Milwaukie’s Portland Open-Air Sanatorium (1905)

Located where Park Blvd. hits River Road, the location is likely where the Willamette View retirement community now sits right on the border of Milwaukie and Oak Grove.

I’ve seen the name mentioned, seen it on maps and have always wondered what this sanatorium was, when it was built and what happened to it. By chance while searching for beer history,  I stumbled on the lengthy-titled book (take a deep breath): “The Campaign Against Tuberculosis In The United States (Including A Directory Of Institutions Dealing With Tuberculosis In The United States And Canada Compiled Under The Direction Of The National Association For The Study And Prevention Of Tuberculosis).”
The sanatorium provided “individual cottages with steam heated dressing rooms, hot and cold running water and shower and tub baths.”  Source. 

Scanning it I discovered that, yes, the Portland Open-air Sanatorium was real and existed and took “incipient and advanced cases” with a capacity of 40, and rates from $10 to $30 a week.

The Sanatorium was located at “Milwaukee” (the book’s spelling) Heights, on the Oregon Water Power and Railroad Company’s line, six miles south of Portland, on a bluff three hundred feet high overlooking the Willamette. It was the first sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis to be established in Oregon.

The book continues:

The sanatorium is situated in a fir grove, sheltered from the winds, the climate being so mild and equable that the patients live comfortably in tents during the entire year.  Its equipment consists largely of tents, which can be used the entire year. (People were much tougher in 1905.)

It offered “the exclusive treatment of tuberculosis by the careful application of the most modern physical, dietetic, hygienic and specific procedures. Patients were provided with X-ray and laboratory facilities, but also “individual cottages (I guess the tents were replaced) with steam heated dressing rooms, hot and cold running water and shower and tub baths.” 

It didn’t last long when the state realized it needed a much larger facility, mandating public medical care to tuberculosis patients in 1910, after which patients from the Milwaukie Heights hospital were relocated to the new Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem (in the former Oregon State Deaf-Mute School building, constructed in 1894).


An interesting occurrence on NE Alberta

2112 NE Alberta


You can’t take pictures of my building!”

I heard that phrase, repeated, as I was, well, shooting a picture of a building on NE Alberta last Saturday with my daughter. This time of the year is perfect for shooting pics of buildings. The leaves are gone, revealing structures, details, hidden gems that are usually camouflaged behind trees. (Tip: If you take a lot of pictures of architecture and people’s homes, it really helps to have a kid with you.)

So, there we were, strolling down a drizzly Alberta, after a quick stop in Salt & Straw.

When I heard the gentleman say his words, coming at me from the lot across the street, I immediately put down my phone and started to stutter something about “history, architecture Instagram something something.” Thankfully, he had a faint smile on his face, then asked “Why would you want to take a picture of that old thing?”

Then he started telling me the history of his building. His folks bought it in the 1960s. He purchased it from them in 1983 and has been there since then. He says it needs a paint job (well, yeah) but he’s also working on the interior. He also mentioned the previous owners, it was various shops on the bottom, with residents on top. The story sounded familiar. I had to Google the address later. And indeed, I found this from Vintage Portland: 

The address used to be 734 Alberta. And, it was originally the site of H.B. Olsen’s watchmaking operation, a restaurant & deli, shoe repair shop and finally, an upholstery shop. 

So, now, here we are in 2018. The owner points around the neighborhood and shows me the changes. You can see the familiar pink and plywood sheathing of new taller, angled structures from the distance, surrounding the neighborhood.

He looks at my daughter eating her ice cream.

“Salt & Straw?”


“I smell that place all day long. Plus, the ice cream is too expensive for my tastes.”

Ralph Friedman disses Milwaukie, Ore.

Update 6/14/18: The Skulason home is for sale at $1.6 million. Marketing materials state clearly, as required: The house could be demolished. Could be. Hopefully not. Watching this one.

If you’ve never read Ralph Friedman’s books, get to it. His first self-published (before it was called DIY) book, Oregon For the Curious, cost $1.95 in 1965 and sold thousands of copies. If roadside places he covered back then were lost or almost lost, you can be sure that the hand-drawn maps he used and places he covered have long been paved over. His books are a joy, a tad esoteric, but primers for all kinds of cool and goofy Oregon history—and they’re pretty much at every used bookstore across Oregon.

His style wasn’t flowery; it was practical and informative. For instance, here’s his take on downtown Milwaukie from another, more current, book he wrote:

Visitors to Milwaukie sometimes ask for a walking tour brochure but there isn’t any; not that much of interest to see. Still, town has a few encouraging footnotes.


Yet, it’s kind of, well, true. At least back then when the book was penned. Until now, Milwaukie had a scorched earth policy with its historic buildings. The darling Oaks Pioneer Church in downtown Milwaukie? Moved, by barge, to Sellwood, where it’s loved and used for all kinds of events. (That one still hurts.)

However, in its defense, much of Main Street is still intact with shops and restaurants. And digging deeper, I’d have to start to disagree with Friedman on the lack of interest comment. If you dig a little deeper you’ll find all kinds of cool things, like a hidden lake park, an old grist mill, and the former site of Crystal Lake Park—a former dance hall, zoo and amusement park—demolished in the 50s for an apartment complex called, you guessed it, Crystal Lake. Milwaukie is a mix of “former locations” and some still standing. But, buried and hidden between 1950s tract homes, you can still find a gem.

Like the Bardi Skulason home. Skulason’s home has been described as a fine country home, where he “devoted his leisure to the growing of fruit and flowers.” It’s also a pretty nice looking piece of architecture, described accurately as Colonial Revival, built in 1913. 


Snuggled behind Providence Milwaukie Hospital, the homes sits, safe from developers and probably curious seekers like you and me. It does represent, however, some of the history that still exists in Milwaukie and its next-door neighbors, Oak Grove, hanging on as testaments that history is everywhere, and like Friedman and his books, you just need to be more curious and dig a little deeper.

Birds, history and backyards

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 5.09.27 PM

We’re doing the Backyard Habitat Certification Program. As part of the program I’m going to have to do some work, like remove a bunch of blackberries and invasive species. That’s gonna be fun. 

The main reason I’m doing this, though,  is because native plants use less water and they attract local bugs, that then attract local birds. The less watering, the better.

Doing research on local birds I stumbled across a name I’d never heard before: Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey. I found her because I also stumbled across a stunning book, illustrated by her, called Handbook of Birds of the Western United States. She was more than an amazing illustrator, though. She was a pioneer and an activist, and ornithologist and nature writer.

In the late 1880s, she studied bird behaviors and championed the study of live birds. She’s also considered the first person to propose using binoculars when birding. According to the Sierra College:

By 1885, she began to write articles focusing on bird protection. She was horrified by the common fashion trend which used feathers and even entire birds as hat decorations. An estimated five million birds a year were killed for this purpose. Moved to publicize this slaughter, Florence organized The Smith College Audubon Society. Through her efforts, a third of the student body distributed circulars and wrote passionate protests to newspaper. Eventually, along with additional efforts by national organizations dedicated to ending this hat decoration method, laws were passed outlawing the practice.

Florence Merriam Bailey, 1886 Smith College yearbook. Photograph by Notman Photographic Company. Source.

So, what’s the Oregon angle?  She did her fieldwork in Oregon in 1898 on Mount Hood, and at Garibaldi on the Oregon Coast and on the McKenzie River, both in the summer of 1914. There, she documented the habitat and behavior of many Oregon birds.

In 1992 the Oregon Geographic Names Board voted to name Mount Bailey in honor of her and her husband, Vernon.

Walking around Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District

I’ve been spending more and more time in the Central Eastside district. Each Wednesday I hop on at the end/beginning of the Orange Line and take the 20 minute ride in for a weekly gig I have with a content marketing agency. During lunch, I wander around and discover something new each time. Boxing gym? Check. Old restaurant storefront that looks like it comes from a noir flick? Check. Brick. Ohhhh, yeah.

I wrote about the area back in 2010 for Neighborhood Notes (now offline) and had this to say:

With newer businesses moving in, a strong sense of community among merchants, the addition of the Portland Streetcar, and after years of stops and starts, the area is definitely evolving and moving ahead full throttle but thankfully keeping its original, industrial history and soul intact.

I guess you could write the same thing today. At the time of the post, residential housing was forbidden to be built (I’m talking mostly the area around Water Avenue and a few blocks east). I wonder of that’s still the case.

Meeting someone for coffee recently,  I walked down SE 3rd from the 500s down to the single digits at f&b and was blown away by the change. I’d only seen the Yard from a distance but up close? It’s huge. Like towering.

In 2010, I don’t think I would’ve guessed that block would be transformed so much.

Anyhow, the Central Eastside is probably my favorite place in Portland. It *still* has the grit, the produce heritage, the lack of sidewalks (stay out of the way of the delivery trucks — this is their territory). There’s now more places to eat and drink, and work. I’ll be writing more about this part of Portland that’s has undergone some huge changes and is going to see even more during the next few years.

That art deco glass at the top of the entrance? Hang in there.
Brick! Former life: John Deere manufacturing.
What goes on in places like this? No windows.
Simplicity reigns.
God bless you, City Liquidators.
Built in 1909. For lease!
Remove that car and replace it with a 40s car, stat.
These are the kinds of architectural details that make the neighborhood so unique.

Illuminating ‘ghost signs’ with glorious light

904 Commercial Street, Astoria, Ore., built 1924. Photo: Craig Winslow

Last February we attended the premiere Portland Winter Light Festival at OMSI. The outdoor celebration promised to illuminate “Portland’s waterfront through contemporary light-based art installations, engaging performance, and fun activities for all ages.”  We thought it’d be a mellow affair. Ya know, stroll around and look at some light installations.

Not quite. It was packed. Like sardine packed. So, if you go this year, get there right when the sun goes down! The installations are scattered around town but mostly at OMSI so be sure to take the Orange Line if you’re coming from the south.

Anyhow, one installation this year has us intrigued: Light Capsules by Craig Winslow.

Wire Works, London, UK. Photo: Craig Winslow

As part of the Adobe Creative Residency, Winslow is bringing his international exhibit to Portland to present a series of ghost sign projections to reanimate Portland’s historic ghost signage. And, not just throwing a spotlight on a ghost sign. His projections are on each letter and lovingly restore long, lost signage (and history).  Here’s a list of the buildings in Portland he’s lighting up and here’s a video that illustrates how awesome the signs look:

Year-end review and introducing a podcast

Portland in the 1950s

Every blogger does a “best of” post every year. Except me. That’s because you have need a handful of posts to choose from and highlight. For 2016, I wrote …two. Yeah, that’s right. Two whopping posts.

It’s not that I don’t care about Oregon or Portland history any longer. I’ve been doing this blog for more than a decade. And I’m getting a little burned out on writing about the history. I’m more active on Twitter these days. And I’ve taken to Instagram – I love the architecture here and elsewhere and I share an unhealthy amount of pictures of buildings on Instagram.

Speaking of architecture, writing and researching for Lost Oregon the past 10 years had led me down the path of how cities grow, the history of buildings, how buildings are designed and built, and how existing buildings can be saved and re-purposed.

With that, I’ve launched a blog and a podcast called Built Blocks. I’m on episode seven and have interviewed a Los Angeles historian, Brian Libby from Portland Architecture, and most recently, Kevin Cavenaugh, the developer of the Fair-Haired Dumbbell. Give it a listen and subscribe!

I’ll be spending most of my time on Built Blocks than I will this blog. It ain’t a farewell  – not just quite yet.