By Doug Decker
When I moved into our house in March 1962, there was a Joe Bernard Realty office in the building where Doggie Business is now. Joe said this area was part of the Bernardo family farm and there were chestnut trees from 42nd Avenue to 33rd.
My question: were there chestnut trees all along Alberta Court?
— Bob Walters, Alberta Court
The Historian Reports:
We really like questions like this, which require us to do some genealogy, some geography and some general asking around.
Joe Bernard was actually Joe Bennard, who was born in 1901 as Joe Bennardo. Joe ran a real estate company based in an office, now gone, that he built facing Alberta Court directly behind today’s Doggie Business. Joe built the Doggie Business building in 1937, originally a tavern and restaurant. Joe and his brothers – the brothers kept the original family name Bennardo – lived in the neighborhood, and one brother built the house three doors north on the west side of 42ndAvenue. But we weren’t able to verify if the Bennardos actually owned a farm, or what extent it may have covered.
The American chestnut (Castanea dentate) was a common tree in all American cities, but suffered a major disease outbreak that drastically reduced its numbers by the mid-1930s. It seems unlikely that enough of these great old trees would have been left mid-century to have lined Alberta Court. And of course it was called Alberta Street then and traveled along through open fields and forest stands.
And here’s an interesting note: Alberta Street was renamed to Alberta Court after a vote of residents on the street in summer 1940 and a city ordinance passed Aug. 28, 1940. On Aug. 11, 1940, The Oregonian reported, “Multnomah County suggested the city change the name of the street within the city limits to avoid confusion, and a survey of sentiment of the property owners was taken. Most of them approve the change to avoid confusion.”
We pulled up a series of aerial photos from the 1920s and 1930s that show the western stretch of the street, and we don’t see a line of trees in this area. We did connect with a former paperboy who delivered newspapers along Alberta Court in the late 1940s and, although he remembered homeless camps there along what was the city limits, he didn’t recall seeing any orchard or line of chestnuts.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t chestnuts along Alberta Court, just that evidence is scarce. In fact, it does appear there is a lone survivor of what Joe was remembering. You can find a beautiful old chestnut tree today at the northeast corner of 41st Avenue and Alberta Court, reminding us they were, indeed, in the neighborhood. We’ll keep digging on this and welcome any information from CNEWS readers.
Thanks for asking!
We love solving mysteries, so if you have a question for the neighborhood historian, email it to CNewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX.org and we’ll ask Doug Decker to do some digging.