field trip: Albertina Kerr

Albertina Kerr, Portland, Oregon

Though I've passed the Albertina Kerr house many times since moving to Portland, yesterday was my first visit. The building itself, on the National Register of Historic Places, is partially brick, one of my favorite building materials and something I love about old Portland architecture, despite unreinforced masonry being a poor building choice for earthquake country here in the Ring of Fire. I also have a thing for red doors.

swaddled-baby window motif, Albertina Kerr, Portland, OR

This strangely S&M-looking (or maybe it's just me?), swaddled-baby window motif (anyone know the correct architectural term?) signifies the origins of the Albertina Kerr nonprofit as a nursery for hopeful adoptees and day care for the pesky single mothers of the pre-birth control and pre-legal-abortion eras next to whom most other women of those days appeared moral and upstanding by comparison. How times have changed. Per their Web site, Albertina Kerr now funds foster care and other services for people with developmental and mental health challenges via the proceeds of its restaurant and shops served by volunteers. (I just noticed their sign's wrong because they're now open on Saturdays.)

Albertina Kerr signboard, also open Saturdays 10-3

I can't comment on the food, but the volunteers I spoke with were friendly and helpful. As I was admiring a set of light-gray, hemstitched-linen napkins and place mats at the Economy Jar, the estate shop full of vintage china, crystal, jewelry, embroidered linens, and other posh items, a volunteer approached to ask if I ever watched the Antiques Roadshow because the sideboard I was standing in front of was made by the Keno Bros. furniture line. (I hadn't heard of the Keno brothers till I went home and looked them up, though at the time I nodded and smiled appreciatively.)

After the Economy Jar, I skipped the Gift Shop altogether because the first item I picked up hanging outside the gift-shop room, a scarf, was made of rayon in China. One can do better.

Instead, I headed over to the Thrift Shop out back in a lower, newer building I believe I heard a volunteer say used to be the administration building. It now houses a couple rooms of household items and one of books, but most of the merchandise are clothing and accessories for women, though there's one room for men. And the women's clothing seems suited (an intentional pun—there were many suits, though none in my size) for older women. Now that I think of it, I didn't see any kids' stuff, so I'm wondering if I missed a floor.

The day I was there, they were having a bag sale: fill a big colored-plastic bag for $12 or a bigger bag for a few dollars more. A Thrift Shop volunteer hinted I should take advantage of the sale, but my minimalist side kicked in and I couldn't bring myself to fill a bag with things I didn't want. So I left Albertina Kerr with only a secondhand soup cookbook (because I live on soup in winter and love some of the vegetarian soups in this book in the same series) and the peep-toed spring/summer heels below. Though I rarely ever buy used shoes, having been reared by a germophobe and because feet sweat, for $10 I couldn't resist. Trust me, they're even cuter on.

Nina peep-toed heels, made in Spain, thrifted

And yes, Albertina Kerr, the real, dead woman, was one of those Kerrs, at least by marriage. I've been thrifting Kerr canning jars for years—but only Kerr jars, never Ball jars. That's because I like the simple cursive "Kerr" imprint better than the overflowing-fruit-basket design of the rival Ball jars. Go ahead and call me uptight. I just wonder if Albertina liked cute shoes as well as children.

Kerr jar filled with Cedar Creek Grist Mill cornmeal


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