By Doug Decker, historian
The question: The building with a flagpole on the east side of 33rd near Alberta looks kind of out of place for a house, but too residential to have been a commercial building. What’s the story there? – Bianca Karjalainen, 32nd Avenue
The historian reports: Good eye. The building in question – 4828 NE 33rd Ave. – is the current home of the Oregon Stamp Society (OSS) but was originally constructed as a fire station, home of Engine Company 34, built in 1928.
The station was opened and dedicated Nov. 1, 1928, with Captain Dan Shaw in charge and R. Mitchell as junior captain. Over the years, the station also served the neighborhood as a polling place, toy drop-off during holiday charity drives, and the focus of summer community barbecues and open houses.
During the teens and 1920s, a series of similar small fire stations – that each typically housed just one engine and were known as “three-man stations” – were constructed in the heart of Portland’s residential neighborhoods. They were designed to fit in. Have a look at similar stations at 2200 N.E. 24th Ave. and at Southeast 13th Avenue and Tenino Street which, incidentally were also decommissioned in the late 1950s.
Portland Fire Chief Lee Holden (1925- 1927), who was also an amateur architect, designed these stations. Holden’s attention to details – the choice of red brick, the wide and inviting gables and exterior columns, the operating multi-pane casement windows, the interior boxed-beam ceilings and classic interior wood trim –all speak to popular residential design elements of the period.
Much of the original station interior on 33rd Avenue has been remodeled to serve the needs of the stamp club, but there are clues to its earlier life:
- The original fire station kitchen in the basement, with a bank of lockers to hold firefighters’ food
- The entry and waiting area (including fireplace, mantel and built-in inglenook bench)
- The captain’s office
- The roof dormer, which was once the top end of a tower for drying wet fire hose
Mechanical systems, according to OSS president Eric Hummel, have been replaced several times since the society acquired the building in 1960.
The original garage door for the fire engine was on the front right of the station, but a casement window from the south side was put in its place when the opening was bricked over in the early 1960s.
The station was functional until August 1959, when fire operations for the area shifted to the new station at 19th and Killingsworth (more on that in a moment), and Engine Company 34 was sent to serve the St. Johns neighborhood.
The closure was the result of a reorganization of the Portland Fire Bureau by city commissioner Stanley W. Earl and a $3 million bond measure passed by voters in 1957 to build seven new stations across the city.
The OSS purchased the decommissioned building in 1960 for $13,500. Reportedly, a church was vying to acquire the building as well.
The neighborhood mounted a major protest in 1959 when city council chose the site across from Vernon School as the location of the new fire station. Any CNews readers remember that uproar? We’re also looking for any photos of the old station during its years of operation. Stay tuned for details in a future column.
Have a question for the neighborhood historian? We love solving mysteries. Send your question to CNewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX.org and we’ll ask Doug Decker to do some digging.