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  • Dennis McNabb

The Easiest Way To Acquire A Lot In Lake Oswego - Circa 1935


During the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1939, many banks failed. This triggered a drastic decrease in home loans and ownership. At that time, most home mortgages were short-term (three to five years), with no amortization, and balloon instruments at loan-to-value (LTV) ratios below sixty percent. This prevented many working and middle-class families from being able to afford home ownership.

The National Housing Act of 1934 created the Federal Housing Administration. Its intention was to regulate the rate of interest and the terms of mortgages that it insured. These new lending practices increased the number of Americans who could afford the down payment and monthly debt service payments on a mortgage, thereby also increasing the size of the market for single-family homes.

Enter the 1935 National Housing Show where Portlanders were treated to an eight-day extravaganza of displays and events promoting the latest in home design and products to encourage growth of the local housing market.

One of the many families who enjoyed a day or two out was Thomas W. James and his wife, Mildred, as well as their children, Marion, Ellen Louise and Thomas. A native of Wales who had made his way to America in 1911, Thomas Sr. was a watchman at Meier & Frank department store and the family lived comfortably in a house they owned in SE Portland.

While one cannot be sure if the whole family attended together, we do know that 10-year-old Ellen Louise certainly did since she was the grand winner of a rather nice prize, two lots in Lake Oswego.

So, what became of the little girl with the big prize and that lot in Oswego?

Let’s take a look!

A visit to the Clackamas County Recorder office revealed that Ellen was given title to not one, but actually two lots in the Lakewood area.

At the time, building lots in this area of Oswego were selling for roughly $300 to $400 for lots not directly on the lake or with lake views. While this seems low to our 2020 eyes, don’t forget that the median annual salary in 1935 was around $500.00.

Ellen hung on to her little patch of earth in Oswego until September 1954 when she and her first husband sold the still vacant lot to another young couple.

According to real estate records, purchasers Ralph and Frances Gilbert built a home on the site in 1956.

The 1967 purchasers, Richard and Dorothy Norman, were the longest residents, living there until they had both passed away by 2004. In 2012, the house was once again on the market, and following sale, the original house was demolished to make way for the new home that sits there today.

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