By Doug Decker | Historian
The question: We live on 35th and Ainsworth in a home built in 1941 and – like the rest of our neighbors between 33rd and 37th circling the blocks of Ainsworth and Simpson – we all have lots 50 by 230 feet. Why do you suppose the lots on this block were platted so long?
– Rose and John Yandell
The historian reports: The long, narrow configuration of this block stems from decisions made more than 100 years ago by John D. Kennedy. He once owned much of the property between Killingsworth and Ainsworth streets, and 33rd and 42nd avenues, and Kennedy School was named for him.
The Irishman immigrated to Oregon in 1866, found his way to Baker City and worked in and then owned a dry goods store.
After coming to Portland about 1881, Kennedy bought this property, originally part of the 1855 Isaac Rennison Donation Land Claim. It was outside the city limits and far from any developments.
Kennedy was ahead of his time in the market. Northeast Portland’s ripeness for real estate didn’t take place until the years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, when it seemed anyone who could was buying property or building houses.
But Kennedy had platted these lands as the Kennedy Addition back in 1890, a grid of 15 square blocks with more than 200 lots. Two years later, he platted Kennedy’s Second Addition, adjacent to the east, with room for another 120 homes.
Several other nearby plats were filed about that time, but they were also just lines on paper. There was no market yet for residential development. So, in 1906, city council approved his petition to “vacate” five of the blocks in his addition. That officially eliminated platted streets, even if they didn’t yet exist – like all of the north-south streets in the block between Ainsworth and Simpson, from 33rd east to 37th.
Kennedy’s stated rationale was to sell the larger chunk of land as acreage for farm fields.
As urbanization spread in the years that followed, neighborhoods were built to the north, south and west, but the 12-acre parcel – with no north-south through streets – stayed as one big block in farm use.
Kennedy died in December 1936. In 1938 the property was controlled by Ward D. Cook, a Portland insurance and real estate agent, who designated 80 lots on the long block ready for construction.
After World War II the market truly picked up. Most of the houses were built and sold between 1940 and 1950.
So there you have it. In the original Kennedy’s Addition plat, that one long block was going to be five blocks. But then Kennedy did away with the blocks to better sell the property, which he never did.
The market came and went and came back again. Then another speculator saw opportunity and turned the island of farm into the more than 50 lots there today, most of them a very long and narrow quarter-acre each. Read more and check out maps and historic aerial photos on this topic at AlamedaHistory.org.
Ask the historian is a CNews standing feature that encourages readers to ask questions about the history of the neighborhood and its buildings. Is there something you’ve wondered about? Drop a line to CNewsEditor@ConcordiaPDX. org and ask Doug Decker to do some digging.