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Two historic buildings face uncertain future

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


Photo Credit: EILEEN G. FITZSIMONS - These two buildings, at the northeast corner of 13th and Spokane Streets in Sellwood, appear headed for demolition. The one on the left, built in 1926, was recently Farmhouse Antiques; the one on the right, dating to 1908, was originally a residence before rezoning to commercial use sometime after the 1950s. The Love Art! Gallery closed in early August after five years in the house. A long-standing small home and a commercial building on S.E. 13th Avenue may be slated for replacement in the near future.

The two structures, at the northeast corner of S.E. Spokane and 13th Streets, most recently housed the “Love Art! Gallery” and “Farmhouse Antiques”. At press time, rumors about a possible buyer and redeveloper remain just that. According to on-line public records, the two lots were owned by Gary Scrutton. Apparently Mr. Scrutton was in the process of selling the property when he died earlier this year.

According to Terry Ward, the realtor whose name is on the prominent For Sale sign on the Farmhouse Antiques building, the property is tangled in a chain of probate and escrow activity, which will not be clarified until mid-September.

As both the family and realtor await settlement of the estate and the fate of the two – now empty – buildings, it seems an opportune time to review the history of the corner, where commercial, residential, and cultural activities have occurred for more than a century.

The corner is within the original Sellwood plat: In legal terms, lots 10 and 11 of Block 54. The lots are standard, 50x100 feet in size, with 50 feet of frontage on Thirteenth, extending 100 feet to the east, parallel with Spokane Street.

The former Farmhouse Antiques building was constructed of hollow concrete block in 1926 and was originally divided into three separate spaces. It was built by barber Frank Lowe, who operated a shop on the opposite side of 13th for several years. Two barbers, the Wiebe brothers, took up one small space. A second, larger area was the site of the Sellwood Café. Within two years, the café was replaced by a dry cleaners operated by Mary Reichman. Perhaps due to the poor economy after 1929, Mr. Lowe was unable to keep the three storefronts rented; at least one space was vacant on into the 1940’s.

Mr. Lowe’s building replaced an earlier wood-frame one-story shop, which in 1907 was a meat market. Behind the market, which opened directly onto the street (as does today the Grand Central Bakery) was a smaller structure made of terra cotta tile, which a fellow historian speculates might have been a smoke house.

Next to the meat market were several small businesses, including a bicycle repair shop and a boot and shoemaker. In 1907 the owner of the meat market, Carl Mordhorst, built the small house on the corner of 13th and Spokane, and lived there with either his sister Bertha, or with his wife of the same name.

Between 1910 and 1912 Mr. Mordhorst expanded his business into a storefront on S.E. 17th Avenue, but after that he concentrated on the 13th Avenue site until 1918. Carl and whichever Bertha it was remained in their house until 1931, when they moved to northeast Portland – where Carl ran the Oregon Market at 23rd and Alberta Streets. After their departure, through World War II, the house was occupied by a series of renters. At some point it shifted from use as a residence into a commercial space. Bertha died in 1954; Carl in 1957.

A third building was squeezed onto the back of the two lots, perpendicular to the storefronts, opening onto Spokane Street. It was this two-story wooden building that on the ground floor housed Killbuck’s carpentry and cabinet shop, while the second floor was used by two fraternal lodges. Until 1916 the Sellwood Masonic Lodge No. 131 met in that space on the second and fourth Fridays of the month; on Tuesday evenings it was used by the IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows), City View Lodge No. 201. Later this organization moved into the second floor space of a former cigar factory, still standing, at the northeast corner of S.E. 13th and Tenino (across from SMILE Station).

In 1929 the Masons built a grand new lodge on Milwaukie Avenue, opposite today’s Meyer Memorial Boys & Girls Club. The Killbuck cabinet shop is long gone, and today that space provides a sliver of off-street parking behind the old Mordhorst home.

It is curious that the Mordhorsts built their home as late as 1907 on what was already the busiest commercial street in Sellwood. By that time the streetcar line had been running down 13th Avenue for fifteen years. The house is small – less than 1,000 square feet – but it is set on a very high foundation.

With the exception of an unusual curved bay window facing Spokane, the house is similar to many other Sellwood houses of the period, with a gable roof, double hung windows, horizontal board siding, and inside, probably two small bedrooms.

Sometime this fall the fate of the Mordhorst house and former antique shop should become known, and a follow-up story in THE BEE will be forthcoming.