Friday, January 7, 2022

Lake Oswego's Small Miracle


We roam out of our usual geographic boundaries to report on a small miracle in Lake Oswego, a suburban city that likely ranks as Portland’s most affluent neighbor.

 The small miracle is a house of 900-some-odd square feet that must be one of the smallest in town.   The house also is a small miracle owing to a charming design that has been maintained in almost original condition since its construction sometime in the late 1930s.

The Blondell house, named for an early owner, was designed in the English cottage or American Craftsman style.  The architect probably was Richard Sundeleaf, a Portland architect who also designed some other residences in the neighborhood.  Its shingled roof, basalt chimney and extravagant use of old-growth, tight-grained fir in beams and extensive cabinetry make the modest house almost a picture-perfect example of the Craftsman style advocated by Gustav Stickley’s “The Craftsman” magazine, published from 1901 to 1916.


Stickley’s inspiration for bungalows and interiors featuring good woods and simple but artistic joinery set off a national penchant for the Craftsman style for many years leading up to World War II.

 The Blondell house and its one-third acre, wooded lot came up for sale this year, leading to speculation that it would be bought and razed for bigger, more expensive housing.  A member of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society called up an architectural historian friend in Portland and urged him to come see it.

 Jack Bookwalter, a retired public preservation planner, had planned to downsize from his Northeast Portland home, but he was in no rush.  Until he went to see the Blondell house.  "As soon as I saw the house I was hooked," Bookwalter said.   "It was love at first sight."

 Stickley’s Craftsman design aesthetic was largely a rebellion against Victorian-era buildings that were heavily encrusted with machine-made ornaments like spindles and balusters.  Stickley favored simpler designs, using wood that was stained rather than painted to celebrate its grain and joinery created by skilled woodworkers.

 Stickley also designed a popular line of tables, chairs and sofas using fumed oak for their frames.  Seats were often leather or even heavy woven fabrics based on Native American.  The Stickley “brand” remains available today, as well as many knockoffs using similar furniture designs.

Front door, outside and inside 

Hand-forged hinges, door knockers and other metal elements also were part of the Craftsman aesthetic, and interesting metalwork abounds in the Blondell house.
  All of it will remain under Bookwalter’s tenure as owner.  Bookwalter believes the house first served as a sales office for other new homes in the neighborhood before the Blondells bought it in 1942.

The house is an interesting addition to the work of Sundeleaf, who is better known for his more modern work.  His best-known buildings include the former Jantzen Knitting Mills headquarters of 1929 in Northeast Portland, the former Oregon Museum of Science and Industry near Washington Park (1955) and the Portland Medical Center, an older structure that he expanded from seven to eleven stories in 1957 and encased with a sleek glass façade. 

Two other fascinating Sundeleaf projects are the New Fliedner building, another older building that he refaced with an interest Zigzag Art Deco exterior (discussed here on June 5, 2020) and the Oregon Portland Cement building of 1929.  Regrettably, Oregon Portland Cement is substantially hidden by a Hawthorne Bridge ramp, but is well worth viewing for people willing to find their way to the 111 S.E. Madison St.

 People who enjoy the Craftsman aesthetic should be pleased that the Blondell house will be well-maintained by Bookwalter, who knows and appreciates its architectural history and importance.  Think of it as another miracle at the Blondell house

---Fred Leeson

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  1. Sweet small house! Just a bit smaller than our floating home...

  2. A very interesting blend of a Cape Cod exterior with charming Craftsman interior details. Another great example of Richard Sundeleaf's broad architectural vocabulary!

  3. Thanks for the great write-up, Fred. Another new development with the city: The house has recently been listed as an official Landmark of the City of Lake Oswego. This will protect it from alterations to front and side facades (street view) by any owners after me. So another welcome layer of protection (any future owners may still add-on to the back as long as not visible from street.)