Oldest House in Woodstock neighborhood confirmed
In the January issue of THE BEE I described the history of a house at S.E. 38th and Martins Street, built between 1892-93, as possibly the oldest surviving house in both the Woodstock and Eastmoreland neighborhoods.
Legally (by Multnomah County Surveyor records), this house is in the Woodstock Subdivision, filed in 1891 – but in the mid-1970's, when the City of Portland established the boundaries for the neighborhood associations, the line between Woodstock and Eastmoreland was placed in the center of Cesar Chavez Boulevard (formerly 39th Avenue). So, the historic J.N. Russell, Jr. home, fell into the latter neighborhood, which it now claims as "the oldest house in Eastmoreland." In the spirit of compromise, I agreed on a technicality, but thought then that it should also be considered the oldest in the Woodstock subdivision, as well.
While sharing the history of the mansion, I invited readers to inform me of any structures within the boundaries of the Woodstock neighborhood that might be older than the Russell home. Subsequently, Marisa Thyken e-mailed THE BEE to say that the house next door to hers was built in 1890!Many hours of research have confirmed that the Queen Anne style house at 5803 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard did go onto the County property tax rolls in 1890 – which makes it two years older than the house on Martins Street. In spite of scrolling through many pages of property transfers at the Tax Assessors office I was unable to uncover its original owner, but as always, the process has led to some interesting collateral information.The legal description of the house at 5803 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard is "the east half of Lot 7 and (all of) Lot 8, Block 5 of Tremont Place [the subdivision name]".
Here I need to point out that there are many subdivisions within the boundaries of every neighborhood. Woodstock has more than a dozen such tracts, with fanciful names such as Amberwood Glen, Stanford Heights, Yale, and Beauvoir. My own neighborhood of Sellwood-Westmoreland has over thirty. The house on Woodstock Boulevard may have originally had two full lots, since a 1918 plumbing permit listed lots 7 and 8. Perhaps the owner later sold half of lot 7 to the homeowner to the west.
The earliest occupant of record was John L. Schuyleman. Employed as a salesman, he appeared at the address in 1917. Tracing his personal and work history through the City Directories was never boring, as he had a checkered work history. He first appeared in Portland in a downtown rooming house in 1903, working as a timber cruiser (estimating the amount of standing timber in a forested area prior to harvesting). He then disappeared for six years, and when he resurfaced on Southeast 36th in 1911 he was the President-Manager of a company that manufactured "Five-minute washing compound." In 1914 he listed himself as a real estate salesman. Oddly, his address between 1914 and 1916 was 5803 S.E. 60th (not Woodstock); possibly this was an error. By 1917, John and a woman named Vanita were in the house at 5803 S.E. Woodstock, and he was selling agricultural implements for the R.M. Wade Company. Vanita may have been a sister, as Mae Schuyleman, listed as his wife, was also at the same address.
Between 1921 and 1928 John operated a plant nursery at that address, presumably in the extra lot next to the house. By 1932 he was working as nursery manager for the Swiss Floral Company on S.E. "Holgate Street". After 1934, the Schuylemans both disappear from the City Directory, and I could find no obituary for either of them. It was the Depression, however, and perhaps they moved elsewhere to eke out a living. The house may have become a rental property, for by 1937 a carpenter, Charles Kerr was living at the address.
In December of 1943, in the middle of World War II, Kerr applied for permission to convert his house into a duplex. According to author Carl Abbott, in his 1983 book "Portland – Planning, Politics, & Growth in a Twentieth-Century City", between 1940 and 1943 the metropolitan population increased by thirty percent, and there was a critical housing shortage.
The Kaiser Shipyards were operating 24 hours a day, and thousands of people had moved to Portland. But ten years of the nationwide Depression had seen a downturn in home building and, as the nation became fully engaged in the war, men were drafted or entered the wartime workforce, resulting in a shortage of construction workers. Building materials were also in short supply.
A partial solution was offered under Ordinance 76947, the "War Code", approved by the City Council on March 26, 1942. Recognizing the declaration of a national emergency, the council initially loosened the city's building regulations, admitting that the federal government could do what it wished with property it owned within the city. But the ordinance also encouraged private property owners to alter single family residences to multi-family housing in order to cope with the critical undersupply.
It was under this code that Charles Kerr applied to change his house at 5803 S.E. Woodstock into a duplex; I was unaware of this code change until I reviewed the building permits for the property. Attached were several pages of War Code applications for other houses in the city. They were reviewed by the Appelate Division of Housing Code Commission, and hearings centered on setback, plumbing, and fire and safety matters. Once these were satisfied, the conversions seem to have been quickly allowed.
The changes permitted under the War Code were to have been repealed by the end of World War II, but the repeal was delayed until 1956. The language in the repeal ordinance describes why:
"The federal legislation passed at the outbreak of World War II provided that such legislation should be effective until 'end of the war', 'treaties of peace', 'end of hostilities', or like provisions, and technically some of this legislation is still in effect, because treaties of peace have not been concluded with all belligerent powers. By Presidential Proclamation and Act of Congress hostilities of World War II (were) declared ended on January 1, 1949, but such action was followed closely by the outbreak of hostilities in Korea." The Ordinance then concluded by stating that since an "international situation of comparative peace presently exists . . . Ordinance No. 76947, the War Code, is repealed."
Although the city ordinance that allowed the subdivision of single family homes into multiplexes was repealed, the houses did not return to their original use. I also wonder if building owners took advantage of the War Code extension and continued to subdivide residential houses between the end of the war in 1945 and the final repeal, eleven years later. Charles Kerr was a carpenter and probably applied his professional skills to make the conversion to his house. The photo of the rear of the structure, taken from a public alley, indicates that access to Apartment No. 2 is from that entrance. In spite of the somewhat awkward addition at the back of the house – from the sides and its façade facing Woodstock Boulevard – the house maintains its historic Queen Anne appearance. Multiple roof lines, a recessed entry way, horizontal board siding, decorative shingles and trim in the two gables, and a bay window with panes of colored glass, all help it retain its late 19th Century appearance.
There are two possible answers to why the house went onto the tax rolls in 1890, a year before the Tremont Place subdivision was filed. While it could take several years for a large tract of land to be cleared, graded, and surveyed before lots were offered for sale, the two lots on which this house was placed might have been already buildable. It may have been constructed by the Tremont Place developers as a "model home" that would have been highly visible to passengers on the Woodstock streetcar line.
The other possibility is that the house belonged to whomever sold the land to the Tremont Place developers in 1891. As mentioned earlier, I have not been able to determine the name of the original occupant of the house. But, as of this writing, the Queen Anne house at 5803 S.E. Woodstock does appear to be the oldest surviving house in the Woodstock neighborhood! My thanks to neighbor Marisa Thyken for the tip, and to employees of the City of Portland Archives and Records Center for information on the "War Code".