Adaptive reuse on NE 30th: A viable alternative to teardown

When the dumpsters and porta-potty arrived a few weeks ago out in front of the old house, we presumed the worst. We’d seen the 1921 Craftsman bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore decline as bags of garbage piled up on the front porch, bushes grew up over the car in the driveway and the electricity was turned off.

This compact 1921 bungalow near NE 30th and Skidmore in Alameda is being revived from what looked like a sure path toward teardown. March 2, 2020.

Taken with its slow descent over the last couple of years, the recent signals seemed clear enough the property had changed hands and would be torn down to make way for another quickly-built three-story unit (or two) that maximized lot lines and financial returns. We’ve seen this story play out before, including for the old bungalow that used to stand right next door to this unlikely survivor.

But this story is headed in a different direction.

The 1,000-square-foot 1921 Alameda bungalow that looked like the next candidate for a teardown is now being revived, restored and repurposed by a nearby neighbor couple who couldn’t bear to see another teardown / big box happen and who wanted to make room for their extended family (they’re adding an addition to the back of the old bungalow to give the modern family a bit more space).

Harry Ford and Amy Garlock, who live in the house directly across the backyard lot line, watched back in 2016 as the former house kitty-corner across the backyard did get torn down and replaced by two three-story semi-attached boxes which sold for almost $1 million each. When it looked like the bungalow directly behind them was headed down the same path, they began to wonder if there was something they could do.

“We bought it partly so that there wouldn’t be another giant duplex in our backyard,” says Ford.

But Ford also explains the house—which will share a big now-open backyard with their own place on NE 29th—will help meet a very real contemporary need: a quality place to live for their aging-in-place parents.

It’s interesting to note that back in the day, a similar multi-generational family-as-neighbor arrangement was in place just around the corner with the family that once lived in the now-gone bungalow and their in-laws who lived right next door. Former residents of that house remembered dinners that went back and forth, the sharing of tools, supplies, grandparents helping with babysitting. It worked out great for everyone.

Today, Ford is looking forward to having his in-laws just across the backyard, and to interrupting the teardown trend by keeping—and adapting—the historic fabric of the neighborhood. He acknowledges that pretty much any other purchaser of the very run-down house would have razed, rebuilt and sold high to repay the construction loan, then moved on to the next project.

For his family though, the ability to acquire an existing older home at a reasonable price literally in their own backyard, combined with the ability to meet the families’ needs at the moment and for the foreseeable future, made this a reasonable thing to do. Ford and Garlock look at the investment in restoration as a good long-term proposition given the multiple types of “bottom lines” it helps them achieve: economics, quality of life, aesthetics and sustainability.

The origin of the house has an interesting story: when AH started exploring the home’s history this week, we determined that it’s a Sears Roebuck house, built in 1921 by builder Albert W. Horn. The floor plan is pure Sears Argyle, one of the company’s most successful kit homes, sold from 1917-1925. Here, take a look:

The Argyle page from a 1921 Sears Roebuck catalog. From 1908 through 1940, Sears sold more than 70,000 kit homes that were built in almost every major US city by homeowners, their friends and in some cases like this one, actual home builders.

 

1921 Sears Roebuck Argyle floor plan, from the catalog. A solid match with the NE 30th Avenue bungalow.

 

On a recent visit, the scope of the work necessary to bring back the 1921 bungalow was evident: Heating, plumbing, electrical, all interior walls, kitchen, bathroom, fireplace, chimney, exterior siding, finishes, window trim. The 100-year-old foundation and framing are solid. Everything else needs attention.

Standing in the kitchen looking toward the front door through the dining room and living room. There’s a bedroom in the front right, a bathroom down the hall and a bedroom in the back, just to the right in this picture. Turn 90 degrees to the right and there’s a stairway into the full basement. March 2, 2020.

“Sometimes, going down to the studs in an old house like this is just easier because you know exactly what you’re working with,” said Craig McNinch of McNinch Construction who is running the project utilizing drawings by Lynn Harritt. He also restored Ford and Garlock’s current bungalow on NE 29th. “This place has great bones,” says McNinch, gesturing to the full dimension 2 x 4 framing lumber, the solid oak floors and the foundation.

From the dining room looking into the living room. A portal wall framed the opening between the two rooms and came down to meet the columns that are atop the built-in cabinets. Behind the sheets of pressboard material on the left is a fireplace. Just like the historic Argyle plans. March 2, 2020.

McNinch has worked on many restoration projects in the area and acknowledges this one is indeed a challenge. But he likes the vision of restoring what was once a new and exciting home for a young family, the backyard connection of the two houses and families, and the constant stream of positive comments he’s had from neighbors and passersby who are happily surprised with the work. During a recent afternoon, we heard McNinch and his crew loudly encouraged to “keep up the good work” by a passing driver calling from a rolled-down window.

Asbestos abatement contractors recently removed the asphalt shingles revealing the original brown cedar shingle siding. March 2020.

Ford and Garlock’s project to revive the old place reminds all of us that there are alternatives to demolition; that it’s ok to adapt something old to meet current needs; that the grace and history of an old place adds its own kind of meaning to family life.

Stay tuned for updates and more on Sears Roebuck homes.

Demolitions, tear downs and new construction reshape the neighborhood

1-31-14 Demo Progress 1

It’s been almost a year now since the Frederic Bowman house at the corner of NE 28th and Dunckley was demolished, and here’s what’s being built in its place. You may remember the graceful fixer-upper that sat far back on the big corner lot one block north of the Alameda Ridge. The classic 1922 Mediterranean style villa was originally home to the William and Susan Illidge family.

The house was demolished and the lot subdivided to make room for two new houses. We’ve been watching construction of one of them. Here are a few views. Hmm. Wonder what the neighbors think: it’s awfully close.

1-31-14 Demo Gallery

We embrace many architectural styles and traditions (the neighborhood is filled with variety), but we do have to say that it’s still hard to lose the classic Bowman style, and to clutter that formerly open corner with two new houses. That’s right, there’s another house yet to go in between the old stairway (above) and the new house in the background. I’ve heard neighbors refer to this first new house as a “big barn.” Others think it looks more like a space ship settling in next door to its Dutch colonial neighbor.

In the last week, we’ve had a chance to walk every street in the original Alameda Park plat (and nearby) and can report a handful of other tear-downs or major remodels that have replaced original homes. Here’s a quick look at what we’ve seen.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 1

This little cottage above is on NE 29th, just north of Siskiyou. Will watch to see what it becomes.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 2

The only original components of this house above, located on NE 32nd Place just north of Shaver, are the columns and some of the front porch archway, but the rest of the new house behind it actually fits in quite well with the neighboring homes in terms of scale, design and material choices.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 3

Here’s a tear-down at NE 21st and Ridgeview that expanded the overall footprint of the house on the lot and that now dwarfs the neighbors with its large scale.

The tear-down trend, driven by an improving economy, is increasingly visible in Portland’s eastside neighborhoods. We’re always glad to see sensitive restorations and renovations done (and to know that this economy has some resources to invest in upkeep of our older homes) but the tear downs do alter the sense of place. An organization called Restore Oregon is helping to raise the profile of this trend and offer some considerations and solutions. Check out RO’s recent post on the topic, which features a photo from Alameda.

Strolling the neighborhood, we’ve also noticed another trend: building new homes on formerly vacant lots (of which there aren’t many in Alameda, but there are a few). Here’s a new house on what has been an open side lot on Dunckley between NE 29th and Regents. A couple of views:

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 4 2-1-14 Demo Gallery 5

Below is another one that is going to come as a surprise (at least it did to us): The new driveway installed this week on the south side of Alameda Street just west of Alameda Terrace provides new access to the existing older home that faces Alameda Terrace (3251 NE Alameda Terrace, built in 1913). And the existing driveway will now serve two more houses that will be built on the remaining lots. Up until this week, the Alameda Street side, pictured below, was a tall laurel hedge.

2-1-14 Demo Gallery 6

Will welcome some discussion about all of this: upside/downside, examples and observations from neighbors.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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