While concrete is a popular material for many of the commercial concrete contractors Portland relies on for large-scale construction projects, it also has many uses in smaller residential structures. Certainly, this is evident in the foundations, driveways, and retaining walls of homes, but there are many lesser-known examples of more creative concrete applications across the neighborhoods of Portland. Disguised as stone masonry or Mission Revival-style stucco, concrete features heavily in many early 20th century homes in the Kenton District and the Piedmont and West Hills neighborhoods.
Jennie Bramhall House
Built in 1909 in northeast Portland, the Jennie Bramhall House now is featured in the National Register of Historic Places and demonstrates an early use of concrete as the main building material in a residence. The impressive facade of the house is made almost entirely of concrete blocks cast to mimic the aesthetic of stone. The three-story home also features a wide wraparound porch and a sizable tower also constructed with concrete blocks. During the time of the Bramall House’s construction, these types of structures were called cast-stone houses and could even be constructed with a mail-order kit from Sears. A building or homeowner would provide the materials for the concrete mixture, while the kit included a machine that would produce the concrete blocks, including formwork that was designed to replicate the natural texture of stone and molds for other architectural details like columns and balustrades. The Jennie Bramhall House is adorned with these elaborate concrete features as well, with columns supporting the front and side porches’ roofs and a low, ornate railing encircling the cast-stone porch.
Kenton District Company Housing
Around the same time and across town, the Swift Meat Packing Company was in the process of constructing housing for its employees using a similar method and the same concrete materials. Several cast-stone houses were constructed in the neighborhood for those who worked for the company, as well as the Kenton Hotel, which was built to host visiting cattlemen and also utilized the concrete blocks fabricated to resemble stone masonry. Like the Bramhall House, these buildings have been added to the National Register of Historic Places and are diverse examples of the uses and qualities of concrete in Portland. Not only do these structures have a striking appearance, but they have also lasted the test of time and have become architectural gems for Portland residents and concrete enthusiasts alike.