Birth and History of the Laurelhurst Club: 1912 to 2020.
In 1912, Laurelhurst neighbors formed a neighborhood "club" for the benefit of the fledging Laurelhurst community. Meeting in members' houses, the new group notched significant accomplishments from its start. It persuaded the Portland School Board to begin building Laurelhurst School, installed streetlights through Laurelhurst, and worked with the city to preserve the natural features of Laurelhurst Park.
Oregonian, January 11, 1914
With active neighborhood involvement, the club was able to raise funds to build a community center for the neighborhood, and the Laurelhurst Club building was erected in 1914. The architects, Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, were also responsible for the much larger Multnomah Athletic Club and other club buildings in Portland, as well as school buildings including Jefferson High School and the original Lincoln High School.
The building was originally conceived as a large, multi-wing building to rival the MAC and to be located near the intersection of Burnside St and Laurelhurst Pl, as seen in the floorplan below.
Original plans for Laurelhurst Club building. Oregonian, February 9, 1913
Ultimately, the Laurelhurst Club building was built as a single-wing, Craftsman-styled building on Ankeny shown in the 1916 photo below (PGE image collection, via Oregon Historical Society). The rising cost estimates, from $14,000 to $25,000, may have contributed to this adjustment in the neighborhood's plans.
Laurelhurst Club building as constructed on Ankeny, 1916
Within a few years, the club became a lively and popular center for neighborhood and city-wide events, from tennis to fly casting, rose competitions to lectures and presentations, weddings and social events.
Oregonian, August 9 and November 23, 1916
Some 350 Laurelhurst households supported the club with dues, representing about half of the houses then extant in our neighborhood, with numerous neighborhood-wide events throughout the year.
Flush with ambition, the club prepared to build a larger building by the original clubhouse, at a planned cost of $40,000, with fundraising to begin in 1916. By 1917 the price of the new building had risen to $60,000. Exactly when plans for the new building were shelved is uncertain, but by 1924, the club had instead extended the ballroom on the west end of the original club building, creating the "L" shaped building we know today.
Laurelhurst Club building today, with 1924 addition
In the early 1920s, it seems, the community's usage of their building began to decline. Perhaps this was due to the Great Depression or to the widespread adoption of automobiles. The loss of the club's tennis courts and most of the grounds to development would have been a grievous blow. Mentions of the club in the newspapers of the day, once so frequent, become rare after 1920.
The Laurelhurst Club evolved into a social dance club, which used the building primarily for dancing and dance instruction. Portlanders still enjoyed attending weddings and other events in the large ballroom with exposed beams and tall windows, but the club's early ambitions to rival the Multnomah Athletic Club were long over.
The dance club took faithful care of the building for the next century, and the original 1914 structure and 1924 addition have survived to this day in nearly their original form. With work, the Laurelhurst Club could potentially be eligible for listing as a historic structure.
The effect of listing would be to protect this historic community building from demolition. As a "non-contributing" building in the Laurelhurst Historic District, this 1914 building and all its history currently have no formal protection from ending up in a landfill.
For now, however, the Laurelhurst Club is in no danger, thanks to the farsighted decision of the dance club to donate the building to the Laurelhurst Neighborhood Association. Since late last year, the LNA has been renovating and updating the building's interior, repairing its landscaping, and preparing the club to re-open.
Re-open. Like so many venues in Portland, the building was closed down by the pandemic. Mothballed in early 2020, the building has been slumbering for over a year. It will re-awaken in a different Portland from that in which it went to sleep, with its new owner and perhaps even a new mission.
. . . to be continued . . .
You can read more about the club building's history at the Building On History blog.