For nearly 7 years, Eliot residents have wondered what the future is for the building that housed the Cleo-Lilliann Club for many years. At the corner of N Williams & Monroe, it was a fixture for social gatherings in the neighborhood until closing in 2001. Since that time, it has sat vacant and been a target for taggers as no real estate deals apparently have been worked out between owners and potential buyers.
This fine building at 3037-3041 N Williams is one of the last of the many old commercial buildings that used to line the central business district of Albina. In spite of its present condition, it retains the most integrity of the remaining surviving commercial buildings that line the Williams & Vancouver corridor. Most of the other original buildings in this area were demolished in the 1970s for planned expansion of Emanuel Hospital that did not take place for the most part and today, most of the property is still far underutilized. The results of this “urban renewal gone wrong” were disastrous for the Eliot neighborhood both socially and economically for years to come.
Back in 1909, owner James H. Rinehart hired the building firm of Brooks & Downing to construct a two story building of masonry for commercial retailing downstairs and apartments upstairs. William Downing was the draftsman/architect for the firm and came up with this interesting design to harmonize with the other elegant commercial buildings that used to line Williams Avenue along a busy streetcar route. Of note in this building is a polygonal corner bay upstairs giving the dweller an extra vantage view up and down the street. The masonry contract was given to Peter Jeppeson, a Danish-born brick mason and cement contractor. He came to Portland in 1891 and achieved a reputation for excellent quality of work. This may explain the good condition of the brickwork today with its interesting designs of high-temperature fired red and blonde bricks on the walls facing the streets. Jeppeson lived in a brick bungalow he built at 4107 N Albina in the Boise neighborhood that was listed on the National Register about 15 years ago. He was responsible for masonry work on many fine buildings throughout the north and east sides of Portland for nearly 40 years.
When the building was completed, a grocery store that specialized in fresh produce became the main tenant and was operated by T. H. Crowley, who also lived upstairs in the spacious apartment on the corner above his store. In about 1920, the Elijah Rogers Confectionery & Fruit Company opened in the main retail space and also started making candy in the rear. In 1924, the business was bought out by Adah & John Hohenleitner, who expanded the candy making business and it must have been a popular place for the neighborhood children to hang out at. In about 1927, the building was purchased by Joseph and Robert Menefee, prominent real estate and insurance businessmen in Albina. They set up shop in the building in the adjacent retail space for their office, which remained here through 1934. In the 1940s, the main tenant was Rudy’s Tavern & Billiards at the corner space, operated by African-Americans and it evolved into a popular gathering place. In 1952, another gathering place called Cleo’s Social Club opened in a building next door that has been torn down in the 1990s. It was also called Cleo-Lilliann Charitable Organization and in 1956, they moved the club into the Rinehart Building and soon, they became a notable social institution in the neighborhood. During the next two decades, the club on the corner became popular for many people of Portland and hosted performances by popular African-American artists such as B. B. King and George Foreman. It is hopeful that the near future will bring this building back to life. There is a pending sale on the building at the present time and the buyers intend on listing the building on the National Register of Historic Places. This would give property tax breaks and business tax credits to them and a sensitive renovation would be carried out.
This is another excerpt of the book The History of Albina, being published by the author. It is planned for release in June 2008 and will be sold at Broadway Books at 1714 NE Broadway and Powell’s Books downtown plus other retail outlets in the Eliot and Boise neighborhoods yet to be determined. He still seeks any old photographs and historic stories and also conducts historic research on homes in the Eliot & Boise neighborhoods at very reasonable rates. He can be contacted at 503-282-9436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*some information from National Register nomination (Kartini Clinic LLC)