By PATRICIA SANDERS
An apartment house (SE 335 80th Ave.) that was formerly the Montavilla Hotel, built in 1906.
Photo by Thomas Tilton
Maybe, like me, you’ve walked right past the small, blue apartment building at SE 335 80th Ave. (pictured above) and not given it a second thought.
It was only while perusing 1906 issues of The Beaver State Herald, looking for interesting stories about Montavilla, that I came upon articles and ads for the Montavilla Hotel. It was the first time I’d heard of it.
At first, I assumed it had been torn down long ago. But as I gradually accumulated additional shreds of information, I discovered that the hotel still existed, reincarnated as an apartment house.
It’s not a glamorous building, to be sure, and it probably never was. But it is an important bit of Montavilla’s history.
Why? Because in small communities in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, a hotel signified success, completeness.
In other ways the Montavilla of 1906 was growing in both size and status. In that year Montavilla voters approved its annexation to Portland. Lot sales were increasing. More houses were going up. The commercial districts on Base Line Road (now SE Stark Street) and Villa Avenue (now NE Glisan Street) were expanding.
But still no hotel. So The Beaver State Herald asked in its July 27, 1906 edition: “who will start the ball rolling?” Who would build a hotel, which would surely be a “good paying proposition.”
Masthead of The Beaver State Herald, a newspaper published in Gresham with an office on Villa (now NE Glisan) in Montavilla. It regularly reported Montavilla news and was an invaluable source of information for this article.
Source: Historic Oregon Newspapers
Real estate developers Leander (1853 – 1932) and William Elyssis (1864 – 1940) would take on the challenge.
They had recently purchased just the right property on Hibbard Street (now SE 80th Avenue) just north of Base Line (now SE Stark). Located at the end of the Montavilla streetcar line, it was easily accessible from downtown. And directly across the street was the livery stable which could provide local transport.
Furthermore, Montavilla’s main commercial district was just around the corner on Base Line. For more on the Montavilla streetcar line, see our story here.
In the 1924 Sanborn map (left), the Montavilla Hotel is the building labeled “Lodgings” in the middle of SE 80th block shown here. In the Google map (right): the hotel is the third building north of the Lazy Susan restaurant.
In this detail of the 1890 Mount Tabor Villa Annex plat map, the Montavilla Hotel location is Lot 11 in Block 2. The Leander brothers purchased this and Lot 12 in December 1905.
Source: SAIL real estate map
Just three weeks after The Herald called for a Montavilla hotel, contractor James W. Higgins (1855 – 1922) was laying the foundation. He promised a rapid build. And he succeeded. The Beaver State Herald pronounced it completed and ready for service in its October 19, 1906 edition.
Ad for the new Montavilla Hotel.
Source: The Beaver State Herald, November 16, 1906 (Historic Oregon Newspapers)
As you can see from the photo of the building and the maps, the hotel was of modest design: merely a two-story, wood-frame rectangle, similar in its simplicity to small hotels throughout the United States.
The Montavilla Hotel was probably quite plain, but these little brackets added a decorative touch. The original siding has, of course, been replaced.
Photo by Thomas Tilton
I have found no photographs of the interior of the Montavilla Hotel, but the November 9, 1906 issue of The Herald describes its main features.
There were social spaces: a parlor, with a piano, sofas, easy chairs, and a dining room that could seat 30 or more people. It had 13 “sleeping apartments” and a kitchen. A 1906 City plumbing permit shows it had only two water-closets, one bathtub, and two sinks.
This photo of the lobby of the old hotel in West Carlton, Yamhill County gives an idea of the simplicity of small-town hotels in the early 1900s.
Source: The New York Public Library
Despite its modest design, The Beaver State Herald of October 19, 1906 applauded it as “one of the most convenient and comfortable hostelries to be found in the state.”
Social spaces in hotels were rented out for events, which could bring in earnings that exceeded income from the sleeping rooms. Newspaper articles indicate that the Montavilla Hotel was available for banquets and other community purposes. The Herald of January 4, 1907 reported that a small Christmas Day wedding had been held in the parlor with a supper to follow (presumably in the dining room).
For special events and everyday fare, the hotel kitchen was equipped with “all the necessary apparatus for the highest cuisine art,” according to the November 9, 1906 edition of The Herald.
Business seemed to be brisk. On November 30, the newspaper reported that it was increasing so rapidly that an addition was being considered. (However, I found no evidence that this ever happened.)
Who was responsible for this success? The Herald credited the 44-year-old proprietor, Adelaide Eleanor Roff Herman (1861 – 1941) or A. E. Herman as she is referred to in ads. The newspaper described her as a skillful manager and a popular hostess. Besides, she was already known in Montavilla as an accomplished cook.
A female manager? Not as unusual as you’d suspect event in these days before women could vote. By the early 20th Century, women increasingly held managerial roles in American hotels.
And Mrs. Herman was no rank beginner. She came to the hotel with previous management experience.
Before coming to the new Montavilla Hotel, she owned and operated a business at the corner of Base Line and Ebey Street (SE 79th Avenue), where the Bipartisan Café is today. It offered on-site meals, baked goods, catering and boarding rooms. Before that, she was in business in Montavilla as a dressmaker.
Ad for A. E. Herman’s business on Base Line
Source: “The Beaver State Herald,” July 27, 1906 (Historic Oregon Newspapers)
Ad for the new hotel with A. E. Herman as proprietor.
Source: “The Beaver State Herald,” October 5, 1906 (Historic Oregon Newspapers)
An early argument for putting women in hotel managerial positions was their experience as homemakers. Didn’t this, after all, require many of the same skills: managing meals, laundry, cleaning, etc.? Mrs. Herman would have honed such skills as the wife of a farmer over the previous two decades.
Adelaide married Clackamas farmer James Jefferson Herman (1849 – 1920) in 1882.
You might say farming was in James’s blood. He grew up on his father’s farm in Catawba County, North Carolina, and migrated to Clackamas in 1869, joining the farming families of his sister Harriet Herman Kaylor (1833 – 1866) and his brother William P. Herman (1859-1917) and, who had both come to Oregon before the Civil War.
James and Adelaide moved to Montavilla in 1900. In Portland’s early 20th Century city directories James is listed as a farmer, then as a teamster. By 1905 he had sold their 40 acres and had a tree-stump removing business. James probably also helped run the hotel, since in his 1908 voter registration he listed his occupation as hotel keeper.
Perhaps the hotel business needed a boost in 1908. In that year Adelaide ran a number of ads offering home cooking and rooms by the day, week, or month. These were published from January through November, first in The Beaver State Herald, then in The Oregon Journal.
Montavilla Hotel Ad, January 3, 1908.
Source: “The Beaver State Herald” (Historic Oregon Newspapers)
The Herman were still at the Montavilla Hotel when a tragic event occurred.
At about 4:30 a.m. on the morning of July 4, 1910, a fire started in the kitchen of William Armstrong’s confectionery store in the Leander Lewis building at the corner of Base Line and East 80th.
Neighbors tried to squelch the fire with bucket brigades and garden hoses. As the fire advanced, there was a terrific boom. The refrigerator plant in the Giles meat market exploded. There was a sound of shattering glass as every window shattered in the building next door.
The Hermons must have looked on in horror as the fire spread north from Base Line towards the hotel. The Dickson drugstore went up in flames. Then it reached the building adjacent to the hotel: the house and shoe store of Mr. and Mrs. L. J. Stolls. It too was destroyed by the fire.
The Montavilla Hotel was spared, but 13 businesses were not.
Businesses destroyed in the fire of July 4, 1910.
Source: The Oregon Journal, July 10, 1910 (Historic Oregon Newspapers)
Although the Montavilla Hotel survived the fire, it was put up for sale in January, 1911 for $900. In May, the price was lowered to $800.
Mrs. Adelaide Herman appeared in Portland city directories as the hotel proprietor for the last time in 1911. In 1918, the Hermons moved to Salmon Creek, Clark County, Washington where James died in 1920. Adelaide lived with her son Vernal in Hazel Dell, Washington and the 1930 United States Census shows her working as a lunchroom cook. She died in Vancouver, Washington at age 80 in 1941.
At some point the hotel became a lodging house, but in 1922, The Oregon Journal still referred to the Montavilla Hotel, reporting that Lewis brothers were making extensive repairs. Eventually the building was remodeled to create 12-unit apartment building of today.
The Montavilla Hotel building is important as one of several commercial structures that survive from the early days of Montavilla history. We could also say that it brought Adelaide Roff Herman out of the shadows as a farmer’s wife and into the public light as one of Montavilla’s early female entrepreneurs.
A note, an acknowledgement, and further reading:
Portland Maps identifies 1902 as the date 335 SE 80th Ave. was built. However, I have found nothing to confirm this and I have found numerous newspaper articles describing the construction of the building in 1906.
Many thanks to the current apartment house owner, Ward D. White, who has owned the building for 25 years. He generously shared his knowledge of the building.
For more on small hotels see John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, “America’s Main Street Hotels: Transiency and Community in the Early Auto Age,” University of Tennessee Press, 2009.
If you want to read some early 20th Century articles about Montavilla, look up The Beaver State Herald on Historic Oregon Newspapers and look for the Montavilla headlines.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here.