Dolph Park: Restrictions shaped the early neighborhood, creating an enclave of wealth and big houses

We’ve often wondered about Dolph Park: the island of tall trees, large houses and lush landscaping a few blocks west of Grant High School in Northeast Portland. Who were the Dolphs? How did this place come to be? What was here before?

Today a subset of the Grant Park Neighborhood, Dolph Park feels like its own place, distinct from the smaller streets and lots immediately to the east in the Fernwood Addition. The homes are younger than in Irvington to the west. Buffered from the mixed commercial uses to the south on Broadway. And distinct from smaller homes and lots to the north in Waynewood.

This is the Dolph Park Plat, filed with Multnomah County in April 1924. The notes at the bottom show portions of lots vacated along NE 30th between Eugene Street (today’s U.S. Grant Place) and NE Tillamook. Courtesy of Multnomah County Surveyor.

For a subdivision of its size—10 blocks and 122 lots—it arrived relatively late on the scene. It is unusual for so much open land so close in to have been unbuilt for so long. Part of that had to do with complex property ownership and legal wrangling. But when it did come to market, during the boom years of the mid 1920s, it didn’t take long to sell.

Development of Dolph Park, like other subdivisions in Portland at the time, was premised on strict racial prohibitions written right into the deeds that prohibited any other than white families living here.

Dolph Park restrictions also required minimum new construction costs which were at the high end for new construction at the time. Homes facing NE Thompson Street, which the developers clearly wanted to make the showcase street of the neighborhood, required even higher minimum construction costs.

Dolph Park was platted in April 1924 by Eliza Cardinell Dolph (1849-1934), matriarch of the Dolph family which was influential in Portland in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eliza was the widow of Cyrus Abda Dolph (1840-1914), who had a long list of legal and civic accomplishments, including serving as Portland City Attorney, helping found Reed College, serving as lead attorney for the Northern Pacific Railroad, director of the Oregon and California Railroad, president of the Library Association of Portland and other positions. Cyrus’s brother Joseph Dolph was a two-term U.S. Senator from Oregon. Clearly, Eliza and Cyrus—and their three children—were amongst the most well off of Portlanders and the family controlled property in every quarter of the city.

Cyrus A. Dolph, about 1911 (left); Eliza Cardinell Dolph, about 1868 (right)

The property that is today’s Dolph Park, however, came to Eliza through her own side of the family: the Cardinells. Her parents Charles and Jane Cardinell arrived in Oregon in 1865 and acquired land as the city grew, amassing a small fortune. When Eliza’s father died at age 85 on August 22, 1907, real estate, investments—and several very valuable musical instruments including a Stradavarius violin—came to her and to her brother Charles B. Cardinell. Included in the estate were two tracts of property: one in the Fernwood Plat and one which was part of the Bowering Donation Land Claim, both between NE 28th and 32nd Avenue, from Thompson to Tillamook.

These properties had been owned by her parents from the moment they were platted by Hannah W. Smith in May 1887 as part of the Fernwood Addition. Real estate transfers show the property going directly from Hannah Smith to Eliza’s parents Jane and Charles Cardinell, and some properties to her younger brother Charles B. Cardinell (1858-1923) as well.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s these open lands were cultivated with berry and orchard crops. Small-scale farming and grazing occurred as other nearby neighborhoods began to grow. Today’s Northeast 33rd Avenue was a constant presence: first, a dirt-track county road that marked the edge of city limits; then increasingly a through-way for access to agriculture along the Columbia Slough; then prime access to booming brand-new nearby residential neighborhoods.

In the early 1920s, with the explosion in real estate values all around these undeveloped lands—Irvington to the west, Waynewood and Alameda to the north, Beaumont and Rose City Park to the east—Eliza Dolph recognized the attractiveness and marketability of her long-held family properties. Following the death of her brother in 1923 and the settling of his estate, she brought together the Cardinell properties with those owned by four other families to create Dolph Park. The plat was filed on June 30, 1924, containing 10 blocks and 122 lots.

The first classified advertisement for property in the “beautiful wooded tract” appeared in August 1925, noting the deed restrictions that were placed on the property by Eliza Dolph and the other owners, which would have been a selling point to the buyers they sought. There were three required conditions of ownership in Dolph Park, the first of which is shocking, but sadly common in many Portland neighborhoods at this time:

  • “In consideration of the mutual benefits, the dedicators do hereby declare that for a period of twenty-five years from the date of this dedication the premises shall be used exclusively for residence purposes and shall be occupied by the white race and no member of any race other than the white race shall own or occupy any portion of Dolph Park;
  • “No residence shall be built upon the lots facing upon Thompson Street which shall cost less than $5,000;
  • “No residence shall be built upon any other lot in Dolph Park costing less than $4,000.”

This form of institutional racism was formally expressed in other new Portland subdivisions of the era, and was a fundamental, pervasive, informal force throughout Portland and Oregon. Later, in the 1930s, the practice of redlining—designating areas where banks would not offer loans for purchase or maintenance—affected property values and families’ ability to accumulate wealth.

Dolph Park became an enclave of wealthy white families, many of whom at the time made their fortunes in the forest products and manufacturing sectors. City directory entries from Dolph Park in those early years read like a who’s-who of Portland money and influence.

On September 6, 1925, in its first reference to the new subdivision, The Oregonian carried a short news story about Dolph Park:

One year later, on September 19, 1926, the newspaper reported that almost every lot had been sold:

Like a pulse of work moving through the system, architects, owners and builders were busy making their plans and 1928 was a big year for construction in Dolph Park. This is from the Oregon Journal on February 3, 1929.

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Here’s an interesting way to look at it: a compilation we’ve built of four Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map plates (click below to enlarge) which provides a snapshot in time from 1924, just as the property was being formally platted. The recognizable grid of streets is present all around, but the future Dolph Park is still an unformed island in the middle of it all, showing several random houses, one large home near 33rd and Tillamook, and scattered green houses. Fernwood School is in the lower right. Eugene Street would later become part of today’s U.S. Grant Place. What other changes do you see?

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