Thomas Hubka | Special to The Oregonian by Thomas Hubka | Special to The Oregonian
on August 29, 2014 at 8:24 AM, updated August 29, 2014 at 8:37 AM
Gable-entry house: Far more common than Victorian mansions, these small vernacular houses with doors in either the gable-end or the long-side, were some of Portland’s most numerous single-family houses before 1900. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
(Additional photos are at the end of the article.)
Portland is known for its distinctive neighborhoods and substantial housing but it’s not easy to categorize or even name most of the city’s 150,000 houses. Loose terms like ranch, Cape and bungalow are broadly used but are highly generalized and are often not very helpful.
While older “historic” homes are often identified by architectural styles such as Queen Anne, Colonial and Italianate, most common houses in a variety of modest stylistic mixtures are not so easily identified.
Yet Portland’s common houses can be named and classified. Whatever they are called: popular, common, vernacular, developer-built, everyday homes, they constitute the largest portion of Portland’s housing in any period or neighborhood of the city.
Without a means of naming and classifying them, these dwellings tend to be left out of the histories of Portland’s architecture, neglected in preservation and historic surveys and politely marginalized when considering their significant contribution to the over quality of our city’s quality of life.
In a series of articles on individual neighborhoods, we will focus on a neighborhood’s most popular types of houses that consistently give unique character to every district of the city, such as Buckman’s creative porch gables, Hilldale’s varieties of the split levels, Kerns’ working-class doubles and Eastmoreland’s brick, corbelled-gable, storybook houses.
Rather than focusing on a neighborhood’s oldest or most ornate houses, every Portland neighborhood also has distinctive types of common houses that help to define its dominant residential character. We will examine how and why these common houses were made and the reasons they look the way they do.
Eras/Periods of Portland’s Common House Construction
In the late 19th century, most Portlanders did not reside in grand Victorian mansions usually photographed but instead lived in either multi-unit tenement and boarding houses or small, two-and-three room wooden houses and workers cottages. Most of these structures, however, have either been destroyed or remodeled beyond recognition.
In the housing boom that followed the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905, Portland builders produced early modern houses, like the four-square, the four-room “pyramid” and the gable-and-wing that still exist in most neighborhoods. But Portland’s most popular house of the first half of the 20th century was the common bungalow produced in many varieties but most popularly in a one-story, asymmetrical, porch and gable-to-the-street style.
Although usually recognized by its craftsman-bungalow style with large eave boards and wooden brackets, it also contained the first modern kitchens, dining rooms and baths for the working classes.
By the late 1920s, the bungalow style was gradually replaced by common houses in more historic styles, often labeled “period revivals.” It is a confusing group of styles but there were two dominant influences: American Colonial sources, like the Cape Cod house, and European sources, primarily English, often called “Tudor” and imitating English cottages.
The end of WWII began a housing boom that transformed Portland and the nation. Although the ranch house is the symbol of this era, it is difficult to precisely name Portland’s most popular mid-century houses because they typically combine elements of the ranch with more traditional features like shutters and more steeply peaked roofs.
“Minimal-traditional” is a way to describe these most common houses, which combined modern materials (like plywood) and modern aesthetics (like corner windows) with older traditions features.
During the last 20 or 30 years, new types of, as yet unnamed, popular houses have dominated the Portland housing market. We might label them wide-lot and a narrow lot suburban house types.
The houses in the photo gallery represent some of Portland’s most popular houses through successive eras. In the following weeks, will be examining Portland most common houses in different neighborhoods where variations on these standard types always provides unique residential character.
— Thomas Hubka
Thomas Hubka is a Portland-based author, architectural historian and Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has recently taught architecture courses at the University of Oregon, Portland State University and Portland Community College and offers neighborhood tours for the Architecture Heritage Center.
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Four-square: Named for its four major ground-floor rooms in its square plan, the four-square was one of Portland’s most popular middle-upper class residences following the Lewis and Clark Expedition housing boom at the turn of the last century. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
Bungalow: Portland’s most popular house before WWII, the bungalow was constructed in several distinctive local variations in Portland’s neighborhoods. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
Cape (Cod) house: Following the Depression, this popular Cape (Cod) house, associated with the Colonial Revival, supplanted the bungalow as Portland’s most popular house type. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
Tudor (English cottage) house: In many local variations, these picturesque houses borrowed from an English and European vernacular, country house tradition and vied with the Cape Cod, Colonial revival houses, like the Cape Cod, in a battle of the styles for Portland popular housing market. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
Ranch house: America’s most popular single-family house type, the typical ranch was the first house to fully unite the garage within the structure of the house. Photo by Thomas Hubka.
Minimal-tradition house: There is no name for this most common, post-WWII Portland house that combined modern ranch house features with traditional historical elements of the Cape, such as steeper roofs, shutters, and historical molding and trim. Photo by Thomas Hubka.