Thursday, June 1, 2006
Three great-granddaughters of pioneer Vancouver banker Charles E. Brown on Thursday walked through the restored house he owned for 27 years around the turn of the 20th century.

The women, Nancy Brunquist of Portland, Deborah Reis of Union, and Liz Carpenter of Linwood, had never before been in the 140-year-old house at 11th and Daniels streets. They said they were amazed at the renovation, which has brought the house back to the shape it was in when their great-grandparents lived in it from 1874 to 1901. The house was built in 1866 by a pioneer attorney, Alonzo Cook.

Jody Stahancyk, of the Portland-based law firm Stahancyk, Kent, Johnson & Hook, purchased the sagging, two-story house in 2004 for $400,000 from attorney James L. Gregg. Gregg, 78, maintains an office in the house where he has practiced since 1960.

The house was stripped to the studs and rebuilt over the past two years. Layers of paint were burned off the outside wood walls, and the stone-gray exterior was repainted the original shade of tan. Rooms that originally were for billiards, dining, sleeping, cooking and food storage were converted to law offices and conference rooms.
Portland preservation architect William Hawkins worked to renovate the house in antique style and retain such details as 12-foot ceilings, a door with an original doorbell, an ingenious revolving-wall panel room vent, windows with porcelain-knobbed latches and an almost impossibly steep, winding stairway.

The house is a rare example of Second Empire-style architecture with a flat roof, a tower, decorative brackets, molded cornices and detail on windows and doors. Such homes were built primarily from 1860 to 1880. The term Second Empire is derived from the reign of Napoleon III, who loved architecture.

“Jody just loves history and old things,” said Jade L. Bunker, the firm’s public relations representative.

The house is freshly painted, furnished and filled with portraits of Abraham Lincoln and cartoons by the pioneer French cartoonist Honore Daumier, who lived from 1808 to 1880.

Lincoln figures indirectly in the history of the house. He appointed Charles Brown’s father, Samuel W. Brown, to be the first receiver of the U.S. Land Office of Vancouver in 1861. Lincoln’s appointment brought the 11-year-old Charles Brown to Vancouver.

Charles Brown grew up here and lived here for the rest of his life, except for an excursion to San Francisco in the 1870s to work in the printing trade. He returned to Vancouver in 1874 and served on the city council and was a community leader.

He became president of the First National Bank of Vancouver in 1891. But scandal and tragedy arrived.

On April 19, 1901, Brown committed suicide along with bank cashier Edmund Canby after the bank’s records failed to reconcile.

The restored house now will be the offices of attorneys Teresa L. Foster and Shantel P. Bray, representing the Stahancyk firm, which concentrates on divorces and estate planning and has offices in Astoria, Bend and Prineville as well as in Portland.

Attorney Alonzo Cook, who built the house, represented W. Bryon Daniels, for whom the street by the house was named. In 1874, Cook and his wife, Isabella, sold the house to Charles Brown and his new wife, Rebecca Slocum Brown. After Brown’s death in 1901, his widow lived in the house. They had three daughters.

In 1925, the Browns’ heirs sold the house to Alice Hubbard. Some time after 1930, ownership passed to Mary H. Pringle and her husband. In 1940, Mrs. Pringle sold it to William E. Frost and his wife, Julie. In 1946, Mrs. Frost sold the house to the law firm of Bates and Burnett, and they sold it to Gregg and his wife, Barbara, in 1960.

The Greggs owned it until 2004, when Stahancyk entered the picture. She loved the place.

“A lot of people just wanted to tear it down,” said Barbara Gregg. “But not Jody Stahancyk. Just look at what she’s done. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Stahancyk, who was in court Thursday and wasn’t able to lead the great-granddaughters on the tour, said earlier she was delighted with the house. “It was a way for people to see that the same way we take care of our clients, we take care of restoring this house,” she said.