Buildings coming and going in Sellwood-Westmoreland
The 1892 "Benjamin Smith" house at the corner of S.E. 13th and Nehalem – the former location of "Sock Dreams", whose history I traced in the February, 2020, BEE – is now an empty lot, awaiting the construction of a new 16-unit apartment building. A colleague asked me why it couldn't be saved, so here is my response:
First you have to find lot onto which it can be moved. This could be an empty lot, something in very short supply in the neighborhood, or a lot with an existing house onto which the house could be squeezed. A 50x100 empty residential lot in the SMILE neighborhood, if you can find one, will cost around $250,000.
Next you approach the Bureau of Development Services to determine what needs to be done to the lot to make it possible to move the house onto it. A new foundation poured to current building code, professionally-drawn plans, and permit costs all begin to add up. If you want to put a garage or accessory dwelling unit underneath, and need to excavate, the cost of your plans will increase, along with contractors' estimates. Then add the cost of new utilities – water, sewer, electricity – and perhaps natural gas. If you are still determined to have the house, you may get lucky, and the existing owner might sell it to you for $1.00. This has happened in at least two other instances, because the owner doesn't have to pay to have the structure demolished or deconstructed.
Finally, you begin getting bids from companies that can jack up the house, perch it on temporary "cribbing", negotiate with the power company regarding overhead electrical lines, and obtain a permit to move the house. The greater the distance to its new site, the greater the cost. Moving day will be a festive occasion for neighbors and citizens en route; but a day of high anxiety for the new owner, as the trailer inches verrrry slowly to its new site. If all goes well, the structure will remain intact, with no shifting or cracked walls. Once it's at its new home, contractors will have to settle it onto its new foundation, et cetera – and it probably won't be habitable for several more months. Someone who assumes such an undertaking must have a substantial bank account, and two large wings between their shoulders, because this is a labor of love.
As for some of the local lots being cleared for new construction….The Nazarene Church structure, between S.E. Milwaukie and 17th Avenue at Lambert Street – a red brick building constructed in 1950, with seating capacity for 450 people – will soon be replaced with three new apartment buildings. In 2002, fellow BEE correspondent Rita Leonard described the sale of the church after its membership had dwindled to twenty. The parsonage, which was on the opposite (north) side of Lambert Street, and a parking lot were quickly replaced with six townhouse-style, single-family homes. However, following its sale by the Nazarenes, the church building was rented for eighteen years by a Spanish-language congregation, Casa del Padre. According to the sign in front of the church building, the site, which also includes a large parking lot to the south, will soon hold 85 units with 46 parking spaces below grade.
Although the Nazarenes moved into their newly constructed home in 1950, their membership had begun coalescing long before, in 1907; and as they grew, they occupied two earlier church structures. In 1907 the original 1885 chapel of the Methodist church was moved one block east of its corner at S.E. 15th and Tacoma, and the fledgling Nazarenes assumed occupancy. (It survives today as a single-family residence – it's the structure with the tall, gothic-style windows, facing Tacoma Street.) By 1922, when the members of the Sellwood Presbyterian Church moved to their new home at S.E. 18th and Bybee Boulevard, the Nazarenes moved into the original Presbyterian Church at S.E. 15th and Spokane, and remained until they finished their own church 28 years later.
Additionally, since a BEE reader recently inquired about the old K&K Photo Shop building, at the corner of S.E. 13th and Umatilla in Sellwood, which has been standing empty for at least eight years, there is a story to tell there too. This corner has a long history of occupancy, stretching back to the earliest days of Sellwood, the subdivision/plat for which was filed with Multnomah County in 1882.Initially this corner was the location of a small shack owned by Swedish immigrant and former shoemaker Oscar H. Wallberg. In a 1907 advertisement in THE BEE, he described his business as "Sellwood's Pioneer Real Estate Dealer: Rents and general collectors of non-residents looked after with the same careful manner as if my own. No wildcat schemes, AND SAFE RETURNS ON CONSERVATIVE INVESTMENTS." Mr. Wallberg arrived in Sellwood in 1888, so if he was not the community's first realtor, he may have been its first property management agent – even if that title had not been invented. He was a trusted resident; one of the charter members of the Sellwood Volunteer Fire Company; and in 1909 he became the superintendent of the Sellwood Branch Post Office, situated in the drug store next door.
By 1903 Mr. Wallberg had, as a neighbor, a modest frame structure that housed a drug store owed by Edwin C. Golden In June of 1907 Mr. Golden added ten feet to the south side of the building, "enlarging both the upper storeroom as well as the basement." By 1914, druggist Peter Livingston was running the business, which was renamed the Beaver Pharmacy; and within ten years he had purchased the building, which included a soda fountain. By 1928 it was described as being "two-story brick." It is not known whether this meant it was a newly-constructed building, or that the surface of the old building had been covered with brick.By 1936, Joe Leveton was the owner/pharmacist. He was a Russian immigrant who earned his four-year pharmacy degree at the North Pacific College, then operated his business until 1965. In that year it became K&K Photo, owned by Bob Sells, which continued until approximately 2010. In a brief telephone conversation, the current owner – a realtor – commented only that he "has had the property too long." But he is apparently not in a hurry to redevelop the corner or rent out the space.
More new buildings at two other neighborhood sites are well under way: The former Christian Science Church on S.E. 17th between Reedway and Knight Streets has been cleared away, and 23 single family homes with common side walls will soon be built on the large site. And the former south parking lot of Wilhelm's Portland Memorial & Crematorium, on S.E. 14th between Glenwood and Bybee will soon contain nine homes.
In spite of the coronavirus pandemic's slowdown for existing businesses, the market for new construction appears strong; otherwise why would redevelopment be so brisk? At the same time, a newly-completed apartment structure on S.E. 13th at Lambert St. still appears to be largely empty, and several others have "now leasing" signs in their windows. Is the market for rental properties now getting saturated, or – post-COVID – will we witness another in-migration of new neighbors? Time will tell.
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