In last month's BEE, I mentioned my surprise at the number of houses in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood that have been moved. Sometimes the owner sold when his property was redeveloped, which was the case with the Watson house on Tacoma Street (to make a parking lot for a church); the Priest's House at St. Agatha's (for a parish community building); the Methodist Chapel (to make way for a larger church) â€“ and, in Westmoreland, for the expansion of a bank parking lot. But I was unprepared for the clearance of entire block â€“ 18 houses! â€“ in 1925, to provide a playground for the students of Sellwood School. It should be noted that, at the time, the school was a Kindergarten through 8th Grade institution, whose 777 students all lived in the immediate neighborhood. The children in the area north of Malden attended Llewellyn School, which in 1928 enrolled 450 pupils. In 1975 Sellwood became a middle school, covering grades 6-8, but drawing its "junior high" population from Lewis, Duniway, and Llewellyn Elementary Schools.
In the early Twentieth Century, parents wanted their children to have a sound education â€“ to provide the tools to function with confidence in the workplace, and society in general. Sellwood's parents were enthusiastic supporters of public schools, and other institutions such as the Sellwood Community House and the local branch library. The Sellwood neighborhood opened for development in 1882; Westmoreland in 1909; and public schools followed soon after. In September of 1884, the first students entered the one-room schoolhouse at S.E. 15th and Umatilla. As the town grew, so did the number of schoolchildren. In 1893, the year that the independent City of Sellwood became part of the City of Portland, a new two-story building was finished, containing four classrooms for its 183 students. However, by 1910, this charming Gothic-style structure (similar in appearance to the Oaks Pioneer Church) was inadequate for the estimated 700 pupils stuffed into it and into the portable structures gathered around it.According to a history of the school, written for its 100th anniversary in 1984, a new two-story building made of concrete was finished in 1914, and for the first time featured indoor bathrooms! It alleviated some of the crowding â€“ but within ten years it needed to be enlarged.
Finally, in late October of 1924, a front page story in THE BEE announced that, "Seven new [Portland] elementary grade schools have been recommended by Miss Alice Barrows, of the U.S. Bureau of Education." These were Hosford, Ockley Green, Sunnyside, Woodlawn, Highland, Ladd, and Sellwood. The brief article reported that the Chairman of the School Board would name the architect for Hosford, while the others would wait for the purchase of [the building] sites. The next update in THE BEE was four months later, in February, 1925, when it was mentioned that the "property needed for the new school [in Sellwood] has been appraised by the Realty Board." At the time only block 67, cluttered with buildings and a small adjacent playground, was owned by the school district. Finally, at the end of February, two lines in the newspaper stated the "block of ground has been contracted for Sellwood's fine new school building."
A week later came the revelation about Block 66: "The deal. . . for the blocks of homes bounded by East 15th & 16th, Harney & Sherrett was closed. The total consideration [for 18 lots and houses] was $54,450. The block will be converted into playgrounds to supplement the block on which the present building stands, and on which another large building will be erected." The newspaper went on to list the property owners, and praise the realtor: "This big deal was handled by Harold E. Sellwood, who has spent several months bringing the board and property owners to an agreement. He is also disposing of the houses, and offers for them will be received at his office on S.E. 13th."
It appears that, without any public announcement, the School Board had decided, or was persuaded by persons unknown, that the 700 students at Sellwood School needed or deserved an entire block of land for recess and physical education classes. Furthermore, the individuals who owned the eighteen 50x100 foot lots, each with a house on it, were apparently quite willing to sell and move those structures elsewhere. There were no heated exchanges at school board meetings, and the Board did not invoke "eminent domain". No press conference, public hearings, letters to the editor (THE BEE at that time did not offer this feature), and no protests. THE BEE itself gave more space to the original Sellwood Bridge, which was then under construction; the arrival of two new Piggly Wiggly grocery stores; and plans for a future movie theater in Westmoreland!
The School Board was smart to employ a local realtor who lived in the neighborhood, and probably knew many of the home owners. Harold Sellwood was a nephew of Dr. John Sellwood, the physician and surgeon who had built both a hospital and the 1907 Bank of Sellwood at S.E. 13th and Umatilla Street. Harold was also a descendent of the Rev. John Sellwood, who sold his acreage in 1882 to the Sellwood Real Estate Company, and after whom the community was named.Harold must have quietly approached each of the property owners until every one of them was ready to sell, "for the good of the children". Some of them may have had offspring attending the school already, and could see value in a large playground.
Of course the amount offered by the School Board may have seemed reasonable or even generous to the property owners. While the average offer per property was approximately $3,000, presumably a one-story cottage would have been of lower value than a large two-story Foursquare-style home. Three thousand dollars might have paid the mortgage on the old house, covered the cost of a new lot nearby, and paid for the move itself. Houses and lots were generally less expensive in "old fashioned" Sellwood than in the more modern subdivsions, such as Westmoreland or City View Park. An ad for a 50x100 foot lot near Linn Street was listed at $490, while a new two-bedroom home in Westmoreland was predicted to cost $4,000 to $5,000.According to the 1924-25 Sanborn fire insurance map, the eighteen houses sold to be moved were fairly small: Nine were single-story, seven were one and a half stories, and the remaining two were two stories in height.
THE BEE listed the names of all the involved property owners. At least three homes were rentals, as their owners lived in California and Corvallis. But of the others, the newspaper stated, "nearly all vacating homes will remain in Sellwood . . . and will moved to other lots." Reading the paper after March, 1925, it was clear that the disposition of the houses varied. Some owners moved their houses, and then resumed occupancy. Others simply sold and then moved elsewhere in the neighborhood. A few left the area altogether. There is no mention of demolition, so it appears that all 18 structures were moved onto new 50x100 foot lots, which would have been fairly simple, as most of them were so compact.In the intervening 90 years, some of those small houses have disappeared â€“ presumably replaced, or remodeled beyond recognition. I have been able to identify only two of the original houses moved to make way for the Sellwood playground. One traveled only two blocks; but the other one went fifteen blocks to the north, into the City View Park subdivision.
By matching the names with listings in the City Directories (which at this time only list a person's address and occupation, and not whether they owned their place of residence) I was able to place a person in eleven of the houses and a few at their new addresses. These were:
· Frank and Clara Twibell, whose house was on 16th and is now on Malden Street
· Monte J. and Julia Allen, also on 16th, whose house went to Sherrett Street
· E.W. and Hattie Bartholomew, from Sherrett Street, moved to Scotts Mills
· The Beerman family, from Sherrett Street, the new address of house is unknown
· George T. and Emma Bishopp, of Harney Street, new address unknown
· Bert Clark, of a Sherrett Street duplex, new address unknown
· David Evans of Harney Street, new address unknown
· J.W. Griffith, of E. 15th Street, new address unknown, but moved to Scotts Mills
· C.A. Myers, owned a rental on Block 66, no specific address listed
· Dr. John J. and Laura Morrow of Sherrett Street, new address unknown
· Elver and May Pease of Harney Street, new address unknown
· Alex Slaton, of Sherrett Street, new address unknown
· C.W. Tustin, who owned two properties one at the corner of 15th and Harney Streets was his residence; the other, address unknown, was probably a rental; unknown where either house went
· Absentee property owners: Ola E. Boyd, California; Mrs. F.W. Bartlett, California; Emma Lingo, Corvallis, Philip Schneider, Portland; this means that they owned properties on Block 66, but did not live in the neighborhood, so were renting them to unnamed tenants
If any readers know the names of any of the above-listed property owners, or believe they live in one of the homes that was moved from Block 66, Ill be happy to follow up, if you contact me through THE BEE!
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