The End of History

While we know change is actually the default setting of the universe, and we appreciate the economic complexities of restoration and development, there’s no getting away from the gut punch that happens every time we see these forces collide in our neighborhood.

We’ve been exploring this lately here on the blog as a witness to the coming changes at the corner of NE 30 and Skidmore. We’ve lived here almost 30 years and have walked by that house hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But we’ve never lived there, and don’t know anyone who has. It’s not part of our personal story, per se.

We’ve wondered what it might be like, or how objective we could be, if it was a place integral to our family history. If we thought of each demolition in this way, would it become more impactful? Would there be another set of calculations to make that could lead to other options?

We had an inkling of that this week when we learned one of the iconic homes from our family history, a modest Queen Anne bungalow on Diversey Avenue on Chicago’s north side where our father was born, has been demolished and replaced with a condominium. We wrote about the Diversey house here on AH some time back when we asked you to share a picture and story about your favorite house. Here it is, from one of the hundreds of pictures taken during earlier days:

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago. Taken about 1918.

1038 Diversey Parkway, Chicago (on the left). Taken about 1918.


Here’s the visual on this recent change, thanks to Google streetview. It’s the blue house on the right.




We won’t go into detail about how many stories and memories went down with those two houses. Dad was born there, delivered by the doctor who lived next door. Neighborhood picnics were held in the backyard. First day of school pictures on the front steps. Photos of uncles coming and going from the Great War. That house anchored the family as it grew, and it showed in the pictures that flowed from that experience.

During our own growing up years in the Chicago area, decades after the house passed from the family’s hands, whenever we were anywhere near, Dad always took us by, told a story, fed our imaginations with a sense of times past. Maybe our visits and the house’s presence in stories and pictures helped Dad stay oriented in his own family landscape. That’s the thing about our old houses: they become a kind of navigational aid for a family in its journey from past to present to future. After Dad died, we made the pilgrimage back on our own, the pictures of the uncles, the big snow, the sled on the porch burned into our hearts.

That’s where the gut punch comes from. Today, it’s all erased: not a single clue about those houses, those lives.

Clearly, we can’t “save” every old house or building. Our communities are growing and changing and a new infrastructure, informed by the past, is necessary for the city of the future. But we have to find a better way, to build on our strengths and on our past rather than erasing all traces.


2933 NE Skidmore | Still standing, for now

Those of us paying attention to the trajectory of the doomed 95-year-old Craftsman bungalow at 2933 NE Skidmore are surprised to note that it’s still standing. We’ve asked why, since the plan was to be done by late August, and the folks at developer Green Canopy explained the contractor they had scheduled for the lead-based paint abatement is contracted on a large job and is booked out until November. That means Green Canopy is rebidding the work and demolition will be delayed by anywhere from two to four weeks.

2933 NE Skidmore taken on 9-8-16 2933 NE Skidmore, photographed on September 8, 2016

During our recent exchange with the company, we also had a chance to pass along a question from one of our readers about how building materials will be salvaged during the demolition. Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto explained that the process will be a mechanized demolition not a deconstruction, and that the wood will not be salvaged. Ryan writes:

“We are not planning on a full deconstruction of this structure, which is what would be required in order to salvage the dimensional lumber. Just to clarify, even if we were to salvage the lumber, in order for it to be reused for framing purposes it would likely need to be milled down to true nominal size.”

Ryan did point out that certain building components, as well as landscape features, have already been salvaged.

We asked about drawings: Green Canopy is still working with city permitting officials and is not ready to release plans or drawings at this point. Ryan did point out that the earlier reference to the roof peak being at 45 feet (as surmised from the sketchy photo of an early plan set) was incorrect and the roof height is more like 33 feet above ground.

Once demolition begins, the process will take about five days. We’ll let you know in advance when demolition is scheduled. In the meantime, take a last walk by and tip your hat to this time traveler.

The Countdown Begins at Skidmore and 30th

The Alameda neighborhood received notice last week from developer Green Canopy alerting us that demolition of the 95-year-old home at NE 30th and Skidmore will begin on Tuesday, August 30th, and will probably take five days. Click here for background on what’s coming and the context behind this demolition. And here’s a link to an earlier post we wrote that includes a photo of the house from 1921, the year it was built by the Wickman Building Company for the George Kelleberg family.

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2933 NE Skidmore

We know the date with the wrecking ball is coming, so we dropped by in the early morning light to have a last look around, seeking clues to the generations of families and neighbors who have know this place. Here are some photos that document what we found. If you are inclined to send us a photo or two, or your own recollections of the house, we’ll post them here. Might be a nice way to capture some stories and perspectives.

Stairs facing NE 30th, 2933 NE Skidmore

Stairs from the back door facing NE 30th Avenue.

Looking west, 2933 NE Skidmore

East side of the house from NE 30th.


Living room, dining room and reflection, 2933 NE Skidmore

Through the livingroom window (and a reflection) toward the dining room and kitchen.


Chimney and vinyl siding, 2933 NE Skidmore

Chimney on the east side of the house.


Mailbox, 2933 NE Skidmore

Front porch mail slot, boxed out by siding material.


From kitchen looking to front, 2933 NE Skidmore

Looking through the back porch, the kitchen, the dining room and the living room (basement stairs on the right). The demo crew has already removed the asbestos flooring from the kitchen.


Back door and enclosed porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door and enclosed porch. Note the close proximity to the house just to the west.


Back porch, 2933 NE Skidmore

Back door, basement door.

Garden hose valve, 2933 NE Skidmore

Garden hose valve.


Original numbers, 2933 NE Skidmore

Original address tiles from the post 1930s address change. The original address was 915 Skidmore Street.

Get ready for demolition: 30th and Skidmore

The Alameda neighborhood’s initial hopes for renovation of a 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the corner of NE 30th and Skidmore are about to come tumbling down.


Contractors removing contaminated soil last week from an oil tank in the backyard of 2933 N.E. Skidmore. Demolition permits have been issued and according to the developer, the 95-year-old home will be demolished in mid-August.

Over the next few weeks, this part of the neighborhood will experience a major transition: Seattle developer Green Canopy has bought the corner lot and plans to demolish the 95-year-old home and build two 45-foot tall, three-story, 3,000-square-foot houses in its place. Each home is expected to list for more than $800,000.

Activity on the property has picked up in the last week, including removal of an oil tank and contaminated soil, and interior asbestos abatement.

Green Canopy’s Portland Construction Operations Manager Ryan Nieto writes that the company received its demolition permit on June 18th, but will likely not begin the process until mid-August. “We’ve been holding off the demolition for as long as possible, so we minimize the amount of time the lot has to sit empty,” wrote Nieto. “Before we mobilize for mechanical demolition, we’ll be properly abating the lead paint on the exterior of the home. 5 days prior we will pass out the required door hangers to the neighbors immediately adjacent to the property notifying them of the upcoming demolition.”

Nieto reports construction of the two homes will begin in early October.

Green Canopy owner Sam Lai, interviewed by AH in May, explained his vision for development of the new housing units at the neighborhood corner: his company is building environmentally-responsible, highly energy efficient homes to accommodate the growing need for housing in Portland and Seattle neighborhoods.

The company website summarizes Green Canopy’s mission and purpose:

What We Do: Our team is dedicated to building sustainable and resilient communities from the inside out. From re-building single family homes, to developing small scale communities, to impact investment and education – Green Canopy focuses on transforming the market to consider resource efficiency when homes are bought and sold. 

Why We Do it: Green Canopy has created a business ecosystem that is different and better than what traditional home building has had to offer in the past. We are a values-led organization with a staff that forges ahead with purpose, and a corporate culture that is built on respect, trust and love for each other, our children and future generations, and the planet. 

This spring, Lai and his design and construction team canvassed neighbors in the area and held meetings to hear concerns and desires for the new construction, offering a digital survey tool to gather input. “We like to give neighbors a seat at the table during design,” he said. They heard neighbor input on everything from building form and height, building materials, paint colors, construction noise and dust, and building setback from the street and sidewalk. The company’s website encourages neighbor input, allowing visitors to vote on paint colors for specific house projects.

AH interviews with neighbors, however, suggest that even though they had a chance to share their preferences and concerns, there’s been no indication how or if the company will respond.

Rachael Hoy, who lives next door to the west (see photo above), just feet away from the planned demolition, attended one of the two input meetings and recalls that the message from the 15 or so gathered neighbors was clear: don’t destroy this old bungalow.

“Most of the people who spoke asked the developer to please keep the home that’s here and do what’s needed to repair and get it back on the market,” said Hoy. “They (Green Canopy) made it clear the house was coming down. The next set of questions was about maintaining the traditional form and they made it clear that it’s probably not going to look like what’s here.”

Early drawings (pictured below) of the two houses to be built on the property turned up recently on Alameda Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking website, showing two buildings with 45-foot roof heights, built with minimal setbacks, and with multiple garages facing NE 30th Avenue. Neighbors have received no information from Green Canopy about how the company intends to respond to resident input. A written request AH made to the company three days ago seeking drawings or specifications was not returned.

2933 NE Skidmore Elevations

2933 NE Skidmore Plan

During meetings this spring, neighbors clearly expressed disappointment with the company’s plans for demolition instead of remodel. Lai said his team listened to the concerns and worries, and walked the neighbors through the economics of development and renovation, particularly in Portland’s strong real estate market.

“The economic opportunity for renovation of this home is so far past,” said Lai, citing significant costs associated with the instability of a nearly 100-year-old foundation and the need to essentially replace all building systems, windows, walls, floors, finishes and kitchen in order to make it viable for sale in this marketplace.

Green Canopy has come to its understanding of restoration vs. demolition economics through its experience in Seattle, where the company started out doing energy efficient old house renovations, completing 65 total renovations between 2010-2014. The company’s business model in its early years was to buy older homes in serious need of renovation and restore them to marketability and energy efficiency. But as real estate market values increased, costs made restoration prohibitive and the company learned that in order to be successful—and to pursue its mission of energy efficiency and sustainability—it needed to change the model from restoration to replacement utilizing sustainable design and construction practices to raze the older home and go with new construction

Lai acknowledges the seeming paradox of wanting to utilize sustainable practices while also beginning a project with demolition.

“We all get to choose the hypocrisies we get to live with,” he said, citing his own example of being dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon emissions but also owning a car. “Yes, I own a Prius, but I know I really should be riding a bicycle if I care about climate change.”

Portland’s zoning ordinances permit two houses to be built on the corner lot, but they must be attached. Neighbors we spoke with were concerned about the size of the new construction and how it will dominate the corner and the neighborhood. Others were concerned about the interruption and impact of demolition and the construction process, including air quality and health issues. At least one person expressed concern about how the new construction may lead to an increase in property taxes for surrounding homes.

Lai affirms that change is coming, and that the houses will stand out from the smaller, older homes. “They’re going to be bigger houses than people want to see,” he said. “But the basis cost of the land determines how big the houses need to be.” The lot and current home sold for $545,000. When it sold earlier this year, the listing referred to the property as “house of no value.”

“I expect the houses to be unsightly, so they will detract from the neighborhood,” said Gloria Berqquist, who lives kitty-corner from the bungalow. “It won’t fit with the other houses. They can call it whatever they want, but to me it’s a duplex. I think they said it’s going to be almost twice as tall as the current house. I won’t be able to see the trees that I now see behind the house.”

In the end, Mr. Lai’s philosophy is that change is inevitable, and that it is important to make good decisions and long-term choices about building practices and materials. As homes age, markets accelerate, populations, lifestyles and family needs evolve, a neighborhood and its housing stock must change as well.

“It’s not 100 years ago anymore,” he said. We have to use our space and materials more efficiently.

In the midst of the disappointment and neighborhood anger associated with the coming demolition, next-door neighbor Rachael Hoy is working on acceptance.

“Our single family neighborhoods are going to become denser, it’s just a reality,” she said. Because of that, neighbors need to weigh in with the city about land use and infill requirements and processes, and impress on developers that they must take some interest in and be responsive to the comments of neighbors.

“We’re trying to be positive,” she said. “However this unfolds, we’ll have two new sets of neighbors. We all want to be supportive of the people who will be moving in even if we don’t like the houses.”

AH will continue its coverage of the demolition and construction as the process proceeds.

“House of No Value” ~ 2933 NE Skidmore: The Next Alameda Tear-Down?

9-11 1921 Detail of 915 Skidmore (NE Corner of 30th)

A photo from The Oregonian, September 11, 1921. Built by the Wickman Building Company for the George A. Kelleberg family at a cost of $4,500.

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January 30, 2016

We were disappointed to read the language of a recent real estate advertisement for the 1921 Craftsman bungalow at the northwest corner of NE 30th and Skidmore.

The 50 x 100 corner lot was recently legally partitioned into two 50 x 50 lots and an allowance made for two houses on what has been (and still is for the moment) a single lot. (Read more about the practice of “lot splitting” and the demolition trend here). Among other things, the ad called out to builders and investors and made it clear this was a tear-down in waiting:

“House of no value. Value in land only.”

This week, the listing broker amended the ad noting that the seller would be willing to consider selling the house as is instead of tearing it down. This is good news. The price moved a bit too in the right direction: now asking $599,900. Last week’s language of “house of no value” was changed this week to this:

“Instant equity with this fixer; hardwood floors; classic floor plan; Seller willing to try conventional financing for full price offer – seller to do no repairs. Or Tear Down and Build 2 new houses! Approved for attached houses!”

AH readers know that old houses do indeed have value, and a multi-layered history that makes them unique and important. Yes, we know that all things (including houses and buildings) do have a life cycle, and that taking care of any older home is an investment. We haven’t had a chance to look around inside the house yet, but old-house-savvy people we respect have and report that yes indeed, it is a fixer with its share of deferred maintenance. But, the bones are solid, and they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Know anyone who’s looking for a bargain of an old house, wants to stem the tide of tear downs, and has a fixer upper in them? Time to make that call.

We’ll volunteer to do a full house history study as moral support for any successful fixer-upper purchaser…

Extra note: below is a screenshot from a faithful AH reader that shows a Google Maps street view image of the property from 2011. Our helpful reader reminds us that it’s possible to turn back street view time to see how this property has aged over the last few years. Try it yourself by searching the address and going to Google Maps street view, then drag the timeline bar back and forth to look for changes. Thanks John!

Skidmore House

Another Alameda tear-down: NE 24th and Regents

The 1946 ranch-style home at NE 24th and Regents is no more. Out on a walk today, here is what we observed:

2410 NE 24th Front Steps

Above, what it used to look like, a photo borrowed from the online listing.

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Here’s the same view today.

FullSizeRender (9)

Looking north toward Alameda Ridge.

We’ve been watching this house for the last several months, having read in the neighborhood newsletter that it had been slated for demolition and that multiple houses were going to be built back in its place. As we stood on the corner taking in the change, almost every passerby stopped to roll down their window and look. Many took pictures. Everyone seemed surprised, and not in a good way.

The real estate listing said this of the home:

Stunningly updated Alameda Mid-Century modern. This rare one-level home, on a double corner lot, boasts high-end appliances, central air, heated floors, two fireplaces and a zen-like garden retreat with a tea-house and hot tub.

We suppose cashing in on the value of the double lot eclipsed the value of the “rare one-level home.”

We’ve written about the demolition trend here on AH in the past when it has changed the face of the neighborhood. To read more about how demolitions are changing neighborhoods across Portland—and to track them on an interesting map—check out Restore Oregon, which is hard at work to advocate for protections, alternatives and education.

There’s another house we’ve been watching—a 1921 Craftsman bungalow on the northwest corner of Skidmore and 30th that has been vacant for a while. This fall, the Alameda Newsletter reported that it was also a candidate for tear-down.

FullSizeRender (10)

2933 NE Skidmore, built in 1921.

In fact, here’s text from that listing:

Builders! Investors! 50×50 lot in desirable Alameda neighborhood. Land division has been approved for an attached home by the City of Portland. Build attached house on each lot in one of Portland’s A+ neighborhoods! Buyer to do due diligence. House of no value. Value in Land only.

Did you catch that sentence: “House of no value.”


Did you catch the rest of the ad: this property has gone from one 50 x 100 corner lot to two 50 x 50 lots, approved by the city, and it must host an attached home (row house or duplex). Have a look at the attached home/duplex being built on NE 32nd between Sumner and Emerson (or worse, the one being built on NE 30th between Killingsworth and Jarrett) for a taste of what might be coming our way.

2933 NE Skidmore will likely be the next Alameda tear down. More on that house next.

Another tear down: 3416 NE Alameda

We’ve received word this week of another pending tear-down in the neighborhood: the 1928 Tudor located on multiple lots at 3416 NE Alameda, just east of 33rd.

FullSizeRender (3)

3416 NE Alameda, slated for demolition this summer.

We’ve walked past this home and noted the exceptional landscaping the high peaked-ceilings and the new roof. We’ve also noted that it contains several lots, which increasingly means it’s a sitting duck target for developers seeking tear-downs and rebuilds of multiple homes. Last week, we received a letter from the Bureau of Development Services letting us know of the impending tear-down, and that under Portland’s new demolition delay period, an appeal by a qualified organization (like a neighborhood association) is possible until July 6th.

The home has a for sale sign up at the moment, with a sticker that says pending, but the correspondence we received from the city indicates it has been purchased by Everett Custom Homes.

If you’d like to appreciate this fine example of Tudor revival, you’d better look fast.

Tear down on Alameda Ridge

We know that change is our constant companion, and we believe that change and design diversity can be invigorating and even inspiring in the right context and range. But that doesn’t mean we don’t regret seeing a time traveler removed from its prominent spot on the Alameda Ridge.

5-24-15 Alameda Ridge 2

2122 NE Alameda, May 24, 2015.

This week, wrecking crews demolished the lifetime home of the late Maryon Lewis Kinsey at 2122 NE Alameda. You’ve seen it: a blue blend of Cape Cod and English Cottage, just before you turn down the hill on NE 21st. Maybe you’ve read our post about Maryon, which you can find here. We recommend it: a short read to understand what it was like to grow up in Alameda.

Here’s what the house looked like when it was built and put on the market in 1928.

726 The Alameda

It’s an advertisement from a 1928 edition of The Oregonian that attracted Maryon Lewis Kinsey’s parents, who bought the house brand new to raise their family in, and the house where Maryon and her husband Lloyd raised their family until her death in 2013.

Here’s a picture of the house, with Maryon on the steps, from our visit there a few years back:


We know the house and its foundation had serious structural problems, and that the current owners have reportedly wrestled with the idea of taking it all the way down. We appreciate that. We’ve struggled ourselves with the economics of restoration vs. new construction. Of course, we always lean toward restoration and are always ready to make the case for conserving the historic fabric. But not everyone does.

Now that the original house is gone, the really hard part for us has to do with the plans for its replacement. Here’s the rendering:

2122 NE Alameda New

The new and improved 2122 NE Alameda, from a news story that ran in the Portland Chronicle on May 10, 2015.

Not sure what exactly to say about this. The beautiful brick tudor style house immediately to the east (built 1932) and the Colonial to the west (built 1928)–and all of the 1920s-era houses up and down the Alameda Ridge–will have some adjusting to do.

There’s been an active discussion about the demo and the reconstruction plan on the Nextdoor website, which is a social media conversation place for the neighborhood. Roughly speaking, the comments are running against the design, but some neighbors (we bet not the exact next door neighbors) are endorsing the design.

What do you think?


5-24-15 Alameda Ridge 1


Learning More about the Tear-Down Trend

It’s been a quiet few months here on the Alameda History blog, but work has continued and the history radar has been tuned in to several topics and stories.

Like you, we have been watching with dismay as the trend of tear-downs has swept across the eastside. A changing market has meant that the value of the actual lot has eclipsed the value of some older homes, allowing developers to demolish and build new, and still make a profit margin. The result is typically larger, less historically appropriate homes shoe-horned into lots never designed to hold such large buildings. We’ve written a bit about this trend here in Alameda.

Clearly, this is a living and changing neighborhood—which we imagine few would object to. It is the prerogative of the present to redefine, reinterpret and reuse what the past has provided. Still, there are implications. And in our view there is the obligation we owe to the future to be thoughtful with the current and historic character of this 100-year-old-plus neighborhood.

The city is hosting a gathering to discuss this tear-down trend, existing pertinent ordinances, and where these trends may lead. We encourage our neighbors to participate. Here are the details:

Wednesday, June 11 2014, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Concordia University’s Luther Hall, 2811 NE Holman.

Guest speakers from the City’s Bureau of Development Services, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, home builders, housing and community organization will address:

  • What are the City’s regulations around residential tear-downs and new construction?
  • How do these trends affect neighborhood affordability, stability, and equity?
  • What are the environmental issues around the demolition of building?
  • What is attracting home builders?

This is an important topic that deserves attention and consideration.

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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