Stretching approximately 6.5 miles beside the longtime eastern boundary of Portland, 82nd Avenue is the city’s longest continual commercial strip. While it is easy to make fun of the relative squalor of 82nd, it would be wise to remember how much worse it was. It is still an ugly traffic-sewer, but as far as sewers go, it is pretty attractive. Thanks to rules on signage, setbacks, overhead utilities and the street trees, this stretch may not be perfect but it is workable.
SE. 82nd and Powell, Portland, 1975. A no-man’s land of noise and traffic.
SE. 82nd and Powell, Portland August 2016. Also a traffic-dominated space but now with street trees! Note the KFC is still on the northwest corner of the picture.
SE. 82nd Ave started out life as a pleasant, if somewhat unstructured county byway. In 1937 it was rezoned commercial, setting the stage for the rampant speculation and slipshod development we all associate with it today.
Portions of the following are excerpted from – MacColl, E. Kimbark, The Growth of a city: power and politics in Portland, Oregon, 1915 – 1950, Portland, OR: Georgian Press, 1979.
-and- Portland (OR). Bureau of Planning, 82nd Avenue Corridor Study, Portland, OR: The Bureau, 1980. – Headlines: mine
Early Development of 82nd Avenue
The city published a Major Traffic Street Report in 1927 which directly addressed the future of 82nd Avenue. By 1927, the street had been paved by Multnomah County and the State of Oregon had designated it as part of the state highway system – Route 213. The existing right-of-way at that time ranged for 40’ to 80’ with a roadway width of 18’. This report recommended that in anticipation of increased traffic and the need for future widenings, the right-of-way should be developed to 120’ by 1977. This report also recommended that required building setback lines be established immediately to facilitate future widenings.
There were many highway projects in the 1930s. McLoughlin Boulevard received a grand total of $1.45 million ($20.8M 2015 USD), SE 82nd Avenue (a designated state highway) received over $401,000 ($5.7M 2015 USD). So rapidly did SE 82nd develop as a major north-south arterial that city council voted in August of 1937 to rezone the entire avenue for commercial & industrial purposes, thus dooming the future of Montavilla as a residential neighborhood
Plans and Promises
In 1943, the Portland Improvement Plan was presented to the city by Robert Moses. This report identified public improvements that the city should undertake in anticipation of the end of World War II. The major emphasis of this report was transportation improvements but in reality such projects served as a vehicle for unemployed post war construction workers. As in previous plans, this plan did not directly address 82nd Avenue in recommended public improvements; but an outer scenic drive was proposed linking Oregon City and the Columbia River Highway. This drive was proposed for the approximate location of the I-205 corridor. In the next three decades the availability of cheap land and an increasingly efficient street system encouraged development further from the city center.
Portland revised its zoning code in the early 50’s and finally adopted a new zoning code in 1959. By this time 82nd Avenue was a series of spot commercial zones from one end to the other. The area surrounding 82nd Avenue was reduced from apartment zoning to reflect usage – single family houses. The strip itself remained primarily business/manufacturing. Originally, all of 82nd Avenue was zoned multi-family residential purposes in 1924. However, it was designated a state highway and was the only continuous north-south arterial from Union Avenue to 122nd Avenue. It was attracting more and more traffic and more and more zone changes were granted. In fact, it was so spotted with business zones by the time the 1959 code was enacted that the entire length was placed in M3 (light manufacturing) except north of Burnside Street where it was zoned A2.5 (duplex). Otherwise, 82nd Avenue was left wide open for strip development. It lived up to its expectation.
The most noticeable physical change to 82nd Avenue since the late 50’s has been the loss of single-family houses along the strip and their replacement by commercial structures. This is also reflected in the loss of other single-family residences adjacent to the strip and their replacement with multi-family structures. These changes have occurred in the absence of strong policies to direct growth. The sole action directed toward the physical appearance of the strip was the introduction of a required setback in 1959, cited to provide for a cleaner and safer environment for all those using 82nd Avenue. Due to relaxant enforcement, signs, fences and other objects have encroached into the setback area almost since its inception.
The Freeway Era
Commercial activity along the street, and major intersecting streets, has changed. The commercial uses that existed prior to 1960 generally catered to a local trade but the opening of Eastport Plaza in 1960 and a Fred Meyer shopping center in 1964 at Foster road drastically changed shopping habits in the corridor and indirectly forced the closure of some neighborhood stores. The later construction of Bazars (now K-Mart), Mall 205, and Gateway Plaza reinforced these shopping trends. As shopping habits changed, traffic on the street increased. Average daily traffic has increased and commercial structures were auto-oriented uses. The opening of I-5 in 1964, and racial disturbances along Union Avenue, created a declining economic climate along Union Avenue. As a result, many auto-related businesses moved to 82nd Avenue, strengthening the concentration of auto-oriented businesses along that street.
(Written in 1979) – 82nd Avenue typifies a contemporary trend toward the growth of major streets with high volume traffic supporting businesses with large service areas, particularly shopping centers. Presently, the future of the street is uncertain. Extensive changes occurred relatively recently to change its character from rural to urban. Other extensive changes could occur to radically alter the health of businesses dependent upon the auto. The opening of I-205 in 1982 will most certainly have a negative effect on businesses dependent upon drop-in customers. A drastic reduction in the availability of gasoline would have a serious effect on the sales of autos, boats, and motor homes. 82nd Avenue will most certainly be as different 40 years form now as the first 40 years have been.