By Kathy Eaton
photos by John Butenschoen
By the late 1950s, when fire engines outgrew the structures originally built to house them, many firehouses were sold. Adaptive and creative reuse transformed four former fire stations in North and Northeast Portland to offices providing family services, a stamp society, a cultural arts center, and a popular Italian restaurant.
Engine No. 18: Irvington
Portland’s first bungalow-style firehouse, built in 1913, and designed by former fire chief Lee Holden, is located at 2200 N.E. 24th Ave. According to Roy E. Roos’ book on the history of Irvington, neighbors initially objected to the location of the firehouse, so Holden designed it to fit in seamlessly with the residential neighborhood. According to Charles Neyhart, who compiled an extensive history of Portland firehouses, Holden ultimately designed 24 firehouses throughout Portland, of which 16 were bungalow-style. The Irvington firehouse was decommissioned in 1964.
In 1989, Metropolitan Family Services moved into the former firehouse to serve and engage older adults and people experiencing disabilities. Laura Heller, program manager of older adult services said, “The neighborhood is great and a central part of our service area and provides a source of volunteers for our programs.”
Programs at this location include Project Linkage, which provides seniors and others rides to medical appointments, grocery stores and in-home visits. Metropolitan Family Services also sponsors AARP Foundation Experience Corps which offers inter-generational academic mentoring for the next generation of readers. For more information: See metfamily.org or call (503) 232-0007.
Engine No. 34: Concordia
In 1928, Holden, who had no formal training in architecture, designed Portland’s sixteenth bungalow-style firehouse at 4828 N.E. 33rd Ave. The building, with gable roofs, columns, fireplaces, verandas and brick and wood exteriors, was used as a fire station until 1959.
In 1960, the Oregon Stamp Society purchased the firehouse for $13,500. Society president Mary McBride was instrumental in consummating the deal. The building, situated on five lots, proved to be a wise investment for the society. When the heating system was modernized in the 1990s, the stamp society leased the basement to the Northwest Philatelic Library. According to current president Eric Hummel, the group acquired bookcases surplussed from the Woodstock Library to store 5,000 volumes of material.
“Stamp collecting is a hobby, not a growth industry,” said Hummel, who collects postal history. “I enjoy seeing how and why stamps were used to tell a story, rather than just pretty covers.”
Today, the society rents space to community-based organizations to cover maintenance costs and building improvements. For more information: See oregonstampsociety.org or call (503) 284-6670.
Interstate Firehouse No. 24: Overlook
Built in 1910, the Interstate Firehouse, 5340 N. Interstate Ave., is one of the first fire houses built in Portland and was operational until 1959.
Portland Parks and Recreation acquired the Romanesque-style firehouse in 1966. It was subsequently designated a Portland historic landmark. In 1982, then Portland City Commissioner Charles Jordan proposed converting the firehouse to a community-based arts center, which the department operated until 2010. Ethos Music assumed management but determined it couldn’t sustain funding the building and, in 2014, returned it to the parks department.
The Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center is well-known among Portland’s performing arts community, according to Eileen Argentina, manager of the department’s recreation services division.
“The black box theater seats 99 and is the ideal platform for mounting a play,” said Argentina. A black box theater consists of simple, undecorated performance space, typically a large square room with black walls and a flat floor.
The IFCC is a valued community asset, but in order to maintain operations, the newly-constituted Arts, Culture and Special Events Department will be exploring options to obtain base funding, and/or partner with a foundation or non-profit to provide financial support. IFCC is one asset in a portfolio that includes Multnomah Arts Center, Community Music Center, and Laurelhurst Dance Studio. For more information, visit portlandoregon.gov/parks. For information about booking events at IFCC, contact interim manager Jeanne Sprague, recreation supervisor at Peninsula Park Community Center, 700 N. Rosa Parks Way, (503) 823-3155.
Fire Station No. 29: Woodlawn
Woodlawn firehouse, 711 N.E. Dekum St., was built in 1913, in 20th-century Italian Renaissance style. According to Anjala Ehelebe’s book, Images of America: Portland’s Woodlawn Neighborhood (Acadia, 2008), it was home to firefighters on the top floor and stabled horse-drawn engines on the lower level. Decommissioned in 1959, the building had many uses during the ensuing decades. In the 1980s, it housed interior decorators, J.R. French & Company and the following decade, it became a private residence.
In 2007, Matthew Busetto spotted a Craig’s List ad for the building, and the moment he walked in the building, he knew it was perfect space in which to open a restaurant.
“It was a leap of faith, but opening my own restaurant was a lifelong dream,” said Busetto. A year later, he opened The Firehouse Restaurant offering Italian fare, and it’s been thriving ever since. Busetto learned that the firehouse had been a cultural and social hub in Woodlawn, and wanted to continue that tradition in a walker-friendly neighborhood that’s since been revitalized. For more information: See firehousepdx.com or call (503) 954-1702.
Note: Fire Station No. 30, 8105 N. Brandon Ave., was dedicated in 1913 and designated a historic landmark in 1976. The Kenton Firehouse has been restored as a community center and will be featured in a future article.
Oregon Stamp Society events planned
The Oregon Stamp Society has several events scheduled this month to commemorate its 100th anniversary. Events are free and open to the public:
August 4-7: American Philatelic Society Stamp Show 2016. Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. See stamps.org/stampshow-ss.
July 9-August 21: Stamps: Pathways to our World; exhibit at Collins Gallery, 3rd floor of Central Library, 801 S.W. 10th Ave. See multcolib.org/events/collins
August 5-7: Open house at Oregon Stamp Society Clubhouse, 4828 N.E. 33rd Ave. See oregonstampsociety.org