The Builders

Thousands of hands have shaped our homes and surroundings here in the neighborhoods of Northeast Portland: designing, digging, building, crafting, selling.

The men and women who imagined and then built our neighborhood in the early 1900s are gone now, and mostly unremembered. But their work is durable enough that today, we take it for granted. Do many of us wonder about how the bones of our houses came together, or the people behind the construction? Probably not. But there are important stories to be told. Remembering them adds context to our own residency here. And tipping our hat to the builders is the right thing to do.

A few things to keep in mind as you read through these pages:

  • The research behind these stories is ongoing and based on first-person interviews and information gathered from descendants of the builders and other primary sources. If you have information about any of these people, can offer a referral to someone who might, or have suggestions or tips about other builders, please drop me an e-mail:
  • Many of these builders were Mom-and-Pop (or brother-and-brother) operations. So when I focus in on Frank Read, for instance, let’s not forget the contributions of his wife Mae, who undoubtedly helped with everything from keeping the books to applying for the building permits. The people who built these houses put their hearts and their hands into it. It was their life’s work.

Click on the builder’s name to see the addresses of his work and a short biography.

Arnt Anderson

Builder of Craftsman homes in Irvington, Alameda, Beaumont and Laurelhurst, and convicted con man. Busy here in Portland from 1912-1915.

Forrest W. Ayers

Builder of eastside Craftsman bungalows in the teens and 1920s.

Ken Birkemeier

Prolific mid-century builder of cottage, ranch and contemporary homes, often in unique and challenging building sites, 1932-1952.

William G. Bohn

A long time “lumberman” who had already had a career in the upper Midwest, Bohn incorporated as a homebuilder and investment company to capitalize on the opportunity of the 1920s.

Willis Chandler

From 1926-1928, Chandler built more than a dozen homes in Beaumont near the intersection of NE 41st and Alameda.

William Donahue

Builder of bungalows in Alameda and Beaumont from 1911-1921.

Charles W. Ertz

Ertz was a builder’s architect, as comfortable supervising construction as designing commercial and residential buildings. He’s responsible for the Beaumont Market, the former Lloyd Golf Course Clubhouse, the Art-Deco Salvation Army Headquarters on Sandy Boulevard and many others 

Ernest L. Graves

Part booster, part builder, Graves parlayed his experience as an engineer in World War 1 into an ability to manage large projects, building more than 70 bungalows in Irvington during the height of the building boom 1925-1926. Graves worked with architect H.H. Menges whose motto was “You furnish the lot, and I’ll furnish the plans.”

Albert Irwin

A flare for Norman and Tudor styles, built in Beaumont, Dolph Park, Alameda, Portland Heights, Overlook and many other neighborhoods from the 1920s-1940s.

Judson Hubbell

Advertised himself as the “builder of pleasant homes,” later a real estate agent.

Ernie Johnson and Nelson Anderson

Homebuilder and cabinet maker teamed up in the 1920s to build many Alameda-area homes.

Max Kaffesider

Austrian immigrant who started his homebuilding career at age 45, former waiter, brother of owner of Jake’s.

H.R. “Hallie” Kibler

An enterprising young builder form the 19-teens, Kibler returned from his service in World War 1 to become Portland’s “reliable builder,” constructing more than 300 homes on Portland’s eastside.

Arthur J. “Matt” Matot

One of Portland’s most prolific home builders of the 1920s and former Alameda resident.

Edward R. McLean

Prolific builder in Beaumont, 1922-1970.

Emil Nilson

Advertising himself as “Master Builder” and Builder of Finer Homes,” this Swedish immigrant built dozens of homes in Alameda, Rose City Park and Eastmoreland.

Sam Olimansky

A Russian immigrant who started his building career as a violin maker, and later worked on Portland’s eastside from the 1920s through the early 1950s.

The Oregon Home Builders

One of Portland’s earliest big builders, this company operated from 1912-1917 before going bankrupt.

Emil G. Peterson

Swedish immigrant, favored Craftsman-styled homes

Harry Phillips

His work defines the Gile Terrace and NE Ridgewood area.

James L. Quinn

This Scottish immigrant builder started out building bungalows in Montavilla and a four-square on NE Broadway before building Grant High School and multiple large projects in Portland and in the Klamath Falls area.

Frank Read

Colonial revival style in Alameda both above and below the ridge, from 1923-1940.

Charles C. Rich

A practicing architect in Portland and on the faculty at the University of Oregon School of Architecture in 1916-1917, Rich designed public buildings, wrote columns on architecture for The Oregonian, and finished a high profile Alameda home before leaving architecture and Oregon for good in 1918.

Earl A. Roberts | Roberts Construction Company

Rose City Park, Roseburg and Seattle 1908-1939

Max Shimshak

A “builder’s builder,” known for exacting standards and larger homes.

Elwood Wiles

Portland’s busiest concrete sidewalk and curb contractor; Alameda resident.

18 responses

  1. I am doing research on the builder on my home, Benjamin B. Brumwell. I am curious to if you found a consolidated resource showing builders per plat or if this was accomplished by a manual process. I live in the Rose City Park neighborhood and have searched deed records showing other homes that Brumwell built. However the majority are in SE. I would love to know of other resources to track down.

  2. Hi Dawn. Thanks for visiting. I’ve had a look back through my database and don’t find any homes by Benjamin B. Brumwell in the Alameda Park subdivision. I’m not aware of any resource that references builders by plat, since the construction period spanned so many years. The database I’ve built comes from examining by hand all of the building permits for this neighborhood. If you haven’t delved into the permits, I’m sure you would find that helpful (if a little tedious). I’m betting you’ve seen the book by the Rose City Park Association which sheds life on the early life of the neighborhood. Lots of history there. Good luck with your research and let me know if you find any higher-level tools like the one you’ve mentioned.

  3. Hi Doug,

    I restored a 1930 English Cottage style house in Vancouver and researched the history of its builder, William P. Moore.
    Moore was born in Sweden and moved here with his parents to So. Dakota, then relocated to Vancouver as a young adult. He specialized in English Cottage homes, and
    I’ve identified about 50 here in the older part of Vancouver that appear to be his. He built from 1907 until his death in 1937.
    I’m guessing that he also built in Portland.
    I recognize his house design style on your side of the river! What I don’t know is whether he was the designer or perhaps his English Cottages came from a series of stock plans by yet another person.
    Any feel for that?



  4. hi doug, thx for your insightful articles on home history. we’ve been researching off and on for a brief span of time, and appreciate all your tips. haven’t found the builder of our place yet, but the process is fascinating. the oregon historical society was a great 4 hour launching post in our quest. we’ll have to look up the building permits and deed info next. if you have any further tips, feel free to share thx, teresa and nat

  5. Hello –
    we’re researching the builder of our 1942 home at 2332 NE Alameda and have been told it’s a Birkemeier. I see on your list of Ken Birkemeier’s homes that there is a Birkemeier home at 2372 NE Alameda – but today, there is no home with that address on Alameda. Can you clarify?
    Is there any way for us to verify the builder of our home at 2332 NE Alameda?
    Tobin and Danielle

  6. Hello. I am the Editor for the BWNA Newsletter, and I’ve been wanted to include an article on the history of the Beaumont-Wilshire area. Specifically, how was this area named Beaumont-Wilshire? Can you help us? The next issue will be distributed in January, so the middle of December is our deadline. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Dan.

  7. My next door neighbor and I were both told the builder of homes on our block lived in our homes. Do you know who built homes at 2734 and 2744 NE Bryce Street? My home has pocket windows, single panes that drop down into the wall, that I’ve only heard about in one other home on Alameda.

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for dropping by the website. I’ve done some looking into these two addresses and will send you an e-mail with permit and census information that you’ll find of interest.

      I’m interested in learning more about the pocket window…


  8. Thanks again for your information about our neighborhood builders.

    Since the entire pocket window single pane goes down into the wall, I have great ventilation. There are four of them in my bedroom. Unfortunately, it’s a real pain when the sash cords break. I had to remove the casing and the window sill just to get the pane out to replace the sash cords. I’d gone to window and door places, hardware stores and Rejuvenation looking for advice after finding none online. No one had ever encountered that type of window before. Of course, the window and door places felt I should replace them, but I love the uniqueness and ventilation…let alone the history. Again, thank-you for all the info you provide…love the website.

    • Linda, My mom has these kind of windows and I am looking for information on them. Do you have any history on these windows? I love them.

      • No, Ann, I don’t. I do know that my home was built by its first owner, a man from Scandinavia, so perhaps he brought the idea with him when he immigrated. When I was researching them online in 2010, I did not find any windows like mine. Nor did any of the hardware or home rejuvenation store workers know about them. I love them too.

  9. Doug,

    Hi there. We recently purchased a home at 2935 Hancock. You verified earlier for me that the house is a Birkemier. We are going to do some renovations and I’m wondering if you know how we might find the original architectural drawings for the house. Any ideas? Thanks for your help!

      • Hello Doug. I would love to find the architectural drawings for my Birkemeier house in Cedar Hills. Any ideas about how I might find them?

      • Hi Anne. It would be quite unusual if the City had copies of the drawings. The only repository I know of is at the Architectural Heritage Center in southeast Portland. Call and ask for Val…he can tell you which of the Birkemeier drawings they have in the AHC collection.

  10. Hi. I’ve recently purchased a home on Siskiyou at the base of the ridge that was built in 1925. In two weeks of researching I’ve found a wealth of information including a complete ownership history, all of the deeds, renovation details and permits, and a line drawing and floor plan (it was a Universal Plan Service home) – but I have found only a few scraps of information about the builder, J. C. Meyers. Multnomah County tax records show that he purchased many lots, built homes, and then sold them. Have you come across any information about J. C. Meyers?

  11. Hi, grew up in the Beaumont neighborhood from 1956 through 1982ish on 43rd between Siskyou and Alameda. Grandparents lived on 32nd and Fremont. My brothers and I have so many fond memories of the area. This is a great website! As always I have lots of questions about houses and buildings in the neighborhood. For example the Manison at the top of Stuart hill.

  12. Hi Doug!! Would you have any information on the builders of my home on NE 47th and Alameda build in 1911?? I show Crow Builders and E.A.W. Peake and True-Crew Brothers. Have you ever published your articles in a book etc?? Have you ever been a presenter at The Architectural Heritage Center?? Thank-You, John Cameron

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