By Kathy Eaton
with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Vernon neighborhood photos here.
Landlocked by northeast neighborhoods King to the west, Woodlawn to the north, Concordia to the east and Sabin to the south, Vernon is a predominately residential neighborhood. It’s bounded on the west by Northeast 10th Avenue north of Emerson Street and Northeast 22nd Avenue on the east. Northeast Wygant Street forms the southern boundary with Northeast Ainsworth Street on the north. Northeast Alberta Street is a major commercial corridor within Vernon, with Northeast Killingsworth poised to obtain more commercial businesses after resolving zoning issues imposed by the city in the 1980’s.
The Vernon neighborhood was platted in 1903, 34 years after the original 160-acre homestead claim was filed by Patrick Daly. In 1870, the court ordered the property sold at public auction for $250. Ultimately the land was sold to three Portland businessmen, clothier Ben Selling, Oregon State Senator Joseph Simon and his brother Samuel Simon who dedicated Vernon as an addition to Portland in 1903. Much of Vernon remained in developer’s hands and was not disposed of until it was sold to Moore Investment Company in 1905 for $120,000—the same tract that Patrick Holland bid on at public auction for $250 in 1870.
Portland maps dated 1914 show Vernon Avenue designated between Northeast 14th and 15th avenues, between Northeast Prescott and Killingsworth streets. Records don’t provide a clue for naming the neighborhood Vernon, although the Vernon Elementary School dates to 1908. The K-8 school’s original location on Northeast Wygant Street burned down, according to Vernon resident Larry Holmes, and was subsequently rebuilt at 2044 N.E. Killingsworth St. The Vernon area was known as Alberta because of the streetcar line, according to Rod Paulson (Community Press) who noted that grocery, hardware or dry goods stores were located on every corner in Alberta.
Architects thrive here
Today, Vernon neighborhood is home to more than one architect, both originally from the East Coast. A century after Portland architect E.F. Lawrence became the first dean of the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Vernon resident Lucas Gray obtained his master’s degree in architecture and design from the University of Oregon. Gray founded Propel Architecture in 2013 after working for a large engineering design firm where he did master planning in Bangkok, Thailand and later working for a boutique design company in Shanghai, China. After completing graduate school, Gray worked in Berlin for two years before moving to Portland.
Gray settled in Portland for the outdoors lifestyle, climate and great landscape. Having lived in all four quadrants of the city, he found more affordable housing in a great neighborhood in Vernon. Propel Architecture reflects a wide range of project types, including accessory dwellings for backyards. Commonly known as granny flats or mother-in-law quarters, the 600- to 800-square-foot studio is a full house, according to Gray. Projects also include public-interest design and community work, including a pro bono project for Vernon Elementary School. For more information: Visit propelstudio.com or call (503) 479-5740.
Mitchell Snyder and Shelley Martin moved to Portland in 2007, ending up in the Vernon neighborhood. Snyder’s small architecture firm, which focuses on smaller-scale residential units and accessory dwellings, is located in office space adjacent to Alberta Main Street, 1722 N.E. Alberta St. To house the hens they acquired after moving here, Snyder designed a modernist 4-foot cube with a 15-foot run with reclaimed cedar siding, windows for ventilation and a green roof. In 2010, Snyder’s modern hen house was featured in Dwell Magazine. For more information: Visit msnyderarch.com or call (503) 319-4183.
Zoning rules restricted growth
Former Vernon Neighborhood Association chair Larry Holmes moved to Portland from San Francisco more than eight years ago. Rezoning Northeast Killingsworth between Northeast 15th and 18th avenues was a significant issue during his 5-year tenure as VNA chair. After year-long meetings with Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Development to negotiate changes in zoning, Vernon was permitted to include commercial designations on Killingsworth. In 2010, Rodney Muirhead repurposed an old church to accommodate the wildly popular Podnah’s Pit BBQ at 1625 N.E. Killingsworth St. and in 2014, he opened La Taq, a Tex-Mex bar adjacent to Podnah’s. La Taq utilizes Podnah’s smoky brisket to build tacos, enchiladas and nachos accompanied by serious cocktails served in their bar.
One Stop Building
During the height of the recession a few years ago, John Berry, long-time owner of One Stop Music, 1615 N.E. Killingsworth St., put his building on the market. Prospective buyers couldn’t obtain bank financing and concerns about brownfields, or contaminated soils in Vernon discouraged residential development, despite an increasing need for rentals and apartments in inner Northeast. While driving down Killingsworth Street two years ago, Erica Swanson saw a for-sale sign posted on the One Stop Music building. She contacted the owner, who sold the the two-story building to her and her father. “I admire John Berry for toughing it out during hard times; we kept the building name as One Stop in his honor,” said John Swanson, a developer who moved to Portland from New York in 1996.
The One Stop Building includes 8,300 square feet of commercial space for eight separate businesses or offices on the ground floor and 10 one-bedroom apartments for lease on the second level. The building is safe and secure and offers tenants bike parking inside the building. While John Swanson lives in nearby Humboldt, Erica rents an apartment above a commercial space where she’ll open a tea bar this month. For more information: Visit teabarpdx.com. At age 22, Erica is ready to open her own business based on a decade-long love affair with tea as her father makes plans for Erica to someday manage the family business, Little Beirut Properties. Space has also been leased to a wine bar and tap room, and Renewed Barber and Beauty owned by Nikita and Mario is returning to Vernon and will front Northeast 16th Avenue.
Vernon challenges and opportunities
Vernon is one of the smallest Northeast neighborhoods. Many of its homes are 100 years old. Long-term residents are downsizing and leaving Vernon, which concerns Larry Holmes. “We’ll continue to see Vernon neighborhood transition and risk losing diversity in terms of race and class,” Holmes said. The 2010 census reflects a 23 percent decline in the African-American population of Vernon from 2000. Holmes has not observed a huge African-American middle class clamoring to return to urban areas, noting the congregation of the Trinity Pentecostal Church, 4801 N.E. 19th Ave., consists of more commuters than neighborhood residents.
Sharing a passion for building a strong and vibrant neighborhood, Eilien Van Patten and Sarah Williams are neighbors and current co-chairs of the VNA. Like other neighborhood associations under the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, they are currently seeking more residents to help tackle issues involving development and traffic impacts. Their proudest achievement to date is the annual screening of free movies in Alberta Park, which they host with the Portland Parks Association. This year’s feature, “Finding Nemo” scored a big hit with families who came to view the film, meet their neighbors and enjoy popcorn and the movie. “I stood up and looked around to see the park filled,” said Van Patten. “It literally took my breath away.”
The co-chairs are proposing a mural project for Vernon reflecting the neighborhood’s culture and identity to be painted on the west side of the One Stop building. They’re currently seeking residents and business owner’s input, artists and funding. For more information: Visit necoalition.org/neighborhoods/vernon/.
Leaven, a nonprofit organization started in 2010, currently has almost 200 members. Some of their community partners include: Northeast Tool Library, Kitchen Share NE, and Create Plenty. “We’re in the community to hear concerns, discern and identify issues, take action and evaluate results. The cycle repeats as we continue to build capacity until we achieve change,” said LaVeta Gilmore Jones, Leaven’s community organizer.
“Leaven is Christ-like without being churchy,” said Vernon resident Larry Holmes. “Members help with Vernon’s annual clean-up day or whatever activity we ask them to participate.”
Salt & Light Lutheran Church, 5431 N.E. 20th Ave., built in the 1950s, also serves on the board of Leaven. Rooms are made available for community groups ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to Buddhist meditation. The Church houses a variety of organizations that have partnered with Leaven, including the Northeast Tool Library which loans free of charge a wide assortment of hand and power tools for home-repair and gardening to Northeast residents and community groups.
Kitchen Share NE is an organization that enables individuals to donate kitchen equipment they no longer need or want, making the items available for others to borrow. “Some people lacked storage or were only interested in equipment for occasional or seasonal use,” said volunteer Carrie Schupbach.
Leaven community partners provide
goods at Salt and Light Lutheran Church:
Northeast Tool Library, neptl.org.
Open for borrowing tools on Saturdays
from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesdays
from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Kitchen Share NE, kitchenshare.org.
Open for borrowing kitchen equipment on Saturdays
from 9 to 11 a.m. and on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Inconvenience Store 1.0.
Post and buy website, open monthly for pick-up and drop-off,
and Critical Bath soap cooperative are part of createplenty.org
In October 2013, King resident Cheryl Lohrmann started Create Plenty with two partners who created a post-and-buy website with monthly drop points at the Inconvenience Store 1.0 located in the basement of Salt and Light Lutheran Church. Create Plenty charges no fees, but matches buyers with sellers, eliminating the middle man. “I love the granola, home-made preserves including salsas and jams, and pies offered for sale at the Inconvenience Store,” said Lohrmann.
Create Plenty’s goal is to reduce waste, especially with local food systems, according to Lohrmann, who is currently partnering with three local Northeast Portland schools (Faubion, Alameda and Grant High School) to advocate ten ways kids can reduce waste through composting, recycling, etc.
While studying economics at Portland State University, Lohrmann and fellow classmate Ally Ippolito, a local musician, wanted to apply principles of worker-owned cooperatives and created Critical Bath whose soaps are available for purchase at Salt and Light Lutheran Church. For more information: Visit createplenty.org.
As one of Northeast Portland’s smallest neighborhoods in terms of population (2,585) and geography (189 acres), Vernon residents and developers are striving to achieve a distinct identity and promote growth. Once known as the Alberta area, Vernon is coming into its own, experiencing growth along Northeast Killingsworth, five blocks north of the arts district.