In case you missed it, the Architectural Heritage Center recently hosted a presentation on “Kit Houses” – as in homes that one could order from a catalog and receive delivered to a building site with all the pieces cut to size and coded for easy construction. Most people associate companies like Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward with such homes, but there were clearly other companies that had a bigger impact on building in the Portland (OR) area.
The Captain Nathaniel Crosby house was once located at SW First and Washington. This photo was taken around 1910 after the house had been moved to SW Fourth and converted to commercial use. Later demolished, it is believed that this was the first “kit house” to be constructed in Portland. Newspaper and other accounts claim the home was shipped “around the horn” already cut and ready to assemble. Image courtesy of the Portland Archives and Records Center.
Two such companies were Aladdin and Fenner. Aladdin, based in Bay City, Michigan sold homes all over the world for more than 75 years, finally closing down in 1987. In 1920, they actually opened a mill right here in Portland, where they built house kits and most certainly sold many of the kits locally, to both individuals and real estate speculators. Several Aladdin homes showed up in local newspapers when they were first built, but in reality no one really knows where all of the Aladdin homes in Portland are. However, recent research has uncovered the fact that the University of Central Michigan’s Clarke Historical Libraryhas a collection of Aladdin sales records. Perhaps one day an intrepid researcher will head to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan and discover just how many Aladdin homes were built here in the Rose City. Until such time, if yo have a home you think might be from a kit, keep an eye open for telltale signs such as some sort of alpha-numeric coding stamped on the lumber. Keep in mind, however, that there were several manufacturers of kit houses and they often used plans that were nearly identical. Naming the exact company that built your kit may prove extremely challenging.
Fenner advertisement in November 14, 1920 Oregonian.
Aladdin advertisement in January 1, 1920 Oregonian.
The Frank C. Barnes residence in the Alameda neighborhood of NE Portland (OR).
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In 1913, a notable Portland businessman by the name of Frank C. Barnes, had a home built on Alameda Ridge. The home was filled with amazing details like a mahogany stairway and wonderful stained glass windows. In many ways it rivaled the Pittock Mansion, which was under construction at about the same time.
For decades the home was thought to be the work of architect David Lockheed Williams. Williams was an important architect in early 20th century Portland and the son of Warren H. Williams, architect of many of Portland’s fantastic cast-iron fronted buildings. Indeed D.L. Williams may have been involved in early plans for the home, but recent research has identified the firm of Stokes & Zeller as the architects of the home as it was constructed. Stokes & Zeller were a prolific firm, designing homes all over the east side of Portland – including many in the Sullivan’s Gulch, Irvington, and Buckman neighborhoods.
The discovery of the connection between Stokes & Zeller and the Barnes residence points out how helpful some research tools that weren’t around 20, 10, or even 5 years ago, can be. In the past couple of years, one of the most helpful tools in researching buildings in Portland has become the Oregonian Historical Archive. Available online through Multnomah County Library, this word-searchable archive has uncovered all sorts of evidence connecting some (until now) little known architects to some very significant projects. The Barnes residence is but one example.
Over the years the Barnes residence has seen several ownership changes and at one time it was almost demolished and replaced with a synagogue, but today it has been lovingly renovated and on July 28th, the home will be part of the Architectural Heritage Center’s Heritage Home Tour.
So now the question remains, as we continue our efforts to ensure that those interested in Portland’s past have access to the most complete and accurate building histories, what will we uncover next?