Stumptown Stumper

by: JIM CLARK, Once the state’s only Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, the Ford Building on Southeast 11th Avenue now is a retail and office space.

Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.

Q: Which brick building in Southeast Portland used to be the Ford Motor Co.'s only assembly plant in Oregon?

A: The Ford Building, 2505 S.E. 11th Ave., is a familiar sight on bustling Southeast Division Street even though not many know its history.

It opened as an assembly plant for the automaker in 1915, the same year Ford Motor Co. built its millionth car.

Eighty-nine-year-old Ernie Bisio, who owns and operates Bisio Motors, on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, has something of a photographic memory of his childhood.

'I watched them build us a new truck on Aug. 12, 1930,' he says. 'My brother and I, Mario, went down there and watched them. My dad said it was time to buy a new truck. The (dealer) said if you go down there at 1 o'clock, you can watch it being made. I was 12 years old. It was very exciting.'

So down to the Ford Building they went, watching the production begin at the west end of the plant, at Southeast 10th Avenue and Division Street.

'I can remember distinctly the frame came down, and they put springs and wheels and axles underneath,' Bisio says. 'They moved along, put an engine in; from up over the ceiling comes the cab. They set it on there as the assembly line moves along, put in a radiator, hood and wheels.'

The truck lurched eastward and finally stopped when it reached the Southeast 11th Avenue side, about an hour later, he recalls.

Workers put the gas in the tank, turned the keys in the ignition and his brother drove it home. The invoice for the Model AA truck (made between 1928 and 1931), he remembers, was $741.50.

Bisio was such a Ford enthusiast while in high school that he began to help the comptroller at the plant, whom he remembers as 'Mr. Brennan,' sell automobiles as a part-time job.

In 1932, Bisio said, the plant closed and moved to Seattle. But Bisio continued selling vehicles: In May 1936, he sold 11 new cars in a month and made $400, he said. They sold for $800 to $900 each.

Other locals have equally compelling memories of the Ford plant. Seventy-five-year-old William A. Redding, of Southeast Portland, hadn't even been born yet, but knows that his father, William M. Redding, worked there making the cowl and windshield post for the Model A Ford, manufactured from 1928 to 1931. (Its predecessor, the Model T, was made from 1907 through 1927.)

'When I was a kid, all the cars were distinctive,' he says. 'You could tell a Chrysler product from a General Motors product.' Nowadays, he said, 'hot rods' just aren't as unique.

History buffs will be glad to know the Ford Building doesn't sit in ruins today. In true Portland style, developers have converted the 82,000-square-foot building into a flexible space for retailers and creative office tenants, offering 'extraordinary historic attributes such as vast ceilings, oversize windows, and heaps of natural light,' its broker proclaims.

Next week's Stumper: The First Congregational Church on Southwest Park Avenue used to have not just one, but two other 100-foot towers. What happened to them?

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