Sunday, November 21, 2010

Albertina Kerr Center: A Holiday Tradition

Where can you go to enjoy a holiday lunch with friends, shop for gifts, and know that everything you spend goes to support programs benefiting some of the area’s most vulnerable citizens? Many have already discovered this popular, seasonal tradition at the Albertina Kerr Center. The Center’s programs serve severely abused children, families in crises, at-risk teens, and adults with developmental disabilities.

Beginning life almost 100 years ago as the Pacific Coast Rescue and Protective Society, the Center has changed its name and function several times, but was largely known for its years as an orphanage and nursery. Alexander Kerr, of canning jar fame, was an early financial supporter, and his new bride, Albertina, was particularly concerned about the needs of children. In 1911, after the birth of their first child, she contacted typhus and died at the young age of 21. In her honor, Alexander Kerr donated the family home in west Portland to the agency to be used as a respite and day care shelter for single mothers and their children. It was named the Albertina Kerr Nursery Home. The need for this service was so great that the nursery soon outgrew these quarters and a much bigger one was required. With Kerr’s financial help, a large block at 424 NE 22nd Avenue near the corner of Sandy Boulevard and Glison Street was purchased, and in May 1920, the cornerstone was laid for a new nursery.

The Georgian-style brick building served for almost 50 years as an orphanage and respite care center for infants and pre-school children. Over time, however, the philosophy of child care evolved away from institutionalization to programs encouraging foster home care and adoption. In 1966, The Oregon Welfare Commission essentially banned orphanages and the nursery closed its doors in 1967.

The beautiful building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and an official Portland Historical Landmark, fell into disrepair and became a neighborhood eyesore. However, a group of enthusiastic volunteers and board members created a plan to renovate the Nursery and establish a restaurant, gift shop, and resale shop to help fund the center’s works. The businesses were opened in 1981 and became an immediate success. Today, Albertinas’s Restaurant, Kerr Gift Shop, and Kerr Economy Jar occupy the entire first floor of the building with the agency’s administrative offices located on the second floor.

The cheery dining room of Albertina’s evokes the ambiance of an English tea room with its floral wallpaper and wrap-around windows. Three course, gourmet lunches including a soup or salad, entrĂ©e, and dessert are offered with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, Oregon-grown produce. Smiling volunteers serve the meals while others model fashions from the thrift shop during lunch. Set menus are posted months in advance on their web site, Reservations are a must and can be made by calling 503-231-0216. Albertina’s serves lunches Monday through Saturday at two seatings: 11:30 am and 1:00 pm. The gift shop, conveniently located at the entrance to the restaurant offers an array of interesting gifts and handcrafted items. During the holidays, it is stocked with charming Christmas ornaments and decorations. The shop also sells Albertina’s Exceptional Recipes, an excellent cookbook featuring recipes of the most requested dishes served in the dining room. Down the hall is the Kerr Economy Jar, a consignment shop offering high quality merchandise including antiques, china, glassware, jewelry and other vintage collectibles. Also on the grounds, is the Kerr Thrift Shop where gently-used household goods, books, and clothing provide some great bargains.
The shops as well as restaurant are staffed by volunteers and all proceeds, even tips, go to support the center’s programs. That way, every gift gives twice; once to the recipient and once to the center’s clients.

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