How many are there? Are they increasing? What sorts of houses are being demolished? Who’s doing it? Will it stop? Can it happen in Laurelhurst? What can we do? Here are some answers.
How Many Demolitions Are There?
A lot. In 2015, there were 362 demolitions (completed demolitions and demolitions permits issued/in progress).
To see clickable maps of all demolitions in each year since 2005, go to the city's Residential Demolition website. For example, here is a map of demolitions from 2005 to 2016.
To get weekly reports on new demolition permit applications and a wealth of other information on Portland house demolitions, go to the Portland Chronicle.
Are Demolitions Increasing?
Demolitions are increasing fast, every year. The number of demolished houses has increased every year this decade. The 362 demolitions in 2015 was +250% higher than the number in 2009, and is even higher than the number in 2006, at the height of Portland’s last real estate boom.
The books aren’t closed on 2016 yet, but if the pace through mid-September continues for the rest of the year, 2016 could see 413 demolitions, up +14% from 2015.
What Sorts Of Houses Are Being Demolished?
One might think that demolition only happens to houses that are small and dilapidated eyesores. That is no longer true. Large, beautiful, expensive, even historic houses are being demolished. Developers buy these houses, sometimes through “false front” buyers, bulldoze them, cut down the surrounding trees, and build huge luxury “McMansions” or multiple row houses.
Another piece of Portland’s history and character gone forever; another half-million in the developer’s pocket, and he moves on to the next beautiful house.
2170 NE Weidler, a 1907 house of over 3400 sqft, was bought for $847,000 by developer Vic Remmer’s Everett Custom Homes, who immediately applied for a demolition permit. The 35 day demolition delay expired last month.
The lovely 1926 Eastmoreland house at 7556 SE 29th Ave was bought for $749,900, a demolition permit was issued, and the demolition delay expired in September. This is another Everett Custom Homes project.
In Laurelhurst, Everett Custom Homes demolished the 1917 house at 115 NE 39th, after buying it for $601,300. That developer/contractor built two luxury row houses on the property and sold them for over $900,000 each.
A 111 year old house at 2486 NW Raleigh St was bought for $665,000 and demolished.
The 1937 house at 3685 SE Martins St sold for $667,500 to Renaissance Custom Homes and was demolished this year.
The 1907 Gesthemane Church at 801 N Failing St was demolished by developer Peter Kurysk.
The list goes on and on. Size, beauty, value, age, historic importance – none of this is protecting Portland’s heritage from demolition. Developers are bulldozing centuries of history without hesitation.
When houses are demolished, their trees are usually cut down as well. At 3646 SE Martins St in Eastmoreland, Everett Custom Homes demolished a 1922 bungalow and then threatened to cut down three century-old sequoia trees and several other mature trees that were going to get in the way of the planned McMansions. To save the trees, the neighborhood was forced to buy the lot. Neither our history nor our environment are being protected by the city.
A few homes have been individually saved, but at a great cost. The 1912 Ocobock Mansion at 5128 NE Rodney Ave was bought for $570,000. In just nine days, the buyer removed the house from the state’s historic list and re-sold the house to Everett Custom Homes, who quickly applied for a demolition permit. The neighborhood fought to prevent another piece of Portland’s history from erasure but ultimately had to raise $1.1 million to buy the house and save it from demolition, after the developer sent crews to tear out interior walls and ceilings, making the house uninhabitable. Effectively, the developer held the house for ransom.
A similar ransom of a historic house occurred in Laurelhurst. The 1911 Markham House at 450 NE 32nd, at the west entrance to our neighborhood, was bought by developer Peter Kurysk to demolish and build two row houses. Remodeling contractor John McCulloch, with help from our neighborhood, bought the house and restored it to a beautiful symbol of Laurelhurst. The price of this ransom was ultimately well over $2 million. McCulloch lost a large amount of money saving the Markham House, while the developer walked away with the profits.
Who’s Doing The Demolitions?
Certain developers appear over and over in the demolition lists. Vic Remmers’ Everett Custom Homes, Peter Kurysk, Renaissance Custom Houses. But it isn't just these few developers.
Remmers says on Everett Custom Homes' website, "we know that old neighborhoods have something new neighborhoods just can’t match—loads of soul, character, and charm."
What Remmers and other developers know that buying and demolishing those old neighborhoods' houses - sending all their soul, character, and charm to the landfill, along with their trees and history - to build new production infill McMansions, is very profitable.
You may have seen leaflets in Laurelhurst from companies offering to buy houses for cash. Other developers conceal their identity from the selling homeowners, by using shell buyers as false fronts.More developers are following his lead.
Will It Stop?
The city is doing nothing meaningful to stop these demolitions. 35 day or even 120 day demolition delays don’t change anything. Neither do demolition permit appeals, unless the neighborhood comes up with the ransom to buy the house before the developer bulldozes it.
Worse yet, the Residential Infill Project (RIP) will greatly increase demolitions. RIP will allow single family houses to be replaced with duplexes, triplexes and in some cases apartment clusters. When developers can cram two and three luxury houses on each standard lot, they will be able to profitably demolish houses in any neighborhood, including most houses in Laurelhurst. The RIP proposals go to the city council in November.
Can It Happen In Laurelhurst?
Demolitions in Laurelhurst have already started. Houses in Laurelhurst, and right on our border, that have been demolished in recent years include:
3913 NE Hazelfern – Everett Custom Homes bought this property, cut down the 100 foot sequoia trees and in 2016 started building a 4200 sq ft McMansion.
314 NE 45th – house demolished by Renaissance Custom Homes in May 2016.
1109 NE 42nd – house bought by Everett Custom Homes, demolished September 2015.
115 NE 39th – house bought by Everett Custom Homes for $601,300, demolished January 2015. Two new houses built and sold September 2015, February 2016 for over $900,000 each.
3330 SE Oak – bought 2012 for $810,000, demolished September 2013.
332 NE 45th – demolished March 2013.
4432 NE Davis – demolished April 2011.
Notice how the pace of demolitions in and around Laurelhurst is increasing.
What Can We Do?
The city won't protect our neighborhood's history, character, and trees, and developers won't stop tearing them down.
The only way our neighborhood can protect itself is to become a Historic District. In a Historic District, historic houses will be protected from demolitions.