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

17 responses to “Threatened with Demolition: Portland’s Old Waverly Children’s Home

  1. Jim Heuer

    The article about this project from the Portland Business Journal is indeed astounding. Apparently the developer believes that our neighborhoods of older homes are forever condemned to cramped, old fashioned kitchens, and single bathrooms. Evidently he has never attended the Architectural Heritage Center’s Kitchen Revival Tour.

    His notion that somehow our bungalow housing stock is somehow not kid friendly no doubt would be news to the thousands of young families who find those bungalow neighborhoods great places to raise kids — kids who have plenty of fun playing in their secure back yards.

    One wonders on what planet this developer has been living. Maybe one where every home is bulldozed every ten years so that owners don’t have to paint or replace their roofs!

    Further a bald assertion that the building would be much too expensive to retrofit, usually indicates a brief, back of the envelope calculation that would not stand in the developer’s way to do what he wants to do anyway. Making this building the centerpiece of his project could make a lot of sense if the developer had the imagination and creativity required.

    Yet another example of where the City should provide incentives to preserve buildings designated as historic in the Historic Resources Inventory rather than simply having the largely ineffective demolition delay as the only protection for these structures.

  2. Holly

    The erstwhile Children’s Home could be a truly interesting housing project — cozy and/or expansive housing units/condos with a fascinating history and great shared landscaping. Nothing “cookie cutter” — but a unique piece of Portland’s past renewed and adapted. This could be an award-winning, visionary re-use. Don’t tear it down!

  3. Hillary

    This building is also (I believe) on the Cornerstones study.

  4. Karen

    I live only a half block away from the Waverly Children’s Home in a big old bungalow. I attended the neighborhood meeting where the developer spent the first part of his talk dissing old houses, and explaining how much nicer his houses will be than what’s currently in the neighborhood. The whole thing to me seems like an exclusive gated neighborhood with its own private park right in the middle of a great old neighborhood. Bleh. Not a fan of the idea. Turning that building into condos is a much better use of the building.

    • Tracey Christle

      I have to agree with you. My cousin Ellen lives a few blocks away and I always loved the older houses in the area.

  5. Pingback: Latest News on the Old Waverly Baby Home | Portland Preservation

  6. Tracey Christle

    My aunt worked in the laudry room there when it was the Baby Home. My mom worked there before she was married and she had her wedding there. It is sad.

    • Hi tracy, I’m a previous resident of Waverly and working on a related research project. I’d like to talk with people who worked there.
      I can be reached @

    • kerry s kennison

      It is so very sad! It has so much history to the old structure! This is the first i have heard of this , and it breaks my heart to see it go! It should be a sin for it to just go away and be lost in time! Most important to me is i lived in that home a full year of my life at 8 years old! So many tears!

  7. clint bump


    • I was looking for information from the Waverly Baby Home and was curious if you ever found out where the old records were. My sister, brother and myself were residents there in the 50s sometime and we were looking for records as well. Please share if you don’t mind. My name is Marie Gussmann and my email address is

  8. Kerry

    I worked at Waverly Children’s Home, not only would it have been a nice place to save, it had a kitchen and even a gym, it’s basement was a Civil Defense Shelter. Another loss of an historic building for so called progress and big money!

  9. Karen

    I live near the former site of the Waverly Children’s Home, where the Waverly Commons housing development is now. The first house to be built is causing me a lot of concern. It has vinyl slider windows and siding with a larger exposure than old houses normally have. It looks like a Beaverton McMansion plopped down into the middle of a great old neighborhood. Ugh. I fear that the other homes to be built will be built to those standards too. I hate to think that the Waverly Children’s Home met its demise in order to build ugly suburban style homes with cheap windows. It’s an insult to the neighborhood, and the developer, Mark Desbrow, ought to be ashamed of himself.

  10. Karine

    I was adopted from Waverly when I was just a couple of weeks old. For YEARS I always swore I’d go see where I came from. I always thought it would be there. I live in Idaho, and am sooooo disappointed in myself for not making the trek before “progress” ruined it.

  11. Reuben G.

    I was a resident there as a child. I learned alot about the the darker side of human nature when I was there. My nightmares from that place are long gone, but I still hate that place, and I am happy that it has been destroyed. maybe one day I wil have the pleasure of meeting the land developer who bought it, and shake his hand.

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