A Community Project Stalls in the King Neighborhood

Florence Fleskes created a vision for Trinity Village. She still hopes to realize that vision.

CG: Farmer's Market / 714 NE Emerson St (Nigel Jaquiss)
  • ADDRESS: 714 NE Emerson St.
  • YEAR BUILT: 1908
  • MARKET VALUE: $879,770
  • OWNER: Fleskes Family Trust
  • HOW LONG IT’S BEEN EMPTY: 11 years
  • WHY IT’S EMPTY: Cash crunch

In the 1960s, Florence Fleskes ushered her five children into the emerging environmental movement, teaching them about sustainability. They gleaned bottles and trash from inner Northeast Portland streets, recycling whatever they could.

Florence, now 91, moved from Irvington to the King neighborhood in the 1980s. She organized neighborhood cleanups and, over time, acquired four properties.

“My mother wasn’t really a traditional landlord,” Kay Fleskes, 65, says. “She was really into community.”

One example: Florence Fleskes bought and planned to renovate the house next to hers in the 1300 block of Northeast Emerson Street. But the house was so decrepit that when she finished deconstruction there was nothing left. She turned the lot into an expansive garden, encouraging neighbors to stake out their own plots.

A little more than a decade ago, Florence Fleskes decided to fulfill a larger vision. A home she owned on an oversized lot (8,370 square feet) at 714 NE Emerson St. had a half-basement with a low ceiling. Fleskes hired an architect who drew up plans to raise the house and put in a full-basement auxiliary dwelling unit. On an adjoining, currently vacant lot Fleskes owned, she would build two new homes, each with an ADU. The open space of the two connecting lots, Kay Fleskes says, would form an “urban farm” called Trinity Village.

Her contractor put the house at 714 NE Emerson up on blocks in preparation for excavating the full basement. That’s when things went wrong.

“We ran into drilling and soil problems,” Kay Fleskes says. “We got stuck.”

The project began to look like a much more complicated, and expensive, proposition. It stalled. “You could say my mother is land rich but cash poor,” Kay Fleskes says.

The city of Portland took a dim view of the home being up on blocks. It pushed Florence Fleskes to complete the work and began fining her last year, her daughter says. A metal security fence now surrounds the property.

Kay Fleskes says that although some health challenges have slowed Florence, her mother remains determined to realize her vision for Trinity Village. She’s turned away many buyers who’d like to flip her properties in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

“My mom isn’t interested in dealing with anybody who just wants to turn a quick buck,” Kay Fleskes says. “The vision is more important than money—maybe she’ll find someone whose vision aligns with hers.”

Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. Send addresses to newstips@wweek.com.

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