How Montavilla Got Its Own Fire Station

By PATRICIA SANDERS

On April 30, 1913 there was a joyous celebration at the NE corner of E Burnside and NE 82nd Avenue, right where Cars to Go stands today. It was opening day of Fire Station No. 27, offering the fire protection which Montavillans had desperately sought for at least 11 years.

Despite a steadily growing population, and all-too frequent fires, it took community, persistent organizing, petition circulating and a devastating fire to finally make it happen.

The campaign for fire protection began before the people of Montavilla had voted to become part of the City of Portland in 1906. Before that election, Montavilla was just a suburb with no elected government, so it was up to private citizens and their organizations to help improve life in this section of Multnomah County.

As far as I can tell from articles appearing in the two main Portland dailies, The Oregon Daily Journal and The Oregonian, the effort to bring much-needed fire protection to Montavilla began in 1902. Although this suburb was growing rapidly in the opening years of the 20 th century, it did not have a volunteer fire brigade such as other Portland-area neighborhoods did.

So in 1902 the Montavilla Board of Trade, began to push for the formation of a volunteer fire company. After Montavilla became part of Portland in 1906, its citizens turned to the City for fire protection.

In 1908, the Montavilla Improvement Board joined the nearby Mt. Tabor and Center neighborhoods to petition the Mayor and City Council to provide fire protection. No luck.

In 1909, the Montavilla Board of Trade petitioned again, this time asking only for 1,000 feet of fire hose and a hose cart. But again, no luck.

Montavilla’s need became even more apparent on the morning of July 4, 1910. That day a huge fire destroyed an entire block of Montavilla’s main commercial district. The fire was started by a defective gasoline stove and spread rapidly, destroying 15 businesses as well as the attached residences on Base Line Road (now Stark) between SE 79th and SE 80th Avenues.

Citizens were able, with only garden hoses and bucket brigades, to stop the fire from spreading elsewhere. But by the time two fire engines arrived,
the block was almost entirely in ruins and $35,000 damage had been done.
Fortunately no one was seriously injured and most of the buildings as well as the goods inside them were insured. Business owners, undaunted, soon announced plans to rebuild, but this time most would choose inflammable materials, concrete and brick.

Clearly, however, it was time Montavilla had its own fire station. And immediately Dr. William DeVeny, one of Montavilla’s most energetic citizens, who looked and dressed like Buffalo Bill— we’ll see more of
him in future articles— sprang into action. It was petition-time again. Yet once more the City dragged its feet.

Another petition was circulated in 1911 and presented to the new City administration in July. By the following year a Montavilla Station had been approved. Now the project moved steadily forward.

By June, 1912, Portland Fire Battalion Chief Lee Grey Holden had drawn up the plans for a fire-proof station appropriate for both horse and motor powered engines. Construction was underway by August. On opening day, eight months later, citizens were invited to inspect the modern building, listen to the firemen’s band and hear short talks by Mayor Allen G. Rushlight and the intrepid Dr. DeVeny, among others.

The photo of Fire Station No. 27 featured in the “Montavilla Memories” masthead shows a hose cart drawn by two horses. The City, however, wanted modern equipment for its expanding fire department. The plan was to replace horses with motorized trucks— five times faster than horse— as soon as possible.

Portland was determined to have a superior fire-fighting force and the Morning Oregonian of April 30, 1913 in its full-page story on the fire department— the very day of the Montavilla fire house dedication— proclaimed that the City could boast of modern fire-fighting equipment superior to most other cities. “Even Chicago,” it said, “with its enormous [fire] department, cannot produce the equipment which can be assembled at a fire in Portland within a few minutes.”

Montavilla Fire Station No. 27 continued in service until 1953. Today Montavilla is served by fire station No. 27 located at SE 73rd and E. Burnside, between the old Montavilla and Mount Tabor Stations.

Please join me in this pursuit as a reader or as a contributor. You can send your ideas, memories, photos, scans of memorabilia or questions to me at: pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here

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