Monday, October 3, 2016

T. B. Potter's Success Before Bayocean


Photo of Thomas Benton Potter, from 
Dobbins-Duff  family Tree at Ancestry.com.
The 1900 U.S. Census shows T. B. (Thomas Benton) Potter working as an advertising agent, and his family living as boarders in a household of ten, at 232 S. Hill Street in Los Angles, California. A year later they were living at 418 Eugene in Portland, Oregon, and Potter had formed a real estate partnership with H.L. Chapin, with offices at 246 Stark (1901 and 1903 R. L. Polk Portland City Directories via Ancestry.com). Burt and Margie Webber say Potter amassed a fortune from 1902-1906 developing subdivisions in Kansas City, Missouri, Portland, Oregon, and Half Moon Bay, California (Bayocean: The Oregon Town that Fell Into the Sea, Appendix D). He lost most of his fortune chasing a dream at Bayocean, but neighborhoods and buildings give tribute to his earlier success to this day, several of them named after his daughter, Arleta Natalia Potter. 
I was surprised to discover that Sail (Multnomah County’s GIS system) lists not just one, but four Alberta Parks. The first was platted in NE Portland in 1902. Alberta Parks No. 2, 3, and 4 were platted in 1903 and 1904 in SE Portland. Neither Potter or Chapin are listed as original owners, but Potter & Chapin are shown as sales agents in newspaper ads. City directories show that they were in the same office as William Grindstaff, a realtor who owned and platted the first Arleta Park. Multnomah County deed records show an Arleta Land Company purchasing and selling all four of the Arleta Parks, plus three additional subdivisions: Lester Park, Ina Park, and Elberta in NE Portland. Incorporation papers at the Oregon State Archives list the stockholders of the Arleta Land Company as Potter, Chapin, and their wives. 

Arleta Park No. 3 is the only subdivision located within the Mt. Scott –Arleta Neighborhood, and it makes up just a very small part of it. The reason its name was attached to the larger neighborhood is that Arleta quickly became a community of its own, with its own Arleta School, post office,  and library, all named after it. Grocery stores and other retail stores made it a retail hub. Potter and Chapin likely chose the location because it was midway between downtown Portland and Lents on the Mt. Scott Trolley. The lots were cheap relative to downtown, so working families could afford to buy them, build a home, and catch the trolley to work each day. 

A. Natalia (Potter) Dobbins,
from Dobbins-Duff Family
Tree at Ancestry.com
In 1906 T. B. Potter developed another Arleta Park at Half Moon Bay on his own (as well as another subdivision called Reis, per California newspaper ads). He likely saw the potential of this area becoming a suburb of San Francisco by way of the Ocean Shore Railroad, which reached there in October, 1908. Local history buffs indicate (via Wikipedia) that there was an Arleta Station at Railroad Avenue and Poplar Street that is now used as a residence. 

Webbers suggest that Arleta started going by Natalie as an adult because she didn’t appreciate her father naming subdivisions after her. One can just imagine schoolmates kidding her about having an entire community in Portland named after her. She must have got her point across, because nothing in Bayocean Park bore her name. However, Arleta was the last Potter to own any property on Bayocean. She stopped paying taxes on lot 81 in block 39 only after an ocean storm destroyed it in 1952.

Between the Arleta Parks in Oregon and California, T. B. Potter developed Marlborough Heights Addition in Kansas City. Francis and Ida Mitchell, who always claimed to have bought the first Bayocean lot, were from Kansas City (1900 US Census). Dr. G. W. Rice, who bought the Mitchell's store in 1914, but lost it to Tillamook County Bank just a year later, was from Jackson County, where Kansas City is located (Torrens Registry Certificate # 386, Tillamook County Pioneer Museum). So were many others listed in Bayocean Park deed records at the Tillamook County Clerk's office. As late as 1911, the Kansas City directory (via Ancestry.com) shows an office for T. B. Potter Realty Co. at 416 R A Long Bldg. They may have had a Bayocean sales office there as they did elsewhere across the U.S.   

Potter and Chapin had no problem selling Bayocean lots. They went fast. But building and running a resort requires a completely different skill set, and the railroad to Tillamook took three years longer than projected to finally get there. The hectic schedule and stress may have been what caused Potter's health to fail. In 1910 he retreated to his home in California, where he died in 1916. By then, his son Thomas Irving, and wife had lost control of Bayocean to a court receivership. Two succeeding ownership groups couldn't make a financial go of it either. The Bayocean dream failed financially long before the ocean washed it away. 

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