Category: History

Spencers Appliances Closing after 4 Decades

Spencer’s Appliances at 7115 NE Glisan Street will permanently close its doors on February 1st after forty years of serving the community. The new and used appliance store’s owner plans to retire, renting out the three commercial buildings on NE Glisan Street to the next generation of businesses. Several employees have formed a new company and will open their appliance repair store later in the year.

Eugene Spencer started Spencer’s Appliances with his son in the early1980s after retiring from the military as a refrigeration specialist. “I started with my father, Eugene, in 82. He was doing stuff out of his house because he retired from the Navy, and he just started tinkering around keeping himself busy,” remembered John Spencer. “I was working at a seed mill in Tangent, OR. I went to college for a couple of years, and college wasn’t for me. Then my dad called me and said you want a job? Come up here and work for me.”

Ben Schafer, the owner of Cash and Carry Appliances on NE Glisan, wanted to relocate his 30-year-old business to SE Hawthorne, allowing the Spencers to set up shop in an established location. “There was a pre-existing appliance business here, and the guy wanted to move to a bigger building. So we bought this building,” explained John Spencer. “This was a good location, and we had people walk in the first day and buy an appliance from us because it was an appliance business before.”

That early success gave the Spencers confidence, particularly John, who at 21 was new to the business. “I still remember going, ‘Holy crap,’ there’s people in here buying stuff. I didn’t know anything, and then we started fixing appliances and selling them. We eventually got a GE dealership. It just took off from there.” Said John Spencer. After growing the business together, the father and son team added an employee. “It just slowly but surely got busier and busier, and then we hired Wes.” Wes Swisher had also retired from the Navy and knew Eugene Spencer. According to John Spencer, Wes was instrumental in the growth of Spencer’s Appliances. The business continued to expand year after year, eventually employing 20 people.

By 1984, the appliance shop outgrew the original storefront at 7123 NE Glisan, so they constructed the current showroom next door. In 2000, the company completed a new warehouse building at the corner of NE 71st Avenue and Glisan Street. Both newer buildings support apartments on a second floor above the commercial space, creating six units. The Spencers eventually bought the land one block east, building the Glisan Plaza at 7201 NE Glisan Street.

Twenty years ago, Eugene Spencer stepped away from the appliance business, leaving John in charge. “He was a great boss. We worked six days a week for 20 years, and then he retired,” recalls John Spencer. In 2012, Wes Swisher also retired. Both are healthy and enjoying their time away from work. Around the time Swisher left, John Spencer became concerned about Glisan Street. Car thieves have repeatedly stolen his service vehicles, and miscreants often vandalized the buildings. In 2019, a driver collided with his store and fled the scene. John Spencer enjoys the new families that have moved to the neighborhood and the business taking root around his shop but seeing the negative shift along his street is disappointing. “I think it is the worst I’ve seen it, the crime that you see walking up and down the street.” Said, Spencer. The shift in public safety and labor issue stemming from the pandemic have encouraged John Spencer to retire from the business. After searching for a buyer interested in running the store for seven months, he and his family decided it was better to shut down the company.

John Spencer will miss the daily interactions that have made his career enjoyable. “It’s all about the people. I just like meeting neighbors and talking to people. It was my social time. You go into people’s homes and learn things from their experiences in life. 90% of the people you deal with are just beautiful, down-to-earth people.” Spencer will also miss solving problems for customers. He takes pride in fixing someones vexing appliance problem and seeing the relief it gives people.

John Spencer is happy with the company his family built in Montavilla and the impact they have made on the lives of those who worked there. “It kept my family fed, and I think I’ve created a lot of jobs. I’ve got ex-employees that still do appliance stuff. There’s people that have found a career because they walked in the door one day looking for a job,” explained Spencer. “It’s been a wild ride.”


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Low-Carbon Architecture Firm Opens Glisan Office

After a multi-year renovation of the Art Deco office at 7631 NE Glisan StreetHarka Architecture has fully relocated to its new home. Renovation work on this compact building rescued a Montavilla architectural icon and created a functional showpiece for low-carbon construction. Harka’s founder, Patrick Donaldson, purchased this property for his architectural firm in 2019 after his sublease ended. The onset of the pandemic disrupted the plans for a quick remodel and removed the pressure to move offices as commercial space became abundant. Over the last two years, the project’s scope shifted to a methodical renovation incorporating various environmentally healthy building techniques representing the core of what Harka offers its clients.

Donaldson, who lives in the area and sometimes commutes past this building, did not envision buying this property. Even as he searched for new office space, the for sale sign in the window almost went ignored. However, something about this distinct structure captured his attention. “I kept driving, and then maybe four blocks later, I turned around and came back and wrote down the number,” Explained Donaldson. Even then, he was unsure but decided to investigate the space further. “Looking around, it turns out the shipping container that’s back here, the guy who owned it was in there, and I’m pretty sure that had I not walked up at that moment and him being there, I don’t think I would have gotten it.” The seller admitted to ignoring calls to buy the property unless the person tried at least three or four times. “That’s a strange way to way to go about things, but he was in there, and so I actually made a kind of a physical connection with him. So we ended up negotiating, and I purchased it.” Said Donaldson.

Harka Architecture‘s conference room featuring a moss wall inspired by Portland topography

Once crews began the renovation project, Donaldson and his team realized they would need to take it down to the studs and reshape the building. “I never really intended to do what we did, and then once I started kind of working on it… you start to pull the string, and you know how it goes,” remarked Donaldson. He always intended to incorporate sustainability and low-carbon designs that reduce toxicity. However, each project bumped into the constraints of the 1940 construction, and they had to make significant changes. “We made the building taller because it had a two-by-four roof [and] didn’t have a parapet, so it wouldn’t waterproof well. With a two-by-four ceiling, we’d be forced to use foam insulation, which has high embodied carbon and is filled with fire retardants.” To avoid that, they built a roof with two-by-six lumber and 14-inch engineered trusses that accommodated 13 inches of cellulose insulation. The process also changed the building’s outward appearance. “It gave it more of an overhang in the back, and then again, it’s 18 inches taller, so it has a little bit more of a profile than it had before,” said Donaldson.

With the first substantial upgrade underway, it became apparent that the building needed additional work, and keeping to the budget was already a lost cause. “We should upgrade here, we should upgrade there, and then it was like we should just make an example of this, right?” remembered Donaldson. From that point on, he and his team set out to incorporate all types of low-carbon and recycled materials into the project with the goal of making a usable showcase featuring what Harka offers its clients. “We tried to use edgier products to test them out, and so right when you walked in at the entry, there’s a little window in the ceiling that shows off the hemp [wool insulation],” explained Donaldson as he pointed to details through the space. In many places, they repurposed lumber, even salvaging lath from the walls for the paneling in the bathroom.

By tearing into the building, Donaldson’s team discovered pieces of the building’s history. It began as a dentist’s office for Herbert E. Craner, who practiced in this building for seventeen years. When he died in 1957, his son Eugene took over the business. The floors bore the marks of the heavy dental equipment once bolted down. However, the bolt holes suggested that the detail chairs were placed in the front windows, confounding the crew until they received a guest. “Some woman out [front] was taking pictures. She ended up being the daughter-in-law of Craner, who are the original [owners], and her husband grew up in here in that little side room.” Craner’s daughter-in-law described the office as configured similar to a barber’s shop, with people receiving treatment in front of the passing public looking in the front windows. “You had the chair right in the window, and people watched you get your teeth worked on. That was a thing to show off the skills of the dentist,” remarked Donaldson with surprise.

Plumbing permit found in the wall during renovations

Later in the building’s life, it housed a pizza restaurant that contributed layers of grease and hid patched-over window openings. “I believe the original building was all plywood, and then at some point, they plastered the bottom three quarters with stucco. Actually, there’s two layers of stucco on it because I think when they turned it into a pizza shop, they covered up a bunch of windows. Then they ended up just putting another layer of stucco over everything,” described Donaldson. The top portion of the building features new stucco separated by three aluminum bands wrapping around the top of the building. The old wall cladding remains in place, but that poses a problem. Creating an efficient low-carbon building involves sealing air leakage and insulating the structure to reduce energy usage. However, in this building, the outside walls were already in place. So the vapor sealing and insulation needed to occur on the interior side of the walls. First, they used an AeroBarrier treatment to plug holes in the existing walls. “They come in, and they pressurize the interior of the space, and they start spraying a non-toxic rubber cement. It goes and finds all the holes and fills them up,” explained Donaldson. “Then we put dense pack cellulose in there. That’s all fluffy, so you put netting on the wall, and then you put a hose in there, and you pack it in there tight.” They then finished the insulation work with GUTEX, a carbon-negative wood fiberboard. Once again, the product behind the wall is on display through a glass window. This time the glass doubles as a whiteboard in the conference room.

Back wall showing GUTEX wood fiberboard behind the siding

According to Donaldson, contractors often use the wood fiberboard on the exterior of a building. “It’s designed to be actually on the outside of a building. It would go on the outside over the plywood before you put your siding on. We put it on the inside here because we had the stucco. So it’s everywhere on all these walls except this back wall which didn’t have stucco on it. The back wall also functions as a demonstration of the siding product. Instead of having overlapping cladding, the exterior boards have constant gaps. This installation shows off the GUTEX product and proves that it is protecting the structure and that the siding is just a rain screen.

Not all products chosen for the project proved effective. The magnesium oxide panels used in place of traditional drywall did not hold up well, and cracks at the seams are showing in some areas. Donaldson will not recommend the product to clients. Instead, lightweight sheetrock is a better choice, with half the carbon impact as traditional gypsum board. Suggesting products and educating clients on low-carbon/low-toxin living makes Harka Architecture a unique firm. Donaldson foresaw a need for environmentally conscious buildings and believed that carbon impact would be the best measure for that work. As the discipline became more formal, tools have developed to help architects select products and features in buildings that make a substantial impact when reducing carbon. 

Patrick Donaldson by one of his gates made from repurposed material

Donaldson’s team uses data and product knowledge to refocus people’s good intentions toward activities that substantially make a difference in the environment. Every product used in construction has the potential to generate substantial amounts of embodied carbon, the amount of carbon-producing energy consumed during manufacturing. Some foam sealing products use so much electricity in production that they will never prevent the same energy leakage in a home they consumed during creation. Donaldson explained how understanding the entire life cycle of a product can substantially alter the carbon reduction equations people make. “Everyone is worried about plastics and recycling. Forget about that your steak is wrapped in plastic. It’s the steak that’s the problem, not the plastic.”

Harka Architecture works on various residential and commercial projects as well as consulting on low-carbon approaches to living and building. They assist with upgrades to existing structures and new construction. Interested developers or homeowners should contact Harka Architecture for more information.


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1909 Storefront for Sale on NE Glisan

The corner commercial property at 7341 NE Glisan Street is for sale. Since 1909, this 1,728-square-foot single-story structure has housed many grocery stores. Although changing hands often, the shop continued to sell food for 40 years. In those early days, most business operators lived on the property in attached housing. Based on the real estate listing, it has continued its tradition as a live/work environment and retained its attached living quarters.

Images Yeast brothers from the Oregonian of December 29, 1918

When constructed, the storefront had an address of 1877 East Glisan. An early proprietor of the property was J.S. Yeast, according to the Oregonian of December 29th, 1918. That publication’s WWI coverage recounted the story of the Yeast brother’s reunion in France on Armistice Day. The article noted that Ray and Ralph Yeast’s father lived at the Glisan Street storefront. In 1920, an ad identified C.D. Hageman as the grocery store owner. That Blue Ribbon Soda Wafers advertisement in the Oregon daily journal of August 20th lists the Glisan street grocery as a participating location for a toy airplane giveaway.

Ad from The Oregon daily journal of August 20th, 1920

In the 1930s, the store became the Evergreen Cash Grocery, and the location changed its address to 7341 NE Glisan Street following the great renumbering of Portland. In more recent history, this location served as the office for Bill Lawhorn Construction.

The 113-year-old building is available for $335,000, with some alternative financing options available. The buyer can finish an in-progress remodel or redevelop the site with a mixed-use building up to a four-stories tall. The current owner began renovating a one-bedroom apartment behind the office. The front area is move-in ready with a half bath, and the unfinished apartment features a completed full bathroom. The property includes two off-street parking spaces accessed from NE 74th Avenue. Interested buyers should contact the listing agent by phone at 503-288-3979 or by email.

Sanborn Map 1924

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Massive I84 and 82nd Ave Property for Sale

An acre of Commercial Mixed Use real estate at 1411 NE 82nd Avenue recently became available on Montavilla’s northern edge. The lot, adjacent to Interstate 84, is the current home to Eastern Cathay restaurant and is the former birthplace of the Elmer’s Pancake House franchise.

The listing agent, Adrian Chu of Specialty Real Estate Group, is positioning this property as a “developer’s dream.” The parcel sits at the intersection of a freeway, 82nd Avenue, NE Halsey, and the TriMet MAX Light Rail system. The site is underdeveloped, with only a single 4,500-square-foot restaurant building at its center, surrounded by more parking than guests could fill. If redeveloped, residents could quickly travel to any destination from this location with numerous transportation options, and retail on the ground floor would have access to hundreds of daily commuters.

Courtesy Danna brothers and Midcounty Memo

This site was born out of the I-84 expansion, having been leveled during the widening of Sullivan’s Gulch. The 1950’s era civil engineering project required the demolition of the McCarthy & Danna Food Center that had formerly occupied the land over the freeway where NE Halsey connected to NE 82nd Avenue. The store’s operator, Salvatore “Sam” G. Danna, intended to rebuild the grocery store on the remaining property not taken by the freeway project. However, a restaurateur suggested a different use for the vacant lot. In 1960, Danna constructed the first Elmer’s Colonial House of Pancakes restaurant on this site for Walt and Dorothy Elmer. Opening in 1961, this breakfast-focused restaurant began what would become a Northwest business empire spanning multiple states. However, this location closed after the customer base shifted to other areas.

Sanborn Map 1924 showing McCarthy & Danna Food Center location

In October 2008, Rong Liang Mei bought the property and restaurant. Having already started two successful restaurants, the new owner quickly converted this location to Eastern Cathay. The business is available as part of a sale or will shut down after the deal finalizes. At $3 million, this property may stay on the market for a while. However, its size and location make it a tempting acquisition for a developer or government buyer.

SE Yamhill Vacant Lot for Sale

The new owners of a vacant lot east of 8505 SE Yamhill Street recently placed it on the market after selling the neighboring single-family residence. Ground Breakers Construction & Development purchased the 1923-era home and lot in April of 2022, reselling the home two months later.

2115 E Yamhill Sanborn Map 1928

The vacant lot once held a five-room “modern bungalow” built in the early 1900s. The one-and-a-half-story home had the address of 2115 E. Yamhill Street. The first record of the property appears in the Morning Oregonian of December 12th, 1912. This advertisement asks for a $200 downpayment for the home located one block from the Mt. Tabor streetcar line. Four years later, the home’s inhabitant J. A. Orchard, listed his Victrola and records for sale in The Oregon daily journal on June 22nd, 1916. By 1919, the Morning Oregonian of August 11th shows the property for sale again. Later that year, a marriage license by J. R. Moffatt at this address was printed in The Oregon daily journal on November 29th, 1919. Through the early 1920s, J. A. Orchard continued using 2115 E. Yamhill Street as his home address. The demolition date for the house is unknown, but at some point, the land merged with 8505 SE Yamhill Street.

Now that Ground Breakers Construction & Development separated these two properties into the original parcels, this lot will again serve the needs of Montavilla residents, providing needed housing. Windermere Real Estate offers information regarding the sale price in the property listing. Contact Kendall Woodworth at (503) 539-0001 with questions or to see the land.


1905 House Deconstruction on NE Glisan

The new owner of 7132 NE Glisan Street intends to deconstruct the house and detached shed to make way for a future housing development. DEZ Development bought the corner lot in late May and applied for a demolition permit earlier this month. Designers are currently working on plans for the replacement housing coming to this site.

When approved, demolition crews will clear the lot of all structures and fill the basement cavity. Although most buildings near this property are business-oriented, DEZ Development is committed to building housing at this location. Realtors had listed the hundred-year-old home as a fixer-up-er, and interior pictures of the house indicate significant neglect. Previous owners of the 1,568-square-foot home failed to upgrade or maintain the structure over its many years.

800 E. Glisan Sanborn Map 1909

When constructed in 1905, the home had an address of 800 E. Glisan. By 1920, it was renumbered to 1834 East Glisan and owned by R. S. Wildemuth. The owner and his home were featured in an advertisement for Sibloco Pipeless Furnace in The Oregon daily journal of October 31st, 1920. This home changed to its current address after the Great Portland Renumbering in the early 1930s.

NE Glisan Street has significantly changed since 1905. Once the lifeblood of the neighborhood, the Montavilla streetcar running down its center ended service by the 1950s. Residences along the street gave way to businesses. Automotive traffic has increased significantly since then, making Glisan an arterial roadway. However, the neighborhood is changing again with a return of housing and small businesses catering to local residents. With luck, the replacement housing built on this site will accommodate a new generation of people calling NE Glisan their home.

1834 E Glisan Sanborn Map 1928

7 Townhomes Proposed on NE 73rd near Glisan

Last week, the new owners of 432 NE 73rd Avenue submitted building permit applications to construct seven new townhomes on the property. This standard 50-foot wide lot abuts an apartment building to its rear and a parking lot to the north. The new residences will replace the 1924-era single-family home, garage, and shed on the site.

Each of the seven townhomes will span two floors. A separate Site Development permit seeks to create shared walkways, landscaping, and other infrastructure for the future residents. The developer has yet to submit demolition permits for the home and detached garage. However, references to the impending deconstruction of the house are present in the other permit applications.

1928 Sanborn Map showing E 73rd Street undeveloped

The property’s existing home appears to predate its current location by 25 years. Maps from 1928 do not show any buildings at that location or the surrounding lots. Before 1928, E. 73rd Street ended north of E Glisan Street. 73rd started again south of E Stark Street. Consequently, most homes built on this segment of 73rd Avenue date back to the 1930s and 1940s. However, a plumbing permit from August 30th, 1949, indicates the owner of 432 NE 73rd Avenue relocated the structure to its current location from 320 NE 39th Avenue. The permit’s notation about the move explains the discrepancy between the map data and Portland’s official age of the home.

1949 Plumbing Permit for 432 NE 73rd Ave

Although past developers saved the nearly 100-year-old home once before, it now looks like its removal is needed to make way for new housing. The added density provided by the townhomes will dramatically increase the number of families living on the property, and better fit the growing density along NE Glisan. Expect demolition to occur this fall, with construction likely starting later in the year.

1909 Sanborn Map showing E 73rd Street ending at E Glisan

Update: On July 15th, the developer submitted the demolition permits for this project.

Remembering Errol Carlson

On June 17th, Errol Carlson passed away while staying near his family in Washington State. One year ago, on June 18th, Carlson’s partner Mel Hafsos passed away after a brief illness. Mel Hafsos and Errol Carlson owned Taylor Court Grocery on SE 80th Avenue for 25 years. During that time, the pair lived together in a nearby house and ran their neighborhood store together, rarely taking time off.

After Hafsos’ death, Carlson resided in the Courtyard at Mt Tabor senior living facility. Nearly a year later, he relocated to Kennewick, Washington. After recently purchasing the store and house, its new owners intend to repurpose the historic grocery into another family-owned business.

Last summer, Mel and Errol’s family recognized the neighborhood’s support and admiration for the pair in a letter to the community. Last summer, pandemic-related concerns restricted communal gatherings to honor Mel Hafsos’ life. Now the family would like to have a joint service for both men. Skyline Memorial Funeral Home will host a memorial for Mel Hafsos and Errol Carlson on Thursday, June 30th, at 11:00 am. Graveside interment will occur at 1:00 pm.



Update: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated they lived next-door to the shop.

Demolition on NE Holladay Street

In March, Riverside Carpentry purchased 8225 NE Holladay Street and now plans to demolish the 100-year-old single-family residence. A second demolition permit seeks to remove the detached garage and shed simultaneously. The property is adjacent to the Don Pedro Mexican Food restaurant on 82nd Avenue and outside the residential section of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan Map. Consequentially, the permits are not subject to a 35-Day Demolition Delay.

In the early 1900s, the property housed a small cottage on the land with an original address of 2049 Holladay Ave. Ivan Swift purchased that home sometime after 1911. According to the Sunday Oregonian, the Swift family celebrated the birth of their daughter at that home on September 5th, 1918. Sometime late in the 1920s, the Swifts updated the house, installing a sewer line and running water.

2049 East Holladay Ave Sanborn Maps 1924

The two-bedroom, one bathroom, 489-square-foot home’s real estate listing shows very few updates over its 100 years. However, it has received at least one addition at the back of the building, expanding the structure. The property is now zoned Commercial Mixed Use 2 and could support a variety of medium-scale redevelopment. Projects in this zone generally support four stories, except in locations where bonuses allow up to five levels and offer a mixed commercial and residential use.

Expect demolition crews onsite in the next few months. Workers will also remove the driveway’s curb cut, cap the sewer, and fill the basement cavity. Look for updates when the developer submits building permits for the replacement structure.

Deconstruction of 1900 Era House on NE 75th

The new owners of 319 NE 75th Avenue recently filed for a demolition permit to deconstruct the 122-year-old home. The dwelling retained some of its original design through several remodels but has suffered from neglect more recently. 

In March of this year, Everett Custom Homes bought the property and requested permission to clear the land the following month. The permit application seeks to demolish the single-family residence and attached garage. Crews will fill in the basement cavity, break up the driveway, and remove the curb cut leading onto NE 75th Avenue. The developer’s post-demolition plans for the site are not yet public. However, removing the curb cut and driveway could indicate a planned multifamily use of the property that does not support onsite parking.

This property resides on the same block as the 137 unit 74th and Glisan affordable housing project, scheduled to begin construction next year. The area already supports many multi-unit buildings, and redevelopment of smaller homes is likely to continue in this vicinity. 

87 (formally 411) East 75th Street North, Sanborn Map from 1924.

When constructed in 1900, the original dwelling was a modest single-story home with a basement. Over its first three decades, the City changed the house’s address two times. The building’s first address of 411 East 75th Street North was updated sometime after Portland annexed Montavilla in 1906. The house number changed from 411 to 87. Then Portland’s Great Renumbering of 1931-1933 changes the address again to its current designation. The Sunday Oregonian for May 27, 1917, notes that an early owner of the home, Mrs. E. A. Beals, was active within the community. As a Daughters of the American Revolution member, she was the featured speaker for the Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) event held at the Montavilla School.

Although this bungalow has many admirable characteristics, the listing photos for the property indicate previous owners had not updated the house over the years. If the new owners had opted to restore the house, it would likely have taken a significant investment and required reducing the habitable space. The demolition permit is pending the completion of a 35-day appeal period. That delay window ends at 4:30 p.m. on May 31. Starting next month, demolition crews can begin removing the structures and preparing the land for a new project.