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Oldest 'Westmoreland' house moved away

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: EILEEN G. FITZSIMONS - Neighbors Lucas and Dottie Larsen, standing in front of the oldest house in the original Westmoreland Subdivision, even though it isnt there any longer. Built in 1907 at 1624 S.E. Rural (site of Boys & Girls Club), the house was moved to its new location, across from the Westmoreland Park maintenance shed, in 1950. This photo shows the way the home looks today. In previous BEE articles I have described the beginnings of what was originally called Westmoreland, which was considerably smaller than the area today regarded as Westmoreland.

The details may be familiar – that it was a portion of the Crystal Springs Stock Farm, a vast landholding of shrewd Yankee businessman and banker William S. Ladd, of which another portion became Eastmoreland. Mr. Ladd, who died in the 1890’s, held other large sections of east-side land, including what became Ladds’ Addition and Laurelhurst. Like Westmoreland, these were developed posthumously, to the financial benefit of Ladd’s descendents.

Land was the real “gold” on the western frontier; you bought as much as you could afford, held it as long as possible, and when it had appreciated, sold it for a big profit, as a subdivision.

Portland’s population began “booming” after the Lewis & Clark Exposition of 1905, and development of areas east of the Willamette River accelerated with the construction of bridges and streetcar systems. Sellwood’s growth had increased with the completion of its carline in 1893, and in May, 1909, the Columbia Trust Company decided the time was right to begin turning the Stock Farm into 50x100-foot house lots.

On May 19, 1909, the Ladd Estate Company filed a subdivision plan with Multnomah County. The company officers were one of W.S. Ladd’s sons, William M. Ladd, as President, and Frederick H. Strong as Secretary. The Columbia Trust Company was the entity that handled the sale of land within the thirty-six numbered and four lettered blocks. The boundaries of the Westmoreland Subdivision were S.E. 22nd and Milwaukie Road (now Milwaukie Avenue), and uneven edges just north of Yukon Street and south of Rex Street. (If you would like to see the map of Westmoreland, and the other 30 subdivisions within today’s SMILE neighborhood boundaries, stop by the History Committee booth at Sundae in the Park, in Sellwood Park, on August 4).

Twenty-four of the thirty-six blocks within this subdivision were of uniform size. They were long rectangles, each offering twenty-four 50x100-foot lots. Because the Trust Company supplied the lots with water, as well as with pre-poured curbs and sidewalks, the blocks were larger than the norm, thus requiring less land “wasted” for streets, and reducing the amount of curbing to be poured (by contrast, the subdivision where I live, in the 1882 P.J. Martins tract west of Milwaukie Street, has smaller blocks, that average only eight lots per block).

The remaining twelve blocks in the Westmoreland tract varied in size, and offered as few as four 50x100 lots (north of Yukon), and south of Rex, blocks that contained eight to twelve lots. In total, it was stated that the “one hundred acre tract was making 700 lots available for $450 and up; 10% down, 2% interest per month.”

The company anticipated that the lots would sell quickly. and that other subdivisions, to be named Northmoreland, Southmoreland, and Eastmoreland would soon open, which they did.

To mark the entry to the subdivision, a tall, stone-pillared arch was erected at the southeast corner of Milwaukie and Bybee. Part of the estate company’s improvement of the Westmoreland tract consisted of extending streets into what had been private farmland. Bybee Street was extended in an easterly direction to 22nd, and the arch, topped with “Westmoreland” in wrought iron, marked the center of the new tract.

This grand entry survived for only two years, as it was demolished to allow the streetcar to make the corner turn, when it began branching from the Sellwood line in 1911. Documentation for the design of the arch was recently discovered, and credit goes to the firm of A.E. Doyle and William B. Patterson, who subsequently designed the Reed College campus!

The nagging question for this historian is: Who stepped forward to build the first house in this Westmoreland Subdivision, and where was it located? Five days after the subdivision was opened, The Daily Journal of Commerce stated that the “sales manager of the Columbia Trust Company is having plans prepared for a $2,500 bungalow which will be built on Bybee and 7th Streets.” This was an incorrect location, as there was no 7th street on the plat map, so I concluded that the newspaper must have meant 17th Street. This would be a logical spot for a “model” house, as it was just downhill from the arch, and easy to access from the Sellwood streetcar stop, at the corner of Bybee and Milwaukie.

That it was to be a $2,500 house also suggests the class of residents expected to be moving into the new neighborhood. The Trust Company required that lot purchasers spend no less than $1,450 on their dwellings. Presumably this agreement, which was in the deed, was somehow informally “monitored” via neighborhood peer pressure.

In the same issue, the Trust Company’s in-house architect was preparing plans for an even larger home, to cost $3,200. Unfortunately, no address was provided, and the owner so named was a speculative builder, not an individual home owner. Nor did a search of building permits in the Daily Journal for the next 30 days yield clarification. However, based on a process of elimination and a 1925 insurance map of the 17th and Bybee intersection, it appears that the first house built in the new tract was at the northwest corner, and was later demolished (or moved). This is currently a parking lot for Saburo’s Sushi House Restaurant.

More intriguing was a 15-year-old age-of-structures printout. From this I discovered two houses that were built in 1908 and one that was built in 1907, two years before the Westmoreland subdivision was platted.

In the instance of the 1908 structures, someone must have had inside information that the Stock Farm was going to be put on the market; their stories will require extensive research to unravel.

But the 1907 house was easy to find, and its photo is included with this article. It was built in 1907, but was moved in 1950 to its new location, on S.E. 22nd, directly across from the Westmoreland Park maintenance shack. In fact, many houses have been moved in the SMILE neighborhood over the years – a process now more difficult due to a lack of vacant lots and the cost of moving utilities.

But the house at 7625 S.E. 22nd, recently purchased by Sarah and Justin Foote, was moved quite a distance and fairly late in the neighborhood’s history.

It originally sat at 1624 S.E. Rural Street, on the site of what is now the Meyer Boys and Girls Club. The Club itself incorporates part of a previous Safeway store (tiny by today’s standards) that was constructed there in 1941. In the 1970’s, the market became a “Bits and Pieces” fabric store.

It is unclear why this house was saved and moved, but houses were in short supply and in high demand after WW II, so it must have seemed worth it. It was purchased and occupied for more than ten years by Gerald (“Jerry”) Griffith, former produce manager at Kienows (now QFC), who grew up in the grocery business at the meat market and grocery store operated by his family in Westmoreland (now home to Starbucks).

Jerry today does not recall why the house was moved, but it did have a sawdust-burning furnace, and his father-in-law – who was in the concrete business – paved the back yard after the move. So for the present, the house on S.E. 22nd is declared the “oldest in the original Westmoreland Subdivision”, if only by default!