Monthly Archives: August 2011

Curious About the Oldest Homes in the Portland Area? Read On!

A recent discussion at the Architectural Heritage Center led to the question

What is the oldest standing house in Portland?

James B. Stephens House - SE 12th Avenue - Portland, Oregon

To our knowledge, within the city limits it’s the James B. Stephens House on SE 12th Avenue. The circa 1864 house was moved to its present location in the early 1900s.

Of course, outside Portland there are a number of older homes still standing. In Oregon City there are several that predate the Stephens house, including the well-known McLoughlin House.

So as a result of this discussion and the recent interest in house history, we thought it would be both fun and informative to gather a list of the oldest homes in the Portland Metro area. In addition to Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, we should also include Vancouver and Clark County, Washington, since they too have some interesting historic homes from before Oregon achieved statehood.

To get things started, here’s the beginning of a list of the oldest known standing homes in the Portland area.

1845    Francis Ermatinger House – Oregon City  (On the Historic Preservation League of Oregon’s 10 Most Endangered Buildings list for 2011)

1846    Dr. John McLoughlin House – Oregon City

1847    William Holmes House (aka The Rose Farm) – Oregon City

1849    Dr. Forbes Barclay House – Oregon City

1850    Morton McCarver House – Oregon City

1851    Captain J.C. Ainsworth House – Oregon City

1856    Alvin T. Smith House – Forest Grove

1859    Thomas Hines House – Forest Grove

c. 1864    James B. Stephens House – Portland

1865    Governor Curry House (attributed) – Portland

1870    1728 SE Belmont – Portland

1872    Jacob Kamm House – Portland

1873    Benjamin Cornelius Jr. House – Forest Grove

If you know about a home that should be on this list, please send it our way.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out this upcoming AHC program on House History Research.



Filed under Events, Historic Preservation, Local History

Threatened with Demolition: Portland’s Old Waverly Children’s Home

Architect's rendering of the new Waverly Baby Home from the November 22, 1931 Oregonian.

Last week we mentioned that the old Waverly Children’s Home (3550 SE Woodward) was slated for demolition, as plans are in the works for a new development on the site.

On Monday evening, August 8th at 7PM, the Richmond Neighborhood Association will be hearing more from the developer about his plans for 18 new home sites. If you are concerned about this development, I encourage you to attend this meeting and learn more.

The Richmond Neighborhood Association meets at the Waverly Heights Church, 3300 SE Woodward.

This recent article in the Portland Business Journal, provides some insight into the project.  In the article I was surprised to read that apparently it’s a bad thing that Portland’s walkable neighborhoods are filled with older homes. Aren’t older homes one of the big reasons that our older neighborhoods retain their interest and charm? Sure they need to be maintained, but so will any new construction – eventually. And most likely anything built today will not last nearly as long as the 80 year old Waverly Children’s Home main building.

I’m surprised that the developer has not considered the possibility of listing the home in the National Register of Historic Places. While a listing in the National Register is not guaranteed, the building today still retains much of its historic integrity and my guess is that it is certainly still eligible for listing. Such a listing might make a redevelopment project involving reuse of the building eligible for significant tax credits. That could go a long way toward the cost of upgrading and restoration work. It is possible that such a scenario would also still leave plenty of room for several new homes to be constructed.  Such an action would meet zoning code – negating fears of any conditional use controversies, it would add housing density, some new construction to appease those that simply must have new, and would preserve an important historic southeast Portland landmark.

The wife of Oregon Governor Julius Meier laying the cornerstone for the newly opened Waverly Baby Home. Image from the Oregonian, November 29, 1931.

We decided to crunch some numbers on the historic building, to show the impact of such a demolition. Using the embodied energy calculator, found on, we estimate that the amount of energy it will require to demolish the existing structure and build 18 new homes, will be equivalent to the energy in 837,285 gallons of gasoline. This number accounts for the embodied energy in the existing building, the energy it takes to demolish and the energy it takes to building the new homes. Even with generous recycling of the existing building, there would still be a significant amount of energy used in demolition – energy that could be saved and applied toward renovation instead.

Let’s all hope and work toward a better solution to the future of this historic building.


Filed under Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Local History, Sustainability

Several Demolitions Planned in Southeast Portland

We hear fairly frequently about buildings being demolished around the city because they have no protections against such action. Indeed this is the case for most properties that do not have some sort of historic designation  – like a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier in the summer it seemed there was a lull around Portland in the demolition world, but my how quickly things change. In just the past few days we have learned of several major demolitions that will affect southeast Portland neighborhoods.

1. Waverly Commons – 3550 SE Woodward

The former Waverly Baby Home fills most of an entire block, from SE 35th to SE 36th Avenue, between Woodward and Brooklyn Streets. While the original building has been added on to over the years, the original 1931 building retains both historic and architectural significance. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Sutton & Whitney, perhaps best known for the Weatherly Building on SE Grand Avenue at Morrison. Sutton & Whitney also designed the Hollywood Arcade building next door to the Hollywood Theatre, and sadly,  lost to a fire in 1997.

Plans are now in place to redevelop the entire property on which the old Waverly Baby Home stands. In its place are to be 18 lots for new residential construction. Such a redevelopment is supported by the zoning, so there is little that can be done to save the old building. Apparently the possibility of using the original structure as part of the new development was too daunting for the developer, although they claim that almost all of the old building materials will be re-used in some capacity. While such a re-use is environmentally sensitive, still it is not to be confused with historic preservation. There is more information about the proposed new development here.

The Waverly Baby Home is listed in Portland’s Historic Resources Inventory with a ranking of 2, noting its architectural and humanities-based significance. Unfortunately, all such a ranking does is to create a demolition delay for the building – it will not keep the demolition from occurring. Perhaps there is still a way to convince the developers to keep at least the old structure and use it as a centerpiece for the larger project?

2. 1606 SE Claybourne St.

Located just west of Milwaukie Avenue in the Moreland area, two older homes are slated to be demolished for a new development – the Claybourne Commons.  21 lots are proposed for this site, located just behind The Woods music venue, in a mix of residential and commercial development. It’s too bad that the developers couldn’t save at least one of the homes, integrating it into the new development as has been done recently with a project on SE Division.

3. 626 and 700 SE Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard (39th Avenue)

It is not known what is in store for these lots, between Stark and Belmont, along one of Southeast Portland’s main arterial streets, but we’ve been told that the two houses (dating to the early 1900s) on site are fenced off. Looking at revealed that demolition permits have been applied for. It is fairly typical in Portland that the public receives no notice of demolition for properties unless they have some sort of protection. Interestingly, in the case of these two old homes, there are currently demolition delays in place. This is unusual since they have no formal designation, but is likely because the property owner has no immediate plans to replace the homes with new development. Portland has a policy of no net housing loss, and the demolition delay is one tool used to prevent needless demolition. Unfortunately, such a policy is ultimately toothless. Wouldn’t it be great is someone found a new home for these two vintage Portland houses?


Filed under Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Local History, Sustainability