Irvington Historic District

Portland City, Multnomah County, OR

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The Irvington Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Irvington Historic District is a residential neighborhood, composed primarily of single-family homes, located in northeast Portland, Oregon. Newer multi-family residence (e.g. apartment buildings, duplexes, and triplexes) have been constructed along the southern end of the district and close to former north/south lines associated with the former streetcars. While infill has occurred over time, Irvington has maintained its suburban setting. The district's suburban setting is exemplified by tree lined streets, uniform setbacks, and the similarity of scale and design in the housing stock. The majority of homes were constructed between 1900 and 1930 but with surviving examples of early Queen Anne style cottages and mid-twentieth century residential buildings as well. The district is notable for its collection of Queen Anne, Period Revival (revival style inspired cottages, English Cottage, Tudor Revival, Classical Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and Colonial Revival), Bungalow/Craftsman, and Prairie School residences.

Irvington was largely developed as a direct result of the expansion of the electric streetcar lines that extended from downtown Portland in the late-nineteenth century. By the first decade of the 1900s the lines were extended along NE Broadway, NE 15th, NE 22nd, and NE 24th. As an example of a streetcar suburb derived from a "gridiron plat", Irvington's physical development and appearance was distinctively shaped in a manner similar to streetcar suburbs located throughout the United States.

The Irvington Historic District developed from south to north based upon the presence of the initial streetcar extension along NE Broadway as many older homes (1890s) are located along or in close proximity to NE Tillamook Street and south. Later residences (1900-1948) are distributed throughout the neighborhood and are indicative of more intensive development activity and infill that occurred during that period. Post-1948 residences, apartment buildings, and commercial buildings occur throughout the neighborhood but not in concentrations that detract from the overall integrity of the district. The distribution of housing types and styles within the neighborhood echoes the broad time span over which construction occurred within the district. The majority of buildings within the district are single-family residences. A large number of multifamily residences and apartment buildings are located along the southern and western edges of the district—particularly along NE Hancock and NE Schuyler Streets and NE 7th and NE 8th Avenues as well as along the various north south streetcar lines along NE 15th, NE 22nd, and NE 24th. In addition, a number of large single-family homes were subdivided into duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes during World War II. The district also consists of forty commercial buildings, nine churches, two schools (one public and one Catholic), and one city-owned park.

The impetus for development of Portland's so-called "East Side" was intimately tied to the construction of the Oregon Central Railroad terminus on the east side of the Willamette River in 1868.3 The community of Albina formed immediately above the east bank of the Willamette River to service the railroads and steamboat docks that lined the river's edge. While ferry service between the east and west sides provided a link between Portland and Albina, bridges were soon constructed to facilitate commerce. A railroad bridge at the current location of the Steel Bridge was erected in 1888. The very next year, the first electric railway crossed the Steel Bridge into Albina and East Portland (which were incorporated into Portland in 1889). The streetcar would eventually extend beyond Albina to Irvington gradually transforming this former farmland into an urban residential enclave. Connecting service along interurban routes connected Irvington residents to communities outside of the city as well. The impact of the streetcar on Portland's east side was dramatic. In 1891, 25 percent of the greater metropolitan population resided on the east side. By the 1910s, that figure rose to 50 percent. Portland was following a larger national trend in urban to suburban migration. As historian Alan Gowans noted "by the 1890s, most of the well-to-do were gone from inner cities, and by 1900 the middle class was well on its way out also—away from all this, out to the suburbs."

Captain William Irving settled on and later acquired a Donation Land Claim that largely encompassed the Irvington neighborhood beginning in 1851. Captain Irving died in 1872. In anticipation of this growth and the associated housing need, portions of the east side donation land claims, including Captain William Irving's DLC were subdivided into a grid of blocks and streets for residential development. Beginning in 1882, Irving's descendants, his daughter Elizabeth and son John Irving, sold off significant portions of the DLC. On March 1, 1882, John Irving filed a plat for "John Irvings First Addition to East Portland" and on April 21, 1882, he and Elizabeth Irving sold 288 acres of the DLC to business partners David P. Thompson, Ellis G. Hughes, and John W. Brazee for $62,109. Elizabeth Irving as well as Thompson, Hughes, and Brazee (and subsequent investors such as Charles Prescott) would work together to develop the area in a relatively uniform fashion, however, for in 1887, when the plat for Irvington was filed, it included property owned by the partnership and Elizabeth Irving. The 1887 plat forms the core of present day Irvington. Due to slow growth in residential sales on the east side, lots were not actively marketed until 1890-1891.

As Thompson, Hughes, and Brazee gradually sold off their shares of the original development to subsequent real estate developers, plats for these smaller portions of the neighborhood were often re-filed once the new developers recognized a market for the land. The 1906 Portland plat map reveals how the original Irvington plat had been platted by different owners who named the new plats East Irvington, West Irvington, and Edgemont. Despite this fracturing of ownership of the neighborhood, the original grid pattern of the neighborhood was retained.

Both Elizabeth Irving and the partnership held a common vision for Irvington that included the use of restrictive covenants as a term of sale that was attached to the recorded deed. A seller could abrogate the contract of sale and/or enforce the conditions if the owner failed to abide by the contract. Owing its origins to mid-eighteenth century efforts by British nobility to retain control of properties sold off of noble estates, restrictive covenants were still very much the exception in the United States in the 1880s. In the face of uncontrolled and largely unregulated urban development occurring throughout the United States, real estate investors and developers resorted to limited duration covenants in an effort to protect their investment until sales of lots were completed. Covenants also protected lot values for those who had already purchased and/or occupied lots within the subdivision.

The covenants used in Irvington were much more extensive than those used at Ladds Addition which merely forbade the selling of liquors within the subdivision.18 Deeds for property in Irvington typically included the following restrictions.

Despite the initiation of marketing in 1891 as well as the construction of water mains, graveling of the streets and laying of plank sidewalks, lot sales in Irvington proved slow as the early developers opened up lots largely located in the southwest quadrant of the neighborhood between E 7th and 14th Avenues and Tillamook and Thompson Streets. This is attributed to the subdivision's relative isolation prior to the construction of streetcar lines that served the neighborhood. The stock market crash of 1893 all but stopped lot sales in Irvington until 1898; the year investors opened up lots for sale to the public again.

Just prior to the 1893 crash, the early real estate investors of Irvington managed the risks of their real estate venture by gradually releasing parcels within the neighborhood to individual property owners or to small scale speculators who often constructed homes on individual lots rather than entire blocks. The Portland Cottage Building Association (PCBA), for instance, was one of the earliest homebuilding speculators in Irvington. Under company president Henry M. Lambert, the PCBA developed several parcels in West Irvington between NE 12th and NE 16th. Lambert was also the owner of the East Portland Mill and Fixture Company, "a planing mill and house parts producer that made moldings, window sashes, and other interior fixtures and hardware." Sensing a logical extension to his building-parts business, Lambert applied his company's architectural products to a number of homes that the company constructed in Irvington.

Lambert's business model consisted of purchasing properties from one of the original investors, erecting a home, and selling the property. In some instances, the company also extended a mortgage to the new owner. In at least one instance, the company erected a duplex; one of the earliest remaining in Portland at 2134-2136 NE 19th in 1892. In most instances, however, the PCBA constructed one story frame dwellings with Queen Anne architectural detailing that placed an emphasis on varying textures and form elaboration. This was accomplished through the use of varying shingle patterns with sawtooth, square, and fish-scale treatments. Building corners on visible elevations were often clipped and eaves were emphasized through the use of turned and jig sawn woodwork. The roof types were often complex featuring clipped gable roofs with projecting gable extensions. The plans of these early homes often lacked hallways but focused more public spaces such as the parlor and dining room to the front of the house with kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms to the rear. The Roome-Stearns House (2146 NE 12th, NR) is a particularly well-preserved example of a PCBA cottage that retains many of these characteristics. The number of these cottages constructed would be limited, however, for by 1894 the PBCA dissolved as a result of the financial troubles that emerged during the Bank Panic of 1893.

Not every home in Irvington was erected as speculative venture, as one of the earliest residences remaining from the 1890s is the John E. Povey House (1312 NE Tillamook, NR). Probably constructed by Peter Hobkirk of the contracting firm of Hobkirk and McKenzie, the Queen Anne style house represented one of the more ornate houses on the east side of Portland during the period, but it was most known for the extensive use of stained glass from Povey's own glass works. The Povey Brothers Art Glass Works were widely known as the leading manufacturers of "art" glass in the region between 1890 and 1920. Perhaps the largest residence erected in Irvington during this period was the George Earle Chamberlain House (1927 NE Tillamook, NR). Designed by the prestigious architectural firm of Whidden and Lewis, the house represents a relatively uncommon example of the Shingle Style in East Portland. Both Whidden and Lewis once worked for nationally significant architectural firms in the East prior to their arrival in Portland; McKim, Mead, & White and Peabody & Stearns respectively. The pair would have a significant impact upon domestic and commercial architecture in Portland in the late nineteenth century.

The early development of Irvington in the 1880s and 1890s conveys the challenges facing real estate developers and housing speculators during the period. Due to fluctuating housing and financial markets, much of Irvington lay undeveloped by the turn of the century. As the 1894 Paving Map of Portland relates, grading and graveling of the subdivision's roads had not occurred north of Thompson Street. Indeed, of the 2,804 buildings located within the Irvington Historic District, only about 53 predate 1900. All of this would change, however, with the expansion of Portland's streetcar system. Irvington would become one of the most well served residential neighborhoods in east Portland by the 1920s.

In 1899, a new streetcar line was installed down East Broadway and up 22nd Avenue to Tillamook Street, which dramatically improved the commute time between downtown Portland and Irvington. Soon after the line was completed lot sales increased within Irvington. By 1912, several different streetcar lines were extended into Irvington along Broadway as well as 15th, 22nd, and 24th Avenues that connected the neighborhood to an extensive network of routes that served much of the city. Other developments south of the original plat within the current neighborhood of Sullivan's Gulch, such as John Irving's 1st Addition and the Holladay Park Addition were also opened for development and were considered by real estate agents during the period as part of Irvington. Both of these new developments also used restrictive covenants as a means of controlling how individual lots were developed. To provide Irvington with the necessary utilities and amenities, the City of Portland spent $250,000 to develop water mains, gas lines, sewers, and street paving.

The first major expansion of Irvington occurred after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland. Many people who attended the fair relocated to Portland after witnessing first hand the amenities of the Pacific Northwest, including its extensive natural resource base that made Portland the largest lumber manufacturing city in the United States as well as its budding shipping, wholesale distributing, construction, and finance industries. Even before the Exposition, however, Portland was in the midst of becoming an important railroad crossroads and river port. Starting in 1905, James Hill's inexpensive shipping rates coincided with a huge increase in timber production throughout Oregon and Washington. Timber associated industries flourished in Portland and subsequently resulted in a spurt in wealth. Between 1900 and 1910, the population more than doubled from 90,426 to 207,214 thus ushering in a period of dramatic growth for the city. The increase in population would make Portland the fourth most populous city on the West Coast behind San Francisco (416,912), Los Angeles (319,198), and Seattle (237,194). Despite its fourth place ranking, Pacific Builder and Engineer reported in 1907 and 1908 that new building construction value exceeded all cities in the country except Chicago and New York. Between 1900 and 1910, at least 405 of the 2,804 buildings that currently exist in Irvington were constructed.

The second building boom occurred in the 1920s when 1238 of the existing 2,804 buildings were erected in Irvington. Money spent citywide between 1921 and 1925 on building permits alone rose from $17 million to $38 million. During this period builders in Portland erected an average of 3,400 new houses a year and by 1930 the population had expanded to nearly 300,000. Responding to expanding consumer markets elsewhere in the United States, Portland become a major manufacturing and banking center.

Due to the large numbers of buildings erected during the building booms of the 1910s and 1920s, Irvington contains the largest, most intact collection of early twentieth century residential architecture found in Oregon. Influenced by a profound group of real estate developers, speculators, build-design contractors, as well as architects, the neighborhood exhibits an eclectic collection of early twentieth century architectural styles. The neighborhood represents a laboratory of architectural design for the period and conveys how builders and architects alike negotiated the desires of their clients, a competitive housing market, and the intricacies of period design. Indeed, many of the homes erected during this period reveal how architectural details associated with distinct architectural styles were often mixed together to create altogether unique compositions. This architectural diversity was marketed to the middle and upper middle class residents of the city as Irvington quickly garnered working class as well as wealthy residents such as sales clerks, judges, lawyers, company executives, merchants, retirees, lumbermen, draftsmen, druggists, dentists, doctors, nurses, traveling salesmen, steamboat captains, streetcar conductors, civil servants, stenographers, police detectives, teachers, railroad engineers and workers, business managers, civil engineers, newspaper advertising executive, stockbrokers, film projector operators, grain dealers, an Indian trader, cannery owners, auditors, as well as several architects, carpenters, and builders.

While speculative builders, designers, and contractors remained an effective force in the design and construction of homes in Irvington throughout the building boom period, residents also called upon professional architects to design homes that were tailored to their more specific needs. Some of the most significant architects in Portland, if not Oregon teamed with some of the contractors noted above and supplied the designs for residences, institutional buildings, and at least two of the churches. Ellis Lawrence, Albert E. Doyle, Raymond Hockenberry, Frederic Bowman, David L. Williams, Emil Schacht, Joseph Jaccobberger, and John Virginius Bennes all landed significant commissions in Irvington. Twenty eight residences in Irvington that were designed and built by these individuals and firms have been recognized through listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The post-1948 era in Irvington has been shaped by both infill development as well as the demolition of several significant houses. Beginning in the 1950s, the neighborhood also witnessed an increase in church building as three church buildings (Augustana Lutheran Church, Holladay Park Church of God, and Central Lutheran Church) were built in the residential portion of the neighborhood previously off limits to such development due to deed restrictions. Particularly notable was the Central Lutheran Church, a City of Portland Historic Landmark designed by Pietro Belluschi which was built on the east side of NE 21st between NE Schuyler and Hancock Streets.

‡ Kirk Ranzetta/Senior Architectural Historian, Heather Scotten, Staff Architectural with ICA Project Manager, Mary Piper and Irvington Historian, Jim Heuer, Irvington Historic District, Multnomah County, OR, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
10th Avenue NE • 11th Avenue NE • 12th Avenue NE • 13th Avenue NE • 14th Avenue NE • 15th Avenue NE • 16th Avenue NE • 17th Avenue NE • 18th Avenue NE • 19th Avenue NE • 20th Avenue NE • 21st Avenue NE • 22nd Avenue NE • 23rd Avenue NE • 24th Avenue NE • 25th Avenue NE • 26th Avenue NE • 27th Avenue NE • 28th Avenue NE • 8th Avenue NE • 9th Avenue NE • Brazee Street NE • Hancock Street NE • Klickitat Street NE • Knott Street NE • Schuyler Street NE • Siskiyou Street NE • Stanton Street NE • Thompson Street NE • Tillamook Street NE

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