Homes hold Buckman history
TRIB TOWN: Neighbors consider designation to preserve Victorian houses
SOUTHEAST - When Chelsea Browne sold his two 1905 Victorian-style houses to a Portland developer, he knew they were slated for demolition. The homes tower over the busy intersection of Southeast 12th Avenue and Ankeny Street, less than a block from East Burnside Street.
Browne purchased the homes for $28,000 in 1975 and has rented them out ever since. He decided to cash in on the houses last year when he retired from his business as an investigator for attorneys. He put both houses - which share a tax lot - on the market for a total of $799,000 and waited for an offer.
'A lot of people came through here and really liked these houses,' he said. 'But no one was ever seriously interested.'
Although both homes had updated electrical work and plumbing, they both needed new, tear-off roofs and some general maintenance work. Browne thought the prospect of renovating two homes scared off buyers.
Last fall, Browne finally got an offer from Portland developer Ralph Austin for $735,000 for both homes. Browne agreed to the price, knowing that the homes would probably be demolished to make way for two mixed-use condominium complexes, each two stories high with four units apiece. Now demolition is set to begin in April.
'I hate to see these houses go, but no one tried to save them,' Browne said.
Some Buckman neighbors say they, too, hate to see the homes demolished, and they fear that Browne's sale is the first of many to come in a neighborhood with a significant number of older rental homes.
'We'd like to see the preservation of options for families to live on the east side,' said Susan Lindsay, president of the Buckman Community Association.
Lindsay says one-bedroom and studio condominiums are not family-friendly and will attract singles or childless couples less likely to be supportive of the neighborhood schools.
She and other neighbors are in the early stages of pursuing historical protection for Portland's oldest east-side neighborhood. It's a process that will take a significant amount of time and energy for volunteers.
Apartments took over
Buckman - which runs from the Willamette River to Southeast 28th Avenue between East Burnside Street and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard - is the oldest official neighborhood on Portland's east side.
It's named for the politically active Buckman family that owned a farm where East Burnside Street and 20th Avenue connect today.
The neighborhood was annexed into the Portland city limits in 1891. Then, it was only half-urban, with many neighbors living a country lifestyle beyond what's now Southeast 10th Avenue.
It took 40 years for Buckman to fill in with houses - many in the tall, Victorian style.
The neighborhood saw significant changes to its character from the Depression of the 1930s to the 1970s. The entire neighborhood was zoned for apartments, and that's what developers built. It's unknown how many Victorian-style homes were demolished to make way for L-shaped apartment complexes with parking lots on the front yard before neighbors put a stop to it in 1977.
'We organized a committee to see about rezoning the neighborhood to protect the housing stock,' said Jim Andrews, a Buckman resident since 1974 who remains active in the neighborhood association.
While the neighborhood's residential streets are now zoned for single-family homes, the business corridors, such as Southeast Morrison and Belmont streets and Southeast 12th Avenue, are zoned commercial.
These bustling streets have older homes that are used as both residences and businesses, with no protection from demolition.
Rezoning business corridors is not a feasible solution, so the neighbors are embarking on what promises to be a long, intensive process to get historic protection for the neighborhood.
Historic status could help
Nicholas Starin, a city planner who specializes in historic preservation, is guiding the neighbors through the process.
'I think the option of a historic district is a good one,' he said. 'But it's a long haul. It takes a lot of time and research.'
Neighbors will have to take an inventory of all the homes in the neighborhood - researching their age and historical significance.
That means gaining cooperation of every homeowner and building owner in the neighborhood. They also must create a 'historic context statement,' which is a sort-of narrative on the neighborhood's history.
Gaining federal historic status for the neighborhood does not guarantee that older homes will not be demolished, but it does require a public review of any plans to tear down homes. And neighbors would have a voice in any building plans inside their historic district.
Portland currently has a dozen historic districts, including Northwest's Alphabet District and Southwest's Lair Hill.
A handful of other neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn and Reed in Southeast, have been working on historical inventories for several years to gain federal status.
Other options include creating an 'umbrella document,' which is a historical statement about the types of architecture in the neighborhood. It provides neighborhood research to homeowners who decide to seek federal historical status for their individual properties.
'It's a big job, but it's worthwhile,' Starin said. 'It creates a better understanding about what is special about a neighborhood.'
Christine Yun, a neighbor who is heading up the historic designation process, says it's not just about saving homes but about saving the character of Buckman neighborhood.
'Obviously, not all of the old houses are really terrific, but it's about the fabric,' Yun said. 'Once you start destroying the fabric, you change the historic character of the neighborhood.'