Ever think about how the neighborhood came to be known as Beaumont? There are some interesting theories that have been kicked around over the years, including one story that it’s named after a close friend of one of the early developers.
The first and mainstream story comes from the authoritative source on Portland historic names Eugene E. Snyder, who writes the following in his book Portland Names & Neighborhoods—Their Historic Origins:
“…it means ‘beautiful mountain’ in French. The neighborhood, northeast of Alameda, though hardly ‘a mountain,’ is slightly elevated, and the developers wanted to call attention to that desirable feature.”
The backstory behind the neighborhood name came to light in an article written for the real estate pages of The Oregonian, on April 10, 1910, not long after the original neighborhood was platted. Under the headline “New Addition’s Congnomen is Always Cause of Worry to Owner,” the story reported that the neighborhood developer, the giant Columbia Trust Company, held a banquet for its employees and called a vote on several possible names. The official favorite, backed by the company and probably hard to say no to for the rank and file employees, was Verona Heights, named for the company president’s sister.
Must have been a private ballot, because (thankfully) Verona Heights lost by a landslide to the “beautiful mountain.” Think about that the next time you drive, ride or walk uphill into the neighborhood.
The notion of Beaumont as a promontory and “beautiful mountain” provided the focus of an early advertising campaign—launched many years ago in 1910—aimed at selling lots in the new subdivision to would-be homeowners looking for both good value and a little bucolic peace at the far northeast edge of the city.
The caricatured observatory (is it perched there atop Wisteria?) overlooks forested slopes and terraced, contoured hillside streets while text extols the virtues of what the subdivision could become. Other advertisements about Beaumont, and contemporary newspaper stories about development and construction in the neighborhood, all focus on the planned wide streets, shade trees and easy access to the streetcar line. Some even mention the rose bushes to be planted in the parking strip areas. No matter that these features wouldn’t all be in place for a few more years.
Two other catchy phrases used in early Beaumont advertisements were “The Addition Select,” referring to the subdivision as an exclusive place…the “Portland Heights of the eastside.” Another says that Beaumont is “out where the sun shines,” aiming for that sense of wide views and healthy fresh air.
One of my favorites is from December 1911—simply for the language used—an ad that appeals shamelessly to class and stereotypes: “So many nice people—so many good, substantial, all-wool-and-a-yard-wide people—have bought lots in Beaumont.”
Regarding the 84-year-old neighborhood icon that we all know as Beaumont Middle School, it is actually not the first school that has stood on that site near NE 42nd and Fremont. A much smaller wooden building, with tall windows to capture the daylight, was constructed in 1914—four years after initial founding of the Beaumont Neighborhood—just north of where NE 40th Avenue meets Fremont. A twin to this simple wooden building was also constructed in the Alameda neighborhood, two blocks west of today’s Alameda School. Population pressures in both neighborhoods during the early 1920s, and a relatively favorable economic climate, gave rise to a need for more school space and construction of the two schools that still stand today.
After the 1926 construction of the Beaumont School building we know today, the original wooden building was converted to a shop for “manual training” and stood into the early 1930s before being razed and the open space used for a baseball field and play area adjacent to the school.
Additions to Beaumont School were made in 1930 (classrooms on the northeast side of the building). The stand-alone band portables were added in 1948. The auditorium was converted to office space and the second-floor media center in 1981. And the new gym and lunchroom addition was made in 1989. The building was switched over from being a K-8 school to being a middle school in 1981.
A recent assessment of the school’s historic significance, completed by Portland Public Schools in October 2010, noted that Beaumont School is a fine example of classical revival style architecture. However, the significant degree of interior changes made in 1981 reduced the building’s overall significance, precluding any possible future listing as a candidate for the National Register of Historic Places.
Still, there’s plenty of history associated with the school. Just think of the generations of Beaumont kids who knew that building and who have packed books in and out of the doors over the years. If only the walls could talk, what stories they could tell!