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Lumber Baron's Home Becomes Oregon's Latest Historic Landmark


Oregon’s newest National Historic Landmark is opening to the public. The Watzek House is the state’s seventh National Historic Landmark. It was the 1937 home of Portland lumber baron Aubrey Watzek.

Kristian Foden-Vencil got a sneak-peek and files this report.


The Watzek House stands on four acres of land at the top of Portland’s southwest hills.

It gave birth to a unique Pacific Northwest mid-century look.

Think pre-Mad Men with a woodsy Oregon twist.

Watzek House - Photos by Kristian Foden-Vencil

When you arrive at the small circular driveway, you’re faced by a rather ordinary three-car garage.  Hanna Bryant will conduct the tours.

“The first time I cam to this house I thought it seemed like such a simple facade and I was thinking, how is this, this incredible house that’s had all this publicity? But I think as soon as you walk into the courtyard you’ll understand exactly how special this place is. I’ts really an incredible experience to walk through that door,” Bryant says.

Oregon native, John Yeon designed the Watzek Home when he was 26. The University of Oregon says that was before he had any formal architectural training.

Robert Melnick is the director of the John Yeon Center for Architectural Studies at the University of Oregon. He says the home is a jewel.

“As you enter there’s a pond with koi in it and some beautiful wisteria that’s just hanging down.”

Kristian: “That’s really old wisteria and I can tell it’s been beautifully  well trained as well.

Robert Melnick: “It’s very, very old wistera, going back to when the house was built in 1937. The house is very unsusual because it was the very first house of its type that was built.  We take these kinds of houses for granted now in the Northwest. But when it was built it was very unusual.”

It was built before the futuristic George Jetson era, but it’s as if you can see the 1960’s coming up.  The main living room has two large walls of windows overlooking Mt. Hood. But Yeon was concerned it might be too cold — so he put in double glazing, one of the first uses in Portland according to the Universtity of Oregon.

The house also uses  a lot of daylight for lighting; passive ventilation to keep cool and dry;  and integrated interior downspouts.

There are also innovations that haven’t survived.

“This is called Surestop. This is a glass bulb in a holder on the wall and it’s a fire supressant. It was designed so that if there was a fire, you would take that off and throw it at the base of the fire and the chemicals would put out the fire. And there are a number in the house,” Melnick says

Apparently it was meant to work by sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Of course, people need oxygen too, so whoever found the fire had to throw the bulb and run away.

Bryan Birch is one of two caretakers who live at the Watzek House. He says they have modern fire extinguishers now.

“It’s interesting living in an historic landmark as it where because there’s a sense of artistry and a sense of beauty that’s pervasive. John Yeon’s design as you heard earlier, it marries the architecture of the house to the landscape. Living iside of it is like stepping backwards into grandma’s house in one way. But we’re very comfortable here and it’s special,” Birch says.

Architect John Yeon bought the home in 1973 and after he died it was donated to the University of Oregon.

House tours start on June 24 and can be booked online.

On the Web

U of O: School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Tours and Events 

School of Architecture and Allied Arts: Watzek House

National Historic Landmark Nomination


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