Albany’s Historic Homes and the People Who Take Care of Them

Albany was named by This Old House magazine as one of the best places in the United States to buy an historic home a couple of years ago; and after touring a few of our best examples last Saturday, I understand why.  The tour is a regular event coordinated by the Albany Visitors Association that allows those of us who live in new subdivisions to see what it’s like to live in an historic home.  I have always had respect for people willing to take on the restoration or even the maintenance of an old home, but I don’t think I fully appreciated their creativity until this most recent tour.

My wife and I undertook the tour with my year-old grandson, Porter, strapped to my back and only a vague notion of how many homes we wanted to see.  I think we got to six in the three hours before my back began to protest.  We started with the old Signs of Victory Mission home on Lyon Street that is now a computer-assisted design office.  Owner Herb Yamamoto did a great job of restoring the structure and making it an attractive and functional office.  Maple floors, leaded glass windows, and woodwork unlike anything found in newer homes make this elegant old building an important contributor to the Hackleman Historic District.

We saw some beautiful homes during the course of the tour, but our favorite was our Urban Renewal Manager Kate Porsche’s, on the corner of Baker Street and Seventh Avenue.  Kate and her husband, Rod, have done remarkable work in restoring the home of a former Oregon governor and U.S. senator, George Chamberlain.  Kate gave us a personal tour of Albany’s tallest home and provided a wealth of information about all that goes into restoring a historic residence.  I am always impressed by someone who can envision a physical improvement and has the knowledge and skill to make it happen.  Kate also has an artistic flair, evidenced by the checkerboard patio made with blocks of leftover sod and masonry.  Rod only grumbled a little about the eight hours of digging associated with the project.  The University of Oregon football calendar in Maddy Jo’s room was also a nice addition to the house.

The tour of homes was interesting and entertaining enough that even Porter seemed to enjoy the experience.  I think he liked all the attention he received as we mingled with several hundred other people enjoying this unique opportunity to see the fruits of a long-term commitment to historic preservation.  I have very modest home improvement skills, and I have to confess to some guilt when I see how industrious so many people have been with their homes.  Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated another reminder of why Albany is a special community, with many talented and industrious people.