More Mayo House History and Its Amazing Move

Please note that a response to this article, as well as an editor’s note,  follow this article.

Mayo house at its first location on NE Sacramento. Photo credit Portland City Archives

What started as a way to buy an affordable house ended up a many-years-long adventure to refurbish a home while unexpectedly experiencing the spirit world up close and personal.

Gardner and Donna Murphy knew they wanted to get out of the northwest Portland apartment they were living in and started the search to buy a home. In 1979 homes were much less expensive than they are today but still, most home prices were out of reach for the young couple. After being shown many homes by their real estate agent in “white” neighborhoods they wondered if there were any other neighborhoods they could explore where they could afford to buy. As was common practice, their real estate agent would not take them to any of the homes for sale in the “black” neighborhoods so the Murphys took matters into their own hands. While looking in the Oregonian real estate section, one house jumped out to them. The sweet home at 206 NE Sacramento Street built in 1896 seemed like just the property they had been looking for. The current owner was a businessman who owned several properties that he had brought up to code and then rented them out. However, he was getting ready to move out of Portland and this particular house needed a lot of repairs to bring it up to code. He had been able to obtain a loan because of the success of the other homes he had refurbished. The Murphys agreed to provide a lot of sweat equity and to assume his loan for what was a very affordable price. They were given a deadline to complete the repairs, but it would end up taking a lot more sweat equity than originally anticipated to complete the project.

Mayo house at 206 NE Sacramento. Photo credit Sue Stringer

“I thought Gardner knew more about construction and he thought I knew more about construction,” says Donna Murphy. “We had to get an extension of a few more weeks from the owner,” Donna says, “but, he liked what we did.”

The home had no heat at first except for a sawdust burner. “For the first 2 or 3 years ‘til we got the PDC (Portland Development Commission) loan there would be ice on the inside of the windows,” Donna remembers. Gardner recalls, “there was almost no interest on that PDC loan.” They were able to get other PDC loans for the storm windows and insulation.

A few months after they had moved into the home the ghost activity began. Donna confesses, “I never believed in ghosts ‘til I saw one within a few months of moving in. Our little baby, Annie, coughed in the middle of the night and I looked over to see if she was okay and there was a man with a plaid shirt on, like a flannel shirt, looking over the crib looking at her. I thought it was Gardner. I thought Gardner beat me to the crib and then I realized, no, Gardner’s right here (next to her in bed) and this man that was crouched over drifted that way and into the kitchen. It was never scary, it was just interesting. The next morning I thought, ‘I saw a ghost!’ I read that Martin Mayo had a baby while living at that house.”

Donna learned that fact much later after they had moved from and sold the house so she didn’t know who this ghost might be.

Because of this detail and other details about Martin Mayo, the Murphys think that the ghost could have been the spirit of Martin Mayo. Mayo was a cook at a restaurant which he ended up buying and naming it the Mayo Restaurant. Lucretia and Martin’s only son, George P. Mayo was born in that house.

Gardner recalls, “I never had any thought of ghosts until living in that house. In a gas stove, there is an igniter that usually goes click, click, click (fast). Ours started going at night when you weren’t in the room as you were getting ready for bed and it would go click (pause), click if it was bedtime and you weren’t in the kitchen. Our renters asked us about that too.” The stove was changed out three times and each would have that same random clicking at bedtime which would stop when anyone went into the kitchen.

Also, says Gardner, “I felt the bed shaking once and you did too (Donna). I woke up. I took a quick peek and then back under the covers!”

Donna also recalls smells coming from the kitchen. “There was the smell of oatmeal and bacon in the middle of the night.”

“And the voices… One day my sister, as we were bringing in the groceries said, ‘did you leave a radio on?’ And I said, ‘No, that’s the spooks.’ The one was a man having a conversation with himself and the other was a female upstairs in the attic talking slow and measured for hours at a time. You just get used to it. It was like living with roommates next door,” says Donna. “I never felt in any danger. However, I was having nightmares about the clicking and one night I said, ‘You have to stop!’ There was two separate loud pops or bangs and pretty much after that, there was no more ghost activity.” So it seems that Donna had gotten through to the ghosts for the time being!

Apparently, others who have lived in the house have experienced the same thing including tenants of the Murphy’s, some kids who came by and said they had lived in the house and asked if they had heard any ghosts and also some friends of their daughter, Annie, who also lived in the house. Pretty persistent spirits, those Mayos.

Even though the house was haunted, the Murphy’s loved owning and living in the Mayo house and enjoyed the diverse neighborhood and wonderful neighbors. They also enjoyed the adjacent two lots which they purchased from a developer who was going to put up a 6 unit apartment building. They basically purchased those for just over the cost of the back taxes. Saving the lots from development, they turned the property into an urban forest, farm and playground for the kids. Tall trees to climb, room to play baseball and ride bikes, it was a veritable wonderland. Ironic that now the property will again be transformed by a developer building an even larger complex than the one originally avoided in the 1980s.

A House on the move… the Mayo house rolling down the street to its new location at 236 NE Sacramento. Photo credit Brad Baker.

Fast forward to 2019 and the lucky opportunity to meet the Murphy’s at the Mayo house move on January 27th. The Murphys and many other neighbors, friends, family and intrigued residents gathered to watch a house move for the third time down the same street. This time the house will become home to the Black history archives courtesy of Cleo and Kayin Davis. They purchased the house and through a lot of bureaucratic sweat equity and help from the city planners, were able to get a zoning change, fees waived and coordinate the logistics to move a house to their property at 236 NE Sacramento. The actual process was awesome to watch and hard to imagine possible that a 123-year-old home can handle that much movement. Who knows, maybe Martin Mayo and his wife are happy that the house is moving to a third location on the same block and their spirits will be at rest. As for the Murphy’s, they are at peace. Back in 1986 when they sold the house to one of their renters they bought a house in the Beaumont Neighborhood. Thankfully the house they now own is, “at peace with itself,” according to Donna.

Whew, made it all in one piece! Final destination on the Davis’ property. Photo credit Sue Stringer.

We’re not going to say this is the final chapter of the Martin Mayo house story because there is so much more to come with the “ARTChives” the Davis’s are going to create. Who knows? The house may last another hundred years so it will have a chance to have a much longer story with guaranteed interesting twists and turns and perhaps some new ghosts to haunt its rooms.

Shara Alexander submitted this response to the above article.

Response to  “A Story of Sweat Equity”

Shara Alexander

The April 2019 Eliot News story about a previous owner of the Mayo house used a word in the title that has a connotation other than ghosts. That word is “spooks”. (“A Story of Sweat Equity and Spooks- More Martin Mayo House History and its Amazing Move”) People over the age of 50 or people of any age who have read about or experienced racism will be familiar with this racist epithet for African Americans. The title of the article has been changed online.

In addition to using a racist epithet in the title, the article seems to be indifferent to the context of racism, loss and displacement for many residents of this neighborhood. It’s the story of a white family taking advantage of the disparity in home prices and conditions in a redlined area of the city in 1979. This is not just one family’s experience, but is a broad national economic trend founded in racism. I am also white and took advantage of the seemingly irrational low prices of homes and lots in this quadrant of the city when I bought my home in 1992. Even if I didn’t have much money at the time I bought my house, I was in a better economic position than many existing residents and had access to more resources (bank loans, family money, job opportunities) as well as the ability to be comfortable and welcomed in any neighborhood in the city due to my race. This is not a victimless advantage, and it’s not a coincidence, even if we are blissfully unaware as white home buyers. As long as the homes and lots in this neighborhood were owned by people of color, they had lower value. Once the area was transferred into primarily white hands the values began to increase. It was gradual but irreversible, and we are seeing the result of this process today. Economically disadvantaged people are priced out and scramble to find housing again in the currently less desirable parts of the city. The parts of town deemed less desirable by real estate agents and high income buyers changes over time, but are always home to the poor, people of color and immigrants through this economic process of loss and gain. If we are blind to that history and to the continuation of economic disparities by race and other biases we are allowing the system to continue. This entrenched problem may be complex, but if we recognize and acknowledge it we can begin to work together to find solutions.

This neighborhood paper has published many articles about the neighborhood’s history of racism, most recently “ARTchives could be a Game Changer for Portland’s Black Diaspora” January 27, 2019  and “Emanuel Apologizes” September 6th, 2017. I hope readers will continue to think critically about what they see in the neighborhood, how we got here, and who is most impacted by the continuing gentrification and displacement of families in Portland.

Additional resources for learning about racism and the home ownership history of Albina/Eliot:

“Priced Out” the documentary film will be shown from 7pm at the Leaven Community Center on May 2nd

High Country News: https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.9/race-racism-portlands-racist-history-of-housing-discrimination-and-gentrification

The above article “More Martin Mayo House History and its Amazing Move” was published in the spring issue of the Eliot News. The original title and a quote in the article had some phrases that are insensitive and though, not excusable, in the context they were used they were not intended to be offensive. The article title has been amended to exclude those words. The article also does not adequately explain the issues surrounding home buying and selling in the racially diverse Eliot Neighborhood in the not so distant past. 
The Eliot News team will take this oversight as an opportunity to explore topics of racial equity, cultural sensitivity, and historical inequities in our neighborhood. We want to be sensitive and thoughtful when choosing and sharing content with our residents and the extended communities in Portland. 
Sue Stringer, Editor, Eliot News
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ARTchives Could Be a Game Changer for Documenting Portland’s Black Diaspora

Portland’s history (and present) is riddled with stories of housing discrimination. However, when we discuss the history of clearing out predominantly Black neighborhoods to make way for things like the I5 Freeway, Memorial Coliseum, and Emanuel Hospital, or the systemic practice of redlining, it’s often through the prism of broader narratives and statistics. As a result, many of the individual stories get lost.

Continue reading ARTchives Could Be a Game Changer for Documenting Portland’s Black Diaspora

Historic Martin Mayo House Slated for Demolition

Historical black and white photo of Martin Mayo house in 1929
Historic Martin Mayo house in 1929

The Eliot neighborhood may soon be losing an historic resource, a cute house with a unique curved front porch connected to a man who dedicated much of his life to the community over one hundred years ago.  The house now at 206 NE Sacramento Street is a little bit tucked away behind shrubbery on a double-sized lot and proposed to be replaced by bland modern higher density housing.  The current owner, Danielle Isenhart of Emerio Design based in Beaverton, filed a demolition permit earlier this spring and was approved on May 4th.  The one condition posed by the city was a demolition delay of 120 days to provide a possible alternative to the destruction of a historic resource.

Continue reading Historic Martin Mayo House Slated for Demolition

Cornerstones African American History Project Continues—Combatting Demolition

Vancouver Baptist Church
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Vancouver Ave Baptist Church in 1961, meeting with the clergy from the church and its neighbors. Photo courtesy Portland Observer.

On​ ​May​ ​18th,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​basement​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Vancouver​ ​Avenue​ ​Baptist​ ​Church,​ ​city representatives​ ​met​ ​with​ ​neighborhood​ ​homeowners,​ ​community​ ​leaders,​ ​city​ ​planners,​ ​and​ ​local historians​ ​to​  discuss​ ​the​ ​precarious​ ​future​ ​of​ ​the​ ​neighborhood’s​ ​homes.​ ​​ ​Finding​ ​the​ ​city’s properties​ ​with​ ​historic​ ​significance​ ​and​ ​protecting​ ​them​ ​from​ ​development​ ​is​ ​the​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​a​ ​new grant-funded​ ​partnership​ ​between​ ​the​ ​city’s​ ​Historic​ ​Preservation​ ​Program​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Architectural Heritage​ ​Center.

Continue reading Cornerstones African American History Project Continues—Combatting Demolition

Portland’s Jazz Scene Yesterday and Today

Williams at Russell 1937
Paul’s Paradise, was around the corner at 19 N Russell Street—now a grass lot. Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives

In the early 1940s, Floyd Standifer could be found playing his trumpet to the hills. He would listen as the sound came echoing back. This was the way, in the farmlands outside of Gresham, he worked on perfecting his tone. However, he also learned a lot from Williams Avenue in Portland.

Continue reading Portland’s Jazz Scene Yesterday and Today

Eliot History Spotlight: Dawson Park

Dawson Park Gazebo
Dawson Park Gazebo

Right in the heart of Eliot, positioned a block away from the Emanuel hospital between Williams and Vancouver Avenues, lies one of Albina’s most treasured historic spaces: Dawson Park. Today, it’s a shaded, grassy expanse complete with playground, basketball courts, and public fountain. All throughout July, catch free public concerts at Dawson Park every week–but before rolling out the picnic blanket and bringing the family down, learn a little about why Dawson Park’s story is tied so closely to the history of Northeast Portland.

Continue reading Eliot History Spotlight: Dawson Park

The Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church

Vancouver Baptist Church
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Vancouver Ave Baptist Church in 1961. Photo courtesy Portland Observer.

Overshadowed though it may be today by the Cook Street Lofts apartment complex currently under construction across the street, the Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church (3138 N Vancouver Avenue) is an institution of the Eliot neighborhood and of African American history in Portland . The Church appears similar to most others across Portland, with a brick  facade, stained glass windows, and a mid-sized wooden steeple. However, it is one of the few remaining structures from  Vancouver Avenue in the 1950s, and a link to the era when the area was known as “Black Broadway”: the hub of African American life and culture in Portland.

Continue reading The Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church

Eliot School Then and Now

Eliot School c1951

Eliot School corner of Knott and Rodney c 1951. Portland Archives A2001-030
Eliot School corner of Knott and Rodney c 1951. Portland Archives A2001-030

The Eliot School, named after Thomas Lamb Eliot,  was built in 1909 on NE Knott at the corner with Rodney.  In the late 1940’s or early 50’s the school’s teachers and students were relocated. Portland Parks took over the building in the early 1950’s and it became the Knott Street Community Center.

Continue reading Eliot School Then and Now

Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr

Rev Garlington
Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr.

Back in 2006 Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare moved the Garlington Center into Eliot Neighborhood at 3034 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.  Soon they hope to transform the property with a new mixed use building that will include existing services as well as affordable housing.  

Continue reading Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr

Larrabee and Albina Then and Now

The Albina Building 1927

The Albina Building, Larrabee and Albina, 1927.  Portland Archives A2009-009.2471.
The Albina Building, Larrabee and Albina, 1927. Portland Archives A2009-009.2471.

This building on the corner of Larrabee (Interstate) and Albina was originally built as a hotel in the late 1890’s or early 1900’s.  The building looks like it was a triangle, however it was actually shaped like a “V”.  At the top of the building, over the corner entrance, are the words “The Albina”.  It appears there is additional text above in the shadows, but it is unreadable – or perhaps it is ornamentation.  In 1929, The Albina was home to the “Ideal Cafeteria” and the “Baxter Apartments”.

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Union and Knott Then and Now

Union (MLK) and Knott 1929

Union and Knott 1929
Union and Knott 1929. Portland Archives A2009-009.1053.

These twin houses on the corner of Union and Knott were built in 1900.  By 1929 Union had already become a busy street and the houses had started the transition from residential to commercial.  “Dr Muck Dentist” occupied the second floor of the house on the corner.  Over the course of his dental career Dr Earl C Muck had his office in different nearby locations on Union.

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Historic Homes Headed for Demolition

623Thompson

There are two 125-year-old houses in Eliot that are going to be demolished if the neighborhood doesn’t rally to save them. The best option would be to purchase them from the developer who owns them, Guy Bryant of GPB Construction, or failing that, to convince him not to tear them down to build his ultramodern 40-foot-tall rowhouses that, needless to say, don’t fit in to the neighborhood. The houses were built at the time the City of Albina was its own city.

Continue reading Historic Homes Headed for Demolition