Saturday, March 27, 2021

Harry Green House (Part 2)


Standing as a monument to the Roaring Twenties when it was designed and built, the impressive Harry and Ada Green mansion on the edge of Laurelhurst Park and its short list of owners have seen the same ups-and-downs common to the larger society.

Green, who had become the second president of the 1000-employee Doernbecher Furniture Manufacturing Co. in the 1920s, bought the oversized lot next to the impressive brick home of former mayor H. Russell Albee and recruited architect Herman Brookman to design a mansion.

“The Harry A. and Ada Green House was commissioned in 1927 on the heels of the Frank Estate and by a wealthy social climber,” states the mansion’s submission to the National Register of Historic Places.  “The house is one of few that falls into the early revival period of Brookman's work, as the stock market crash of 1929 brought the lavish spending of the 1920s to an end. It is the only design of that period to fully explore the Spanish, Mediterranean, and African influences during the height of the Spanish revival craze that was fueled by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 --- which brought the architecture of Southern California, Mexico, Spain, and Italy, as well as Muslim details to national attention…”

It was a busy time for Brookman, who had been recruited from New York to design a lavish estate for M. Lloyd Frank in the Southwest Hills.  At the same time, he was working with other leading Portland architects on Temple Beth Israel, the Northwest Portland synagogue that truly ranks as one of Portland’s finest buildings.

The Green house and landscaping cost $430,000, which an inflation calculator says would be about $6.5 million today.  The Greens, who had been married as teenagers in 1909, moved in with six servants.

How long they enjoyed their grand residence is hard to say.  In 1950, Ada Green sued for divorce, claiming alcohol and drug abuse by her husband.  There were times, she said in court, when he locked her out of the house.  The number of servants had declined from six to three.  Harry Green, who was removed as president from the Doernbecher firm the same year, did not contest the divorce.

A judge ordered payment of $320,000 to Ada Green and half of the house, then valued at $400,000.  Newspapers described it as the largest divorce settlement in Oregon to that date.

Waiting to buy the mansion was Robert Bitar, a native of Lebanon who had come to Oregon as a teenager.  He and his brother, Frank, opened a grocery store and Robert delivered groceries by bicycle to the Greens, and he vowed someday to own it.   The two men later branched into construction and real estate development.

 The Bitar ownership lasting until 2000 marked good years far for the house, which soon became known as the Bitar mansion.  Robert Bitar became an honorary counsel for Lebanon in 1957, and the basement ballroom was used for many quasi-diplomatic events.  The family remodeled the kitchen twice during those years, and learned to manage the mansion without servants.  The house was a popular site for children on Halloween, because of the generous treats given by the Bitars. 

(National Register)

 Robert Bitar died in 2000 and it was clear the family would not retain the house.  A small contingent in the Laurelhurst neighborhood hoped the city would buy it as an event location, but the suggestion generated no traction.  The mansion was finally sold in 2006 to its third owner.  Trouble awaited. 

 “The first decade of the twenty-first century brought the greatest changes to the property as the third owners began some repairs and remodels including removal of the garage doors, refinishing of the pool, repairs to patio roof beams (locations unknown) and stucco, refinishing of the wood floors throughout, and electrical upgrades,” the National Register registration says.  “The kitchen was gutted, but the remodel was never finished and ultimately the property was left to neglect and vandalism. Many of the plantings and site features such as fountains also fell into disrepair during this period.”

 After five years and disputes with neighbors, the third owners gave up and allowed the mansion to go into foreclosure.  While the house was empty, the Architectural Heritage Center included it on a home tour in 2011.  The kitchen was down to the studs and light fixtures were missing.

Even so, the grandeur of the house (and its tiled bathrooms) was unmistakable.  “It looks like a movie setting,” one visitor said.

At present, the house is being carefully restored by Karla Pearlstein, a historic preservation consultant.  Its future use is yet to be determined.  It is zoned for single family use.  Converting it to a bed-and-breakfast or some other commercial use, possibly as an event center, would require a conditional use permit from the city.  

Of course, nothing would prevent it from once again being a single-family residence.  For a family with means....

Pool and bathhouse





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