We recently found out that the A. W. Ocobock house at 5128 NE Rodney will be demolished and likely replaced by multiple housing units. Built in 1913, the house was designed and built by Charles W. Ertz, architect and builder of Portland area buildings, including the Laurelhurst Theater, the 8th Church of Christ, Scientist, and the former auto dealership that now houses Whole Foods in the Pearl District. Ertz is also noted for his design of the Jantzen Estate in Lake Oswego, among numerous area residences. The demolition of the Ocobock house is sadly another example of the City of Portland failing to acknowledge the inherent value in our architectural heritage. Beyond the great work of Ertz (who remains a vastly under-appreciated architect from the 1910-1940s), the loss of the Ocobock house represents further erasure of Portland history – in this case the development of the Piedmont neighborhood and the life of Augustus W. Ocobock (1836 – 1929).
Augustus Ocobock and his wife Amelia relocated to Portland in 1881. Augustus had been a banker in places like Iowa and Nebraska before coming to Portland. In fact, his Ocobock Brothers Bank, in Corydon, IA was famously robbed by the Jesse James gang in 1871. In Portland, Ocobock invested in local real estate, especially on the east side of the Willamette River. He also advertised as a mortgage lender in the Oregonian. By 1890, the Ocobocks were living in a beautiful house on the north side of NE Holladay Street, near what is now the Convention Center MAX station. The Ocobocks sold their Holladay Street home in 1904, and moved to a house on N. Sumner, only a few blocks from the house they would later build on NE Rodney. Both the house on Sumner and the one on Holladay have long since been demolished. The 1913 house on NE Rodney, therefore, is the last standing building in Portland associated with Augustus and Amelia Ocobock.
Ocobock was clearly a key player in the development of East Portland, which remained a separate city from Portland until 1891. He owned a building that once stood where the gas station is on SE Grand Avenue between Alder and Washington – right across the street from the Architectural Heritage Center. He also owned the property on Grand Avenue where the US Bank is now located and he served on the Port of Portland Commission. Later in life, Ocobock became a well-known local philanthropist. He supported Reed College by donating money for students who could not otherwise afford tuition. He gave money in support of relief efforts in Japan after the country was decimated by a huge earthquake in 1923. In his will he left money for the local Y.W.C.A., the Oregon Humane Society, and the [Waverly] Baby Home. One of the more interesting examples of Ocobock’s generosity came in 1915 – the Oregonian mentions Ocobock giving $50 (equivalent of nearly $500 in 2016) to a streetcar conductor for his courteous service. That conductor, Gus Magendanz, was none other than the great-uncle of AHC curator Doug Magedanz!
At some point we have to ask ourselves, what will be left that reminds us we’re still in Portland? The loss of the last Ocobock House in Portland, will not only waste quality architecture and building materials, it will also leave us with a void in the story of how Portland, especially on the east side of town, developed in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.