We all know that Laurelhurst was founded in 1909, from William Ladd's huge Hazel Fern Farm. The founding of this neighborhood is an interesting story, and one that we'll write about later.
This article is about what happened next. How did Laurelhurst grow? What were the influences on this neighborhood's history? What role was played by Portland's eastward expansion, the streetcar lines that once criss-crossed our city, the World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression?
As Portland grew, crossed the Willamette, and spread eastward, the streetcar network made it possible.
By the end of the 19th century, Portland's streetcar lines had crossed the Willamette and were extending to north, east, and southeast Portland. One line went north along NE 28th St, another went east on "A St" to Montavilla. "A St" was later named "Glisan St". Here is the 1906 streetcar network (map courtesy of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.)
The "A St" line ran though the center of William Ladd's 462 acre Hazel Fern Farm, by the farmhouse and barns shown in this 1900 photograph from the Oregon Encyclopedia. That is today's Glisan Street.
Between 1906 and 1909, a new streetcar line was built east along NE Sandy Blvd. See this 1912 map, credit to Portland Vintage Trolleys.
Early Years To World War One
When the Laurelhurst neighborhood was born from the Hazel Fern Farm in 1909, the first houses were built near the streetcar lines.
This map shows the houses built between 1910 and 1914, from the neighborhood's founding to the start of the First World War. Our earliest houses were close to Glisan St and the Montavilla streetcar, and to Sandy Blvd with its then-new streetcar line and shopping district.
On its way to Montavilla, the Glisan St streetcar stopped at Coe Circle, where the Laurelhurst Company had its sales office. The streetcar stop and office are shown in this aerial photo from Oregon Encyclopedia. The photograph is un-dated, but by comparing the pattern of built and unbuilt lots, we see it was taken around 1914.
By the time those photographs were taken, building activity in the neighborhood was already slowing. Portland was far from the battlefields of Europe, but the First World War still weighed on our city. A year later, American troops joined the war. As the horrors of trench warfare and mustard gas touched every city in the country, building houses was not a priority.
This map shows the houses built by 1919. While house-building had continued in the SE quad, the other quads were little changed from the pre-war years.
On Glisan St, the lots and street trees were filling in around the Markham House, but just a block east most lots were still empty.
Here is the intersection of Glisan and 32nd in 1921, two years after Armstice Day. The street is quiet in this photo; just a year later, Laurelhurst would again be bursting with new residents building their family homes.
After the "War To End All Wars", peace brought confidence and economic growth resumed The remaining lots in Laurelhurst were sold, the Laurelhurst Company's sales office in Coe Circle was removed, and in 1925, Joan of Arc was installed in the circle. The gilded bronze warrior maiden, a memorial to veterans of the war, has watched over our neighborhood ever since.
The Roaring Twenties
The Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, or simply "The Boom", was a period of exuberant growth for Laurelhurst and Portland. Between 1922 and 1929, almost all the neighorhood's remaining empty lots were filled with lovely houses. This map shows the houses built by 1929.
Our neighborhood bustled with family life. Only a few lots remained vacant. We went to work, walked under the maturing tree canopy, ice skated in the park, just like Laurelhurst families do today. Well, there isn't much ice skating in Firwood Lake today. Were winters colder then? Probably.
This aerial photo is from 1930, courtesy of Oregon Encyclopedia. Our neighborhood looks much like it does today.
And well it should. By 1929, over 83% of today's Laurelhurst houses were built. By 1939, almost 90% were.
Laurelhurst is a concentrated, cohesive and harmonious neighborhood of classic Portland houses, most from the period 1910 to 1930. The chart below shows the two major periods of house-building in Laurelhurst, the first from 1910 to 1918, and the second from 1922 to 1929.
The Crash and Great Depression
The exuberance of the Roaring Twenties came to a halt with the 1929 stock market Crash and the Great Depression. The Second World War changed the world. Streetcars lines were torn up, automobiles took over. In the 1960s freeway construction almost obliterated Laurelhurst, and in the 1970s the neighborhood went through some hard economic times. In a later article, we'll look at that part of Laurelhurst's history.
Through all the ups and downs, Laurelhurst endured. Today, as another wave of growth sweeps through Portland, the neighborhood faces a new threat: demolition for infill development. We've been told that this neighborhood and its century-old homes are just "old housing stock" that is "aging out" and needs to be "replaced".
What happens now, is up to us. We don't merely live in Laurelhurst. All of us are custodians and protectors of one of the most remarkable and still-intact historic neighborhoods in Portland, indeed on the whole West coast.
This post is about history. Our actions today will write tomorrow's history. What will Laurelhurst's history be?