William B. Donahue 1884-1946

William B. Donahue built at least five Northeast Portland Arts and Crafts bungalows between 1911-1915. The son of Irish immigrants to California, Donahue was listed as a Portland carpenter and home builder in the 1910 federal census, but in 1921 traded his tools for the insurance business. While the origin of his house designs have yet to be established as clearly his own, each of the homes has distinctive features that unify them as being built by Donahue, ranging from the selection of hardware and construction materials, to decorative patterns used in exterior finishes and detailed interior woodwork.

4053 NE 30th, built by Donahue in 1912. Two similar but smaller bungalows were built by Donahue at 4705 NE 24th and 3414 NE 42nd. Photo courtesy of Morrison Family, Author's Collection

4053 NE 30th, built by Donahue in 1912. Two similar but smaller bungalows were built by Donahue at 4705 NE 24th and 3414 NE 42nd. Photo courtesy of Morrison Family, Author's Collection

In the process of researching my own home, built by Donahue in 1912, I have found four others he built. I am actively seeking information on other homes built by Donahue and am researching leads to his descendents to seek personal information about his life and times. There are very likely other homes in the city built by Donahue.


A Donahue Chronology

William Bernard Donahue was born in California on April 17, 1888 to parents James Donahue and Sarah Lavell Donahue[i]. The family moved to Oregon in 1895. Polk directories from 1904-1906 list a Wm. Donahue in various positions at the Oregon Railway and Navigation company (laborer, machinist, helper). Though not conclusive, this could be our subject.

On August 1, 1909, Donahue married[ii] Bessie R. Lucky in a home at 1005 East 21st Street North (currently 4733 NE 21st Ave.[iii]). The 1910 census shows the newlyweds living in a home they own at 1027 E. 23rd Street North (4837 NE 23rd[iv]). Bessie’s mother was living with them at the time.

Construction Begins

A flurry of homebuilding followed in the next several years. According to building and plumbing permits, Donahue built the following homes. The original pre-1930 addresses are shown first, with current addresses shown in parenthese. The dates are final inspection dates by city inspectors.

1-22-1912        991 E 24th Street N. (4705 NE 24th)               Plumber: A.W. Thornton 

7-29-1912        869 E. 30th Street N (4053 NE 30th)               Plumber J.F. Shea

9-25-1912        734 E 42nd Street N (3404 NE 42nd)               Plumber J.P Arnold

9-25-1912        736 E 42nd Street N (3414 NE 42nd)               Plumber J.P. Arnold

No plumbing or building permits exist for 836 E. Skidmore (2606 NE Skidmore), but it is certainly a Donahue, likely built from the same plans used to build 3404 NE 42nd Ave. Until the summer of 2004 this home had a concrete brick chimney with the exact distinctive exterior design as the one at 3404 NE 42nd.

It is possible that the home at 740 E. 42nd St. N. (3424 NE 42nd) is a Donahue. The house was constructed at the same time (1912) and the appearance of similar-but not exact-materials and construction styles bolster this hypothesis. No original plumbing or construction permits exist for this home.

An interesting commonality among these properties was their proximity to streetcar service to these neighborhoods: All are within a two-block walk of streetcar stops. This appears to be a deliberate and prudent business decision made by Donahue.

The 1912 Polk Directory shows W.B. and Bessie living at 410 ½ Wasco (a duplex). Mutlnomah County records list both Donahues as owners of 869 East 30th Street North (4053 NE 30th). It’s hard to know exactly where the couple lived at that time. What is clear is that the first of their two children, William Bernard Donahue, Jr., was born on May 20, 1912.

The teens show a constantly changing string of addresses for the Donahues, and what appears to be a break-up of their marriage. In 1913, they are together in the home at 734 E 42nd Street N (3404 NE 42nd). In 1914, they are at 869 E. 30th Street N (4053 NE 30th). The 1915 entry shows them at 250 Dixon, a duplex, which is currently a vacant lot at 401 N. Dixon.

The 1916-17 entries show both Donahues at 564 Glisan, which no longer exists (between NE 13th and 14th, mid-block, south side of the street). In 1918, Bessie is living on her own at the Glisan address, and W.B. disappears from the Polk directories. When he does return to the Polk Directory in 1924, Donahue is listed as a solicitor for MetLife Insurance, with a residence at 996 E. 20th Street (4702 NE 20th). Curiously, though Bessie shows up alone in residence at various Northwest Portland addresses during these years, the 1924 entry for W.B. still indicates they are married. His location during these years is as yet unsubstantiated. Portland home construction did slow in 1918-1920 due to high inflation after the war years, which could strained Donahue’s business. My hunch is that he was here in Portland, but was simply missed by the directory.

For whatever reason, Donahue made his career move in 1921[v] and stuck with it. In the 1920s he worked for MetLife Insurance and then for Mutual Trust Life Insurance of Illinois. In 1929 Donahue wed Eva Lee Dwyer and the couple moved among several addresses in Northeast Portland before settling into 2627 NE 19th Ave. in 1938. Sometime in the early 1930s Eva and W.B. had a daughter, Jean Mary Donahue Reeves.[vi] Shortly after moving into the home in NE 19th Avenue, W.B. switched to the American United Life Insurance Company, where he stayed as a general agent until his death in 1946. In addition to his insurance career, Donahue also served as supply sergeant for the Veterans’ Guard and Patrol during World War II.

William Donahue in his later years, on the right, as an insurance agent for the American United Life Insurance Company.

William Donahue in his later years, on the right, as an insurance agent for the American United Life Insurance Company. Photo courtesy of the Donahue Family, Author's Collection.

During the early 1930s, Donahue’s son- in his 20s-is listed as an agent for Mutual Trust, and then working as an ink mixer, all the while living at home with his father and stepmother. The junior Donahue switched back to insurance for good in 1938 and opened his own insurance agency where he worked for the rest of his career, except during service with the Navy during the mid 1940s. He died on December 29, 1989, aged 77.[vii]

William Donahue Obituary

William Donahue Obituary

Not much more is currently known about Donahue. The Morrison family, which bought the 30th Avenue house in 1918, often referred to their home as the “Irishman’s shanty,” a possible friendly reference to Donahue. Before their purchase, the Morrisons rented a home on Northeast 42nd Avenue just down the block from the other Donahue houses. Did they meet there? Continued genealogy may reveal more about Donahue. The houses, however, speak for themselves.

-Doug Decker 

[i] State of Oregon Death Certificate No. 2764, dated September 10, 1946.

[ii] State of Oregon / Multnomah County Marriage Certificate No. 13213, recorded August 7, 1909.

[iii] According to the original plumbing permit, the home at 4733 NE 21st was built in 1909 by Frank Warner. Master Plumber was J.A. Shoemaker.

[iv] A request has been made to get the building permit on this house, 11-29-04

[v] Date supplied by family members for his 1946 obituary.

[vi] From obituary information associated with the death of Eva Lee Donahue, died December 8, 1995.

[vii] State of Oregon / Multnomah County Death Certificate 89-25039.

11 responses

  1. I now live in the house at 3404 NE 42nd with my family
    We purchased the home in 1990 if I remember correctly
    the owner at that time was a lady named Hermance McArthur
    she is said to have lived here for many years know she had a daughter
    the house was spec’ed originally as a 3 bedroom 1 level
    the house actually has 2 stories and an unfinished basement
    5 bedrooms and 2 baths??
    Also many people that stay or visit this house say that they have seen a young girl wandering in the upstairs of the home
    I am not much of a believer in ghosts or spirits but I can feel her presence, We are looking for any info into the girl

  2. Hi,
    Does anyone have more information on W. B. Donahue Sr.’s parents James and Sarah? W. B. Donahue, Sr. is my Great Grandfather. Also, the connections I find for Eva Lee on Ancestry have her maiden name spelled as Dyer not Dwyer. Just curious if anyone has more detailed family info.

    And thank you, Doug Decker, for including so much family information. It’s been helpful. My e-mail is Lefcarrolliv@gmail.com

  3. I agree with Lef – and thank you so much, Doug, for the great family information! I am fairly certain that my grandfather was married to Eva for a short time after William died. I would love to find out more about Eva and share what I think I know with anyone who might be interested. Kathy Reeve, if you are Eva’s granddaughter, it would be great to hear from you! robinhanna@msn.com.

  4. Regarding your speculation on W B Donahue and ONR it is interesting to note that Donahue and Otto Brauer both reside at the bar/rooming house at 340 Williams (at Weidler) in the 1905 city directory. Otto marries Donahue’s sister, Mary, that same year. That certainly strengthens the connection.

    Mary and William, orphans because of the death of their parents in San Francisco, were living with their mother’s widowed sister and their mother’s brother on a farm about fifteen miles southeast of Oregon city in 1900. Their mother’s sister, Kate Lavelle Shanley, appears with Otto and Mary throughout their long residence at 996 20th. James Lavelle died at the beginning of 1908. Note that both the W B Donahues and Otto Brauers disappear from the Portland City Directories for 1907 and 1908. Perhaps they were helping out at the Lavelle farm?

    It might be profitable for someone to check the disposition of the Lavelle homestead (W 1/2 of NW 1/4 of Sec 24 T45 R3) – but that is about all I can contribute from Minneapolis.

    I came upon Donahue independently while researching for a blog I am about to start about the residents of Foxchase and vicinity. My grandparents, parents and I spent 80+ years at the same address in the center of Foxchase.

    • Thomas,
      I’ve been trying to fill in a gap between Michael, James, Catherine and Sarah Lavell to Ireland. I’ve got a list of Lavelle’s in my DNA matches still living in County Mayo, Ireland. There must be Lavell’s with more info on this branch.

      Thanks ahead of time. Lefcarrolliv@gmail.com

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