McLoughlin Blvd, 1977

It is nice to see that we are not unique in living during a time of poor roadside landscaping. I am surprised to see this in such disrepair having assumed it was built out in the early 70s.

Downtown Portland, 1980

A typically chilly and damp January is the backdrop for this series of ariels of downtown Portland in 1980.

Surface lots, yellow cars and scant construction are in evidence. This was the end of a stagnate era for downtown development but behind scenes, the groundwork had been laid for a successful urban renaissance.

SE Division @ 35th Pl, April 1977

Few streets have seen quite as dramatic and swift a transformation as inner SE Division, the length of which has been overhauled into a hipster paradise. Basically the only thing missing is a Voodoo Donut. One can stroll from 45th to 12th Ave, safe in the knowledge that an established brand like Little Big Burger or a growler tap is never far. This is what makes the persistence of the old Oregon Theatre all the more sweet. Artisanal axemakers from Brooklyn and creatives with kids in tow, amble by utterly oblivious to the seedy debauchery transpiring behind its mysterious mirrored-glass doors.

Keep it real Oregon Theatre!

Dating to 1925, The Oregon actually has a very interesting and colorful past, not the least of which includes being Portland’s oldest continuously operating adult film cinema. Children in the future will ask “grandpa, what’s a porn theatre?”. This building once sported a $16,000 Whirlitzer pipe organ, a church and in 1970 began showing XXX.


On a more serious note, although Portland is considered a pioneer in rediscovering the value of these neighborhood strips, it’s interesting to consider how narrow a band of possibility we can imagine for what successful neighborhood commercial might be today. You basically have 4 options: cafe, brewery, notions shoppe, or bar. Essentially all driven by entertainment spending. Less precious businesses like professional offices, auto parts stores, lawn mower shops and locksmiths can not exist here…or really, anywhere these days.

Are they victim of a new retail ecosystem, or is their disappearance a symptom of rampant real estate speculation and Disneyfication of Portland? The endurance of places like the Oregon remind us of who we are and where we came from. And it is not always quant or clever. But it is real.

Before & After: SE 39th AVE, 1974

Even today the mighty SE 39th Avenue peeters out in a mess of gravel shoulders and missing sidwalks. Here we see the road as it looked in 1974, South of Berkley Park, prior to rebuilding. One unintended consequence of eliminating all this wonderful loose gravel is the loss of a minor American pastime: the unintentional burnout. A simple thrill afforded the driver of even the most modest RWD steed.

Hidden History: 3010 NW Nicoli

Sometimes in my search for the odd and unusual, I come across something truly remarkable. Enter the ordinary numbers of an address into Google, perhaps your own and you may be shocked; the not always pleasant past may seem uncomfortably close.

Such was the case of  3010 NW Nicolai. Here, in what today is an otherwise unremarkable building, a series of tragic events unfolded on a warm summer night back in August 1960 which ended up costing Martin Becker his life.

3010 was once home to the Arrow Cafe that stood at the edge of a vast WWII housing tract on the historic site of Guild’s Lake and later, Lewis & Clark Exposition. After the war, the area filled with industrial plants and the little restaurant did a brisk lunch trade with blue-collar workers.

We don’t know much about Martin, except that he was the owner of the Arrow and had a bad temper. He once drunkenly busted into his estranged wife’s apartment and threatened her life. When police arrived at the scene a struggle ensued, ending with a bloodied Becker booked for the night in the county lockup.

August 15, 1960 was as ordinary a day as any other. At 5 o’clock the waitress left for the evening and Becker remained to finish up his duties. While checking stock in the walk-in, the heavy insulated door shut and latched behind him. He tried the handle, but quickly realized that it had been removed months ago after malfunctioning. Trapped, he must have begun to panic. He began making a ruckus in the hope that passerby might hear through the open back door, grabbing any and everything he could find: resturant-sized cans of corn, tomatoes, eggs and smashing them against the walls of the fridge. Now in full panic, he grabed a heavy can of ham and beats upon the door making some progress but not quickly enough. The fatal cold shivering his body, he desperately crushed the delicate copper cooling lines, releasing the  methyl chloride gas carried within. The sweetly acrid smell of the gas may have alerted him to its potent toxicity and quickly he hammers shut the ends of the tubes to prevent more from escaping. Finally, covering his face with a wet towel he attempts to escape the deadly fumes to no avail.

The morning shift arrived to find the back door ajar and Martin’s car in the lot. Foul play was initially assumed what with the cash register open and empty and door open. Fearing the worst, they avoid opening the cooler. Within it, Martin’s body lay facedown and lifeless on the floor of the now warm walk-in refrigerator.

Before & After: Barbur Blvd.

Here we stand on the sidewalk near 4123 SW. Barbur Blvd back in the late-summer heat of August of 1986 taking in the southerly scene. Gravel remains on the sidewalk eight months since last snowfall and streetlight poles obscure all but a scant 2′ of usable sidewalk, clues to the kind of expectation of walkablity here

The Working Riverfront, 1977

Concrete factories and decaying docks line the Willamette shoreline here in 1977. You can almost smell the grit of cement dust and hear the machines, much as they are today in this location. Only a matter of time before this last vestige of river-industry is cleared to make way for “lofts”.

Swan Island Basin, 1977

A lot of old ships hanging out in the Swan Island Basin.

Lets take a closer look at the two US Navy Gearing-class destroyers anchored side by side.

USS Rogers (DD-876) so named in honor of three brothers who all lost their lives aboard the USS New Orleans in 1942. She was built in 1944 by Consolidated Steel in Orange, Texas, launched in 1944 and served in WWII in the Pacific and the Korean War. Rogers was refitted in 1963 and deployed to Vietnam until 1969. Sailing between San Diego and Vietnam, she won meritorious commendation for her assistance in extinguishing a nearly catastrophic fire aboard the nuclear carrier Enterprise. In 1974 she shifted homeports to Swan Island and tasked with training US Navy reserves until being decommissioned in 1981 then sold to South Korea where she is now a museum ship.

The ship in the foreground is hard to identify, but I believe her to be USS Hamner (DD-718), named for Lieutenant Henry R. Hamner who had died during a kamikaze attack on the USS Howorth just months before. Launched in 1945 in Newark, New Jersey. She immediately deployed with the 7th fleet destined for various Chinese and Japanese ports and returned home, repeating this pattern until Korean hostilities began in 1950. There, she bombarded communist supply lines with great success until 1953. After this she mainly made good-will visits to Asian ports. Modernized in 1962 Hamner resumed operation in the waters off Vietnam, participating in Operation Traffic Cop by shelling communist supply ships. By the early 70s she was reclassified as a Navy reserve training ship and regularly sailed between San Diego and British Columbia. In July 1975, she shifted her home port to Portland, Oregon, where her crew began referring to their ship as ‘the Old Gray Ghost of the Oregon Coast.’Hamner held her last training in 1979 and a year later was sold to Taiwan.

These and so many of the ships of Portland help illuminate the storied past of shipping so central to Portland over the years. The great many men who called these ships home if only briefly, have so many colorful histories to share. Indeed, many of these ships have whole websites devoted to collecting and documenting their stories.

Before & After: Union Ave. 1982

Today’s before and after is from precisely 34 years ago near the intersection of NE Union Ave (MLK Jr. Blvd) and NE Davis.

One thing we take for granted today is the longevity of our cars. In fact, the average age of cars on the road today is 11.5 years, which consitutes a sharp rise even in the last decade. Notice in this picture, a blue 1974 Mercury Comet with ragged vinyl roof. Barely 8 years old and this thing has serious cosmetic defects. I hardly imagine many 2008 cars have such problems, save the occasional case of headlight oxidation. Nor must we constantly lube our cars. Pity the corner station, which has no use in the era of once-a-month-fill-ups and 10,000 oil changes. Now converted into all manner of coffee shops, dog baths and cafes, these vestiges of a more trouble-prone automotive past have been reabsorbed into the fabric of the city.

Future Springwater Corridor 1977-1980

I am calling this post Future Springwater Corridor, even though it encompasses some of the Eastbank Esplanade. Apparently these were taken as part of a study of that area and date from 1977-1980. As I discovered during scanning, at some point in the 70s, there was actually a plan to use the trail South from the cement plant, as a regional transit-way, whatever that means. This illustration made it appear on par with freeways. I wonder if this was part of an aborted streetcar/LRT scheme. Anyone who has more information can chime in.