Friday, October 10, 2008

In addition to being a means by which I have acquired quite a few of my house postcards, the internet has also been a wonderful tool for researching my homes. Until recently, pretty much the only internet tools I had at my disposal were general Google-type searches and basic map sites. More recently a friend who subscribes to genealogical sites has been kind enough to help me by searching online U.S. census databases to which he as access. This has allowed me to find some homes that have only people's names attached to them. I've been using satellite map sites to see if I can zoom in clearly enough to examine the roofs of houses if I have the exact street address (and if those street addresses are still accurate) to see if the houses are still standing. But most recently, I've discovered "street views" on Google Maps. Here's a view of my old house in Tillamook, Oregon:

It allows you not only to see a view of the building at that street address, but allows you to travel up and down streets and spin around 360 degrees at any spot you want. So you can get several different views of the same house as you pass it by.

Armed with this new tool, I hunted my collection for homes identified with exact street addresses--usually just houses in larger cities as most small towns didn't have a need to have house numbers. I was able to find about 20 or 30 homes this way over the course of several nights. I also used "street view" to hunt for a home I've had in my collections for years, pictured under construction at the top of this page. Here is a view of the back of the postcard:

The message on the front reads, "Ue-oak-pi (sunny hillside) Maidu Indian" along with the initials MLP. It was mailed to Mrs. B.S. Rector, Nevada City, California and was postmarked from San Francisco on August 15, 1910. The message reads, "San Francisco Aug. 14-1910. My dear Mrs. Rector, Here is a view of our new house - this is the front, the front door is open and the latch string is out. Our Indian name for it is Ue-oak-pi or Ogeedonkee + you will I know call it worse than that, if you climb Masonic Ave. hill on a warm day. Best love to you all - Lovingly - Minerva-". Unfortunately, that gives me no last name to work with and no exact address. What it did give me is some tantalizing clues tailor made for this new street views. Even though I've been so anxious to go hunting in person for this home next time I'm down to the Bay Area visiting family, I decided to undertake the Google street view hunt. I had already looked on the satellite views about a year ago and could tell that there was a hill at the bottom of Masonic Avenue and that Masonic lead up to several other streets and I had no way of knowing whether or not this house is/was actually located on Masonic, but it was a good place to start. Here is a view looking up Masonic as it starts to climb upwards:

And it gets even steeper:

As I climbed the hill, I had to carefully look to the right and left, looking for houses with the basic roof outlines of the house pictured under construction and the unusual placement of windows. That ruled out most homes right away. I passed a few arts and crafts style homes that looked promising, but none matched up.

I found one that looked good, but couldn't get a real good view as it was really close to the street and partially obscured by trees. I tried viewing it from up above, down below and straight on, but still couldn't get a really good view. I spent another hour traveling up and around all the streets up and above this houses, but ultimately came back to it to take another look. Here's the house I found:

I couldn't find the exact street number of this house, but could tell it was somewhere in the 1500 block of Masonic. I tried a series of Google and Google Image searches and eventually found a better picture of the house listed as the E.B. Powers home at 1526 Masonic:

This photo allowed me to positively identify the house. Not only had I found the house, but I found a house designed by Bernard Maybeck, who was my dad's favorite architect! I have two of my dad's books on Maybeck's work and although the house shows up in the list of projects, there were no further photos of it. I also found this website which details the property, including information about the sender of the postcards, now identified as Minerva Powers, who grew up in Nevada City where the postcard was sent. It also shows some of the wonderful interior details for which Maybeck was known. As much fun as it was to find it online, I still think I would have rather experienced the climb up Masonic Avenue in person as described by Minerva 98 years ago. Of course I will do that myself next time I'm down that way so I can take a photo of it for my collection.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Columbia County Hunting

I have always intended to keep a house hunting journal, but that never has come to be (until now in web form). And sadly, enough time has passed that even though the moments of discovery are clear, the details of the day and the how and why of ending up in these town have often been lost. As have in many cases the month, or even the year of finding the houses. I had always thought I was taking "now" photos of the house, but as the years pass, I have come to realize that "now" becomes inaccurate quite quickly.

So the subject of today is the hunt for a lovely home of which I had a photo postcard in St. Helens, Oregon. It was October of 2000 and my friend Karen and I had been to a postcard show in Portland. And, if I'm not mistaken, this was a postcard I had found at that show. Handwritten on the back of the postcard was, "Residence of Mr. + Mrs. George H. Shinn, St. Helens, Oregon Erected Autumn of 1914 Conrad Wyss, Architect and Builder." That is a great amount of information and more than is on most cards I find. St. Helens is a town of 10,000 people along the Columbia River north and west of Portland. I was living in Tillamook at the time and a trip though back home through St. Helens would have made a 1 1/2 hour trip into a 3 hour trip, so I really don't know if that was the only house we were looking for that afternoon. Anyway, I do remember that the sun was going down pretty quickly and we had absolutely no idea where in St. Helens this house was. We turned off the highway, down into downtown St. Helens. We headed East along one of the main streets (can't remember which one) looking for the house. When we could go no further, we turned on South 1st Street and within a block or two had spotted the house looking almost exactly as it did 85 years earlier in the postcard! It was starting to get dark and we circled around to get another look. It was at a point where the land started to slope down to the Columbia and South 1st Street was split with southbound traffic running along a road ten feet or so above the northbound traffic. I went up to the upper road to take the picture, set my camera on the rock wall to steady it for the long exposure I would need to get a good photo in the fading light and even though I am a very amateur photographer, I really liked the result:

As you can see, the door was open, so Karen and I approached the house and shared the photo with the homeowners--a very nice couple who had lived in the home for many years. They were excited to see the photo and I later sent them a copy of it. When I set out to find a home like this, I don't know if it is still standing or whether or not it has been remodeled beyond recognition. And very rarely am I lucky enough to just drive right up to it so quickly--that was a good day!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I've always had a fascination with old houses. I grew up in an 1870's home in the heart of Piedmont, California. Our home had been extensively remodeled in around 1920, but it had old bones and was held together with square nails. My favorite homes as a kid were old, wood frame houses, painted white, but with the paint peeling off--untouched for years. I developed a keen interest in architecture and in junior high school started designing homes for friends and family. My career as an architect never materialized, but in college I came across a couple old house-plan catalogs and a garage sale and started collecting them. These were usually soft cover and full of floor plans and illustrations of houses. Builders and homeowners could find the home they wanted to build and order blueprints from the publishers. These catalogs started to crop up in the late 19th century and are still being made today. Here is a photo of one of the first two books I collected:

I would also pick up old photos of houses now and then. About ten years ago, I discovered photo postcards and those of houses. My interest has always been mainly in the everyday houses, not necessarily the big, landmark homes. I collected other postcards as well and discovered postcard shows. As my collection grew, I also started buying them on eBay. My collection now numbers about two thousand and I have them arranged by states:

In Spring of 2000 I was living In Tillamook, Oregon and my mom, my friend Karen and I took a trip up to Astoria. I had a photo postcard postmarked from Astoria in 1909 of a very nice house. I thought it would be fun to look for it while we were up there and I took my camera along. We drove up and down the streets of Astoria for quite a while before spotting it:

In 1909, it was occupied by the Noonans, but was next lived in by an Astoria lawyer by the name of Walter Norblad who later became governor of Oregon. It was great fun and I've hunted for well over a hundred houses since, usually accompanied by my good friend and copilot Karen. So far my hunting has been limited to Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho (just a quick trip to Moscow). Along the way I've had so much fun looking for houses in quaint little towns and gritty urban areas. Sometimes I talk to the homeowners, other times I discretely take my photo and head on down the road. The postcards with exact addresses written on the card are usually not much of a challenge, but it is still fun to see if the house is still there and how it has changed over the years. The most fun are ones that require detective works either because the location isn't immediately obvious and requires some research, or because the house has been altered almost beyond recognition. Sometimes I've had a photo for years before getting a chance to look for it. The internet has opened up some opportunities for cyber sleuthing and a friend who has access to online census data has helped me track down the locations of some homes that have only the name of a homeowner. My dream is to one day travel around the country looking for all these old homes I've collected.