By PATRICIA SANDERS
Sometimes I stumble on interesting information when I’m really looking for something else. This happened recently as I explored a database of early 20th Century Oregon buildings on the University of Oregon Library website.
I was surprised to find under Montavilla buildings a listing for “National Airship Company, landing port”. Searching further, I also found the entry under the contractor “Alexander Ots”. I’d never heard of an airship landing port in Montavilla. Was this really true?
I had to investigate. The building database, originally compiled and published by Michael Shellenbarger in 1992, was an index of buildings mentioned in The Portland Daily Abstract from 1906 to 1910. Luckily, the Multnomah County Library has microfilm of this newspaper, where I found the source of the information: two identical ads in the December 31, 1907 and January 1, 1908 editions.
The full-page ad offers stock in the National Airship Company, which planned passenger service from New York to London in a large airship (shown at the top), and from Portland to San Francisco in a smaller airship.
(The airships referred to were gas-filled non-rigid dirigibles; what today we usually called blimps. One had been tested in October, 1907, but failed. Another larger one was probably then under construction in San Francisco.)
The ad further tells us that the National Airship Company had purchased 80 acres on “the Montavilla car line” and would begin building “landing docks, freight sheds, etc., in the spring”. This must be what was translated as a “landing port” in the U of O database. Presumably it was for the Portland-San Francisco airships.
The ad identifies property on the Montavilla streetcar line, which in 1907 went as far east as the intersection of NE Glisan Street & NE 82nd Avenue. The best place to find open land along the line would have been at the east end, so a port in or near Montavilla sounds, at least, plausible.
But was such a port ever built? Of that there is no record. Nor is there a record that the land was actually purchased, although Alexander Ots, superintendent of construction, told Portland newspaper reporters he had purchased the 80 acres from Isaiah Buckman, who was, indeed, at that time an extensive property owner. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the son of the Buckman Addition namesake, Lydia Holloway Buckman. Ots’ claim is possible, but so far I’ve found no published record of a real estate transfer.
If he did buy the land, did Ots make any headway with the port project? The only possible evidence I’ve found is the drawing of a factory-like building in the lower left corner of the ad. However, when newspaper reporters asked Ots about the exact location of the property and the dates of construction, he was evasive.