Category Archives: Historic Preservation

City Council Gets an Earful on Demolition Issue

To follow up on our posts from the past week, yesterday, the Portland City Council accepted the report from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, that included several recommendations, including those aimed at the demolition of single family homes in the city. Hopefully now the City will begin to take a hard look and perhaps even some immediate action to address concerns expressed by residents from around Portland. The three members of Council that were present (Commissioners Fish and Saltzman were absent) heard testimony from residents of several Portland neighborhoods, including Eastmoreland and Concordia as well as members from the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, a group of local preservationists that includes representatives from several historic Portland neighborhoods as well as from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, Restore Oregon, and the Portland AIA chapter’s Historic Resources Committee. The President and Executive Director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, Fred Leeson and Cathy Galbraith, reiterated neighborhood concerns and recommendations for possible action, such as creating an actual definition for what is or what is not considered a demolition.

Here is the testimony presented by BMF/AHC President Fred Leeson. It includes some valuable arguments as we continue to raise awareness of the demolition crisis in Portland:

I applaud the Landmarks Commission for its thoughtful and perceptive report.  All its recommendations deserve positive action.

But I want to concentrate on the demolition syndrome, which is chewing its way through our most livable and affordable neighborhoods.  When we talk about livable neighborhoods – that means walkability, sense of place and affordable housing —  we are describing Portland’s wonderful streetcar-era neighborhoods mostly built in the nineteen – teens and 1920s.  Developers are now plundering these neighborhoods for three famous real estate reasons: location, location, location. 

Why do people care so much about these grand old neighborhoods?  A bunch of reasons.  From your perspective, first should be affordable housing.  Those of you who have tried to promote low- or moderate-income housing know how difficult it is to achieve.  So how can we sit idly by while what moderate-income housing we already HAVE is being torn down, one house at a time? 

What we are losing are houses built with old-growth wood and some of the best building materials known to man…and we’re shipping them to the landfill.  For the environment and the carbon footprint, we should be rehabbing and retrofitting instead of demolishing.  The “greenest” building is the one that’s already built.  If density is your concern, accessory dwelling units are a better answer than McMansions. 

Let’s not overlook sense of place.  When you say you grew up in St. Johns or Sellwood or Laurelhurst or Rose City Park, you know what that means even if you don’t have an architectural vocabulary.  It’s about building size and setbacks and yards and neighborhood feel…the things that make each neighborhood great in its own way, and all adding up to the livable city we already love and enjoy. 

One of the scrape-and-build developers had an advertisement recently that claimed he was saving the environment one house at a time.  There is hardly a bigger lie.  In fact, he’s doing irreparable harm, one house at a time. 

There are solutions for you to consider.  Others will speak to them.  I know your hearts are in the right place.  Let’s put our heads together and do the right thing.  Thank you.

Fred Leeson, Jim Heuer, and Cathy Galbraith testifyiing to City Council on the demolition issue.

Fred Leeson, Jim Heuer, and Cathy Galbraith testifying to City Council on the demolition issue.

The council meeting was covered in the local media.

The Oregonian has scheduled an online chat for Monday, 8/4 at 1pm  – where you can “Ask an Infill Developer” about demolitions. The Architectural Heritage Center has been asked to participate in this conversation.

The latest issue of the Southeast Examiner also has a great article on demolitions and the environmental impacts.

We thank you for your continued support as we work to put an end to the “demolition syndrome” in Portland. We will continue to post more information on this subject as it becomes available.

 

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Coalition for Historic Resources’ Recommendations for Addressing Demolition Issue

To update our post from last week, last Thursday, members of the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources met at the Architectural Heritage Center to develop a three-pronged approach to addressing the demolition issue in Portland. This Thursday, they will propose the following emergency measures to the Portland City Council.

  1. Close loopholes by defining “demolition” as the removal of 50% or more of an existing building.
  2. Require all residential demolitions to adhere to minimum delay and notification requirements.
  3. Establish a task force to identify additional building and zoning code improvements that would ensure demolitions are appropriately managed and that replacement construction responds to neighborhood characteristics.

We hope those of you concerned about demolitions in Portland can attend the meeting this Thursday, July 31st at 2:00pm, at City Hall. There is strength in numbers and this is a opportunity to show the council that the current demolition epidemic must be addressed in a meaningful way.

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The State of Historic Preservation in Portland – 2014

The Portland City Council will hear the annual “State of the City Preservation Report” from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission on Thursday, July 31st starting at 2:00PM. A number of historic preservation issues, successes, and challenges are included in the very thorough report. We hope you will help fill City Hall with supporters of historic preservation, especially those who are concerned about demolitions and other issues currently facing neighborhoods around the city.

Here’s a link if you want to download the 2014 PHLC report.

The City also recently announced the first draft of their 2035 Comprehensive Plan and is now accepting public comment. There is voluminous information about the plan here. Also, on September 9th, the AHC will be hosting a panel discussion on the draft Comp Plan and what it might mean for historic preservation in the city. City staff will be on hand to talk about the plan and to offer insight for those interested in giving public comment at meetings this fall. You can read more the program and register to attend here.

At the AHC, we have been specifically involved in advocating for better preservation of our Skidmore/Old Town National Historic Landmark District, and the New Chinatown/Japantown National Register Historic District (through the West Quadrant Plan’s meetings over the past 18 months), as well as the campaign to save the Portland Gas & Coke Building (as part of the “Friends of” group meetings), just to name a few. We have also been a “first responder” to the Epidemic of Demolitions of Portland’s single-family homes. There will be more to come very soon on our proposed “list of cures” for this epidemic, so please check back! We are also a founding member organization of the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources; the PCHR recently agreed on three priority steps for the city to take to start the ball rolling on addressing the Epidemic of Demolitions – – also coming very soon.

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Neighborhoods Beginning to Take Action Over Demolition Issue

Last night the Eastmoreland Neighborhood announced they would be staging a “park-in” to keep yet another demolition from occurring. Here’s the text of their announcement from their Facebook page:

DEMOLITION UPDATE:

The developer at 3620 SE Rural has circumvented the ENA’s 120 day delay for demolition and plans to raze the house tomorrow morning. A park-in to block the bulldozer may be the only way to prevent this violation of public trust and to prevent the work-around to our hard won delay. The park-in will be at 8am tomorrow morning at 3620 SE Rural to block the developer from tearing down this home. Cars need to be in place by 7:00am (or so). Details below:

This PM , neighbor Winky Wheeler received a door hanger demolition notice that the subject house at 3620 SE Rural will be demolished tomorrow effectively violating the 120 day delay imposed by the ENA. The details and confirmation of the delay may be found below. In conversation with Kareen Perkins who administers title 24 for the City she explained that the developer (among others) had found a work-around for the delay.

Yesterday, July 15, the applicant withdrew the demolition permit with the 120 day delay and pulled the permit applications for both houses applied for some weeks ago effectively violating the intent of the regulations. The neighborhood association was not notified of the event by the City as no notification is required. Following the withdraw of the original applications, the applicant filed for a permit for one house and received simultaneously a demolition permit with no delay.

The developer is operating within the one demolition for one permit application loophole that developers have maintained in place with the support of Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the DRAC (Development review advisory committee that is largely staffed with building owners and developers). The DRAC meets at 8 AM tomorrow-1900 SW 4th. Attendance is encouraged.

The developer previously applied to reconstitute and divide 3 substandard lots for narrow lot housing. That request has not yet been approved although other aspects of those permit applications were substantially approved. The application for the lot split challenged by the ENA was one reason for asking for a delay of the demolition. Emily Sandy at BDS is responsible for that review.
City Official emails for commenting on this and other demolitions are:

CHARLIE HALES, MAYOR, (503)823-4120
e-mail: mayorhales@portlandoregon.gov

NICK FISH, (503) 823-3589 
e-mail: Nick@portlandoregon.gov

AMANDA FRITZ, (503) 823-3008 
e-mail: amanda@portlandoregon.gov

STEVE NOVICK, (503) 823-4682
e-mail: Steve.Novick@portlandoregon.gov

DAN SALTZMAN, (503) 823-4151
e-mail: dan@portlandoregon.gov

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by home builder Renaissance Homes

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by Renaissance Homes

This morning, indeed there were several cars parked in front of the home, making it impossible for a bulldozer to access the house. This action certainly attracted the media as representatives from TV, radio, and print news were all on hand. After a brief discussion on a nearby side-street, Robert McCullough, the head of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and Randy Sebastian, the head of Renaissance Homes, agreed to a one week delay of the demolition. As noted in their announcement above, the primary concerns here are not about the individual demolition, but how it was approved and what the new house(s) will look like in relationship to their neighbors and the neighborhood. It is clear that the City’s recently adopted demolition delay period has some pretty serious loopholes, the biggest of which is that there is no delay if a developer wants to demolish and replace a single house with another single house. In this case, Renaissance readily admitted to the media that they will eventually build at least two houses on the property, even though their circumvention of the delay period was based on only a single house replacing the existing one. So while cooler heads have prevailed for the moment, the frustrations over demolition policy continue.

The current policy regarding demolition in Portland is not working. But beyond that the situation with this house exemplifies a disturbing trend in the city. Builders keep snatching up such homes, like this one on Rural Street, knowing that they can build something bigger and new, and then sell it for a significant profit. The result is that a house that is perfectly sound and usable (but probably in need of some refreshing), as well as somewhat affordable ($375,000 in this instance), will be replaced by a home or homes ranging from $500,000 to over $1 million. If neighbors are outraged about this sort of “change” it isn’t just because a new house is coming in, it is because the more this happens the less affordable these neighborhoods become, meaning that young families and such are completely priced out of the market and forced to look for housing elsewhere and further away from the city center.

Another issue here is the complete lack of consideration given to the existing homes. During the park-in this morning, Mr. Sebastian mentioned more than once how the house on Rural Street was “functionally obsolete”. If we are to accept the argument of functional obsolescence then we may as well tear every old house down, because what the developers really mean is that the house is just old and, since they are in the business of building new, it doesn’t fit their business model.

There is also an environmental sustainability factor here that must not be forgotten. Every time we knock down these older homes tons of building waste is sent off to our landfills. In too many instances little or none of these materials are recycled in a meaningful way. It is not enough that the news homes replacing the old ones are LEED certified. Reports have shown that older homes can be made virtually as energy efficient as the new ones and that in doing so, the river of demolition debris is greatly mitigated. It is absolutely amazing that in Portland, a city that loves to tout its sustainability work, there is continued support for the wanton destruction of the environmental and social (i.e. livability and sense of place) legs of the three-legged sustainability stool.

On July 31st at 2:00PM, the Portland Landmarks Commission will be making a presentation to the Portland City Council on the demolition issue. We hope that many of our fellow historic preservation and neighborhood livability supporters will attend this presentation at City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave.). The City Council needs to see that people really care deeply and are upset by what is happening in Eastmoreland and many other Portland neighborhoods, so much so that they are beginning to act with park-ins and it is possible that other forms of civil disobedience may not be far behind.

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Demolition Derby Continues

As we recently reported, it seems that building demolitions in Portland are continuing unabated, or at least the continued threat of demolition is still out there. The Markham House in Laurelhurst is still in danger of being demolished, even though we’ve heard that the new owner has offered to sell the house to someone interested in fixing the house up – so long as he can serve as the general contractor. The petition to save the house is still gaining signatures, but it remains to be seen if the new owner will listen to the concerns of what is now nearly 2,000 people.

Demolition in Portland continues to run rampant and unabated. This morning a wrecking crew began to knock down the former Jarra’s Ethiopian Restaurant on SE Hawthorne. The photo should give everyone pause, as it shows just how haphazardly these demolitions occur. While it is understandable that not every building can be saved, there is little sustainable about smashing and mashing up the old growth framing and trim in a 100+ year old building. What will happen to that wood? Is it not enough that we’ve cleared out virtually all of the old growth timber in the Northwest, and now we’re going to let it all get ground into garden mulch?

The demolition of the former Jarra's Restaurant on SE Hawthorne.

The demolition of the former Jarra’s Restaurant on SE Hawthorne.

It seems almost daily that there is word of more proposed demolitions. While it is understood that some houses may simply be past the point of any sort of rehab, there is too much subjectivity as to where that line is crossed. In far too many instances, builders are blaming the house for the demolition, disregarding the fact that their ability to purchase what you might call “fragile” homes with cash, often means that those potential homeowners, who would lovingly restore an old house if they had the chance, are being beaten to the punch.

Here is a list of some additional homes that we’ve been told are in danger of being demolished (some demolitions may have already begun):

1525 SE 35th Place

4307 NE 7th

623 & 633 NE Thompson

5129 SE Ellis

7405 N Olin

8125 & 8137 SE Ash

Will it ever stop?

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As One House is Saved from the Wrecking Ball, Another Takes Its Place

by Val Ballestrem

Last week it seemed Portland would lose yet another wonderful, if not designated, historic house – this time in Willamette Heights. Thankfully, neighbors of the Montague House on NW 32nd stepped in and purchased the home at the 11th hour.

But just as the dust began to settle in the West Hills, comes word of another troubling demolition – this time in Laurelhurst. The home at 3206 NE Glisan is sort of an unofficial landmark, literally standing at the gate to one of Portland’s most beautiful east side neighborhoods. The home has seen better days, that’s for sure, but it is both architecturally and historically significant. It was one of the earliest homes in Laurelhurst, a development that was once farmland owned by the well-known Ladd family. The home was initially built to serve as both an office and residence for the head real estate agent working in Laurelhurst.

Image of 3206 NE Glisan from 1912 Laurelhurst real estate brochure. Source: Architectural Heritage Center library

Image of 3206 NE Glisan from 1912 Laurelhurst real estate brochure. Source: Architectural Heritage Center library

According to this document, the house may soon be demolished and replaced by two new homes facing Glisan. It is unclear what this would mean for the landmark Gateway that is adjacent to the home and which was damaged during the construction of a wall at the house several years ago. Here’s a link to the Google street view of the house.

 

Image of 3206 NE Glisan from 1916 Laurelhurst real estate booklet. Source: Architectural Heritage Center library.

Image of 3206 NE Glisan from 1916 Laurelhurst real estate booklet. Source: Architectural Heritage Center library

 

On another note, just down the street is another possible demolition – not of a house, but of one of the few remaining buildings from the era when Sandy Blvd. was dotted with quirky architecture. Club 21, a sort of dive bar at NE 21st and Glisan (just off of Sandy), is faced with possible demolition as plans are in the works  for that entire block to be redeveloped with 200 apartment units. It’s perhaps a little-known fact, but this little building was once a second location for Portland’s historic Jake’s restaurant – just as the Great Depression hit Portland in the early 1930s. Here’s a link to the Google street view of the resturant.

Advertisement for Jake's East Side Bungalow. Source: Oregonian June 11, 1930.

Advertisement for Jake’s East Side Bungalow. Source: Oregonian June 11, 1930.

We continue to raise awareness of demolitions that are damaging the historic character of Portland neighborhoods, but unless we see action from the City or through legislation at the State level, it will be a nearly impossible battle to save many wonderful buildings from being destroyed.  We hope you will help us as we continue spreading the word.

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Demolition Issues Continue to Aggravate Neighborhoods

In case you missed it, last week there was a discussion at Concordia university about the ongoing demolition issues in Portland. The auditorium was packed, with many people even sitting on the floor. AHC executive director Cathy Galbraith was honored to be part of the panel discussion, following up on her recent Portland Preservation blog post about demolitions with suggestions for what the City might consider doing to address demolitions in Portland. The meeting has since been posted to YouTube, so if you were unable to attend, you can now watch the meeting here.

Sadly however, demolition concerns continue to grow in Portland. This week we all learned about the proposed demolition of a wonderful 1890s home in northwest Portland’s Willamette Heights – another instance where the home has no protections against demolition and the new owners claim that the repairs needed in the home are far greater than they are willing to spend. Their offer to have the home deconstructed before they build something new is being met with considerable opposition. If you haven’t kept up with this story, it has gotten quite a bit of press from local media outlets and even online petitioners, who are asking the homeowners to reconsider the demolition of this fine historic home.

If you want to learn more about this demolition story here are some links that might be helpful:

http://www.oregonlive.com/front-porch/index.ssf/2014/06/google_executive_kevin_rose_pl.html#incart_river

http://valleywag.gawker.com/kevin-rose-infuriates-portland-over-plans-to-demolish-h-1593525844/+aleksanderchan

http://www.kptv.com/story/25825760/plans-to-demolish-nw-portland-home-outrages-neighbors

Online Petition via Change.org

If you see any other news stories related to this demolition please email them to info@VisitAHC.org so we can add them to this list.

Demolitions in Portland continue to be a growing concern. We are doing what we can at the Architectural Heritage Center to help people better understand the situation and to come up with solutions that will conserve our wonderful neighborhoods for years to come. To accomplish this we need your help. Please consider becoming an AHC member or perhaps even a volunteer. Together, we can make a difference.

 

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Demolition of Single Family Houses – the Epidemic Continues

By Cathy Galbraith

If anything, the epidemic of demolition of single-family homes has only accelerated and concerns across the city of Portland neighborhoods are red hot. An estimated 389 demolitions took place in 2013; it’s rumored that a-demo-per-work-day is happening in 2014. It’s next to impossible to argue about the appeal to a home-owner looking for a quick and easy sale…all-cash offers for a house in “as-is” condition, saving any real estate commissions, no worries about underground oil tanks, dry rot, and poor insulation. Defects just don’t matter when demo-and-replacement is planned.

For the builder/developer, the economics are a sure bet. One single family home, whether exceptionally “modest” or “very nice” is purchased and then replaced with a much bigger and more expensive home (often more than one.) Given the great neighborhoods-with-character locations, these new high-end houses command top sale prices with guaranteed profit margins for the builders. They no longer need to worry about recouping the costs of a new subdivision, like installing utilities, access roads, and sidewalks. Instead, they are filling up the mail boxes of homeowners with enticing “quick sale – close in days” offers, looking for houses to buy and demolish.

So how can we counter the scraping away of a house that may be worth $475,000 if the replacement house can sell for $975,000 – – and there may be more than one new house? That’s the tough nut to crack and the City of Portland has made it exceptionally easy for the demo-and-replace builders – – while exceptionally disruptive on the surrounding owners and residents. The city’s impetus seems to be “density” (or maybe it’s conflict avoidance with the builders/proponents…) and trust me here – – it is definitely not the Urban Growth Boundary. Someone once told me that “planners don’t get paid to keep things the same” but I find it ludicrous when planning documents (and campaigning elected officials) talk about “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods” and then proposes absolutely nothing to protect the character that makes those neighborhoods so celebrated! It’s the context of vintage homes that blend so well with one another, the consistent use of high-quality materials, the regularity of setbacks, and the mature landscaping and trees – – that’s what helps make up the character and it’s what disappears with demolition and replacement.

After much debate, discussion, and a very practical look at the many issues at play, we propose the following potential “fixes” as a start:

(1) While notice to surrounding property owners, in and of itself, is not much of a fix, it does let neighbors prepare for noise, dust, and the possible exposure to environmental hazards (like asbestos.) Right now, notice is only now (recently) required by the city when more than one new house is proposed. There’s no notice/delay when a demo application and the replacement house permit are filed the same day. Asking builders to provide notice voluntarily (under discussion at the City) doesn’t cut it, if few builders do it. Either the city should require notice across the board, or provide an incentive for notice – – like a reduction in the cost of a building permit.

(2) Change the definition of “demolition” in the city’s development code – a big problem is that any demolition that leaves any portion of a house still standing (such as a partial foundation wall) is called an “alteration” or “remodel”, not a demolition (which are seriously under-counted, as a result.) More typically, many other jurisdictions use “at least 50% of a structure remains standing” as the primary criteria for an alteration/remodel. If that’s reasonable enough for other cities and counties, it should be acceptable for Portland.

(3) Houses that are obviously historic (but unprotected) are those that have long been listed on the city’s 1983 Historic Resources Inventory, but many houses have reached the age of 50+ since then. We propose a mandatory 120 delay for houses on the HRI or at least 50+ years old. These are likely the ones that need time for investigating alternatives to demolition. (The historic-but-unprotected late 1800s Goldsmith House in NW Portland was purchased by a group of NWDA activists (including our board member Rick Michaelson) from the demo/developer, just in time to save it from certain demolition.)

(4) Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house(s) –  One major concern is that after a demolition, a new house is not only usually bigger, but it covers much more of the lot, often changing the streetscape substantially. If the front and side-yard setbacks stay the same for the new house, the streetscape remains more like it’s traditional neighbors. Expansion in size of the new house should be allowed only at the rear of the site, minimizing impact on the street and to the side yards of its adjacent neighboring houses.

These provisions are a start at getting a handle on the demolition epidemic that’s only growing. We’ll be airing these on our blog and elsewhere as we look for the willingness of our elected officials to respond to the firestorm of concern that’s also only continuing to grow across our city and throughout “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods”

 

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An Epidemic of Demolitions

By Cathy Galbraith

Something insidious is happening and Portland’s traditional neighborhoods are seeing the cumulative effects of the growing epidemic of the demolition of single-family homes. There is something at work here…perhaps it’s the combination of house “flippers,” people who like closer-in locations but want a house that’s brand new…BUT how can the costs of acquisition, demolition, and new construction be anything but enormous? Perhaps that’s beside the point. What we do know is that in early-December, 2013 the city had already issued at least 230 demolition permits for the year-to-date. Residents in SE and NE Portland have sounded the alarm bells, knowing all too well that among the impacts are the continuing loss of the qualities that make up a neighborhood’s character and its physical identity.

The epidemic is even likely worse, since the city of Portland defines a “demolition” as the complete removal of a structure. Any number of what most of us would consider a “demolition” before building a new house is something different—if any part of the first house is left standing—like a single partial wall. That wrinkle lets a builder off the hook for public notification of neighbors; permits for these projects can even be classified as an “alteration” or an “addition,” not a “demolition.”

In an era of growing understanding that “the greenest building is the one that’s already built” how can Portland be heading in exactly the opposite direction? Perhaps it’s just another aspect of the “growth is good” mantra that permeates the Comprehensive Plan update…and the perceived city tendency to bend over backwards to allow (some would say encourage) admittedly unusual proposals like the 56 “micro-units” that will replace ONE single family home on NW Thurman Street. The Comprehensive Plan update is intended to address the next 25 years…at the rate we are going, how many houses will we lose just in the next five years?

Portland is a city that’s rightfully concerned about important environmental issues like its “carbon footprint.” In mid-2012, before the demolitions epidemic, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Preservation Green Lab” (based in Seattle) published a study on the environmental benefits of historic preservation, including the finding that for a new house in PORTLAND, it would take 50 years (!!!) to overcome the impacts of its construction. Among its findings, it presumed that Portland would demolish 1% of its building stock over the next 10 years. The study concluded that by retrofitting and reusing them—instead of demolishing and building new energy-efficient ones—it could meet a whopping 15% of Multnomah County’s total CO2 reduction targets over the same 10 years!

There are no easy answers to the housing demolition epidemic, but we will be calling people together soon to attempt to find some resolution. Please watch our website (www.VisitAHC.org) or sign up for our e-news to learn more about this new initiative.

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More Demolitions on the Docket

According to the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the owners of a house at 3058 SE Woodstock are proposing to demolish the home and replace it with two single family residences. Eastmoreland, like many Portland neighborhoods, is constantly facing this sort of piecemeal redevelopment, which all too often ignores existing neighborhood context and history. With no protections in place, these neighborhoods are feeling the full brunt of the renewed interest in real estate redevelopment in the Rose City. Here’s a link to a recent real estate add for this classic 1958 home. The home was originally built for Kathryn Swenke, who moved here after her husband’s death in 1957. Swenke was apparently an avid gardener. In he 1960s, she hosted meetings of the Eastmoreland Garden Club at the home and also hosted annual picnics for the local chapter of the Red Cross Gray Ladies.

On Tuesday, July 23rd, there is also a meeting to learn more about the proposed demolition of the Cornelius Hotel located at SW Park and Alder.  Follow this link to learn more about that meeting, but public comments are not allowed at this particular meeting.

Most demolitions in Portland happen without notice of any kind, but we do know there is one planned for the home at  713 N. Humboldt and another at 2606 SW Buckingham.

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