Kenneth Birkemeier was one of the most resourceful builders in Portland. The majority of Birkemeier’s building career took place between the 1930s-1950s where he implemented a variation of building styles predominantly in the Alameda area.
Kenneth Birkemeier was born on October 21, 1905, and quite literally born into a family with skills in building arts. His grandfather designed and built the 1878 Birkemeier-Sweetland house. Meanwhile, his father was a casket maker and fine carpenter. Birkemeier went onto attending the University of Oregon in the early 1920s to study architecture. Prior to his building career, Birkemeier worked in a butcher’s shop and then as a draftsman for furniture maker Bruno P. Johns.
Birkemeier truly did it all. He drew up his own plans, built his forms, and poured his own foundation too. He did have a small team that consisted of his brother, Ed Birkemeier, Fred Snelling (who handled brick and stonework), Bill Gammon, Howard McDonald, and later he’d add his son, Brent Birkemeier to the team too.
The volume of homes built by Birkemeier is truly remarkable. The majority shown, even to this day, just south of Fremont in a platted subdivision known as “Town of Wayne”, also considered part of the Alameda neighborhood.
There are quite a few personalized touches Birkemeier would leave on his designs – one of the main ones being a rough brick pattern. Another common signature from Birkemeier was the round oculus window. Both are shown above in a completed home by Birkemeier at 3011 NE 30th back in May 1936.
A lot of the homes built by Birkemeier with this style and in the Alameda area were done in the mid-1930s. Once Birkemeier had built out a fair amount of homes in Alameda, he continued on and designed homes near Reed College in the 1950s. He would go on and expand to eastside neighborhoods as well as the west side of Portland. During this time, Birkemeier completed several apartment buildings, duplexes, and high-end homes on hillside lots.
Birkemeier continued to do construction himself well into his 80s. It wasn’t until he was 86 years of age that he finally stepped back from the construction projects. Birkemeier’s grandson, Dan Birkemeier, continues to cherish the family tradition of building today. Dan is an architect currently living in Seattle.
To this day – there is no conclusive list of the completed homes built by Birkemeier as he did so many. With that, it’s no secret the reputation that Birkemeier created in the building industry is ever-lasting. The next time you find yourself strolling in the Alameda neighborhood, keep your eyes peeled for some of Birkemeier’s designs. Chances are, you’ll see quite a lot of them.