Last week, Bosco-Milligan/AHC education manager Val Ballestrem had the great opportunity to visit the Rummer-packed Vista Brook neighborhood in the Garden Home area of unincorporated Washington County. Together with local architectural historian and mid-century modern aficionado Jack Bookwalter, they met with a few residents of the neighborhood, saw a fantastic concentration of Robert Rummer built homes, and learned of concerns over a nearby sewage pump station.
Vista Brook lies just north of Garden Home Rd., roughly between SW 84th Ave. and SW 92nd Ave. The northern border is the Fanno Creek Trail and just beyond that lay the Portland Golf Club. It is a classic postwar suburban neighborhood with tree-lined curvilinear streets. Also at the northern end of the neighborhood stands a circa 1930s home – certainly the oldest in the vicinity – and a sewage pump station owned and operated by the City of Portland. The future of the home and pump station is the subject of growing neighbor concern.
Although the 1930s home mentioned above pre-dates the formal development of the Vista Brook neighborhood, long-time residents view the older home as a sort of neighborhood landmark. So it is no surprise that some neighbors are upset over the potential loss of the home, which once stood on several well-manicured acres, but now stands in the path of an expanded sewage pump station. Apparently, the City of Portland wants to expand their existing pump station (first constructed in 2000). They have acquired the old home on the adjacent property and are trying to get the project OK’d by Washington County. If the pump station is expanded the old home would be demolished along with its surrounding gardens. This is the first bit of neighbor concern; as with many neighborhoods, people hate to see their hyperlocal landmarks lost.
Neighbors’ second concern has a more direct impact on Vista Brook residents, especially those that border the property where the new pump station may be built. Several houses, including one that Robert Rummer once called home, lie adjacent to the pump station property and residents are weary of the noise and vibration the larger pump station may cause. Confounding neighbors’ concerns is that since the neighborhood is located in unincorporated Washington County and the pump station project is a City of Portland project, it is unclear who should respond to their concerns.
Development of the neighborhood once known as Bohmann Park began around 1956. From looking at newspaper ads from that period, the first homes in Bohmann Park were typical postwar ranches and split levels. But by 1965, Robert Rummer was building homes in his signature style in the neighborhood and soon the name Vista Brook had replaced the Bohmann Park moniker. Rummer continued to build homes in the neighborhood throughout the 1960s creating perhaps the highest concentration of his work; entire streets in Vista Brook are lined with Rummer homes. It is this high concentration of Rummer homes, and the fact that the neighborhood retains much of its original context, that has residents also considering the possibility of pursuing National Register Historic District status.
Although such a listing may not help with the pump station issue (since that issue is likely to come to a head very soon), it could help prevent or lessen the impacts of future encroachment of incompatible development. The process to obtain historic district status is however, challenging, time consuming, and potentially expensive. Val and Jack advised Vista Brook neighbors to discuss the possibility of historic district status with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.
So if you are ever out in the Garden Home area, consider taking a drive or a walk through this great intact mid-century neighborhood. If you like Rummer designs you won’t be disappointed.