Captain John W. Kern Home, 1949

Portland pioneer Reverend Clinton Kelly built this fine home for his son-in-law and daughter, Captain and Mrs. John W. Kern, on top of Powell Hill in 1892. By 1947, the old Queen Anne-style mansion on SE Powell between 29th and 30th Streets was empty and isolated as the hill around it was removed to level the area. Two years later the house was pulled to the ground. Read the article accompanying this photo here, and read a feature-length 1948 article about the house, and the Kelly and Kern families, here. Thanks to VP fan Edmund Veith for supplying these articles.

(The Oregonian. Retrieved from

29 thoughts on “Captain John W. Kern Home, 1949

  1. Ann – You are right, of course. My cold-addled brain is again failing me. I’ve made the changes in the title and body of the post. Thanks for pointing out the error early.

  2. Wow. I was bowling last night on the site of this house. I wander if the ghost of the Captain is hanging around there? (Maybe he could help me with my game)… Sad to have lost this house, but it’s interesting to read the article. People seemed to take losing houses like this in stride and only had an odd fascination with their history. I’m sure little if anything was salvaged, but I wonder if someone saved the weather vane? Sounds like it was pretty impressive. Great post, and nice to have a little insight on some of the street names in the area I grew up. Thanks Edmund and Dan.

  3. Wow. interesting history there. Big thanks to Edmond for finding this and, and, of course, to Dan for posting it.

    Dan, there was a big discussion in an earlier post about a home on 54th and SE Morrison, that was torn down many years ago. I found an article which gives a little information about it, (a PDF file I saved) and would like to email it to you. My email is TheKobaltDuckATmsnDOTcom. I’ve been trying to find more about the man and family that occupied the home, so far to no avail.

    Maybe some VP fans can find some more information, that I may not yet have uncovered.

  4. The article opens up a mystery- it mentions a “colonial type house” that succeeded the log cabin then was moved “a few blocks” to make way for the Kern house. In the article it says that it still existed. I wonder if it does now?

  5. Thank you Dan Davis. I’m glad that you and others here also found the articles to be of interest
    I found the Kern Mansion Sanborn map on Proquest through my local library.
    The online Sanborn map that shows the footprint of the Kern mansion and its outbuildings is Portland+19241928+vol.+10,+1925,+Sheet+1007.pdf
    The outline of the Kern house is on the lot marked 5482.
    I did an overlay of this map on a Google satellite map of the same area using PhotoShop.
    It appears that the original footprint of the Kerns mansion would be right on top of the Food Mart section of that oddly shaped commercial building rather than the “hamburger stand”(McDonald’s) mentioned by Lambert Florin and other sources. Lambert Florin mistakenly identified the Kern mansion as the “Clinton Kelly mansion in his book “Victorian West”, even though the good reverend Kelly died in 1875 and could never have set foot in this mansion.
    The section of SE 30th just east of the mansion and shown on the Sanborn map between 5482 and 5483 has disappeared since then, and the entrance to Waverleigh Blvd from Powell Blvd is now a dead end, blocked by curbs and a bus bench.
    There are several 1 room shacks on 5483 (where the bowling alley now stands) which probably were the dwelling places of the Chinese servants mentioned in the Oregonian article.
    The outline of the Kerns residence seems to show evidence of a large porte cochere on the north side.
    The article mentions the original Kelly house having been moved further west from the top of the hill to make room for the Kerns mansion.
    I believe this was the building outline shown on 5466. This appears to be the Kelly home that would have been demolished to make room for the McDonalds.
    Here’s a link to a pic of that home.

  6. Edmund, thanks again for the initial input for this post as well as these great clarifying notes. I’m always amazed and how much I learn from the readers.

    I love the photo of the original Kelly house. It appears that the hill on which it sat is the hill the crews eventually excavated to isolate the Queen Anne house.

    I’ve uploaded the relevant bit of the Sanborn map here. The mansion is at center-right.

  7. Not your fault the names were confusing, the one newspaper article about the demolition had the family as Kerr in print.
    What I find particularly horrifying is that the house was ONLY 57 years old!!!!!!!. Good thing they don’t figure that people aren’t useful anymore at that young an age. (Tho’ I’m beginning to think that that might be true as well. I was told that after 50 you aren’t considered to be easily trainable any more…..)

  8. I have looked and looked for something on the Doud house and had no luck whatsoever, only a mention of Mrs. Doud at some social something or other in an East Portland social column. And of course the article in the paper showing the house that was posted as a link on VP.

  9. PS..don’t you just love the names of the Kelly’s 5 boys?
    Plympton, Hampton, Archon, Calmet and Benjal. They sound like London tube stations.

  10. @ djwolski- Thank you so much for adding that link to the Bunce painting! I think the painting, though impressionistic, is more than just inspired by the Kerns mansion and is actually highly accurate.
    The painting does show some logical added details that jibe with the architecture of the house and its outline on the Sanborn map, such as the jerkinhead gable on the north side. There is even a gap where the porte cochere could have been attached. I believe the artist must have seen the house first hand, or had a photo that I haven’t been able to find in archive searches. Thanks again.

    @Chris- I would love to see more information on the house on 54th and Morrison.

    @Roxanne- It really is horrifying that so many of these grand houses had such a short life-span. What I found gratifying is that the Kerns house was so
    stoutly built that, to quote the article-“Square nails about one inch apart make the tearing down a difficult process and the salvage of materials almost impossible.” The man who bought the property had every intention of using the wood from the mansion in the construction of his new commercial development. I highly doubt he was able to use much.
    Somewhere, Captain Kerns must still be laughing! 😉

  11. I noticed in the newspaper article about the twin to the Poulson house that it was pulled off it’s foundation without falling apart. If you look at the photo, the house itself looked to be pretty good shape even after having been pulled about by a tractor or whatever. They built stuff to LAST back then. Of course, if they put that much quality and workmanship into houses now days they would all cost at least a million dollars. I have a moderately cheap ticky tack and it is worth a quarter million. Hard to believe. My grandmother would die if she new her place in Irvington sold for $600,000 about 10 years ago when it last sold. I think she paid $12,000 in the 50’s.

  12. Edmund,

    Here is a link to a photo of the Inman House after it was pulled from its foundation. The photo is part of Dan Haneckow’s article “Fall of the House of Inman” on his cafeunknown blog. According to the article, the photo was originally published in Life magazine.

  13. Dan – Thank you for this magnificent post! LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I used to work nearby and would run on my lunch hour at the Cleveland High track not far from this home’s former location. I always wondered what that section of Powell looked like in the past. If you drive in any direction on this portion of Powell, this area is still the top of Powell.

  14. In the late 1960’s there was a man at the Lloyd Center Oktoberfest that did colored pencil (I think) drawings of the old houses of Portland. I did not have money at the time to buy them nor the maturity to appreciate them but I sure would like to have some of them now. If anyone in Portland knows who this person was or artwork of a similar nature, let me know, OK?

  15. I wonder if someone knows a source to find the full article from Life magazine about the Inman house.

  16. Chris, I don’t think there was an article. I believe is was just the photo of the week, or some such.

  17. Thank you for the link to that picture of the late, lamented Inman House Jim.
    I had seen an online copy of this picture from the magazine before, but not reproduced with near this clarity
    Sorry to be so late to respond, but I’ve had to help move three households this last week within my own family, and I was temporarily offline.
    @Dan Davis- Always a pleasure. Vintage Portland is one of my favorite history portals. I learn something new each time I visit.

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  20. I’m sorry but are you talking about the Kern Mansion around Bakersfield CA that sit’s or sat on a nice piece of property with trees from all around the world on it? and real long entry way road with palms on each side? and did they used to or still do have tours of it?

  21. I don’t know if anyone ever goes on here, but I have a watercolor painting of the Kern mansion done by my grandfather, Gene Lee, just before it was demolished. It is from a different angle than the picture in this article. I contacted the Portland Historical Society and they sent me a picture of it plus some blueprints. They told me that there were really no pictures of the house. I definitely have been meaning to get it appraised! If you would be interested in it, let me know. I would be happy to send some pictures! All of these comments were really interesting to read. My grandmother thought it was the Clinton Kelly house the whole time, too, but it wasn’t. I was also told that it stood where Cleveland High School’s track is now…but then I also heard it was a little farther up.

  22. @Kendal C- I would love to see your Grandfather’s Painting of the house! You said the “Portland Historical Society” sent you a picture and blueprints of the House. Did you you mean to say “Oregon Historical Society”? I’ve been unable find a Portland Historical society with any search. I would just about give my first-born for detailed blueprints of the Kern Mansion, if any do indeed exist.

  23. @ Daniel Veith-Hi there! my husband posted the original post, and unfortunately, they didn’t send me “blueprints”, they are just the deed/title documents….it WAS the Oregon Historical Society, not the Portland Historical Society, and what they sent me was literally all they had on the house. Sorry about all the confusion. I would love to show the painting to you- he also did a few others of local places: Siletz Falls, Trojan, and there is one from somewhere in the Gorge (not sure where, and he passed away a LONG time ago). I have pictures of the painting of the Kern house uploaded on my computer, but haven’t been able to figure out how to post a pic yet….would you like me to email it to you?

  24. Hello Kendal C, et al. Thank you for clarifying your husband’s previous post. While it’s too bad the OHS didn’t send you blueprints for the house, I would love to see the painting of the house! My email addy is Thank you so much! I plan to build a scale model of the house.

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