What are those old Buildings?

By PATRICIA SANDERS

I love the old buildings of Montavilla. I think they give character to our neighborhood and a sense of continuity. Mostly these are old houses and small businesses, but a few stand out as something more substantial, something more communal.

I can’t help feeling curious about how they got here, how they began their lives. I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve found out about some of Montavilla’s larger old buildings, ones I’m sure many of you pass nearly every day in your travels and have perhaps wondered about them as much as I have.

The Altenheim
Now Administration Hall, Portland Community College Southeast Center
7901 SE Division St
Built from 1911 – 1912

The Altenheim – Photo by Patricia Sanders

Two of Montavilla’s large historic buildings were created as retirement homes for Portland’s substantial German population: the Altenheim (meaning “old people’s home”), shown above, and the German Baptist Old People’s Home (see below). That German Portlanders built two retirement facilities is not surprising given how many Germans migrated to the United States in the second half of the 19th Century. Of those who settled in Portland, many resided in what is now the southeast part of the city. A large group lived in what is now Montavilla at the time of the 1900 US Census. Then German families comprised Montavilla’s largest immigrant constituency, 32 households compared, for example, to 19 households of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish immigrants combined.

The Altenheim has an interesting connection to one particularly well-known German American, Portland’s brewer Henry Weinhard (1830-1904). He was not only a well-respected and successful businessman, but also a founding member of the General German Aid Society in 1871. Not surprisingly, his widow Louise bought and later donated to this organization a 20-acre tract of farmland specifically as a site for a German retirement home. Construction on the Colonial Revival-style building began in 1911 and it was dedicated on May 29, 1912.

The Altenheim continued as a retirement home for Portland Germans until 2003. Two years later the German American Society (formerly the General German Aid society) began using it for meetings, events, and German language courses. The Society sold the property to PCC Southeast Center in 2010 and relocated to the former Rose City Masonic Lodge at NE 57th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.

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German Baptist Old People’s Home
Now Milepost 5 Studios
850 NE 82nd Ave
Built from 1928 – 1950

German Baptist Old People’s Home, Oregon Street Entrance – Photo by Patricia Sanders

The German Baptists of Portland were already thinking about a retirement home in 1912, but World War I delayed the project, so it was not until 1920 when the First German Baptist Church bought a large tract of land at the corner of NE 82nd Avenue and Oregon Street. The property came with a house, which was converted into a 25-person retirement home. It opened in 1922, with the distinction of being the third retirement home specifically for German Baptists in the US.

This house is not, of course, the Colonial Revival building we know today. As needs grew, the German Baptist Old People’s Home Society built the large brick complex in four stages between 1928 and 1950. In 2007, the retirement home was re-conceived as a place with affordable rental spaces for artists. After years of remodeling, Milepost 5 opened in 2011. Then, in 2018, it was purchased by Community Development Partners, an affordable housing developer. Although the building changed over the years, it was continuously used for high-density residential purposes.

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Oregon Employment Institution for the Blind
Now Sutcliffe Hall, Multnomah University
8435 NE Glisan St
Built in 1923

Oregon Employment Institution for the Blind – Photo by Patricia Sanders

In 1920 the Oregon legislature and Oregon voters authorized the creation of a facility offering living quarters and employment for blind men and women. After being temporarily housed in a building on Burnside, in 1922 an 11-acre tract of land on NE Glisan, just east of Montavilla Park, was purchased. Portland architects Houghtaling & Dougan designed the institute complex in a popular stripped-down Neoclassical style. It opened in 1923. There the blind residents made caned chairs, woven carpets and brooms for sale in the on-site shops.

In 1952, the Multnomah School of the Bible purchased the property. Today the old Institution’s administration building continues to serve the same purpose for Multnomah University as Sutcliffe Hall.

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Monastery of the Precious Blood
Now St. Andrew’s Memory Care
1208 SE 76th Ave
Built in 1923

Monastery of the Precious Blood – Photo by Thomas Tilton

This monumental Spanish Colonial-style building located on SE 76th Avenue between SE Main and SE Salmon Streets is a familiar and well-known sight in the Kinzel Park Addition section of Montavilla. It’s elegant and ornate features are a stark contrast to the simpler styles of the previous three institutional buildings.

The building began life as the monastery that was home to the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood, a contemplative order founded in 1861 in Quebec. A contingent of the French Canadian order came to Oregon to establish a community, going first to Gervais in January, 1892, then to Portland in June 1892, when they settled into the original Greek Revival-style monastery. In 1921, when Portland’s fire marshal demanded substantial improvements, the growing community, requiring a much larger structure, hired architects  Jacobberger and Smith to design the elegant building we see today. 

The Monastery was sold in 1984 and, after renovations, reopened as St. Andrew’s Memory Care.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of four historical institutions that are monuments to important moments in Montavilla’s past. This exploration is part of my ambition to create someday a historical map of interesting places in Montavilla. If you have favorite buildings or sites you think should be on this map, please let me know about them. Together we can create a meaningful history of our neighborhood.

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Historical story ideas? Questions about Montavilla’s past? Also share a love for neighborhood history? 

Comment on the article at the link in the heading. Or you can reach out to Pat Sanders at pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

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


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