By Kathy Eaton
Photos by John Butenschoen
The Irvington Club is a member-owned, non-profit corporation with deep ties to a neighborhood with historic designation. In 1980, the club was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2003, when Portland Parks and Recreation proposed selling the Overlook House due to financial shortfalls, the Overlook Neighborhood Association formed the Friends of Overlook House as a non-profit organization to manage the property and retain it for community use.
Founded in 1898, the Irvington Club, 2131 N.E. Thompson St., is the oldest tennis club in Oregon, and one of the oldest in the country. The craftsman-style clubhouse opened in 1905, and seven years later, the founders built a second-story addition designed by Ellis F. Lawrence, who lived nearby. In 1914, Lawrence, who commuted to Eugene by train, became the first dean of the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts. In 1914, Club president Walter Goss organized the first Irvington Children’s Parade whose participation grew through WWII, when 1,500-2,000 children marched along a 1.1-mile route. Today, Portland’s Junior Rose Festival Parade is touted as the largest children’s parade in the country.
Contemporaneously, children outfitted in their Sunday-best paraded on Overlook Boulevard in North Portland, sponsored by the Overlook Woman’s Club, a charity organization established in 1913. Elvira Raven, of Raven’s Creamery, served as club president. The club’s motto: “In small things – liberty, in large things – unity, in all things – charity,” reflected their values and support for their community. Built in 1927, the Raven’s stately Tudor-style home located at 3839 N. Melrose Drive, overlooks a bluff where they planted two coast sequoias and cultivated a variety of flora and fauna.
In 1951, Mrs. Raven deeded the house to the city for one dollar and built a more modest retirement home one block away.
In 1986, Overlook House board chair and retired engineer Greg Dufour bought Mrs. Raven’s “new house,” a mid-century modern home. Since 2003, the board has worked tirelessly to ensure an income stream to pay ongoing operations and maintenance costs for the Historic Overlook House. Neighborhood kids gather at the house for annual holiday events, and adults attend community-oriented events and classes without charge, a tribute to Mrs. Raven’s commitment to maintaining a strong neighborhood.
Alan Cranna, who’s lived in Overlook since 1950 and serves as vice-chair of the Overlook Neighborhood Association which meets at the historic home, discovered a box of records and photos in the Raven’s attic. He found meticulously hand-written meeting minutes of the Overlook Woman’s Club, along with other memorabilia.
Michelle Emert, event manager at Overlook House, grew up in the neighborhood, where she’s now raising her family. Emert, who describes Overlook House as a hidden gem in North Portland said, “We have a micro-budget running a non-profit, so we generally get bookings by word-of-mouth.”
Capacity for events ranging from weddings to funerals, birthdays and graduations held inside the house is 125 and they can accommodate up to 300 guests outside. For more information: See historicoverlookhouse.org or call (503) 208-7312.
Barbara Farmer, who’s served as general manager at Irvington Club for the past 15 years, said nine elected board members rely on recommendations from active committees. Gary Chin, a retired teacher who’s lived in Alameda for 24 years, was elected to the board in 2015. An avid tennis player, he joined the Club for his three kids who ultimately competed in state tennis championships. Chin said the Club’s core values of inclusiveness and community outreach help guide the board’s decisions. “We’re like an extended family.”
Irvington resident Soren Couglin-Glaser joined the Club in 2001, not only to play tennis, but his kids learned to swim here and participated on the swim team. He noted that the television show “Grimm” has filmed episodes at houses in Irvington as well as at the club’s pool. Today, Coughlin-Glaser owns a company that manufactures and rents photo booths for events and parties. For more information: See portlandphotobooth.com.
When Irvington resident and member Deborah Naugler started playing tennis at the club three years ago, she quickly found it addictive, and except for an injury that initially sidelined her, she now plays five times a week. Naugler, who serves as president of the Parents’ Club at The Madeline School, transports a group of kids to the club for bi-weekly tennis lessons.
“Irvington Club is the soul of this community; we could leave the school or the house, but not the club,” said Naugler, who wants to eventually join the club’s bridge group.
When Barbara Thompson joined the Club in the early 1970s, she and her husband lived in Irvington. They retired to Holladay Park Plaza in 2005, and their youngest son bought their Irvington home. All three of her children played tennis at the club, and now her son is a member. Thompson served as president in 1974-75, and along with two friends, planted flowers out front to make the club more inviting. “We’re not like a fraternity,” said Thompson, “but we are a close-knit group.”
The Club’s history is well-documented in “The Club that Roared, 100 Years of Irvington,” 1898-1998. For more information: See irvingtonclub.com or call (503) 287-8749.