Ernest L. Graves 1893-1979

From The Oregonian, January 12, 1925

Ernest Latta Graves was an eastside builder during the 1920s who built dozens of homes and seemingly coordinated construction of entire neighborhoods from his small office at the corner of NE 14th and Fremont. Born in Pontiac, Illinois on May 14, 1893, Graves arrived in the Portland area by 1910 and during World War 1 signed on to the Army’s prestigious 318th Engineering Battalion based at Fort Vancouver, a group known for its construction prowess.

After a brief time in France during the war, Graves returned to Portland, and was married to Irene Crerar in November 1919. In 1921 they had a daughter, Phyllis Irene Graves. By 1923, with Portland home construction setting records up and down the Pacific Coast and the eastside real estate market exploding, Graves had opened an office at NE 14th and Fremont as a building contractor.

In 1925, Graves boasted of being able to build an entire section of a neighborhood, which became a thread through all of his advertising that year. He had purchased or gained interest in up to 70 empty lots on the north end of Irvington east of Irving Park and got busy with construction using a small handful of different designs.

From The Oregonian, January 25, 1925

His over-the-top advertising copy frequently referenced fables associated with home and hearth. He also regularly wrote flowery home-related prose to sell the notion of home ownership, as well as the specific houses he was building. Here’s an excerpt from an ad that ran in The Oregonian on April 26, 1925:

June 1st the time when all will be complete. In comparison to these modern homes in Irvington, King Solomon’s Temple in all its glory was not arrayed in conveniences like one of the least of these. Dear friend, we’re not boasting, only anxious for you to know that here’s the place to buy your home, the best in price and terms, before it is too late. The moral of our tale, we’ve tried our best to nail, buy one of our real homes, live better than a king.

Here’s to the truth, our real good homes; here’s to the homes, so favorably blessed, surrounded and landscaped in colored effects, are the homes with sweet William and roses to be. Here in the balmy fragrant summer’s eve, when the song of the lark is hushed and still, the moon’s soft beams nestling among the sweet scented flowers, where the dew drops glisten on each drowsy head. Living, lingering in memory, reveling in the wonders of nature and the comforts of home, the happiest time of your life. It’s a real home.

Here’s to the bungalows honorably built, all double constructed, and that is that. Homes you would say to your friends with pride, ‘this is my own, my castle home.’

Here’s to the homes so gracefully formed, colored and decorated fit for a king, in the plans all modern conveniences used, with the keynote of all conservation of steps.

Here’s to the comfortable homes, with a practical, comfortable furnace in each, where cold blasts without will never disturb the serene tranquility within. Also a fireplace for cheerfulness sake, and a place for the kiddies to dream of St. Nick.

Here’s to the homes so close to town, step on the accelerator, presto! You’re home, in bed and sound asleep.

Here’s to the homes so reasonably priced, you and your own will find easy to buy. Terms and conditions so favorably made, why rent when it’s cheaper to own your own home?

Based on the language in Graves’s ads, he was a showman, but he apparently knew how to manage a large volume of building work as well. Here is a partial list of homes built by Graves, gleaned from building permits and advertisements in The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal. The actual number of homes he built is probably four or five times this amount. These are offered as comparables and to look for family resemblance in building design.

1404 NE 53rd10-28-1923$2,000
1412 NE 53rd10-28-1923
1420 NE 53rd10-28-1923
1430 NE 53rd10-28-1923
3831 NE 74thH.H. Menges plans
5222 NE Halsey1-27-1924
5232 NE Halsey1-27-1924
5330 NE Halsey1-27-1924
5404 NE Halsey1-27-1924
3311 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
(Demolished: 13th and Fremont)5-27-1924$3,500
3321 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
3343 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
3303 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
3333 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
1240 NE Fremont5-27-1924$3,500
3403 NE 13th5-27-1924$3,500
4002 NE 28th Avenue6-8-1924H.H. Menges architect$15k cost
1044 NE Fremont1925
2614 NE Hamblet4-18-1926
2711 NE Siskiyou6-25-1926$4,000
3109 NE Siskiyou6-25-1926$4,000
3106 NE 28th6-25-1926$4,000
2822 NE Siskyou6-25-1926$4,000
3027 NE 29th9-24-1926$4,000
3021 NE 29th9-24-1926$4,000
3039 NE 29th9-24-1926$4,000
3333 NE 18th11-7-1926

In all of his advertising, Graves never once mentioned the name(s) of architects responsible for his catalog of plans. But through examination of building permit references for Graves, one name continues to turn up: H.H. Menges.

Harry Herman Menges was a draftsman and architect in Portland from 1885-1941. Though never formally licensed as an architect, Menges had a full architectural practice and worked for many of Portland’s homebuilding companies. In the early 1920s he designed dozens of houses in the Orchard Tract of homes near 24th and Fremont for the Wickman Building Company, another large-volume home builder (company owner John A. Wickman was Graves’s brother-in-law).

Menges routinely advertised in The Oregonian and his catch phrase was: “You furnish the lot and I’ll furnish the plans.”

The economic crash of the Great Depression was devastating for architects and homebuilders. Leveraging significant debt was common practice for builders and developers, so that when work and homebuying ceased, many in the business were too deep in debt to recover. The only reference to Graves after 1929 is this, from the Oregon Journal on July 14, 1932:

By 1935, the Graves family had relocated to the Los Angeles area where he ran a termite control business. He died in Redondo Beach, California at age 85 on May 8, 1979.