Sunday, January 07, 2007

House of Inman, House of Poulsen

Vanished Symmetry.

Like sentries they stood at the east approach of the Ross Island Bridge, two identical Queen Anne mansions on either side of Powell Boulevard.
The Poulsen House exists today, one of the finest examples of its style in the city. Its twin, the Inman House, was torn down to create that mid-century Portland staple, a parking lot.

They were built by timber barons, Robert D. Inman and Johan Poulsen, with sweeping views of the city, and more important, their shared empire emerging on the east bank of the Willamette.


The Inman-Poulsen mill circa 1940. The Inman House and the back of the Poulsen house, directly across the street from it, are visible just above the lower right corner, along Powell at the east end of the Ross Island Bridge.

Robert D. Inman and Johan Poulsen built their saw mill in 1890 on the river south of Hawthorne, near the Madison Street Bridge (a previous incarnation of the Hawthorne Bridge). Originally on a marshy inlet, today the site is bordered roughly by OMSI to the west and the Union Pacific railroad tracks and MLK Viaduct to the east.

For 64 years Inman-Poulsen mill was a Portland colossus. It was the centerpiece of an operation that was, for a time, the largest lumber company in the state with vast timber holdings in Oregon and Washington. By 1918 as many as 450 Portlanders worked there. At its height it covered over 60 acres. The mountains of sawdust waste produced by the mill created an ever changing topography to the skyline of the Portland’s east side. Inman- Poulsen was the last and greatest of the saw mills located in the central city.

A interuban car owned by Portland Electric Power Company next to a huge pile of sawdust, provided courtesy of Inman-Poulsen.

The mountains of sawdust had a function. In 1890 the East Side Railway, an electric railway with plans to build to Oregon City needed of a power source. A site was selected for a power plant near Inman-Poulsen for its near inexhaustible supply of wood debris to burn as fuel. It was connected corporately (and soon physically) to the Willamette Falls Electric Company (a precursor to PGE) which was building a long distance power transmission line from the falls at Oregon City.

The enterprises presented Portland with a trifecta of national firsts:
The country’s first electric interurban railway (built between cities as opposed to a local streetcar system), the counrty's first long distance power transmission line (14 miles) and the first long distance transmission of both DC and AC current.

Inman-Poulsen received their log supply via river, floated up the Columbia from timberlands in Washington and Oregon or down the Willamette. Logs that arrived from the neighboring railroad were dropped into the river at a log dump near Sellwood, and then floated to the mill.

Thus a closed circuit was created; logs hauled by the railroad were cut by the mill, creating the debris that was burned by the power plant that powered the railroad which brought logs to the mill.

The power plant was eventually known as Station L. Part of it exists as a portion of OMSI.

Two electric powered “Steeplecab” locomotives owned by "PEPCO" (Portland Electric Power Company) hauling a train of logs, probably between Gladstone and Oregon City. Electric locomotives were used on the east side interurban lines until 1958 when the wires came down.

The Poulsen House.

Robert D. Inman and Johan Poulsen built their identical Queen Ann style houses in 1892 on the high ground above the mill in the Brooklyn neighborhood (the old “Brookland,” named by pioneer donation claimant Giddeon Tibbet).

Perhaps to place some distance between his work and home life, Johan Poulsen never lived at his house, renting it out until selling it in 1902. Robert D. Inman chose to live in his. Along with his business interests he had a political career which began in 1892 and was elected to the state Senate in 1900. He died in 1920.

Robert D. Inman.

The Ross Island Bridge was built in 1926, which placed a major thoroughfare between the two houses. Ten years later, a viaduct connecting Union Avenue and McLoughlin Blvd was built as part of the Pacific Highway, routed immediately to the west of the houses.

The Inman House prior to 1934, before the Pacific Highway construction removed the south end of the Bridge Transfer streetcar line through the area (once on the Brooklyn Line). Note the large natural gas tanks in the background, an east side fixture for many years. From the Oregon Department of Transportation web site.

The Inman house, circa 1936 from the Ross Island Bridge, during the building of the Pacific Highway. From the Oregon Department of Transportation web site.

Beneath the soon to be replaced MLK (Union Avenue) viaduct, narrow-gauge tracks of the Brooklyn streetcar line are still in place, built over in 1934. One of the reasons for the upcoming replacement of the viaduct is that it is built on layer upon layer settling of sawmill debris, from the Inman-Poulsen mill.

Inman-Poulsen was purchased by Georgia Pacific in 1954. The mill, at the time in the middle of a prolonged strike, was shut down. At the time of its closure, the mill employed 300 people and covered thirty seven acres. The site was divided into parcels and sold, the final parcel in 1959.

A Portland Traction interurban car, bound for Oregon City crosses SE Caruthers Street past the Inman-Poulsen headquarters building. June 6, 1952.

The Inman-Poulsen headquarters building, along with the Poulsen House, are the final remnants of the once mighty timber empire. The Oregon Pacific now operates the former interurban track to an industrial park in Milwaukie.
March 3, 2005.

In 1956 the Inman House was torn down to provide parking space for a nearby dairy. Oregonian Photographer Dick Farris came across its wreckage after workers had hitched cables around the foundation and pulled it over with a tractor. The photograph ran in the Oregonian, and three years later, on the final page in the January 26, 1959 issue of Life Magazine with the caption: “Fall of the House of Inman”.

And what a fine parking lot it is.

Personal History

“I am a dull and simple lad.”

-Ray Davies from “David Watts,” performed by the Kinks.

A journal on the past and the present of Portland Oregon (or more correctly, the past in the present in Portland) doesn’t have much room for personal narrative or biography. A recent bout of post-Christmas cleaning however revealed a discovery worth sharing.

Deep in the recesses of my upstairs closet, beneath two Monopoly games and layers of pre-Nirvanian detritus, compacted and folded over itself as to make precise chronological dating difficult; beneath a strata contained old Rolling Stone magazines with covers that featured Tears For Fears, “Sign of the Times” era Prince and “Like a Prayer” era Madonna, there was yet another layer.
It contained the roll book of the infamous “Explorers Club” that met at the Lions Restaurant’s lounge across from campus in Eugene, a empty LP cover for The Jam's "Setting Sons" and a small cardboard box.
Inside the box were pictures.

They are not particularly good pictures. Clumsy first attempts at black and white photography without benefit of composition and sharp focus. There is a definite preference for tall buildings.
They show my very first ever view of Portland, without any pre-conceptions or a clue to what I was looking at, and quite accidentally, a bit of historic Portland that would be impossible to get today.

My best guess is that the pictures are from early in my college years, most likely the summer of 1984. My friend Kari had invited me to Portland, with the possible idea of getting a job over the summer. Had the plan reached fruition, my sojourn in Portland would have began six years earlier than it did.

The Greyhound station was not in this condition when I saw it.

I arrived at the old Greyhound station at SW Fifth, between Taylor and Yamhill. We then walked randomly in the general direction of Northwest. Pre-Max Pioneer Square and the Pioneer Courthouse itself were ignored but the Meier & Frank building merited a picture, as did Jackson Tower.

Had I have known of its existence, this photograph of the Fine Arts Building without trees or Max tracks on Morrison would have fit in well in my post; “57 Years at Tenth and Morrison” (in the April 2006 Archives), taken 35 years after the 1949 picture and twenty two years before the 2006 views.

The rest of the pictures are pretty much the same uninspiring lot, but near the bottom of the stack, treasure!

The Goodnough Building!

I have an affection for the two buildings, torn down around 1990 (the time I moved to Portland) to make way for the Pioneer Place Mall. The Corbett and Goodnough buildings, although historic, did not stand a chance in the face the idea of an city center urban mall. Pictures have to make due for vague and hazy memories of sandstone and brick. I especially like the Goodnough Building, built in 1881, part of the old brick downtown of the Hotel Portland, Marquam and Oregonian Buildings, so I was happy to find that I had actually photographed it. For reasons beyond me I did not take a picture of the Corbett Building (and it even was tall) next door.

The Goodnough Building was the original home to the Oregon Journal, as shown here with a sign meant only to be read from one direction. The Corbett Building had yet to be built.

The Corbett Building with the Goodnough building to the right.

Morrison Street, pre-light rail from the Galleria. The Corbett Building can be seen to the right in the distance.

Tourists reflected, Portland Oregon, circa 1984.


Paul Glidden said...

Another well-researched and well-illustrated piece.... Great work, Dan!

I look forward to the next one.

Doug K said...

There are exposed streetcar tracks (were under 6 inches of asphalt) at 50th and Hawthorne, where a curb extension is being constructed. They were exposed this weekend (Jan 13,14 2007), but probably will soon be covered or removed. I have pictures if you don't get there in time.

jeff said...

I'm so impressed by your work-facinating research. I can't wait for your next posting. In an odd convergence I too found the Roles of the Explorer's Club in January as well. Jeff

J Bart said...

Isn't the block the Greyhound depot is on the site of the Corbett Mansion of 1874?

Unknown said...

Robert Inman was my grandfather's brother. I've long known of another home in Portland where he lived with his wife Clarissa, but never of this home. Nor had our family details of the mill location. Thank you for your post and the pictures. Imagine our chuckle at seeing the Fall of the House of Inman! - Jennifer Inman, Medford OR

Steve. Because 'Steve' is almost as nice a name as 'Paul'. said...

I am not a company in Mumbai and I am not a website designing company in Delhi. I am a woman who lived in the Portland that you photographed, and I sincerely appreciate these pictures. Downtown was my neighborhood. My friends lived there, on and off the streets. I used to sit at the corner of the little lane that led up past the back of the Poulson house, between the funky Eat Now cafe and a hump of old money plant and lilac, and get high with the other beautiful people before we caught the #57 and went home to sleep. I remember that Camperdown Elm. Today I have a Camperdown Elm growing in my front yard in memory of the Victorian Queen of the East Side. You just don't know how much this means to me, seeing this. Thank you sincerely.