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Step inside Portland’s historic Johan Poulsen House

The iconic house is a textbook example of local Queen Anne architecture and a familiar landmark for commuters.

A Victorian-style house painted blue with white trim featuring a balcony-topped turret overlooks several freeway lanes next to the Willamette River.

Johan Poulsen’s business partner Robert Inman built an identical Queen Anne on the same bluff overlooking the Willamette River, but it was demolished in the 1950s to make room for a parking lot.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Telling Portland’s stories often requires exploring neighborhoods on foot and bumping into people who have something to add to the conversation. Such was the case when we were photographing local Queen Anne homes and caught the attention of the owner of one of Portland’s most recognizable landmarks.

“Would we like a personal tour of the Johan Poulsen House?” Our answer was a resounding yes.

Situated at the east end of the Ross Island Bridge on a rise overlooking Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard, the Poulsen House is, in true Victorian fashion, anything but inconspicuous. Its blue-and-white facade looms over commuters as they travel down the east bank of the Willamette River.

The home has a turbulent history, having never housed its namesake original owner after it was built in 1892. Today, it serves as an office for owner and wealth management advisor Charlene Quaresma.

A slideshow of images taken inside the Johan Poulsen House in Southeast Portland.

Johan Poulsen sold the home two years after its completion, possibly due to the Great Panic of 1893 or his wife simply not liking it.

Photos by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

After buying the home in 2021, Quaresma went to work renovating its many rooms and levels. Flooring needed to be reinforced, leaks needed to be fixed in the roof, city codes appeased, and so on.

But alongside the improvements, Quaresma unleashed her unique creativity, installing designer wallpaper, making Victorian-inspired lamps, and bringing in vintage furnishings, while respecting the home’s original features. You’ll still find intricate woodwork around doorways, fireplaces, and stairwells, a chandelier that rises and lowers via counterweight, stained glass window accents, and a 19th-century intercom system.

Walking through the Poulsen House is an interactive history lesson full of intrigues. The third floor once housed a ballroom; a narrow stairwell hidden behind a tiny door leads to nowhere. In the basement, a wine cellar from the 1920s speaks to Portland’s Prohibition-era past while kitchen infrastructure hints at the team of staff once employed to keep the house running.

Altogether, there’s plenty of room to reminisce about a time long past.

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