CC Photography: Two Spectacular Portland Mansions Photographed by Minor White

When I first saw this, I couldn’t believe it was real. Then I couldn’t believe someone would destroy it.


Growing up and living in New Jersey, I knew little to nothing about the city of Portland, Oregon.  Then I found these pictures taken in the 1930s and ’40s by a photographer named Minor White.  They are extraordinary not only for their artistry and clarity, but because White was practically the only person from this time period photographing doomed Victorian houses from both the inside and the outside.  Without his work, no detailed visual record of these incredible lost mansions would remain.

Minor White photograph of cast iron buildings on Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway), 1939.  Demolished.


White was employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a “Creative Photographer”.  He had the unique ability to see rare beauty where others saw nothing but outdated structures in the way of future plans.  Exuberant Victorian architecture was decidedly out-of-fashion, and (incomprehensible to me) virtually no one cared about the steady loss of such buildings during these years.  But somehow White, through his images, was the “lone voice in the wilderness” who managed to gain access to these houses and even photograph the elaborate interiors as well, just before the end came.

Two historic Portland mansions extensively photographed by Minor White:

  1.  The Knapp House, full block between Northwest 17th and 18th Avenues, between Davis and Everett Streets.  Built 1882, demolished 1950.


19th century view.


Same view today. Remnants of the original stone wall which surrounded the house still remain.  (Google Street View)


White’s photos go in sequence, as if you were with him walking up to the house, going inside, and looking around.  Most of these photos are not on the Internet, so I took them directly from the book entitled Heritage Lost by Fred DeWolfe (1995).



The bold chimney is split by windows.


The elaborate porte-cochere will protect you and your vehicle from the elements.


Approaching the front door.


There are more design elements in this one section of porch railing than most entire houses!


Front Entrance Hall. A Moor, carved in wood, holds a plate for your calling card. Imagine what this would look like in color with all that stained glass!


As you turn and enter. Can you imagine an excavator crashing through here, destroying all that carefully crafted old-growth wood and throwing it into a landfill? I know, it’s disgusting.


Looking right . . .


Main staircase.


The ultimate Haunted House–so many nooks, crannies, and passageways to explore.


Inlaid tile floor under the tower.


Entering the Library.


Library detail. I’d love to find hinges like that for my house!


Ebonized doors and moldings in Music Room.


Sparkling jewels are set into the ceiling.


Upstairs inglenook with fireplace and bench. Every detail of this house is so exquisite!


Even the door hardware is a true work of art!


Stained glass window at the top of the tower.


How it ended:  A neighboring church (St. Mary’s Cathedral) decided it needed more parking space, so the church purchased the land and had the house razed.


2.   Jacobs-Dolph House:  Southwest Park Avenue between Montgomery and Mill Street. Built 1882, Demolished 1941.

As we approach . . .


Front entrance.


Looking up.


You can just hear that heavy front door creaking open . . .


Entrance Hall with two staircases visible.


Turning to the side . . .


Entering the “Oriental Room”. Can you picture yourself walking into a room in an abandoned house and seeing this gigantic mirror? The frame was probably painted a dark color and picked out in gold. How high is that ceiling–14 feet?


Matching decoration over the louvered bay windows.


Hand-painted frescoes above. Minor White should have taken some color Kodachromes!


View climbing the stairs. This is not Renaissance Italy, but Portland, Oregon–a total wilderness just a few decades before!


A stained glass skylight illuminates the central dome.


Upstairs, a Renaissance Revival bedroom set is left behind.


Out on the balcony. The scale of everything seems larger than life!


How it ended:  It was determined that the property could produce more income with a high-rise apartment complex built on it.  Thus the house (and its twin next door) were demolished and Ione Plaza was built. (Now called The Vue Apartments).

A happy discovery . . .

Next door to The Vue Apartments is the Simon Benson House, which was built in 1900.  However, it was not built at this location–it was moved here from Southwest Clay Street & 11th and totally restored in 2002.

After seeing Minor White’s photographs, I became inspired to incorporate something of the Knapp and Jacobs Houses’ High Victorian grandeur into my own house, which was built the same year as the Simon Benson place.

Master Bedroom:  High Victorian dresser mirror, chair, and stained glass window c. 1890;  all sourced from local Craigslist sellers.

Dining Room:  This lockset came from a door someone was throwing out.


Stained glass in Living Room, also from CL.

Entrance Hall.

Built-in bench, 2nd bedroom.

The only house that I know of in my area comparable to the Knapp and Jacobs Houses is the Krueger Mansion in downtown Newark NJ.  This house sat abandoned for 40 years in the most riot-torn, crime-ridden section of Newark, yet has somehow survived largely intact.  With LOTS of government money, it is now being renovated into something called a “Makerspace” for local residents.  Supposedly most surviving original exterior and interior features will be restored.  Let’s hope in this case, the story will have a happy ending.

For more color photos of lost Portland architecture, see CC Snapshots:  Cars & Architecture–The Ultimate Collection.

Also, here’s a video about Minor White in Portland:  Minor White Captures The Ornate Beauty of Portland’s Past–Oregon Art Beat.