Restoring History Takes Vision and Patience

When Myra Beetle bought her 1892 Victorian, the two-story home barely hinted at its glorious past. Decades of remodels covered the home’s original gingerbread, bay windows and trim. Built in the Portsmouth neighborhood of North Portland as a wedding gift to Mary Jardine, the house once served as a gambling den, according to neighborhood lore. Lucy Pearl Love married “prosperous young farmer” Raleigh R. Massey here, according to a May 1908 Oregonian society page. The house still shakes when freight trains move through the tunnel built below the street in 1927.

Myra and her husband, Buzz, fell in love with the home’s possibilities. That was 1977, and throughout careers and two children, they painstakingly restored. As the most expensive and extensive remodel, the kitchen came last. The thrown-together room without a foundation had clearly been added on. After much research, they settled on an Edwardian design that involved a complete teardown. They put a hot plate, microwave and mini-fridge into the dining room, which shares a sink with a bathroom, and got to work.

“It was a two-year project,” Beetle said as she sipped tea in her new kitchen’s cozy bay window. Finished at last, she enjoys talking about the process and sharing tips. Finding the right contractors was key. “We talked to a lot, but they didn’t understand we wanted the kitchen to reflect the period of the house.” They sought personal recommendations, checked Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com) and chose mid-range bids. First came Allen Tankersley of Cornerstone Builders, Inc. (cornerstonebuilders.org). He chose old wood to match existing siding. The high-ceilinged oval-shaped room he built begins with a back entrance and small, covered porch. A tiled mudroom leads to the laundry sealed off with pocket doors. A butler’s pantry, common to the era, includes pass-through shelves to the adjoining dining room and a period copper sink.

Cabinets by Bear Woodworks (503-730-6906) blended three styles and incorporated antique leaded glass. “I wanted a cherry wood, but Buzz likes old-growth fir that was original to the house,” Beetle said. “We compromised and used old-growth fir stained cherry.” This is the one decision she in some ways regrets. “I wish it weren’t a soft wood. It’s vertical grain and looks beautiful, but it does scratch.” They chose soapstone counters – “granite is too modern” – and a Marmoleum floor. The light fixtures once hung in a turn-of-the-century hotel, and they found antique hardware at Old Portland Hardware & Architectural (oldportlandhardware.com). Buzz Beetle and a friend installed the tin ceiling and reproduction moldings.

Emulating the Pittock Mansion kitchen, subway tiles line the walls. Expert Dirk Sullivan of Hawthorne Tile (www.hawthornetile.com) understood 1/16-inch grout lines and corner pieces created the period look. The couple complemented their antique gas range with a refrigerator and wall oven from Heartland Reproduction appliances (reproduction-stoves.com), saving money by purchasing floor models. Heartland is sold locally at Kelly’s Home Center in Salem and Standard TV & Appliance in Beaverton.

When the kitchen was ready for final touches, Beetle incorporated her own family history. The old Boboer Yeshiva pushke (charity box) from her grandmother’s Brooklyn home takes pride of place on the shelf. An antique menorah rests among brightly colored vases, hand-knit towels and potholders. When asked about historic preservation, Beetle advised, “Research and figure out the kitchen you want. Be prepared for inconvenience and know that things take longer than you expect.”

Polina Olsen is a Portland freelance writer. She is the author of several books, including Stories from Jewish Portland published by The History Press.

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