The big old house in the 5100 block of Northeast Garfield Avenue is unlike any other in Portland. The mostly do-it-yourself effort to restore it is almost unmatched, too.
They leaped in, nevertheless. What they bought was a three-story house built in 1909 with facades made of “Miracle Pressed Stone,” a product amounting to concrete blocks pressed to look like cut stone. The house featured sharp gables on the roof and a dramatic turret reaching for the sky. It was known throughout the neighborhood as “the castle.”
For the next eight years, the Grewes poured money and energy into the project. They rewired and replaced plumbing on the ground floor, refinished floors, remodeled the basement, replaced the furnace, revamped the kitchen and tackled sundry smaller projects.
Many balusters had been removed, and those remaining were deteriorated beyond repair. “From the second floor, I could see parts of my house in backyards; on walks I would see more parts down the street.” She said. A bid for replacements came in at $120,000. “So I decided to do them myself.”
The neighborhood had seen difficult economic times after World War II. Neighborhood demographics changed as a result of Portland's de facto racial segregation, and the upheaval was worsened by construction of the Interstate-5 freeway. Houses nearby had been involved in drugs and prostitution, and when the Grewes first moved in, a pizza restaurant they had ordered from for many years refused to deliver. Lenders and insurers were leery of doing business.
Francene has stayed in partial touch with the subsequent owner. She believes the Bramhall house is now a rental while its owners travel throughout the world. By visual inspection, the house remains well-maintained and continues to stand proudly as an amazing neighborhood landmark. The ballusters remain in good condition.
Overall, the house was a bittersweet experience for Francene. “It’s a mixed bag. I loved it and I loved being there,’’ she said. “I am happy to have had it, and I am happy to have moved on.”
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