History of the Architectural Home Styles in Portland

Home Styles in Portland


Hi and welcome to another episode of Around The Neighborhood with me, Scott McMahon.  This is the show about the quest for fun, history, and mystery in our backyard.


And today we’re going to be all over the Portland Metro area, as we’re going to have some fun with the history of the different architectural styles in Portland.


I had the privilege to attend a fun workshop here at the Architectural Heritage Center.  First off, I didn’t even know that this place existed until I attended the workshop, but when you can, please visit and take a look inside.  You know, when it’s safe and we’re out of this pandemic.


The Architectural Heritage Center is located on the corner of Grand Ave and Alder St here in Southeast portland.  The Heritage Center’s mission is to, in their own words, “inspire people to conserve the art, craft, and context of historic buildings and places to promote our cultural heritage as a vital element of livable, sustainable, communities.”  The center is owned and operated by the non-profit Bosco-Milligan Foundation.


The building itself has its own story, as it used to be West’s Block Building and there’s a whole article on the Heritage Center’s website about the amount of work that went into the restoration and preservation of this building.  Of course, I’ll leave a link to the Heritage website and much more in the description of this video for you to check out later on.


Anyway, as I was saying, I had the privilege to attend a workshop here that was presented by Anne De Wolf, Principal Designer, and Co-Owner of Arciform.  Arciform specializes in design builds and restoration of homes in Portland built prior to 1970.  Case in point, let’s hop over the Willamette River to Southwest Portland and check out a building like this one ...


Here on the corner of SW Broadway Drive and SW Grant St.


This is one of many projects that Arciform has been working on.  This is the house of Morris and Annie Marks.  The Morris Marks House.  Morris was a shoe merchant who had this home built by architect Warren Heywood Williams in an Italianate style way back in 1880.  Italianate-style homes were first developed in Britain in the early 1800s drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance.  It happens to be one of a very few homes built in this style that still exists in Portland today.  Some of the key elements to an Italianate style home is the low-pitched or flat roof with projected eaves supported by corbels, which is a kind of bracket that is a structural piece of stone, wood, or metal jutting from a wall to support the weight of the roof.  The house used for the show Full House is in an Italianate style.


The story of this home is nuts, as it used to be located over on 12th Ave.  It was rundown, abandoned, and vacant for years … and it was almost demolished until the owners sold it to the Architectural Heritage Center for $1.00.  If they could raise the funds and support to move the home.  The Heritage Center did, and in 2017, the house was split in half to travel across Portland State University and get reassembled here just off-Broadway.  When the project of restoring this home is completed, it will become office space, but the building itself will have been saved and preserved to celebrate our city’s cultural heritage.  Again, Arciform has an in-depth article about this project on its website and I’ll leave a link to it in the description of this video.


But let’s go back in time to the mid-1800s and trace the style of homes from the pioneer settlers and move forward to today.


But before I do, I wanted to give a shout-out to another expert that I’ve pulled a lot of information from and that is Architectural Historian, Eric Wheeler, from Positively Portland Walking Tours.  Eric has been posting daily videos on Facebook, where he gives us little bites of architectural history for various buildings all throughout Portland.  Both Anne De Wolf from Arciform and Eric Wheeler from Positively Portland Walking Tours are the real experts, so check out the links to their companies in the description.


Okay, well, let’s get started!  To the way back machine, Mr. Peabody … and if you get that reference, welp, you might be the same vintage as me.  Haha.


We’re gonna start here underneath the Morrison Bridge where SW Washington Street meets Naito Parkway.  Naito Parkway was originally called Front Ave or Front Street but was changed in 1996.  Anyway, back in 1844, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove built the first home here in Portland.  It was a simple log cabin constructed from local timber, which was fitting because we became known as Stump Town then.


One of the things about these early homes is there was no indoor plumbing.  In the 1900s a bowl, pitcher, and a chamber pot were kept underneath the beds and emptied out every morning.  Of course, there were outhouses, known as “The Necessary” back then, and since heating water was time-consuming, most families shared the same tub of water.  These tubs were made from galvanized steel or copper, and sat in the middle of the kitchen.  So, if you’ve ever watched some old Western movies, there was most likely a scene where someone was taking a bath in the middle of the house.


Moving on to the years between 1860 and 1900, we come upon the Victorian era.  This is about the time when Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain.  This was also a time when the Industrial Revolution happened, which meant dramatic growth for American home designs increased due to mass production.  Access to different materials was made possible through the railroad system.  Stylistic details with formal sensibilities ruled over comfort.  Just like the fashion of the time.  Speaking of fashion, apparently, it was the silky white dress that Queen Victoria wore that started the trend for brides wearing white on their wedding day.  She wasn’t the first, but I guess it spearheaded the tradition that still exists today.


Now the Victorian-style homes cover a number of different styles.  Including the Gothic Revival, Italianate, which we covered earlier with the Morris Marks home, the French Second Empire style, and the Queen Anne style.


One of the best examples of the Victorian style in Portland is right here in North Portland at the Victorian Belle Mansion.  Built in 1885 as a wedding present from David Cole to his new bride, Amanda Laura Boone, great-granddaughter of frontiersman Daniel Boone.  This mansion is supposedly the first Portland-area residence to have indoor electricity and hot-and-cold running water supplied by a windmill-powered water pump.  Additionally, rooms were vented to a wood-burning stove to provide central heating and had one of the first voice-powered intercoms similar to tube systems found on ships that summoned servants.


It’s an event space that can be rented out for weddings and other events.  The Victorian Belle Mansion is an example of the Queen Anne style.  These properties feature especially heavy ornamentation, gabled roofs, rounded towers, and large windows that are equally functional and decorative, and often asymmetrical.


Pretty cool, huh?  Not all Victorian-style homes are mansions like this one …


There are a number of Victorian-style homes on a smaller scale that can be found here in the Historic Willamette Neighborhood in West Linn.  Look at these charming homes.  There’s a lot more history about these homes, which deserve its own attention, but that’s for another episode.


When it comes to the French Second Empire style, it’s best to think of Paris.  Mansard, dual-pitched roofs, eclectic and ornate, vertical lines resembling stone structures are features of the Second Empire style.  One of Portland's more famous French Second Empire homes used to be here at the corner of SW 5th and Salmon, the Failing House built in 1892.  Henry Failing was Portland’s Mayor for three terms and he lived here.  A little bit of French styling in the heart of Portland.


Victorian-style homes weren’t the only style that became popular during the late 1800s, there was also the Colonial Revival style.  Like this home in NE Portland.  The Colonial Revival style was known for its Symmetry, Accentuated front door, porches supported by pillared columns.


Then there are the Dutch Colonial homes, like this one.  Dutch Colonial is known for its gambrel roofs.  I get confused because there’s a gable roof style which is the classic A-Frame pointed type roof.  The gambrel style roof is similar to the French style Mansard style roof.  The Dutch Colonial gambrel roof has two slopes on each side and was used to better manage rain and snow.


Moving right along, let’s fast forward from the Victorian and Colonial Revival to the turn of the 20th Century and the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition.  Portland’s first World’s Fair, sort of, it wasn’t technically a World’s Fair, but it was referred to as such amongst Portland’s history...  Here’s the crazy thing about World Fairs that took place during this time … a lot of the buildings and exhibits were constructed for temporary use.  But they were beautiful buildings.  Look at this poster from the Lewis & Clark Exposition in North Portland.  How cool if this area was still around.


(Montage of Expo)


Right?  Seriously, how amazing if the buildings still existed here in Portland?  Do you know what exists in the area now?  (North Portland’s industrial area).


One of the only remaining buildings from the Expo that still exists is the National Cash Register Building, which was moved to St. Johns and is now a McMenamins.


Portland had a population of about 90,000 in 1900.  Then the fair happened and within 10 years, Portland grew to over 207,000 people.  That was nearly a 130% increase.


With the population explosion, came the need for affordable starter homes, and thus, the arrival of the Craftsman-Style homes that populate East Portland.


Before we go into Craftsman homes, let’s talk about some of the advances in building materials of the time.  During the fair of 1905, plywood was developed.  We take it for granted, but this type of wood was a big deal and is still used today to build homes.  Also during this time, shiplap, wooden planks that overlapped each other created better weatherproof durability for homes.


By the 1920s, we had electricity, telephones, automobiles, and other building materials like the subway tile was popular because of an obsession with germs.  Before there was sheetrock, there was lath and plaster, and of course, there was lead-based paint and asbestos.  Haha.


Ah, the Craftsman style home.  This is my wife’s favorite style of home.  We’re looking at the years between 1905-1930.  Again, with the population explosion of Portland after the World’s Fair and the advent of affordable building materials, there was a movement to go opposite of the overly stylistic look of the Victorian style homes.


The Craftsman homes are known for their low-pitched gable roofs with deep overhangs and multiple roof planes.  They had largely tapered and square columns.  Front porches that spanned the entire width of the house.  It had an Oriental, Asian inspired design and was a home that took advantage of electricity to light the spaces.


The Craftsman home wasn’t just a home-style, it was an entire movement.  William Morris was a British textile designer, a poet, a socialist activist who started the Craftsman movement in response to the industrial revolution.  There was a magazine called, “The Craftsman”, which expanded the movement into hardware, furniture, and interior design.


There were other style homes between 1910-1930 that became popular in Portland.  There is the Foursquare home which really defines the shape of the house.  Usually a 2-story home with a hipped roof, a pyramid shape to reflect the four walls.  A square plan with 4 rooms upstairs and 4 rooms downstairs.  Now within a Foursquare shaped home, you can have a Craftsman-style home, or a Colonial Revival, or even a Prairie-style home.


And then there are the Tudor style homes built between the 1920s and 1930s.  During the Roaring ’20s there was a desire to evoke a romantic connection with Medieval England and bring that kind of style back into homes.


Here in Eastmoreland, you can find a lot of Tudor style homes.  With Tudor-style homes, roofs were present at every angle, some with wooden gables exposed on all sides.  The Anglo aristocratic styling was offered to middle-class suburbia at this time.  Stucco and brick veneer was new technology during this time which allowed builders to add medieval details and even times a storybook feel to the homes.  This style of homes fell out of fashion by the 1940s due to the Great Depression and World War II.


With what was going on in the world at that time, the homes styles began to reflect this.  Enter the Cottage and the Cape Cod-style homes.


It was the little house that could.  Usually a one-story, small home, with minimal detail and a steeply pitched gable roof.  Within these confines, builders could adopt the cottage into a Craftsman Cottage, or a Tudor Cottage, or a Colonial Cottage.


As World War II came to an end, and the automobile became part of American life, a new type of home became very popular between the years of 1935-1975 and that was The Ranch Style home.


You’ll see a lot of ranch-style homes further from Portland, because of new land developments and the use of the automobile.  The identifying features of a Ranch home are usually a simple broad, single-story with an attached garage.


America was seeking quiet and stability after World War II, but then came the Baby Boomers and the 1950’s and 60’s and the Mid-Century Modern.


There aren’t too many Mid-Century Modern homes in Portland, but there is a rabid fan base for them.  When a mid-century modern home comes onto the market, it's designed to the tee.  They don’t last long on the market.  I know, I have a client who wants a mid-century modern home and she offered $25,000 over asking, all cash, and was still outbid.  That’s how crazy things can get in this market with mid-century modern homes.


Mid-Century Modern homes are known for their large sectioned windows, open space floor plan, integration with nature, spaces flow from interior to exterior, very innovative, and sculpture in appearance.


By the time we get into the 1970s, home designs just got weird.  (Dome home in West Linn)


So, enter the 1980’s to today where we see a lot of what is referred to as the New Traditional.  This is a counter-movement to the free-spirited era of the 1970s.  Traditional homes are loosely styled after classic architecture, oftentimes it’s a builder’s interpretation of these styles, the garage is a dominant presence in the design, and is dictated by the cheaper building materials of the day.


You can see in this subdivision that there are elements of Tudor style, Colonial Style, Craftsman-style all wrapped up in a traditional construct.  As computers help with the design process, and newer building materials, like 3D-Printed homes, become available, it’ll be interesting to see where our architectural history takes us.



Architectural Heritage Center: http://www.visitahc.com/

Arciform: https://www.arciform.com/

Positively Portland Walking Tours: https://positivelyportland.com/about-us/



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Scott McMahon, Real Estate Broker

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