It all started with a bottle of wine…
Restore Oregon Board member Roy Fox and his wife Kim were gathered with friends in their home unwrapping bottles of wine they’d bought as part of the Architectural Heritage Center’s annual “Riches of a City” auction, when, as typically happens at the Fox’s annual “blind wine” parties (so called because guests unveil the bottles they bid blindly on at the auction), the conversation turned toward the state of preservation in Portland. People were hearing rumblings that yet another irreplaceable piece of Portland’s heritage was threatened by redevelopment, and the Foxes’ guests prodded Roy and Kim to look into the possibility of intervening (they were, after all, sitting in the 1884 Victorian the Foxes had rescued from condemnation and beautifully restored).
The house in question was the ca. 1890 Edwin Rayworth House on N. Albina Avenue in Portland’s Boise Neighborhood. The neighborhood has been radically transformed over the last decade-plus, from a neglected afterthought to a trendy and sought-after hotspot, putting homes like this relatively modest Queen Anne-style cottage squarely in the crosshairs of developers looking to capitalize on the skyrocketing value of land there.
The uncertainty about the house’s future started in 2012, when Lake Oswego developer Andrey Koshuba bought it out of foreclosure for $186,900, then determined the concrete foundation was too degraded to save. He opted to tear the house down and build two homes in its place. That’s become an all-to-familiar story in neighborhoods across Portland, where in recent years hundreds of older homes have been torn down and replaced with multiple houses of questionable quality or out-of-scale McMansions.
In this case, however, neighbors objected.
“No one wanted to see this house get demolished because of what it represents,” Boise Neighborhood Association chair Caroline Dao told The Oregonian.
The City of Portland allows officially recognized neighborhood associations to request a demolition delay period in order to pursue alternatives to demolition, and in this case the developer was willing to offer a compromise to the Boise Neighborhood Association: he would donate the home to anyone willing to move it before March 15, 2013. That’s where the Foxes came in. Sort of.
Initially the neighborhood association reached an agreement with another party who proposed keeping the house in the Boise neighborhood, something the Foxes couldn’t promise due to the scarcity of affordable lots there. While disappointed that they wouldn’t be the ones to save the house, they were pleased that an agreement had been reached to avoid demolition. Over time, however, it became clear that the course of action proposed by the other party wasn’t feasible, and Roy and Kim stepped in to save the house.
The Foxes found available property in the nearby Piedmont neighborhood and eagerly set about preparations for the move. They navigated the arduous permitting process and overcame the setback of having their first moving contractor fail to present a cost-feasible plan. Then the real logistical nightmare began.
“We could never have imagined what it takes to get a house moved,” Roy told The Oregonian. “The physical part of the move is almost not the issue.”
Having overcome what they thought to be the final hurdles before moving day, a crippling blow was dealt to their hopes to save the house just days before the scheduled move. The city’s Department of Urban Forestry (a division of Portland Parks & Recreation) objected to the project, claiming that they hadn’t been consulted about the project and fearing that moving the structure along the proposed route would damage too many trees. A bureaucratic snafu resulting from lack of communication among the city’s permitting bodies threatened to derail the Foxes’ plans and doom the Rayworth House to demolition. Developer Koshuba had already allowed multiple extensions to his initial deadline to move the house, and there was no guarantee he would continue to do so.
The Foxes were devastated. “For months we have been working to make this happen and now, at the 11th hour, just as we are about to make this dream come true, it’s being yanked out from under us,” Kim Fox told KATU at the time.
But Roy and Kim pressed on— they had come too far to give up now. After reaching a permitting agreement with Parks & Rec (and agreeing to plant a specified number of trees to mitigate the effects of the move) and working out one last extension with Mr. Koshuba, the stage was set for Emmert International, the Clackamas-based mover who transported both the Spruce Goose and the Hubbell Telescope, to bring the Rayworth House to its final destination.
Finally, FINALLY, on September 23, 2013, the move began. A two-mile gauntlet of utility lines, trees, and tight curves was navigated slowly but surely, until the big red truck and trailer slid the old house onto its temporary supports. Soon after, Roy and Kim began the long process of pouring a new foundation, building out a basement dwelling unit, and restoring the house to its historic charm. Work is ongoing, and they’ve been thrilled to find that many original elements, including obscured plaster walls and much of the original kitchen, are intact and restorable.
Along the way they’ve made many new friends, hosting travelers from all over the world who volunteer their labor, both skilled and novice, through “couch surfing” networks like HelpExchange and Workaway. Roy says that he had multiple requests to stay with the Foxes and help with the restoration within 24 hours of posting the project. Avid travelers themselves, the Foxes highly recommend these networks whether traveling or hosting, and say they’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, what began as a straightforward effort to save an imperiled historic home has evolved into something more for the Foxes. Roy says he wouldn’t trade the experiences and relationships he and Kim have forged with their guests for a more expedient restoration of the house. It seems fitting that, in the end, this project has been more about the journey than the destination.
Restore Oregon members won’t have to crash on the Foxes’ couch or swing a hammer to see the Rayworth House restoration in progress. On August 22 we’ll be holding a “behind the scenes” tour of the home with fun activities and an informative presentation. Keep an eye on our Events Page for more details.