PHOTO: PIETRO BELLUSHI
In the spring of 1948 I moved to Portland. I got a job at the telephone company and moved into the Martha Washington Hotel, a hotel for women that also provided meals. It was on S W 10th and Montgomery, right off the Park Blocks. I could walk from there all the way down through those blocks to where I worked on S W Park and Oak. My living place was also right below the place where the streets started curving up into the West Hills. Mostly I worked a split shift at the telephone company, so I had the afternoons free. My favorite thing to do on pleasant afternoons was to walk up into the West Hills and look at all the lovely old mansions with their beautiful gardens.
One day I came across a site where a new house was under construction. This was unusual because it was in a long-established neighborhood. The site was down a long, narrow, driveway and set well back onto a small irregular lot. It was on a Sunday so no one was working there. I wandered down the driveway, across a plank, and up onto the plywood sheathed floor. It was a small house and some parts were angled to better fit the site. The 2×4 bottom plates had been installed to show where the walls would be. The floor had three levels stepped down the slope, each about 18” higher than the other. I walked through, admiring the way the rooms were laid out. I could tell there would be a second floor.
I kept visiting this house, always on weekends when no carpenters were present. The framing, the second floor and the wall sheathing went up so I could see out through the window openings. I loved it! It was so imaginatively and beautifully designed to fit into the terrain, and take advantage of the marvelous view of Mt. Hood and the city.
On a day that I thought was probably my last visit, because the roof was finished, and the doors and windows would soon be installed (at which time sidewalk superintendents would be locked out) I was wandering through, when a man came in. He was carrying a clip board. He was dressed in a suit, nice looking, maybe fiftyish, with dark eyes, dark graying hair and mustache. I smiled at him. He smiled back. He looked at me quizzically but didn’t say anything. He just started looking around and jotting notes on his clip board. I asked him if he was the architect. He said yes he was. I said I thought it was a wonderful house. He thanked me. Then I left.
A few years later, I saw a picture of Peitro Belluschi in a magazine accompanying an article about him. I recognized him. I realized he was the man I had met in that house! It was Pietro Belluschi! I had spoken to Pietro Belluschi! I had smiled at him. He had smiled at me. He was such a famous architect, the architect for the Equitable Building which was close to where I worked, the building that I had, only shortly before I met him, walked into, marveling at the, oh so modern details!–inch thick green glass doors without frames, pivoting on unseen pivots, everything so sleek and clean! The article said that, in his early days in Portland, he had hired a woman who had a degree in interior design, Marjorie Wintermute, as a draftsman in his office. He had encouraged her to take the architectural exam, and she had become Portland’s first woman architect.
After that, I fantasized about what would have happened if I had known who he was, and if I had told him that my deepest aspiration was to be an architect. What if I had told him that I was a good draftsman and asked him for a job!
What if! What if! What if! Well, we will never know, will we?