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Tailor-made home carries family through decades

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Paul and Polly Herman, pictured in their living room, were the first to build a Rummer-designed home in Garden Home. When Paul and Polly Herman decamped from Princeton, N.J., to the Portland area in the late 1960s, the home they chose to create marked a clear stylistic departure from what they’d come to know in the northeast.

“It seemed so relaxed to me,” Polly Herman recalled of their Robert Rummer-built home in Bohmann Park. “It was kind of open and laid back. Not formal the way our house was.”

After accepting a teaching position at the Oregon Health and Science University in Southwest Portland, Paul said their decision to build a Rummer-design house on Southwest 84th Avenue in Garden Home stemmed from a “when in Rome ...” attitude the couple adopted.

“We were coming out from a different life, from a capital-letter East to a capital-letter West,” said Paul, who served for six years as an OHSU assistant professor of otolaryngology. “As far as we knew, this was how people in the west lived, so we said, ‘What the hell.’ ”

That open-minded, experimental outlook landed the couple and their four young children in one of the first and largest Rummer-style homes built in Bohmann Park from the late 1960s through the early ‘70s. Rummer, who is now 86 and living quietly with his wife, Phyllis, in Woodburn, designed nearly 1,000 homes in the Portland area, including the cluster of 64 low-slung houses in Bohmann Park.

The quiet enclave between Garden Home Road and the popular Fanno Creek Trail contains the largest concentration of the homes contiguous to one another in one neighborhood, noted Stan Houseman, a Realtor and longtime owner of a Rummer on Southwest Cecelia Terrace.

“They had theirs custom made,” he said of the Hermans. “Bob Rummer did it right along with them.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Paul Herman spends a lot of time in his home office, which was once a bedroom.

Happy accident

Rummers are one-level, mid-century modern style structures that feature a flat roof or vaulted peak supported by a central gable. Mostly in the 1,400- to 2,800-square-foot range, the houses are characterized by a covered atrium with a garden-interspersed aggregate concrete floor, a gallery open-floor plan with glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows that blur the lines between interior and exterior landscape. A step-down tiled Roman shower/tub with a wall of glass, and wood burning fireplaces are among the other innovative touches.

As Houseman noted, the Hermans worked directly with Rummer, who was then a Bohmann Park neighbor, on plans for their home. Completed in 1968, the Herman house — which has anywhere from four to six bedrooms, depending on which closeted nooks or dens one counts — helped set the tone for the rest of the neighborhood that quickly grew up around them.

Paul and Polly Herman are both 82, but back then they were just a young couple looking for a comfortable place to relocate their family rather than start an architectural wave. Building their own Rummer from the design phase on up grew from a lack of success in finding the right house on the Westside.

“We spent two and a half fruitless days looking at housing,” Paul said. “We were sick and tired of it and couldn’t find a thing.”

An OHSU co-worker who owned a Rummer connected the Hermans with the designer/builder. A round or two of scotches later, a deal was struck.

“He showed us some plans,” Paul recalled of their meeting with Rummer. “There was a house under construction up the street. Bob wasn’t terribly talkative. He wanted to build houses and build them his way.”

With Polly deeming Oak Hills — home to another Beaverton-area cluster of Rummer Homes — too “ritzy” for her laid-back family’s taste, they settled on a vacant lot at Southwest 84th Avenue and Bohmann Parkway as the site for their abode.

“This was a totally different design from previous house designs,” Paul said. “I was seduced by the post-and-beam style. This was light, open, airy. It presents a sort of stolid, unassuming face to the street. (East Coast) houses are oriented toward the street. These are more oriented toward the back.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Paul and Polly Herman's Rummer-designed home features a television room.

House of transitions

Dominated in front by a two-car garage door and little in the way of eye-catching welcomeness, the Herman house doesn’t truly introduce itself until one reaches the bright, skylit atrium, which forms a central focal point for the house’s different sections.

Like many Rummer-home pioneers, the Hermans learned quickly that the atrium’s original, open-ceiling design works great — as long as it doesn’t rain or snow too much. The snow that piled up to their waists in the winter of 1968 cost the Hermans their lemon tree, and led them to sealing the atrium with skylights.

“When repairmen come into the house, they almost always, when they come into the atrium, say, ‘Wow!’” Polly said. “And that tickles me. When we first got in there, we made some mistakes. The Scotch broom (plant) looks exotic, but it takes over the whole world. It’s better to get slower growing plants.”

With sets of bedrooms on wings flanking either side of the main living area, the house provided a separation between parents and children that was particularly useful during the teen years.

“It’s a great house for the different stages of family and our lives,” said Louisa Herman, 48, who visits from her nearby home to help care for her mother, who uses a motorized wheelchair for mobility. “It really was a great place to grow up. It was good for people coming in from out of town and visiting on holidays, the transitions in our lives. It’s been a good house to transition through your stages.”

Although a few bedrooms now sit empty, Polly sees no reason to leave the Rummer they built behind as they enjoy their golden years.

“It was a good house for the kids,” she said, “and it remains a good house for us.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The library also serves as a guest room at Paul and Polly Herman's Rummer-designed home in Garden Home.

Family hopeful about construction project

The Hermans have lived peacefully in their home for years, but a Portland Bureau of Environmental Services' plan to build a large new pumping station near Fanno Creek just over the back fence of their Southwest 84th Avenue home has caused the family some consternation.

In an ironic twist, Paul, when he worked as a noise control officer for the city of Portland's building bureau, actually shaped some of the noise ordinances the family will be subject to as the two- to three-year project gets under way this summer.

"Are you familiar with the phrase, 'hoisted by your own petard?'" he asked with a grin. "I have been petarded."

The family, which includes Louisa, the youngest of the Herman's grown children, who stops by to help out Paul and her wheelchair-bound mom, is nervous but hopeful that the prolonged construction project will be bearable from a noise and inconvenience standpoint. After all the years they've invested in the home, as well as several remodels and upgrades here and there, they've decided to stick it out.

"We're making the best of what we can," Paul said, noting a property reappraisal after the project is finished could prove beneficial. "If it turns out there's a loss in value, there is a provision for a settlement there. It's a nice feature."

They hope the mitigation plans the Portland bureau's agreed to, such as a noise-absorbing wall and extensive vegetation-barriers, will make their proximity to the pumping station a bit easier to bear.

"We decided, hell, we like this house and are comfortable here," Paul said. "Will it be changed as a result of what's going on next door? Yeah. Will it be changed to the point where we want to give up the house? No."




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