Hot Tub Time Machine

This Major Portland Renovation Project Brings Back the Ceramic Tub

“Whereas cast-iron tubs will get cold pretty fast, these earthenware tubs hold heat for hours.”

By Marty Patail September 23, 2020 Published in the October 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

For nearly a decade after the 2008 housing crash, this ceramic, earthenware bathtub and another just like it—and the house they lived in, built near Mount Tabor in 1892 in the Queen Anne Victorian style—sat abandoned and empty. Over time, vandals and squatters tore out the plumbing fixtures, along with nearly everything else of value. But in 2018, a happy change of fortune: Portlander Lyrin Murphy bought the 6,800-square-foot house on auction for $740,000, outbidding a California hedge fund manager and a large Portland developer by $2,000.

Murphy spent the next 13 months breathing life back into the house’s six bedrooms, six fireplaces, seven bathrooms, and massive gardens. Also known as the Jacob H. Cook House and the Christmas House before Murphy christened it the Walter, it had undergone a major neoclassical renovation in 1909, and Murphy hewed closely to that vision. That, of course, meant keeping two original bathtubs by J. L. Mot—a New York company whose tubs once pruned presidents in the White House—and going on a nationwide search for plumbing fixtures that would fit them. The appeal isn’t just nostalgia. “Whereas cast-iron tubs will get cold pretty fast,” says Murphy, “these earthenware tubs hold heat for hours.” 

At press time, the house was on the market with a $2.5 million asking price. View it at

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