Arnt Anderson was a talented Northeast Portland homebuilder turned convicted con artist who lived and worked in Portland for five years between 1911-1915.
Born on December 2, 1870 in Sarpsborgen, Ostfold County, Norway, Anderson came to the US in 1879 with his parents Ole and Karen Anderson. Arnt was the eldest of four brothers and three sisters and the only sibling born in Norway before immigration.
Once in the US, the Andersons settled near Muskegon, Michigan. All of the male family members worked in nearby lumber mills. In 1892, Arnt married Inga Marie Johnson in Muskegon. In the 1900 federal census, Arnt and Marie (as she was known in later life) were living across the lake in Marinette, Wisconsin, on the south bank of the Menominee River just across from the town of Menominee, Michigan, north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Living with them were eldest son Walter, daughter Gladys, and Marie’s mother Olivia Johnson.
Arnt was a busy contractor in the Menominee area, building homes and municipal buildings. There’s evidence in the public record of contracts he received in Menominee, and of small lawsuits and liens against him by suppliers and subcontractors who hadn’t been paid or had some other dispute with Anderson.
In the early 1900s, the family moved to Spokane, Washington where Arnt continued in construction and in the milling business. The 1910 census shows the family on North Monroe Street in Spokane, Arnt is listed only as “A.” and Marie is listed as Inga, but daughter Gladys is there and youngest son Roy, as is Olivia Johnson. By 1910, Arnt’s parents and several siblings had moved west too: to the Everett, Washington area where they were engaged in the sawmill business.
Unfortunately, things did not go well for Arnt in Spokane, and following a bankruptcy in December 1911, the family moved to Portland, living briefly in rented housing in Northwest Portland and then at 2615 SE Taylor. During these first months in Portland, Anderson likely got a feel for the local construction market, which was accelerating in the growing city. By August of 1912, Anderson was self-employed as a home building contractor.
On August 25, 1912, The Oregonian reported that “Arnt Anderson, the speculative home builder” was building a home for himself at NE 26th and Stanton, today’s 2844 NE 26th. In October 1912, he bought 18 nearby lots from the developer Tate Investment Company. Anderson’s method was to buy vacant lots from a developer, build multiple homes and then sell them to local realtors to be able to get his cash out. In November 1912, he and two partners incorporated as Anderson Construction Company and set up an office on the fifth floor of the Lumber Exchange Building downtown.
A complete list of Anderson homes is included here—about 20 in total—mostly in Irvington, Alameda Park, Beaumont and Laurelhurst. In southeast Portland, he built homes in Montavilla and in Ladd’s Addition.
There is a definite family resemblance to the houses Anderson built during these years: usually two-plus story homes with Craftsman features: prominent overhanging eaves; soffit and eave brackets; prominent front porches; often angular lines; square tapered columns; larger windows often in banks of three that invited in natural light and fresh air; dormers; entry hallways and prominent stairways; liberal use of wood inside for box-beamed ceilings, mantles, wainscot, plate rails and built-ins.
In newspaper advertisements Anderson claimed to be both architect and builder, though he appears not to have had any formal training. He may have used his brother the architect Samuel’s designs, or borrowed from widely available universal plan sets for his homes. Samuel is associated with some of the houses Arnt built.
Anderson’s homes in Irvington and Alameda had two forms: the first was a hipped-roof, square (but bigger and not quite a four-square style) home. This design has been nicknamed a “Prairie Box,” given its references to Prairie School design elements popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright, with prominent bay windows, dormers and other details.
Anderson built this home on NE 28th in 1912, one of his first and one of the earliest in this part of the neighborhood.
The other form has a prominent ridgeline with side dormers, rafter tails and decorative fascia boards, a prominent and solid porch with three sets of columns, large entry doors with sidelight windows; a side bay overhanging a ground-level entry door and copious interior built-ins, box-beamed ceilings and battered columns.
Anderson’s smaller bungalows—built in Montavilla—have similar design features, but smaller proportions associated with a one-story home.
Most of his homes were built on speculation—with no particular buyer in mind—and sold during construction to one of several realtors who in turn either sold them at a later date, or rented them.
Anderson was busy through 1914, but a slowing economy in 1915 may have made a dent in his business, or perhaps other factors were beginning to get in the way. Here’s where his story begins to get complicated.
In late June 1915, Anderson pressed charges against a former deputy sheriff and a business partner for taking deeds, contracts and stock from his office desk. When the case went to trial in Portland in early July, the defendants presented evidence that they were just recovering papers that Anderson had taken from them in the first place. The judge threw the case out. In November 1915, having apparently burned his Portland bridges, Anderson moved his family north to Seattle.
In early 1916, Arnt and Marie are listed in the Seattle Polk City Directory living in the Savoy Hotel, with an office in the Joshua Green Building, doing business in loans. In April, Anderson was found guilty of a classic con job. He presented himself as a Portland area architect and contractor looking for an assistant in Seattle. Bert Summer was promised a $125 per month wage, but Anderson asked him to put down a $1,000 security deposit for the job. In turn, as “security” for Summer, Anderson gave him an “assigned note for $1,200 secured by a mortgage on two lots in Eugene with a value of $1,500 and a house worth $3,400.” Bert Summer was never given employment, there were no lots in Eugene, and Anderson kept Summer’s money. Summer pressed charges. Anderson was arrested and then bailed out by Marie.
While awaiting trial in district court in Seattle, Anderson jumped bail and traveled through Montana, Minnesota and then back to Wisconsin working other con jobs along the way. He was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 19, 1916 and returned to Billings to be tried for a similar con he made there. The August 29, 1916 Billings Gazette detailed how it worked:
From the Billings Gazette, August 29, 1916
Anderson was held in custody in Billings until early 1917, convicted of fraud, and then transferred to Seattle where he faced Superior Court charges associated with the Bert Summer swindle, other similar con jobs in the Seattle area, and jumping bail.
Anderson was convicted on April 27, 1918 and sentenced for 5-15 years for Grand Larceny, a charge that he appealed. His case was heard on appeal by the Washington State Supreme Court (Case 15146) on December 2, 1919 and was turned down. The next month, he appeared at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla to serve his term, which began on January 19th. After only one week—on January 27th, 1920—Washington Governor Louis F. Hart paroled him without explanation:
From the Seattle Star, January 30, 1920
Inquiries with the Washington Department of Corrections and the archives at the State Penintentiary at Walla Walla suggest Anderson was never assigned an inmate number nor was an inmate file opened for him in the state system.
Following his release, the 1920 Census shows the Anderson family renting on 9th Avenue in Seattle: Arnt, as a self-employed building contractor, and Marie keeping house. Gladys and Roy are still with them. Just over a year later, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Anderson went back to what he knew: home building and loans.
From the Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1921
Two years later, on January 23, 1923, Arnt Anderson died from cirrhosis of the liver in Los Angeles. His alcoholism (which may explain some of his behavior the previous years) finally killed him. Anderson is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Marie lived on into the 1940s, census documents showing her in the same house they moved into after leaving Seattle with son Roy, daughter-in-law Alfreda and grandson Donald.
Homes Built by Arnt Anderson:
|Current address||Old address||Date||Comment|
|2724 NE 25th||572||April 1912||S.F. Anderson architect | Ridge-roof 3-story|
|2836 NE 28th||596||July 1912||Spec. Sold to O. Johnson | Ridge-roof 3-story|
|2915 NE 28th||August 1912||Purchased from Anderson by Edward L. Brown| Hipped-roof four square|
|2924 NE 28th||616||March 1913||Built for Wm. Shuholm. Ridge-roof 3-story|
|2835 NE 27th||599||August 1912||Built on speculation | Ridge-Roof 3-story, positioned transverse to street|
|4306 NE 30th||918||August 1912||Built on speculation | Ridge-Roof 3-story bought by O.J. Johnson|
|NE 16th and Beech x 3||August 1912||The Oregonian reported Anderson owned lots here and planned to build. I believe he sold these lots and never built houses here. All permits on this street have been reviewed, nothing by Anderson|
|2844 NE 26th||600||January 1913||This is a copy of 2915 NE 28th | Hipped-roof. Anderson lists 825 E. Taylor as his home address on the inspection card.|
|Ladd’s Addition near park||February 1913||Mentioned in newspaper as home for K. Torwick. Permits searched, not found.|
|2834 NE 26th||596||July 1913||Adjoining the lot and another Anderson house on 27th | Built on speculation | Ridge-Roof 3-story|
|2947 NE 44th||643 then 645||November 1913||Home of Dr. O.J. Griffin. Boxed brackets, port cochere|
|8626 SE Morrison||2134||August 1914||Built on speculation, $1,500 | Hipped roof bungalow|
|8637 SE Yamhill||2131 then 2141||September 1914||Built on speculation, $1,500 | Ridge-roofed bungalow|
|8719 SE Yamhill||2151||September 1914||Built on speculation, $1,500 | Hipped-roof bungalow|
|2816 NE 11th||388||October 1914||Built on speculation | Ridge-Roof 3-story
|2748 NE 11th||580||October 1914||Built on speculation | Ridge-Roof 3-story
|2818 NE 10th||588||October 1914||$4,500. On speculation | Hipped-roof with dormers. Like 2915.|
|NE 37th and Senate||The Oregonian mentions Arnt Anderson will build in this area, but nothing found. Permits searched within a two-block radius. Not found|