Taking a drive through the Nob Hill Terrace neighborhood one afternoon in 1993, Allen Tooke and Marcia Truman came upon an unknown dead-end street. They were delighted to discover a stately brick house with a bold mix of English and American Arts & Crafts, Colonial Revival, and Japanesque elements. Their excitement grew when they spied a collapsed for sale sign in the driveway. Allen called the number . . . it turned out the house next door was on the market, not this one. The owner, however, was recuperating from back surgery and had begun to consider selling. “John Wentland told us that he could sell the historic Harmon–Neils home only to a preservation-minded buyer,” Allen recalls.
The house was designed in 1908 by renowned architect A.E. Doyle. (His work includes Portland's Benson Hotel, Reed College, the Meier & Frank Building, and the Multnomah County Public Library.) Working with Doyle’s grandson, preservation notable George McMath, Wentworth had gotten the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first owner was E.L. Harmon, transferred from his native Michigan to Portland by Penn Mutual Life Insurance. Tragically, Harmon and his daughter Helen died in 1922 of “septic sore throat” from tainted milk delivered in the neighborhood. His widow, Elizabeth, sold the next year to Julius Neils of the important J. Neils Lumber Company. Neils died just 10 years later, but his daughter Anna stayed here until her death in 1980 at the age of 95. Wentland bought the property from Concordia College, to which it had been bequeathed in 1981.
“We’d been looking for a house for over a year,” Allen says, “and this one was stunning, and perfect. I was adamant about not buying into a reconstruction project.” Anna Neils had not painted any of the original woodwork: not the box beams of white oak, not the living-room mantel or built-ins, not the Honduras mahogany paneling in the dining room—it's one of the best-maintained Doyle residences that remain. Allen and Marcia were attracted to the dining-room fireplace’s Rookwood Pottery tile—which has a raised design of cattail reeds. They learned that the dining room’s embroidered frieze, depicting exotic birds and plants, was also original. Elsewhere, the entry vestibule retains its M.H. Birge & Sons (Buffalo, N.Y.) period wallpaper, which was block-printed, embossed, and antiqued by hand in imitation of tooled leather.
The couple’s greatest undertaking was to reroof the whole house and reline the gutters with new copper. “We chose real Vermont slate,” Marcia says. “If we had had children, the cost would have paid for their Reed College educations!”
Allen explains, “As stewards of the house, we wanted to do it right, and the state preservation office said that reroofing with real slate was absolutely the best thing.”
In 1912, the original covered piazza (porch) was enclosed, and its windows and glass doors overlook the rear garden. At the same time, a sleeping porch was added above. The roofing here, previously a tarpaper type, has been redone in copper.
Marcia Truman and Allen Tooke had to open the walls on all three floors when a leak in a water pipe happened eight years ago. At that time, they replaced the master bedroom’s wallpaper with Bradbury & Bradbury’s ‘Clementina’ pattern in Aesthetic Green. The living-room walls were repaired and painted. (Good-size samples of the old silk damask wallcovering have been preserved.) Bradbury’s ‘Marigold’ was added to walls in the staircase, leading the eye to the original Povey Bros. stained-glass window that lights the stairwell.
Wentland had updated the kitchen; the Tooke–Trumans went one step further. With Portland architect Don Merk, they chose cherry wood for cabinets and window trim. “From the time of installation, it resembles the original fir,” Allen explains. The adjacent pantry is distinguished by an original nickel-plated sink and cabinets and counters of Port Orford Cedar. The couple kept the original kitchen sink (with legs and drainboard), which is in the basement along with old portière rods and remnants of the original fabric. (They don’t intend to replicate or rehang these; folks from the Pittock Mansion came to inspect them, however, for guidance during the museum’s portière project.)
Furnishings include both vintage and re-issued Stickley, the original dining table (which is not in Arts & Crafts style), the chair and sideboard that belonged to the Harmons, a handmade stereo cabinet, a black walnut master bed, and bedside tables by local artists David Simon and Bill Toney. Their art and ceramics collections—vintage and modern plein air paintings, Arts & Crafts pottery, and whimsical pieces like a Kim Murton mask—imbue rooms with a layered history. As like-minded stewards, Marcia Truman and Allen Tooke, and former owners John and Shirley Wentland, have stayed in touch.
Some Models for Reproduction
This house has ties to Rejuvenation, the Portland lighting manufacturer that began as a salvage store. Rejuvenation founder Jim Kelly is a long-time friend of homeowner Allen Tooke. When Allen was missing shades for the vintage bronze chandelier and sconces in the living room, Jim Kelly discovered the original molds existed. He liked the shade so much, he added it to Rejuvenation’s reproduction line. In another example, Rejuvenation wanted to introduce period mailboxes, but interesting originals are notoriously rare. There on his friends’ porch was a perfect specimen made in the day by a Minneapolis ironworks. Its reproduction became ‘The Harmon’ model, one of Rejuvenation’s most distinctive offerings.
Thus Allen and Marcia met Bo Sullivan, then Rejuvenation’s senior designer and historian, and since founder of Arcalus Period Design. Bo embarked on a year-long adventure with these clients, working to re-create the fabric from an antique double-sided portière, which would be used for living-room curtains. It took many months of sampling, in collaboration with a company specializing in fine textile reproductions, to find the right yarn colors, thread count, weaving techniques, and pattern adjustments. “Our attempts to recapture the character of this fabric only proved just how complex and sophisticated the original design and production was,” Bo says. The fabric uses both mercerized and combed cotton, which results in the shiny and matte areas. Its polyester content is from post-consumer recycling, and the fabric is woven in America.
Topped by the sleeping porch, a piazza enclosed in 1912 overlooks the rear garden, where a flat, grassy area has been transformed. Centered on a fountain and goldfish pond, the shapely sunken patio of herringbone brick is rimmed with low-rise steps.