Explore Postwar Housing in SE Portland

While the Architectural Heritage Center’s (AHC) walking tours are on their annual winter hiatus, the “Mid-Century Modest: Postwar Housing and the Growth of Southeast Portland” exhibit is on display, giving people the opportunity to explore these SE homes from the comfort of their gallery. 

In the first half of the 1950s, Portland witnessed explosive growth in new house construction. New neighborhoods popped up across the metropolitan area, particularly on the edges of town and often beyond the city limits. With financing secured through the Federal Housing Administration or the GI Bill, many white working-class families found that for the first time they had the opportunity to own their own homes. At the same time, however, African Americans were all but excluded from this system.

“Mid-Century Modest” provides a glimpse of some of the houses constructed in SE Portland during this boom period. Each of the 12 featured houses had a different builder and represent 11 different subdivision developments. These new houses were distinctively modern and featured some of the latest amenities, like built-in dishwashers and attached garages. However, most were otherwise modest in appearance, size and affordability.

The house photos are from a collection of more than 400 photographs taken between 1952 and 1955, by or on behalf of Robert Johnstone, who was a realtor in Portland from the 1940s until his death in 1986. Johnstone worked with two major Portland real estate firms during this period: Henry F. English and City Realty Co. Both companies regularly advertised homes for sale in local newspapers, including several featured in this exhibit.

The collection was donated to the AHC by Ken Hawkins in 2022 and can be viewed during museum hours, Thursday-Saturday, 11 am-5 pm. Located at 701 SE Grand Ave., it is closed December 24, 25 and 31. General public admission is $8; AHC members and children 18 and under are free.

For more, a historical overview of postwar era housing, the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s East Portland Historical Overview and Historic Preservation Study can be found at . 

Home on SE Lincoln St. in Cherry Blossom Park, built in 1953 and featured on that year’s annual “Parade of Homes.” Photo from AHC collections.

Explore Postwar Housing in SE Portland

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