Urban Lives, Old Spaces is a blog series that chronicles the shifting lives of historic spaces and how the built environment connects with contemporary issues in our lives. Featuring a different space in each blog, guest writer Lainie Ettinger looks at the resilience of historic places and the changing role they play in making Portland more livable, equitable, and sustainable.

What happened to the twelve houses featured in AHC’s new exhibit about the building boom that expanded Southeast Portland during the 1950s? Did they make it? It’s like watching a movie based on real people–I want to know if they’re still alive and how their story turned out. So I returned to my early pandemic obsession–house-scrolling on Zillow–to see what became of these post World War II houses seventy years later. 

It was a great relief to see that none were torn down or became Mid-century McMansions. They are just more mature versions of their former selves. Developed landscaping is the most visible difference. Several of the homes are painted in contemporary paint colors that complement the style of both the homes and gardens. Some have closed in once open porches, expanded garages, or changed windows. Originally listed for $8,000-$12,000 in the newspaper ads included in the exhibit, these homes now range from $400,000-$600,000+ on Zillow’s Zestimate (will we see a museum exhibit citing the Zestimate in 70 years?). Current photos of the homes featured in the exhibit Mid-Century Modest: Postwar Housing and the Growth of Southeast Portland appear below.

The neighborhoods have grown and demographics have shifted. The exhibit explains that many white working families were able to afford their first homes with financing from the FHA or GI Bill, while African Americans were excluded from these opportunities. Nationally today, seventy years later, as interest rates rise and affordable homes are in short supply, first-time home buyers are losing out to older, whiter, and wealthier buyers. The New York Times noted, “The repercussions could be lasting and deepen racial and generational disparities in homeownership.” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/03/realestate/housing-market-buyer-wealth-race.html 

The exhibit not only shows how Southeast Portland housing expanded to benefit some and not others in the 1950s, it also gives us context for the socioeconomic factors shaping our neighborhoods right now.

Story and photos by Lainie Ettinger. Lainie is a freelance writer and AHC volunteer whose work has been published in The Oregonian and the New York Times. She has also worked in school admissions, fundraising, and communications for non-profit, cultural, and educational institutions. Lainie lives in Portland.