Do you wonder who else once lived in your home? Or who designed it? There are easy ways to uncover its history.
Val Ballestrem, the education manager for the Architectural Heritage Center, teaches a course on researching a house’s history. He recommends these resources:
Portland Maps is a great starting point. Find the tax ID – lot and block information – and plumbing permits here, which may identify the builder, original owner and subsequent homeowners.
If the house is older than 1931, it likely had a different address when it was built. From 1931 to 1933, the City of Portland renamed some streets and renumbered house addresses. For example, SE 35th Place was originally East Marguerite Street.
Address conversion books are available at the Oregon Historical Society research library, the Portland City Archives and the Architectural Heritage Center. The website LovejoyPettygrove.com allows you to convert old addresses to new and new to old.
Once armed with names of previous homeowners or builders, tax lot information and the original address, go to The Oregonian Historical Archives (accessible through Multnomah County Library with your library card number and PIN). You might find an original real estate ad that describes the home and perhaps identifies the builder or architect.
If you know the builder or architect, additional research can uncover other structures they designed or built. Perhaps you’ll even find a “twin” to your home, says Ballestrem.
Also, check out Neighborhood Association blogs such as Doug Decker’s Alameda History blog, which has sections on designers Albert Hugh Irwin, Arthur J. Matot, Elwood Wiles, Frank Read, Harry Phillips, Kenneth L. Birkemeier and William B. Donahue.
Restore Oregon (formerly the Historic Preservation League of Oregon) and volunteers conducting neighborhood walking tours have additional information.
— Janet Eastman
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