Remembering WWII's Kellogg Park housing development
Many of us agree that housing in the Portland area has been a challenge for renters during the past ten years, as the population has increased. There is a high demand for affordable housing that hasn't seen this level since World War II, when the Kaiser Shipyards began producing warships at Swan Island and along the Vancouver, Washington, waterfront.
During the Second World War, Portland saw an increase of over 30,000 workers, many of whom were recruited by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser himself, in the South and Midwest of our nation. The sudden increase of the population forced city, state, and county administrators to find adequate housing for everyone arriving, and to start a housing administration.
Residents of Portland and the other outlying communities of Vancouver, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Scappoose, Troutdale, and St Johns became overwhelmed by the influx that was crowding that their schools, causing strangers to camp on their streets, and disrupting neighborhoods.
In Clackamas County, where officials were trying to locate a desirable place to build a large section of homes, residents were shocked when newspapers reported that a housing project for African American workers near Milwaukie was planned. The shipyards brought large numbers of African Americans and Native Americans to the West Coast, and in those days many residents living close to the proposed housing projects of VanPort, Guilds Lake, and even McLoughlin Heights in Vancouver, were opposed to integration. Black workers at that time were restricted to North Portland's VanPort City. (White workers were also housed there, but whites and African Americans were still segregated into their own sections.)
In early May of 1941, over half a year before the attack by the Japanese military on the United States military base at Pearl Harbor, Multnomah and Clackamas County were already in the planning stages of creating affordable housing for industrial workers. The City of Milwaukie and the Clackamas Housing Authority were working together with the U.S. Housing Administration to fund and find a location for a local housing development.
The site chosen for a possible housing project was a 30-acre tract of vacant land located northwest of the city of Milwaukie and just south of Ochoco Street, south of Sellwood. Milwaukie city officials planned on calling this area the Kellogg Park Housing Development. The only uses on that land at the time were a few houses and some fields of produce.
Just north of that large parcel of land, homes had been built in the 1920's along the north side of Ochoco Street in Multnomah County, bordering the interurban line tracks that ran east to Gresham and west to Golf Junction. Golf Junction, today a small "pocket park" maintained by SMILE, was an important stop. There, passengers could board the interurban south to Milwaukie and Oregon City, or travel west down to Oaks Park and continue over to the metropolis of Portland, where many jobs were ready available.
From the Golf Junction stop, streetcars ran north along 13th Avenue to the commercial district of Sellwood, and north to Bybee Boulevard in Westmoreland before continuing north. Rail travel was also available for weekend excursions eastward, where the small communities of Gresham and Damascus were near hunting, fishing, and a variety of outdoor activities.
Just southeast of the homes on Ochoco were fields of vegetables and mounds of fruits during the summer time grown by Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Asians. Growing produce and traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood with horse and wagon to sell their crops had been a way of life for most of these immigrants. During the early 1900s, when their gardens and crops on the west side of the Willlamette River were removed to make way for new housing, these same farmers planted new crops on vacant acres of fertile land in Southeast Portland.
L.H. Dale, who lived along Ochoco Street at that time, described the view from his home in his memoirs: "From my front porch to Milwaukie was an open area covered by numerous gardens". This section of Milwaukie was once referred to by the Locals as "Sellwood Gardens".
To the Clackamas Housing Authority, these parcels of land were desirable for housing, because the terrain was basically flat, had easy access to Highway 99 and to the interurban, thus providing easy transportation to the WWII shipyards. Drinkable water could be obtained from Johnson Creek and Crystal Springs Creek which ran through where the development would be eventually built.
Aerial photos of this area taken during the mid-1940s give a glimpse of how large the housing division was. A small section of the rental homes were built on the east side of today's S.E. 17th Avenue, with an open field and meandering Johnson Creek situated between the houses and Highway 99 (now S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard). A 90-foot wooden water tower rose over the small units near the entrance at Ochoco Street; and later, a church was built close by.
But the major part of the housing project was constructed east of Highway 99 and west of the Southern Pacific (today, Union Pacific) railroad tracks. Additional funds were supplied by the Federal Government for an administrative office and a community hall, built at the southern end of the entrance to Kellogg Park, probably for easy access to the highway. For those who know where the ODOT maintenance yards are located, that is where a large portion of the houses at the Kellogg Park Project were built.
The Kellogg Park Housing Development was partially opened by December of 1942, delays in finding necessary materials for the completion of the water mains held up completion of the additional units. Plumbing supplies, metal piping, and sewer materials were reserved exclusively for military use during the war, and any other projects were backordered until released by the government. The Secretary of the Clackamas County Housing Authority, W. J. Avision, did announce that 34 houses were already available and now accepting applications for rental – until the rest of the development could be completed.
Around 100 homes would be constructed as living quarters for 600 men, women, and children. Within the next two years all of the units were completely full, with a waiting list of an additional 150 people. Only those people working in the Kaiser Shipyards or other war industries around the city were allowed to become renters there, and occupancy was confined to families earning $800 a year or less.
The Administration Building at Kellogg Park was staffed by local clerks and supervisors who oversaw security, made sure residents were getting hot and cold water and proper heating, processed applications, dealt with residents and any problems they encountered, and made sure children were provided with an education and that any medical needs would be met.
Gertrude Yates was the Tenant Selector at Kellogg Park Housing Unit, and like many of the other management staff, she made sure that those who applied did qualify under the Housing Authority policy. In 1942, additional applicants who worked at Willamette Iron Works, the Fireman Commercial Iron Works, and the P&C Hand Forged Tool Company, all of which were located in the Brooklyn neighborhood, also had the opportunity to apply for housing in Clackamas County during this time.
Rent started at $35 dollars a month, and the most expensive unit was $45. One-bedroom units cost $35, and a two-bedroom house cost a laborer $39 dollars. Three and four bedroom homes were offered from $42 to $45 a month. Some buildings had random vertical Tongue and Groove siding, while others were sheathed in basic sheets of plywood. All of the units were painted a neutral color.
Composition roofs, fir floors, interior walls made of gypsum (Plaster Board), and small brick chimneys completed the design of these low-rent houses.
From photos of the Kellogg Park Housing Project now stored at the Milwaukie Museum, it appears that a few of the units had front porches, which were probably built by the renters themselves at their own expense. Those who could afford a car either parked in front or by the side of their house, since garages were considered a luxury.
The Community Hall was used for special events, such as dances and music performances on the weekends, and holiday celebrations. Some residents remember that first to third grades classes were taught in the hall by volunteers; older students attended school in the Milwaukie District. The Girl Scout Troop of Kellogg Park was even credited with organizing a waste paper and tin can collection depot set up in the Community Hall.
There was no mention of a police department or fire station there, as the VanPort Development had; but, in all probability, the City of Milwaukie provided such services. Judith Leppert who lived with her parents in Kellogg Park remembers getting medical treatment at the Sellwood Hospital when she had an unfortunate accident.
There were no reports of any trouble from the Kellogg Park residents. Most of the residents were busy with their jobs, and were just happy to have low-rent housing. The only complaints seemed to come from residents of Garthwick just to the west, who felt the low-income houses built nearby were affecting their property values. Residents living in the housing development were sympathetic to their neighbors to the west, and assured them that if asked where they lived, they would thoughtfully reply that they lived in East Garthwick!
A weekly Day Bible School was set up for interested residents; meetings were probably held in the Wesleyan Holiness Brethren Church that was located in the development. Sellwood resident Judith Leppert tells that her grandfather built the church by hand, using an existing boathouse that once was on the Willamette River. William Leppert, who owned the Willamette Boat and Manufacturing Company, was forced to close his business because of the lack of sales during the Depression, and he then decided to become a preacher. Hauling the boathouse out of the river, he transported the wooden structure over to Ochoco Street and added a steeple, and a wide front door for the congregation. More than 160 attended his services every Sunday.
When all hostilities with Germany and Japan finally officially ended on September 2, 1945, the Federal Government was quick to pull out of the housing projects it had built around the city. The Kellogg Park Housing project and all responsibility for its renters were turned over to the City of Milwaukie. The town folks and city council of Milwaukie would have to decide if they should continue to make the low-rent units available. Many worried that the buildings were cheaply made and would soon become a blight on the community, and others feared they would be charged additional taxes to pay for the workers laid off from their industry jobs.
For the following five years, those living in the housing development would have to wonder how long they could live there. In 1951, the Kellogg Park wartime housing area was ordered to close, and plans were made to rename it the Milwaukie Industrial Park.
The Cleveland Wrecking Company placed an advertisement in the Oregonian offering their services to move the houses in 1954. Their proposal included the structure, a bathroom with utilities, a stall shower, all of the kitchen cabinets, and a refrigerator originally in the house. There wasn't any mention whether the offer included a furnace or wood stove the buyer might have to furnish it themselves.
The costs for the "Ready to be moved to your lot" service were $395 for a one bedroom unit, to $560 for duplexes. The newspaper reported that only 49 houses were auctioned off to potential buyers, as the remaining units might have already been sold. But the question remains: What happened to the homes at the Kellogg Park Development; are any still around today?
On a recent visit to the Milwaukie Museum, for research purposes, this writer learned that Greg Hemer, Vice President of the Milwaukie Historic Society, believes that a section of the auctioned houses was moved to S.E. 32nd and Harrison Street in Milwaukie, now known as Hillside Park and Hillside Manor.
Kay Blackmore Bechtold, who lived with her nine brothers and sisters on Clatsop Street close to the Kellogg Park project during the WWII years, said she doesn't really remember anyone who lived there at the time. But one of her best school friends, who now lives at Hillside Manor, concurs that at one time the homes in that complex were part of the wartime housing of Clackamas County.
Duane McDonald lived in Kellogg Park from 1943 until the early 1950s, when the units were sold and the occupants had to move. On his recent message on "Vintage Portland", Duane was able to share with us that many of the homes once built in Kellogg Park can be found between the towns of Carver and Estacada, though he doesn't specify where. He did add that Hillside Park in Milwaukie was originally a war defense project, and many of them have been updated since that time.
While there are many opinions and speculations about the houses of Kellogg Park, I did come across an article at the Milwaukie Museum about the demise of the Administration Building. In 1959, the fraternity of the Milwaukie Elks Club paid for the structure to be moved in three separate sections to where the current Elks building is located on McLoughlin Blvd. Volunteers turned out in the middle of the night to whisk the building away there, and it served as a temporary lodge for the members until the completion of their new temple. After the opening of the new Elks Lodge the old administration building was either torn down or hauled away to another location.
Today, there is little, if any, evidence of the war time housing project that once stood just south of Sellwood and east of Garthwick for the short span of just under 15 years. The Sellwood Gardens, which provided fruit and vegetables for the community, was replaced by the wartime housing which itself has been replaced by metal warehouses. The 60 foot water tower and church, with its hand-built steeple, has been replaced with the Goodwill Outlet Superstore. Only a handful of houses along Ochoco Street remain there from the 1920's era, but residents of the Kellogg Park Housing Project (or Garthwick East, as they liked to be called), will remember the wonderful times they spent together as a community. Kellogg Park will always be a part of history for the Milwaukie Historical Society and the SMILE History Committee.