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The first homes in the 'original' Westmoreland

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: EILEEN G. FITZSIMONS - This modest bungalow, at 6715 S.E. 17th, the home that prompted this article, is one of three surviving model homes in the original Westmoreland - built a year before the subdivision opened for development in May of 1909.After reading my August BEE article on the “oldest house in Westmoreland”, an alert homeowner in that neighborhood asked me: If the lots in the original subdivision called Westmoreland went onto the market in May of 1909, as I mentioned, how could his own house, which is within that subdivision, have been built a year before that Westmoreland plat was filed with Multnomah County? There are two possible answers to his question. First, that his house was the dwelling of an employee of the Crystal Springs Stock Farm, which totaled 750 acres in size, and stretched from Milwaukie Avenue east to 39th Avenue.

But that is unlikely, as the farm was centered in the vicinity of what is now S.E. 28th and Woodstock Boulevard, on the eastern slope of the hill above what were then the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Also, according to city records, his bungalow was built in 1908, and if the stock farm was about to be redeveloped, the Ladd Estate Company would not then have been building houses for employees – unless, perhaps, as a “reward for services.” However, since William S. Ladd had died in 1893, it is unlikely that his heirs, eleven years after their father’s death, had any sentimental attachment to either his rural properties or his employees.

A second, and more likely explanation for the construction date of the house at 6715 S.E. 17th, and three others also built in that vicinity in 1908, is that they were speculative or model houses – used to entice potential homeowners to buy a lot, and construct a similar dwelling in the brand new suburb of Westmoreland.

In that August article, I stated that the “oldest” house in Westmoreland was at 7625 S.E. 22nd Avenue, across from Westmoreland Park. It merited its designation, due to the construction date of the structure, not its length of time within the subdivision. It had been built in 1907 in a different part of the neighborhood, and was moved to its present site in 1950.

Due to this technicality, it was the “oldest house within the Westmoreland subdivision”.

Of course, within the boundaries of the 40-block, 700-lot original Westmoreland subdivision, there are hundreds of houses, built between 1908 to the present. The Westmoreland subdivision, or plat, should not be confused with the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood (SMILE), whose boundaries were defined in the mid-1970’s by the City of Portland. Within the SMILE boundaries are more than 30 smaller subdivisions, including that early Westmoreland – although now, the whole north end of the neighborhood is called Westmoreland!

The transformation of the Crystal Springs Stock Farm into a subdivision was not announced in the Daily Journal of Commerce until May of 1909, but anyone riding the Sellwood streetcar along Milwaukie Avenue would have noticed that change was underway for at least two years before the lots were offered for sale.

In May of 1907, THE BEE – then less than one year old! – reported that “a large crew of men are busy grading on East 17th Street. A new sidewalk is being built on East 17th this week”. Because this area was primarily pastureland for a herd of 250 Jersey cows, the Farm’s acreage was relatively free of trees. However, site preparation by men and horses would have followed the removal of livestock, fences, and outbuildings, and doubtless large bonfires fueled with underbrush. Next would have come teams of surveyors, and the staking of lot lines. Finally, the streets would have been graded, followed by poured concrete sidewalks and curbs.

At this time, Bybee Boulevard was extended to the east of Milwaukie Avenue to 22rd.

Unlike “old-fashioned” Sellwood, Westmoreland was announced as a “modern” neighborhood, whose residents would not have to implore the City of Portland for proper sidewalks and Bull Run water! Of course, in the new subdivision, these improvements were included in the purchase price of the lot, which averaged $500.00. By comparison, in 1909, Portland’s City Council approved only “wooden sidewalks, curbs, crosswalks, and box gutters” in Sellwood.

When the Westmoreland lots were ready for sale, an imposing stone arch with wrought iron letters spelling “Westmoreland” was erected at the northeast corner of Milwaukie and Bybee. Through this arch could be glimpsed the future – but, to help make that dream tangible for potential homeowners, several model houses were constructed.

The real estate company employed its own architect to design the structures, which ranged from two simple two-bedroom bungalows, at 6715 and 7417 S.E. 17th,to a larger four-bedroom four-square home at 7107 S.E. 17th. In the following year, the same scheme was repeated by the Ladd Real Estate Company when Eastmoreland was opened. Two adjoining houses, one a two-story Craftsman-style and a larger, six-bedroom Colonial model, were simultaneously available for tours in that new subdivision in 1910. According to city building records and county tax assessor’s rolls, there were at least four houses finished in 1908, the year before the Westmoreland subdivision was officially opened. All of these houses were built within one block of the Milwaukie streetcar line, making it easy for home-seekers to reach the houses via the newly-installed sidewalks along Bybee Boulevard.

As stated in my earlier story, I believe that one of these houses, a large one built in what is now the parking lot behind Suboro’s Sushi House restaurant, was demolished. As it was the one closest to the streetcar stop, it probably served as the main sales office for the new subdivision. But the three other houses have survived, and for the most part they retain their historic features. The two medium-sized bungalows have wide overhanging roofs, carved rafter tails and brackets, and full front porches. The third – a larger four-square – has a smaller entry porch, bay windows, balconets, and an attic. Soon after its construction it was occupied by Columbia Trust sales manager Emerson L. Mills, his wife Laura, and their two adult children, Beatrice and Louis. Emerson must have been a persuasive salesman, as he moved two years later, to take a job with a real estate firm in a different part of the city.

The bungalow at 6715 S.E. 17th is the one that triggered this follow-up story. It was recently purchased by Tim and Kelsey Coulter, who are only the fourth owners of the house, which is now 105 years old. According to Tim’s research, the lot was one of the first to be purchased in Westmoreland, by a George Drysdale, who paid a Sellwood carpenter $2,000 to build the house, then bought by A.H. Burrill. By 1912 Mr. Burrill’s widow, Minnie, was losing her home in foreclosure proceedings.

Later, renter Peter Dyrhaug – who was a professional steamfitter – connected the house to the city sewer system, and in 1921 he and his wife Selma purchased the house, which remained in the family for more than 65 years! The Dyrhaugs apparently finished the attic into a bedroom, and Agnes – the second Mrs. Dyrhaug – sold to the Nelson family in 1986. They, in turn, sold it to the Coulters, who are family friends.

As yet I have not completed the research on the other two model houses, also finished in 1908 – but I hope that this account answers the question that was raised by the Coulters.

To change the subject at the end of this article: If you are heading to the North Oregon coast in December, there is another opportunity to hear Dr. John Sellwood’s pipe organ in its rehabilitated glory!

The restoration of the instrument is almost complete, although now it is facing a “lung transplant”, because its original leather bellows need replacing. However, all three manuals are working, and it has been re-voiced.

On Sunday, Dec. 1, 4 pm, the Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center (the former Lutheran Church at 16th and Franklin, where the organ is housed) will hold its eighth annual “Messiah” sing-a-long, with the organ playing the original harpsichord accompaniment. The cost of the performance is being underwritten by local businesses, but donations will benefit the food bank. Check online – www.clatsopcc.edu/community/arts-ideas – for other musical events at the Performing Arts Center, and arts-oriented events at the college.