. But the appeal of this stylistic message, particularly here in a brand new neighborhood at the edge of a booming western city, was clear enough for some speculative home builders to give it a try.
A perfect example of the style here in Alameda is the home at 2506 NE Ridgewood, built in the spring of 1925 by local builder Emil Johnson. Johnson, and his younger brother Ernie Johnson (both Swedish immigrants, and both home builders) were busy in Alameda and Irvington during these years, but this is the only Mediterranean he built. Johnson designed and built this house, and likely took special care in its construction because it’s where he and his family lived (his daughter Eileen lived in the house all her life).
Look at the arched and roofed front entrance, the long casement windows, the terra-cotta roof tiles, the hipped-roof stair tower at the entry, and the wrought iron balcony railings: design elements that trumpet the Mediterranean-Italian connection.
Like so many aspects of American life that changed in the early 1930s, the Great Depression signaled the end to the popularity of the Mediterranean style as well. People went back to basics and the seemingly frivolous romance of the 1920s was seen as part of the problem. But this home, like several other Mediterraneans in the neighborhood, remain as a classy souvenir from the past, and a fine example of the diversity of architectural styles that make up our neighborhood.