Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Iceman Cometh


Old houses often keep secrets.  We have detected three windows that were built in our house in 1908 that later were replaced by exterior walls.  And when we moved in in 1980, we noticed a tiny doorbell button crammed under a kitchen window and against the back door.

 The button and its casing already had several layers of paint making it unusable, even if the ancient wiring still worked.  Over the years we added three more coats.

 During an extensive remodeling project, Dave Butterfield, the project supervisor for Kraft Custom Construction, removed the paint-encrusted doorbell casing and unmovable button.  Below, he found two metal contact points.  When he pushed them gently together, we heard a loud BONG.  He pressed it a few more times.  BONG rang out each time.

I know nothing about wiring.  Our front doorbell has four chimes that ring twice when the front door button is pushed.  The rear bell makes is a single tone.  Thus, one knows exactly which door should be answered.  The old-timers who installed the system sure knew what they were doing.

 Why would a house have two different doorbells?  Given the age of our house, my surmise is that it was used by the iceman, who periodically delivered ice to the back porch or kitchen for placement in the insulated wooden icebox.  The widespread appearance of electric refrigerators began in the late 1920s, and within several years the iceman was gone.  With him, I presume, went the need for the rear doorbell.

 The single BONG came in handy during our renovation project, which took place in the basement and at the rear of the house.  Whenever Dave Butterfield needed an answer or wanted to suggest an idea, the BONG brought us running.

 We could have snipped the wires and patched the tiny hole in the siding, but we opted instead to find a new button and casing and restore the doorbell in place.  After all, it was part of the history of the house.  Will it come in handy?  Will it get painted over so many times that it becomes nonfunctional? 

 Check back in 100 years and lI'll let you know.

 ----Fred Leeson

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Thursday, September 14, 2023

Honoring Beatrice Morrow Cannady

The 25-year home and headquarters for early 20th Century civil rights activist Beatrice Morrow Cannady is now on its way to becoming Portland’s latest entry to the National Register of Historic Places.

The imposing residence on the western edge of Northeast Portland’s Grant Park neighborhood was Cannady’s home from 1912 to 1937, years when she relentlessly advocated for equal treatment and mutual interracial respect among all citizens.

 Her achievements included writing, editing and ultimately publishing The Advocate, a Portland newspaper dedicated to printing the news and advocating equal treatment for Portland’s Black community.  She also was instrumental in creating Pacific Northwest chapters of the NAACP.

 From her 2 1/2 story Northeast Portland home, Cannady hosted numerous “interracial teas,” aimed at promoting friendship and respect among races.  She also loaned books from her personal in-house library of books all written by Black authors.  Her busy schedule also included many speeches at schools, churches and colleges on the subject of race relations.

 Her many topics included discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations and employment. 

 In 1928, Morrow spoke at the national NAACP convention stressing the importance of women in fighting for equality and equal rights. 

Beatrice Morrow Cannady, 1926 (Oregon Historical Society)

In 1932, after her marriage to a second husband, Beatrice Morrow Franklin became the first Black Oregonian to run for the state house of representatives.  She tallied more than 7,600 votes, but fell short of reaching the general election ballot.

 The Great Depression took a major toll on The Advocate newspaper.  She closed the downtown office and moved the business to the attic of her home, but by 1936 or 1937 she ceased publication.  She and her husband moved to Los Angeles, ending her civil rights advocacy in Oregon. .

 Beatrice Morrow died in 1974, age 85.  “Today, Cannady is rightfully remembered as one of Oregon’s most dedicated and dynamic civil rights activists,” states the National Register nomination.

 While the house, built in 1911, is an excellent representation of the Arts and Crafts era of residential construction, the National Register nomination is based not on its architectural merit but on its association with ethnic history and civil rights. 

 Funding for research was provide by the City of Portland, as part of its effort to make sure that city history adequately reflects important contributions across the city’s ethnic diversity.  The extensively-detailed National Register nomination form was researched by Caitlyn Ewers and Matthew Davis of the Architectural Resources Group and Kimberly Moreland of Moreland Resource Consulting.

 The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously approved the nomination, which will be forwarded to the Oregon state advisory committee on historic preservation, and then very likely to the U.S Department of Interior that manages the national register.

 ------Fred Leeson

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Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Remembering David L. Williams


Clara McKeyes Inman House

After writing about architect David L. Williams and the Robert L. Lytle mansion (Aug. 26), Jim Heuer, a dedicated preservationist and Portland architectural historian, suggested that I had slighted Williams by suggesting that he had not designed other significant buildings. 

 Indeed.  Jim's knowledge exceeded mine.  Williams was a son of the better-known Portland architect Warren H. Williams.  The younger Williams, who practiced in Portland from the 1883 to 1934, has four houses listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and another one so interesting it could qualify if nominated.  Williams’ architectural talents were described by one historian as “elaborate eclecticism,” meaning that he was adept at adopting and mixing historical styles commonly seen in his era.

 Three of his notable mansions all include tall, elaborate porticos at the main entrance, like the one we saw earlier at the Lytle mansion.  It was a subsequent tenant in the Lytle mansion who asked Williams specifically to include a portico when he designed the grand Clara McKeyes Inman House, shown above, in Northwest Portland in 1926.  Inman is remembered as the inventor of the electric curling iron. 

Frank C. Barnes House

Williams also added a similar portico at the Frank C. Barnes House erected on Northeast Portland’s Alameda Ridge in 1913-14, less than two years after the Lytle residence.  Barnes, whose many achievements included success in the fish-canning business, lived in the 32-room mansion until his death in 1931.

 Williams’ two other National Register houses were designed in the Colonial Revival style in 1910 for Rufus Holman, a Multnomah County Commission chairman and subsequent U.S. senator, and in 1909 for Frank W. Fenton, a prominent 50-year attorney in McMinnville.

The other interesting Williams house was built in Irvington, just one block from the Lytle mansion.  Unlike the rampant eclecticism demonstrated in the mansions, Williams designed the Harry P. Palmer house in 1912 in the then-trendy Arts and Crafts style.  The design showed Williams’ ability to focus on a single esthetic, but with dramatic flairs.  Two bold, curving, clinker brick piers support the front porch roof. 

Harry P. Palmer House

Mostly hidden now by foliage on the north side is an unusual appurtenance that originally likely was for servants.  Architect/historian William J. Hawkins III described it a “most interesting arrangement of intersecting forms, including an angled, gabled projection, a turreted tower, and a polygonal bay window, all protected by wide eaves with beam extensions and exposed rafter tails.”

 The interior was heavily decorated with mahogany and walnut.  Alas, a subsequent owner decades later found some of the woodwork too dark and painted a significant portion of it white.  A silver dining room chandelier reportedly weighed more than 70 pounds.

 Harry Palmer was a real estate dealer and an Irvington promoted in the neighborhood’s early days.  He apparently lived in the house only a few years before moving on.

It often is difficult to pin down the identity of architects of old buildings.  In the case of the Frank Barnes House, Williams was merely suspected as the architect when it was added to the National Register.  Sometimes facts show up later; for that reason alone we cannot close the books on the career of  David L. Williams.

 ----Fred Leeson

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