Neighbors trying to save historic Portland home from demolition

Home demolition fight in NE Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. -- More growing pains in Portland.

Neighbors have learned just how easily homes labeled historic can come off that list and be torn down. It's happening in the King neighborhood of Northeast Portland.

Neighbors are fighting to save a mansion built over 100 hundred years ago, called the Ocobock House.

Martin Luther King Jr. is rumored to have visited the house when he came to Portland in 1961. The house was built in 1912 by architect Charles Ertz, well-known for building the Laurelhurst Theater and the Jantzen Estate in Lake Oswego.

"I love this house because someone put a lot of time and effort into a design and a build that has lasted 100 years and it still looks absolutely amazing," said Kate Sullivan, who bought a house nearby six years ago.

You can see what she's talking about in old photos. The grandeur of a home built for prominent Portlander, Augustus Ocobock for $14,000 back then. Ocobock, a mortgage lender and banker, ended up developing much of the city's eastside.

"These homes have so much history," said Ursula Kienbaum, who's lived behind the Ocobock House since 2011. "They're part of why we're all here today. It's why people want to live in Portland, it's why people move to Portland."

Kienbaum was invited inside the home recently to see its condition now. She saw six thousand square feet full of junk, holes in the walls, virtually everything needing replaced. Decades ago, it was gifted to a foster home for teens, Give Us This Day, that recently shut down because of serious reports of abuse.

The house was sold quietly off the market to a remodeler for close to $600,000, far below market value. Then a week later, it was taken off the historic list, and sold to Everett Custom Homes for $900,000.

"It's unfortunate the recent history of that property is pretty poor and the home is in horrific condition," said Everett President Vic Remmers. "I've had remodelers look at it, the person who sold it to me was actually planning on fixing it up and it wasn't financially feasible to fix the house up."

The thought of Remmers' plans to build five to seven townhomes on the large corner lot crushes neighbors. They are fighting to keep it standing and turn it into much-needed affordable housing.

"This is an incredible opportunity for Mr. Remmers to give something to the community," Kienbaum said when asked to reply to Remmers. "Reputation is everything. This is very small town and Remmers has a well-known name and reputation that proceeds him, and this is an opportunity to do the right thing and something wonderful for the community that so desperately needs it."

Remmers, who has had other squabbles with neighborhoods across Portland, brings it all back to growth in Portland and the need for density.

"We want to build new homes for the families that really are looking to buy new homes in the city, and there's a lot of them and not enough homes for them. So this is a great opportunity for us to provide significantly more density than what's there right now," Remmers said.

Peggy Moretti of the nonprofit Restore Oregon works to save historic buildings.

"We don't have a legal way of stopping the demolition of a very significant place like the Ocobock House," Moretti said.

But in Portland, if the property owner files a piece of paper saying they want their property off the Historic Resource Inventory, informally compiled in the 1980s, it's granted the same day, and on that same day, you can file an application for demolition.

"The Historic Resources Inventory was intended to be that kind of initial list of places that are eligible for the national register. These are the places we should be paying attention to," Moretti explained.

The National Registry is a permanent status on a property that cannot be removed and carries strong protections. Moretti is pushing Portland city commissioners to close the loophole that's letting these historic places in Portland get demolished.

"It's actually in contradiction to state law, which requires a 120-day demolition delay for any historically inventoried property."

Kienbaum agrees that something needs to be done.

"If there's a process in place, it gives more time, gives us room for input. It maybe will slow down the process so more conversations can take place so more of these homes don't get demolished."


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