By Kathy Eaton
with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Alameda photos here.
The word alamo is Spanish for a grove of poplar or cottonwood trees; its secondary meaning of a “tree-lined avenue” aptly describes the established Alameda neighborhood.
Alameda is roughly bounded by Northeast 21st Avenue on the west, Northeast 33rd Avenue on the east, Northeast Prescott Street on the north and Northeast Knott Street on the south.
According to Rod Paulson’s article about the Alameda district (The Community Press, January 1975), the first property transaction on record was the donation land claim filed by William and Isabell Bowering in 1859. Bowering’s land included 160 acres between what is today Northeast 24th and 33rd avenues, Northeast Fremont and Prescott streets. Ownership changed hands during the ensuing decades until the Alameda Land Company was organized in 1890 and in 1909, E.L. Ferguson, the company’s president, filed a plat under the name of Alameda Park. Exclusionary clauses were added to deeds acquired by property owners, prohibiting the construction of flats or tenements, as well as saloons, stores, hotels, stables, foundries and laundries. Eventually the Fremont and Pearson Additions, as well as others, expanded Alameda’s southern boundary.
In 1875, Samuel Pearson settled a dairy farm south of Northeast Fremont between Northeast 27th and 29th avenues. Although Pearson lost the initial property in a legal judgment, his son Alvin later repurchased five acres and in 1902, re-deeded it to his mother. By 1909, Alvin and Josephine Pearson built their home at 3407 N.E. 27th Ave., which is likely one of the oldest surviving homes in Alameda, according to local historian Doug Decker. The house is located across the street from Alameda Elementary School, 2732 N.E. Fremont St., built in 1921.
A few decades later, Robert Brown, who grew up nearby, bought and lived in the Pearson’s home from 1965-1979. He located and interviewed Josephine about her memories of living in the stately red farmhouse during a time when there were no telephones, sidewalks, or streets. In 1980, Brown’s younger brother, Jim, bought the house and has lived there 35 years.
Although Jim Brown initially attended Lewis and Clark College to study music, he ended up teaching chemistry at Parkrose High School for 31 years. Music always held his interest and he still plays piano in a quartet. As a young boy growing up in the 1950s, Brown delivered the Journal newspaper and has seen neighborhood businesses change. “There were lots of gas stations in Alameda back then,” said Brown, who once collected antique cars. He noted there were gas stations located at Perry’s on Fremont and the adjacent parking lot. A Mobil gas station was located on Northeast Fremont where The Arrangement is located today.
In 2007, Alameda resident and Oregon State Forester Doug Decker began posting articles to a blog about Alameda’s history, covering a wide range of topics both familiar and unusual. Among his favorite posts are “The Story Behind Deadman’s Hill,” and “Northeast Portland Aircraft Factory.” For more information: See alamedahistory.org.
Decker and his wife moved to Portland in 1989, and bought the Morrison home, a 1912 Arts and Crafts bungalow. Interested in restoring the property and discovering the home’s history, Decker located the previous owner, Bruce Morrison, who lived in the house between 1917 and the 1950s. Decker searches old photographs of Alameda homes and has researched local architects who built them.
“It’s the stories of people who lived there then that really compels me,” said Decker, who compares his research to doing a home’s genealogy. “Stories from the past connect us, and I enjoy documenting what I’ve learned through my research.”
Decker leads guided Alameda home tours for the Architectural Heritage Center and had his kitchen featured on the AHC-sponsored kitchen tour. He acknowledged that the Alameda history blog is a laboratory for eventually writing a book. Decker’s brother is a fine-arts photographer whom he’d like to collaborate with in producing the book.
Alameda Ridge: Cataclysms on the Columbia
The Alameda Ridge formed at the end of the last ice age between 13,000-15,000 years ago when the ice dam containing glacial Lake Missoula collapsed. A series of multiple floods surged down the Columbia River Gorge into the Willamette Valley, traveling as far south as Eugene. When west-flowing waters rushed past Rocky Butte in east Portland, sediments formed an approximate 100- to 150-foot high bar that became Alameda Ridge. Today the ridge extends west about six miles from Rocky Butte, running through several Northeast neighborhoods, including Roseway, Rose City Park, Beaumont-Wilshire, Alameda and Sabin.
Lillian “Babe” Weiner and her husband, a pharmacist, grew up in Northeast Portland and built their family home on Northeast Alameda where she’s lived for 78 years. Several long-time neighbors have lived on the Ridge, including the nephew of J.W. Marriott, who lived across the street and owned Tic Toc restaurant. The house numbering system on the Ridge created some confusion, as Weiner’s daughter Jean recently recalled. “We’d get mail or people would end up at our front door looking for the Schnitzer family who had the same house number, but lived a few streets away,” said Jean. “Babe” was a big fan of Hollywood Hank, the standard boxer who featured her in his July 2012 column in The Hollywood Star News. Today Mrs. Weiner is doing well and looks forward to celebrating her 104th birthday in April 2016.
Chris Mackert and Patricia Southard live on the Ridge near Weiner’s home. In 1976, while jogging on Northeast Alameda Street, Mackert spotted the home she wanted to buy for its commanding views of the West Hills, the Willamette River and downtown. Mackert is only the second owner of the home. She loves the neighborhood for its stability, safety, and walkability, noting that its location provides easy access to local restaurants and public transportation. Mackert, a retired anesthesiologist, became intrigued by the geology of the area and recommends the book, Cataclysms on the Columbia by John Eliot Adams, Marjorie Burns and Scott Burns (2nd edition, Ooligan Press, 2009), for a definitive history of how the Missoula Floods shaped the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Mackert noted that today there’s evidence of radon in homes on the Ridge, probably as a result of the granite debris from the floods.
Alameda Tuesday Club
In 1913, 29 women residents of the Alameda neighborhood formed the Alameda Tuesday Club for the purpose of getting to know each other, to do charitable works, to serve the community, and to have social functions. Since 1922, the Club’s maintained 36 members who continue to meet for lunch on the fourth Tuesday of every month, excluding summers. Meetings are held on a rotating basis in members’ homes but honorary members, age 80 and above, are no longer required to host. New members who are invited to join must reside within the club’s boundaries. According to current president Anne E. Brown, the group gathers for a relaxing lunch, hears an educational presentation, and enjoys the camaraderie of members. Brown values the mix of generations that comprises the membership and said the club has remained small by design.
In 2013, the club commemorated its 100-year-anniversary by partnering with Portland Parks and Recreation and the Park Foundation to help fund improvements and purchase a new bench for Wilshire Park, the site of the club’s first charitable community outreach. In 1913, a family living in the woods that is now Wilshire Park was befriended by the club, which provided food baskets, clothing and blankets. The club’s philanthropic work continues today with members donating material goods and money to a variety of Northeast Portland neighborhood groups, including the Oregon Food Bank, Growing Garden and Portland Public School’s PTA Clothing Closet.
Member El Lawrence recently completed an article about the history of the club, which will be posted to the Oregon Encyclopedia. Although records of the club’s activities from the mid-1940s through the 1950s are missing, members remain hopeful that these documents may one day be discovered in an attic of an Alameda home and shared with the club that is steeped in tradition and has a long history of contributing to the community.
According to Decker’s Alameda history blog, in 1938, Safeway Corporation built a grocery store at the corner of Northeast 24th and Fremont, directly across the street from Alameda Pharmacy and Alameda Grocery. When Safeway left in the early 1940s, the family-owned store, Brandels moved in and Nature’s Fresh Northwest took over the Alameda Grocery building. Today Alameda Dental and Frontier Bank occupy the former Safeway store building.
In March 2003, Lauri and Richard Vollmer opened Garden Fever, 3433 Northeast 24th Avenue, a full service neighborhood nursery with “good plants, good tools and good dirt.” A wide variety of seed selection is available in January and vegetable planting starts in February and March according to Vollmer. “We carry a hundred varieties of organic or sustainably grown plants,” said Vollmer. For more information: See gardenfever.com or call (503) 287-3200.
Lucca, 3449 Northeast 24th Avenue, has been offering wood-fired pizzas and classic Italian fare since 2008, following a string of restaurants that once occupied the corner on Northeast Fremont. In addition to a cozy dining room inside, the restaurant draws neighbors who walk or bike there and enjoy outside seating on summer evenings. For more information: See luccapdx.com or call (503) 287-7372.
Both businesses are located in the overlap boundary with Irvington and draw customers from each neighborhood.
Alameda Neighborhood Association balances needs
According to Alameda Neighborhood Association’s chair Scott Rider, “Alameda continues to face many of the same challenges as other neighborhoods in Portland. This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, balancing the preservation of our neighborhood’s original historic character, livability and charm with the competing commercial interests associated with infill development.”
At a recent ANA meeting, board members expressed concerns about homes being demolished and replaced with duplexes that don’t appear consistent with the character of Alameda homes. ANA’s land use committee will pursue partnering with Sabin neighborhood to clarify the city’s definition of compatibility in its zoning rules. A resident graphics designer has developed prototype Alameda street cap signs for installation in 2016. ANA’s quarterly newsletters and board meeting minutes are posted to their website: See alamedapdx.net.