Introducing: Small-Scale City

Bruun Grand.jpg
There’s brick behind that 1970s facade. Source. 

Hi Lost Oregon fans!

I’ve launched a new blog called Small-Scale City. Why?

Well, it lets me focus on daily, weekly real estate and development news around the Portland metro area, mostly around Central Eastside, SE, and down to the southern burbs, like Milwaukie.

And, of course, there’s a huge focus on adaptive reuse and preservation projects (naturally) with some on new development of the small-scale kind.

Take a look!


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.

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:

That other gritty 1989 movie shot in Portland

I remember seeing a poster or an ad that featured Burt Reynolds lounging in his bachelor pad at the Portland Plaza building from a movie still a few years back and then forgot about it.

Wait, Burt Reynolds shot a film in Portland? Indeed he did. It’s called “Breaking In.” I’m ashamed I’ve never heard of it. (Or ammmmm I?)

This 1989 American crime comedy film was directed by Bill Forsyth, written by John Sayles (!?!!), and stars Burt Reynolds, Casey Siemaszko, and Lorraine Toussaint. The film is about professional small-time criminals.

Their big heist in the film? Oaks Amusement Park. Yep. Big-time money to be had at the park. In fact, there’s a scene where Reynolds and Siemaszko are scoping the place out and watching security guards load BAGS of money from the day’s profits. (Who knew?) This also means there’s lots of great shots of the park.

Anyhow, the film is OK. Not great, moderately watchable. Of course, I loved it for all of the Portland scenes and I’ve screen capped a couple (mostly from Oaks Park – which is one of my personal favorite places in Portland).











Watch the film here:

A murder mystery at the Commonwealth Building? SOLVED!!



We heard from Jd Chandler, author of Murder and Mayhem in Portland, Oregon and the blog (a favorite around here) Slabtown Chronicle. He dived in and did some research, found one death that might have been related (a suicide by an attorney that worked in the building that didn’t occur in the building in 1957), checked day-to-day news…and found nothing. 

Here’s what he wrote about the murder: 

I finished my search of 1955 and no murder occurred in the Equitable Building that year or at any other time I can find. This “murder mystery” is a myth, it never happened. Sorry.

So, there you have it. Cased closed. 


The Commonwealth Building (421 SW 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark Streets), was designed by architect Pietro Belluschi and built between 1944 and 1948. Originally known as the Equitable Building, the building is noted as one of the first glass box towers ever built, pioneering many modern features and predating the more famous Lever House in Manhattan.

Once upon a time, I worked in the building. It’s a favorite. It’s in great shape and really stands out as a mid-century masterpiece.

I remembered a conversation with the door guy (there’s a desk in the lobby and the door guy knew everyone’s name. EVERYONE’S NAME.) who mentioned that there was a murder on the 13th floor. A quick Google search revealed this:

“In 1955 a murder took place on the 13th floor apparently arising from a dispute between a prominent businessman and his wife over an affair.”

After that, the lead went cold and I found nothing. Years later and over the summer reader Nickole Cheron contacted me for more information. I had nothing to offer. She’d taken the research to the next level – Oregon Historical Society, Oregonian archives, local historians and also came up empty. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

So, do we have a mystery on our hands? Did it even happen? Help us both out – leave anything you know in the comments section.