Harry Mittleman (1900-1985) was a noted Portland real estate developer for four decades. Born in Russia, he came to the United States at age 8, married and started his family in Nebraska, and came to Portland in about 1925 where his other children were born. By 1930 he was already a successful builder of apartment houses and was living in a large house at 15th and Northeast Klickitat, where despite the Great Depression his family was able to employ two live-in servants. A few years later he and his wife Helen moved to a mansion on several view acres at the top of Green Hills, where they lived for the rest of their long lives. Mr. Mittleman continued to build apartments (many named after his daughters and granddaughters) and then moved to building bank branches. His largest project was the Bank of California Tower at Broadway and SW Washington, in 1968.
In the late 1960s the state built Interstate 405, the Stadium Freeway, at the edge of downtown. One of the buildings taken down to make way for the freeway was the Jewish Community Center, which was replaced with the current campus on Capitol Highway near Hillsdale. A few years later he donated funds to pay off the mortgage, and the trustees renamed the building the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, in memory of Helen Mittleman, who had died shortly before. The MJCC came to include not just classrooms and meeting areas but also a large indoor pool, exercise facilities, soccer fields, and much more.
The Mittleman Jewish Community Center embarked on an ambitious expansion plan a few years ago, partly in response to competition from more modern gyms and health clubs. The plan succeeded after a fashion, but not so the hopes to pay for it. The MJCC closed this summer and is essentially broke, an ending out of keeping with Harry Mittleman's career.
And what of the house that he owned and occupied for fifty years? Late in his life he let it run down, and it was in poor condition when he died. The grounds were split up into building lots. A local high-tech tycoon bought and restored the house, and made it a showplace again. Then a few years later he sold it to a man who had made a fortune in real estate and who was, interestingly, about the same age as Harry Mittleman was when he moved there in the 1930s.
But there the parallel ends. The current occupant is moving out of the house Monday morning to spend 18 months in a much larger place, not in Portland (for Portland doesn't have many houses larger than the Mittleman Estate) but about an hour to the southwest, which despite its size is not a move up. Mr. Mittleman had his quirky habits, such as nipping an apple on occasion from the fruit market at 5th and Yamhill (where Saks is now), which was one of his tenants, but he was always reasonably accurate on his federal income tax returns.