The perfect storms of 1916


The Oregon Daily Journal, January 1, 1916 Source: Historic Oregon Newspapers

Did you think January 10, 2017 was a big snow day in Portland? It was but a mere 6.5 feet compared to our highest snowfall (19.2 feet) on January 21, 1943. Then there was Portland’s number one biggest snowstorm in 1893, bringing 31.8 feet of snow over 14 days.

Arguably, even worse than either of these record events were those at the beginning of 1916, when snowstorms, blizzards, and ice storms hit Portland one after the other almost without respite. Since Portland’s two major newspapers, The Oregonian and The Oregon Journal, managed to run several articles each day describing the storms and their impacts, and through those newspaper reports and headlines it has been possible to recreate the story of this momentous period in Portland’s— and Montavilla’s— history.

“Snow Begins to Cover Portland”

(The Oregonian – Saturday, January 1, 1916)

Snow begins falling at 6 pm New Year’s Eve— the night, by the way, before Oregon’s Prohibition law kicks into effect. Waking children can hardly wait to get outdoors.

It’s the first real snow since 1913 and everyone is delighted. Portland’s newspapers document in stories and photographs children and adults at play— sledding, sleighing, having snowball fights, building snowmen, and ice skating on frozen ponds.

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What are those old Buildings?


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.


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
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