The world was at war in 1917 when a three-level building designed for stylish living rose in Southwest Portland. Inside each of the 13 units was a built-in china cabinet, kitchen with a then-modern stove, and hot-and-cold running water flowing into sinks and the clawfoot tub.

The Merlin building, now known as the Marianna, at 654 S.W. Grant St., was one of hundreds of apartment houses built in Portland to appeal to the city’s growing number of middle-class residents.

Unlike boarding houses, longterm hotels or barebones flats, many of the fashionable apartment houses had high ceilings and crown molding dressing up the parlor.

Classic architectural exteriors made each apartment house look like a large, single-family residence. The Marianna is a foursquare design. Like many of the early apartments, units here were converted into condos.

A top-floor, end unit with 581 square feet of living space in the Marianna building sold for $249,000 on April 8. A similar-sized one-bedroom unit on the second level sold on May 12 for $219,500.

The pricier one on the third floor has recent upgrades, but surviving in both homes are original features, including a hexagon tile floor in each bathroom and a Victorian-style toilet, which earned its “pillbox” or “hatbox” nickname by having a round porcelain tank.

1917 Marianna condo
654 S.W. Grant St. #302 in South Portland sold for $249,000 on April 8, 2022 by listing agent Grant Williams of Urban Nest Realty. The condo has one bedroom, one bathroom and 581 square feet of living room. 22 Pages Photography

Bathrooms in the 1917 Marianna building have the original hexagon tile floor, clawfoot soaking tub as well as a Victorian-style toilet, which earned its “pillbox” or “hatbox” nickname by having a round porcelain tank.22 Pages Photography

Most of the early apartment houses were designed by Portland architects and built by developers seeing the need for multifamily housing due to a population boom caused by the explosively popular 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.

Apartments, a new concept in permanent housing, were introduced in Portland in the early 1900s, and by 1914, there were 257 buildings with units for rent, according to historian Ed Teague, who wrote the online guide, “The Apartment House in Portland, Oregon.”

The city’s housing demand quieted down during the World War I years, with fewer apartment buildings opening in Portland from 1914 to 1916, said Teague.

It’s surprising the 1917 Marianna was constructed.

World War I pounded Portland’s economy. Men joined the service, trade with Europe and exports from the port dropped, and most new construction projects were limited to those essential to the war effort.

Over the decades, many of Portland’s classic apartment houses suffered from neglect, but were revived In the 1980s by investors. In 2008, the condos in the Marianna building were updated with new electrical, plumbing and windows.

Today, the Marianna building “is charming and the location is amazing,” says listing agent Grant Williams of Urban Nest Realty, who sold the more expensive unit.

The building, on the corner of Southwest Broadway Drive near Interstate 405, is a half mile to Portland State University.

Investors appreciate that the Marianna’s homeowners association does not restrict the number of rental units. One unit listed on Airbnb can be rented at $69 a night for a month-long stay or longer.

Homeowners association fees are $483 a month.

A one-bedroom Marianna condo with 581 square feet of living space was sold May 12 for $219,500 by listing agent Troy Wilkerson of the Broker Network.

A one-bedroom Marianna condo with 581 square feet of living space was sold May 12 for $219,500 by listing agent Troy Wilkerson of the Broker Network.The Broker Network

See more of Portland’s most famous apartment buildings: Wander through this gallery of important and surviving apartment buildings that rose from the pre-1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition days until the Depression.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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Midcentury modern architect William Fletcher’s first Portland house is for sale for the first time

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