Ornate adornments and small, easier-to-warm rooms were allures of most upscale houses built in Portland during the Victorian era that ended in the early 1900s.
One of the era’s popular architectural styles, the Queen Anne, was the romanticized American version of medieval and classic dwellings in England. The fanciful homes were often fronted by bay windows and a wraparound porch with wood spindle railings.
One Queen Anne in Northeast Portland’s historic King neighborhood has the traditional decorative clapboard and patterned shingle siding outside, but inside, the living room flows into the dining room without being divided by a wall.
The then-unusual open floor plan, which appeals to home shoppers today, is original to the house built 128 years ago.
Other modern features like central air conditioning, energy-efficient appliances and the coal firebox converted to gas were discreetly installed when the three-level house on Northeast Prescott Street was rebuilt after decades of use as a low-rent duplex.
“Better than new, 1894 historic Queen Anne Victorian restored with incognito modern luxuries,” stated listing agents Dan Volkmer and Kishra Ott of Windermere Realty Trust when the terraced, 10,000-square-foot lot was put on the market on April 28.
The deed changed hands on June 15.
The sale price: $799,000.
“We received competing offers on this home, even after the market balanced itself” and the original asking price was reduced, says Ott. “A young, enthusiastic family and a preservationist, who has restored a home now on the National Register of Historic Places in Washington state, went toe to toe for this beauty.”
Potential buyers appreciated the quality of the restoration and the craftsmanship of the home, “festooned with intricate wood and plaster millwork,” Ott says. “Rainbows dance across rooms through the hand-cut prisms and jewel-colored glass used in the leaded, stained-glass windows and doors.”
With its showy stained glass and applied wood-cut ornamentation, the Queen Anne style was a way to showcase wealth, even with a modest cottage.
If there was no budget for an architect, owners relied on house plan books and mass-produced, “gingerbread” embellishments cut in wavy, round, square or diagonal pieces. These flat wood pieces were laid in a pattern and painted, often in varying, vivid colors, to create a shadow-box effect or fish-scale design.
The original owners of the 1894 house, Alfred J. and Georgia Armstrong, had a budget-saving advantage: Georgia’s father, John T. Ferris, was a master carpenter who designed and built in the popular Queen Anne style.
On May 28,1894, Alfred Armstrong, a fabric cutter for Nicoll the Tailor, paid $1,000 for two lots in the elevated Highland subdivision of the King neighborhood.
The land was then in the working-class city of Albina, which developed around the Union Pacific railroad yards. Four years after Albina incorporated in 1887, it became part of Portland.
Although lot sales lagged after the bank panic of 1893 and the economic depression that followed, the frugal Armstrongs built their home without taking out a loan, according to historians who successfully nominated the house to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Armstrongs splurged on frilly woodwork: Overlapping siding covers the first story, the second story has patterned shingles, and in between are horizontal rows of fancy shingles forming a belt course.
Above the whimsical siding are eaves with lacy-looking bargeboard and bullseyes, and a two-story tower with a regal, cast-iron crown.
Ferris “built it with love and intention,” says Ott, “knowing his daughter and son-in-law would live there,” as would Ferris and his wife. The carpenter designed a bedroom and a bathroom on the main floor for the elderly couple to easily access the parlor and kitchen, while maintaining privacy for the younger couple upstairs.
Over the decades, Portland’s aging, wood houses were harder to keep up and as areas declined, many of the single-family residences were converted to multi-family housing or were bulldozed.
The Armstrong house, which had been split into two rentals, was revived by Karla Pearlstein of Restoring History, a Portland company that renovates residential homes and house museums.
She bought the corner property in 1986 for the bargain price of $32,000, which reflected the state of the neighborhood and the house after a long period of neglect.
Pearlstein has been praised by the statewide preservation group Restore Oregon for her hands-on, careful restorations of other significant structures, including the 1912 brick Fire Station No. 17 in Northwest Portland’s Historic Alphabet District.
She is also respected for her architectural knowledge and the sources she has cultivated.
Pearlstein approached this restoration as if she were working an archaeological relic, says Ott.
Pearlstein hired craftspeople and artisans to recreate some of the original features that had been removed, but she also found many of the missing parts inelegantly repurposed on site.
“The original front door with the leaded glass windowpane was used as a floor in a dog kennel,” says Ott.
Once she had the front door, Pearlstein was able to refinish the wood, including thin slats forming a sunburst pattern.
Portland glass artist David Schlicker replicated the diamond-shaped pane in the door and the transom over it as well as other decorative windows in the home.
Pearlstein spent years restoring or replacing architectural details such as fluted millwork, door trim with rosette corners, intricate picture rail molding and chandelier ceiling medallions.
Under the living room’s high coved ceiling are pigment-dyed walls bearing a hand-stenciled thistle motif.
For the kitchen, Pearlstein found a working antique Wedgewood stove and installed era-evoking soapstone counters and Marmoleum floor.
A stainless-steel refrigerator is concealed in the pantry, which once was an enclosed porch. A stackable washer and dryer is in an alcove near the laundry chute. Also hidden: New electrical and plumbing systems throughout the house with 3,466 square feet of living space.
“The effort and detail that goes into these homes is a lost art and thank goodness for the passion of some who are willing to restore, preserve and maintain these architectural treasure troves,” says Ott.
The house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. One upstairs bedroom, which had been outfitted with a kitchen in the 1960s, now has a pre-World War II-era, one-piece metal kitchenette with a drain board sink, vintage four-burner Wedgewood gas range and refrigerator.
Among the property’s mature landscaping are blooming trees, shrubs and sculpted hedges. Notably, a monkey puzzle tree has stood on the property since the homeowners received a souvenir seedling at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, which drew millions to Portland.
“It is a legacy and an honor to live in treasures like these,” says Ott, who specializes in selling historic homes as a member of the Dan Volkmer Team of real estate professionals. “Portland has wonderful resources like Restore Oregon and the Architectural Heritage Center to assist, educate and ignite that passion in those who are ready to be the next stewards of these incredible historic Portland icons.”
— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
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