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Making a home where the sidewalks end

Folks living in homes marooned by progress make the best of it

All cities have growing pains. For every grand urban redevelopment project, there are details that don't quite fit.

Progress has left 'orphan' homes in its wake all across Portland. There are isolated survivors, urban Rip Van Winkles, waking up to find the neighborhood has vanished. Occupants gaze out on freeways, warehouses and vacant lots.

Marooned homes tend to be created by highway projects or industrial expansion, or were built optimistically where roads were expected to go but never did.

Die-hard urban pioneers make the most of their situations: Handed lemons, they make margaritas.

On the east side of the Fremont Bridge, Interstate 405 joins Interstate 5 as it cuts north on its way to Jantzen Beach and Washington state.

At the junction, North Missouri Avenue stops suddenly on a cliff overlooking downtown. It's one of dozens of streets amputated by the freeway.

The house at 3308 N. Missouri Ave., on a cul-de-sac, is a blue, four-bedroom Victorian that faces a 15-foot-high soundproof wall. The wall eliminates a view of the city and the sidewalk is clipped at a 45-degree angle.

But dead-end living suits Michael Peimani just fine. Peimani, 22, plays guitar with rock 'n' roll trio Perfume. He's a student and has rented the house for the past two years. Peimani lives there with his girlfriend, Kyla Howe, and Perfume's bass player, Ben Sanabria, and his girlfriend, Emily Butler.

'I don't really notice the traffic noise anymore,' Peimani says as he cradles his red Fender Jag-Stang guitar. 'I guess it helps cover the noise of our practice.'

Peimani remembers that the freeway roar was more intrusive before the wall was built 18 months ago, 'but it really doesn't stop the noise upstairs, and that's where we sleep.'

Little village

Cab driver Rich Anslow is rehabbing a 1903 workman's cottage at 2010 N.W. 21st Place, where I-405 peels off the Fremont Bridge and heads west to Scappoose as U.S. Highway 30. His three-bedroom house is one of 13 huddled back-to-back like circled wagons on an isolated block in the industrial area.

The original homeowners could walk over to Guild's Lake and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. Later, when the lake was filled in, factories materialized to surround the houses.

Now the homes are being restored to humble elegance by owners happy to be so close to trendy Northwest 23rd Avenue.

'I'm three houses from the end of the line; it's like a little village,' says Anslow, 34. He grew up in Milwaukie but lived in Gresham for 10 years, 'spending three hours on the freeway every day.' He bought his house two years ago and lives there with a roommate.

'I love old houses. I wanted to be downtown and I didn't have $750,000 to spend,' Anslow says. 'I love the way these houses fit together. Look out the back window, it's like Nantucket the way they're so close together.'

A few elderly neighbors remember the days before I-405 was built in 1968. Anslow is thrilled at the area's history, showing photos of gangly young men in baggy suits grinning in front of a 1946 Mercury coupe on his street.

'Vaughn Street Ballpark was right by Esco (Corp.),' he says, pointing west. 'Imagine if it was still there. I could walk to a game.'

As trucks roar by with abrrrraaaaarrr of exhaust brakes, Anslow wishes the city would wall off the freeway. 'About 10 feet tall would cut off the noise. I'm not worried about the view, just a bit of quiet,' he says.

As seen on TV

Brandon Brown is having a house built on the steepest promontory overlooking the concrete I-5 spaghetti loops that make up the approach to the Fremont Bridge.

Why build there? The challenge of the project and the view, Brown says.

Brown's 2,200-square-foot flatiron building rises 51 feet beside the freeway, four stories of vivid red and yellow, and caged in blue steel, with an unparalleled view of downtown and a hot tub on the flat roof that will become a Japanese garden.

Designed by Portland architect Mark Engberg of Colab, Brown's home-to-be, at 3227 N. Michigan Ave., is sufficiently unusual that Home and Garden Television is filming a 13-part series on its construction.

It's been two years in the making, starting with complex concrete footings and excavation Ñ which included removing steps to a previous house. From the basement garage, up stairs to the wide-open main floor with its large deck, the design is open and light. A floating staircase, anchored at the top and bottom but nowhere else, leads to the master (and only) bedroom.

'I didn't want extra rooms I'd never use,' says Brown, 32, a club owner who owns the starkly modernist Tube, and the cozier East, both located in Old Town.

Brown lived at the Honeyman Hardware Lofts in the Pearl District for nine years. Architect Engberg was a neighbor.

'He was more or less out of work at the time and I wasn't doing much so we'd sit around and fantasize. Now he's done the ABC Studios facade in Times Square, a new Ferrari showroom in Las Vegas and a Venice-style canal system in Dubai Ñ he's huge.'

'I try not to get too excited and stay detached,' he adds.

Brown is still rounding up interior decor to go with eclectic elements such as the kitchen with work surfaces made from a synthetic material used in the making of skateboards, an intricate wrought-iron fireplace with swing-out entertainment center and a two-story vinyl panel wall, which probably helps the interior stay as quiet as it does.

Brown reckons he's still a couple of months away from finishing the interior but there's one bright spot: He's single and can furnish it as he likes.

'I'd better get it finished before I get a girlfriend,' he laughs.

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .