In 1980, my husband accepted a job offer in Portland which meant our family would be leaving Steilacoom, WA, a small, historic town overlooking Puget Sound. We had lived there for 10 years.
My husband and I were very involved in “Save Old Steilacoom,” an organization for the preservation of historic homes and businesses being threatened with demolition or loss of character. As a result of the hard work of many volunteers, homes dating from 1853 to 1910 and other city buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It was going to be hard to leave Steilacoom.
I knew very little of Portland and didn’t feel I wanted to live in a “City,” having lived in Los Angeles prior to moving to Steilacoom. A friend told me to consider Lake Oswego because the schools were excellent. What a great recommendation! We rented a home in the Lakeridge School district and I began looking for our permanent home. I was a Realtor in Washington so I did most of the scouting on my own.
One day, out roaming, I saw a small “For Sale” sign I had not noticed before. Driving into a cul- de-sac, I saw the sign on a home that really appealed to me. It had character. Upon entering the home, I was greeted by a distinguished gentleman telling me he was the Realtor selling the home, but also the owner. I told him I was also a Realtor but not in Oregon. We toured the home and he told me he was also the developer of the cul-de-sac but had built the home he was showing for himself and his wife. The home was built in 1962 and was designed by Frank Shell and Charles Hoyt, who were the recipients of the West Coast Lumbermen’s Association Award for the home’s “Modern Design.” I was very impressed with the use of solid hemlock paneling and the beamed fir vaulted ceilings plus the beauty of a massive sandstone fireplace forming one wall of the family room. I was also drawn to the private patios off each of the three bedrooms. I really liked the home. Today the home’s design would be called “Mid Century Modern.”
We had an enjoyable meeting and I felt confident it was a good home for my family. Our friendship began that day. My husband and children liked the home, especially the tennis court that belonged to the neighborhood.
Papers were signed and the house was ours and life went on as did the friendship we developed with our seller, Walter Albert Durham, the great grandson of Lake Oswego’s Founder, Albert Alonzo Durham. It was then I knew why our address was Pioneer Court.
Walter’s great grandparents, Albert and his wife Miranda left Springfield, IL, arriving in what would become Lake Oswego on Oct. 1, 1847. Durham, an experienced sawmill operator, filed claim for the land just north of Sucker Creek that covered the area close to today’s A Avenue. He named his claim Oswego in honor of an earlier home in Oswego, NY. After getting his sawmill rolling, Albert turned adventurer again and headed for gold on the banks of the American River in CA. He did very well and returned once again to Oregon where he decided on a new location for his sawmill – where Sucker Creek and the Willamette River converge.
He sold his interests in 1869 only to erect a new sawmill near his new home in what is now known as Durham, OR.
As I was a newcomer to Lake Oswego, Walter wanted me to get involved. He encouraged me to join Citizens for Community Involvement which developed into several other group activities. He also guided me in selecting the right Real Estate firm to join. I was happy when our firm moved into the Durham building as Walter’s office was there and we could talk over coffee. One day I mentioned the year I was born and he said, “that’s the year the Hunt Club was built.” I was getting a crash course in the History of Lake Oswego.
Walter was a member of the first graduating class of Grant High School in 1924, and then Reed College in 1932. He earned a master of arts degree from Clark University, Wooster in 1933 and a master of science from the University of Denver in 1940. He married Elizabeth Cram, a fellow Reed graduate, in 1934.
He was a longtime member of the Lake Oswego Rotary, Chamber of Commerce and the Oswego Heritage Council. In 1994, he received the Paul Harris Award, the highest honor a Rotarian can receive. He also was honored for his endeavor to preserve the Tryon Creek watershed–now Tryon Creek State Park. This is special to me, as I now serve on the board of Friends of Tryon Creek.
Walter was the first friend I made in Lake Oswego and was always there for questions, encouragement and advice. His love for Lake Oswego was infectious. Walter passed away in 2008 at the age of 98. I’m confident he would have made his great grandfather proud and 40 years after we met, would also be pleased that I am on the Board of Directors of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society and still living in the house he built.