History calls for stately Irvington neighborhood

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A 583-acre section of the area could be named to the National Register of Historic Places
by: Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, The "old" Irvington School, shown in the early 1930s, is an example of the neighborhood's development. A large part of the Irvington area could be nominated as a historic district this week to the National Register of Historic Places.

Its development mirrored Portland's boom years at the turn of the 20th century, and now the Irvington neighborhood is about to get a special place in history.

A 583-acre section of the neighborhood north of Northeast Broadway and south of Northeast Fremont Street could be nominated this week to the National Register of Historic Places. Members of the State Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation considered a request Friday morning, June 4, to name the Irvington Historic District to the national history list.

If approved, the nomination means the neighborhood would join 14 historic districts across the city also listed on the national register. It could put the district and some homeowners in line for a limited amount of federal restoration grants and some state tax abatements.

A nomination report by Kirk Ranzetta and Heather Scotten of Portland's Entrix Inc. and neighborhood volunteers Mary Piper and Jim Heuer, focuses on the area as an example of the city's 'streetcar suburbs' that grew around the region as mass transportation spread.

More than 100 volunteers worked through the Irvington Community Association for three years to compile information on individual houses and take about 7,000 photographs for the national register nomination process. The group raised $21,000 to hire consultants who eventually put all the information together for the state committee to consider.

It was worth it, said Piper, chairwoman of the association's Historic Preservation Committee. The neighborhood shouldn't be 'frozen in time,' she said, but cherished for its livability and charm.

'What I wanted to do was to make all the residents aware of what a special neighborhood this is,' Piper said.

Covenants guide development

Irvington, which was developed between its first lot sale in 1891 and the late 1950s, has a large collection of turn-of-the-century housing styles, such as Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival and Period Revival residences. Most of those houses were built by the early 20th century's top architects and builders, according to the nomination report.

At its heart, the neighborhood with large, expansive houses - some a century old - and oversized lots, was developed largely through the earliest use of restrictive development covenants in Oregon. The covenants, much like many of today's homeowners associations' restrictions, were new to the region and written into development plans by heirs to the donation land claim by Capt. William Irving.

The area nominated to the national register covers a large part of Irvington's original 1887 subdivision plat, bordered on the east mostly by Northeast 27th Avenue, on the west by Northeast Seventh Avenue, on the north by Northeast Fremont Street and on the south by Northeast Broadway.

Development of the subdivision - growing as a 'streetcar suburb' built as tracks began stretching in 1899 along Broadway - was controlled by the covenants, which, among other things, limited the types of structures that could be built (no commercial buildings) and even the types of people who could live there (Chinese immigrants were welcome as workers but not as residents).

About 85 percent of the neighborhood's 2,807 houses and structures were constructed between 1890 and 1948. There are 151 houses in the neighborhood that were built before 1910. About three dozen houses in the area are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

'Build on what we have'

Other large developments that popped up around Portland also used similar covenants, based largely on Irvington's experience. It is a testament to the area's architectural styles that much of the neighborhood fundraising was done through the Irvington Walking Tour, an annual event with many houses open to people across the region.

Piper and her husband bought their 1910 house on Northeast 21st Avenue 10 years ago after moving to Portland from Seattle. At the time the house was sliced up into 10 apartments. Piper and her husband spent about $300,000 to restore it to a single-family home.

They weren't trying to create a 'museum piece,' just return a study old house to its grand stature, she said.

'I was taught by my parents, and my husband by his, to value things that were old,' Piper said. 'I hope I can pass that along to my grandchildren.'

Today, the historic construction covenants have been responsible for keeping Irvington mostly intact as a community, Piper said. In the 1950s, when city officials considered demolishing large sections of the Lloyd District and Irvington, the neighborhood association was created to keep the region from being bulldozed, she said.

'This is an area of well-to-do people, but it's also a neighborhood of postmen and bankers and clerks,' Piper said. 'It's important that we save the small bungalows in Irvington just like we take care of the larger houses. I want to build on what we have here.'

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