Moving houses, instead of tearing them down
For most people, the phrase "Moving houses" suggests sorting, discarding, and packing one's possessions, shifting them to a new location and then reversing the process. But it can also refer to transporting the building itself to a new location.
While researching the histories of older dwellings in Sellwood and Westmoreland, I have been surprised to discover how many houses have been moved â€“ often many blocks, if not a mile or more â€“ from their original sites. Today, houses are torn down and replaced with houses, but Inner Southeast in the earlier days recycled houses by moving them around and placing them somewhere else, it seems.
I am not yet aware of any commercial structures that have undergone this process because, like a hermit crab, new businesses move into vacated buildings. The exception are houses that were pulled to the back of their lots, so a small commercial structure could be added in front. An example of this modification, with the original house still visible behind the shop, can be seen at 6517 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue, behind the southern extension of Ace Hardware. Only the tip of the gable roof on the house behind the Oaks Bottom Public House on S.E. Bybee Boulevard can now be seen, but the entire structure was exposed for a short period in 2017. There are other versions on S.E. Thirteenth, behind "Plural", near Nehalem, and "Tasi", just one block to the north.
I recently described the financial challenges of moving a house in contemporary times: finding a new and empty lot; the cost of lifting it off its existing foundation, after building a new one and installing utilities; and the expense of moving it to its new location, which usually costs ever more the farther the building is moved from its original spot.This activity is now a guaranteed traffic-stopper, but it must have been more common before World War II. Old BEE articles mention almost casually that "So-and-so are moving their house to (new location)" with no follow-up story or photo (pictures were uncommon in the newspaper until the 1960's).
A great deal of remodeling, demolition and new home building took place after World War II. Just north of the Moreland Theater is a bank that was built in 1945, originally occupying just two lots. To accommodate First National Bank, the 1922 home of Roy Reinke was moved three blocks, to 6520 S.E. 16th, between Duke and Claybourne Streets. Later, to expand parking and drive-through service, the bank (today it's Wells Fargo) acquired three more lots. Originally there were two other homes on the property; their demise, or new locations, are unknown at this time.
A 2013 story recounted the saga of a house on S.E. Rural Street, just south of Stars Antique Mall, that went all the way to a lot facing Westmoreland Park in 1950. More recent moves were the "Watson home", which stood on S.E. Tacoma behind the Baptist Church until 1998 when it was transported to SE 11th and Harney.And on a very hot August day in 2007, a large four-square house was transported from the corner of S.E. Martins Street to a new lot just five blocks away on Tolman Street near Llewellyn School.
Of course, one of the most-publicized moves was that of the 1851 "Oaks Pioneer Church", the original name for which, at its original location in Milwaukie, was St. John's Episcopal Church. One of the oldest surviving churches in Oregon, it was originally two small dwellings owned by Milwaukie's founder, Lot Whitcomb. He gave them to the small band of determined Episcopalians, who literally used them as a house of worship. In 1888, the members remodeled it into its present Gothic-style, changing the pitch of the roof, installing windows, adding a tall spire with bell, and a single, stained-glass window fabricated by the Povey Brothers of Portland.
The old church had been enlarged with a small vestry on one side, but by the 1950's the congregation had outgrown its building, and were discussing demolishing it to construct a new one. Aided by City Commissioner Ormond Bean, a city-owned lot at S.E. Grand and Spokane was found; and led by Sellwood businessman Dent Thomas, the Southeast Portland Chamber of Commerce and the community raised the funds to move the building by barge down the Willamette River to its new home in June of 1961. After months of volunteer work on the site, the church settled into its new location, even today serves as an icon for the neighborhood.
Another church that still survives was moved in 1906, just twenty years after its construction. The Lee Chapel was a progenitor of the Sellwood Methodist Church, whose members started small with this simple building, sporting narrow lancet windows and small bell tower on a wooded lot at the corner of S.E. 15th and Tacoma Street. As the congregation grew it was moved just a half block to the east, where it still stands -- although it now functions as a single family residence. The Methodists then built a much larger building on the original site of the Chapel, which was used from 1907 until after World War II. In the early 1960s, it was expanded and extensively remodeled into its current configuration. However, membership dwindled until it closed as the United Methodist Church sometime in the early 21st Century. Today it houses St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church.
I am sure there are other houses, throughout the several neighborhoods served by THE BEE that have been moved, perhaps without the knowledge of their current owners. Next month I will share an account of a massive move: The 1925 removal of eighteen houses from a single block in Sellwood.
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