Downtown St. Johns appears relatively healthy and vibrant at least by measure of traffic and blade signs in these summer shots from 1975. Perhaps it’s an artifact of telephoto lens, but there even appears some “bustle” in these compressed street views, most likely taken in preparation for the redesign of that area a few years later.
Here we see the weirdness that was 39th at Sandy Blvd before construction of the Metropolitan Area Express triggered a reconfig of the area. As we celebrate MAX on its 30th birthday and remember the excitement of the breakthrough it symbolized, few will recall that a significant portion of the funds diverted from the Mt. Hood Freeway were actually spent on freeway construction. I-84 and its associated interchanges from Lloyd to I-205 was nearly completely rebuilt due to the project’s dedicated ROW and clearance issues with existing overpasses through that area.
Also timely to note how much things have changed in how TriMet finances these mega-projects. Back in ’86 when the original Eastside MAX was budgeted, the Democratically controlled federal government kicked in an incredible 83% of money. Contrast this with the scant 50% for Orange’s massive $1.46 billion pricetag.
Indeed, something has changed. And more change is coming January 20. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear something worth celebrating.
Here are a couple of views of Sandy Blvd at Burnside separated by nine years: 1977 and 1986. A bevy of real estate billboards entertained drivers as they sat idling at this notoriously complicated intersection.
Sadly, on this corner now stands a hideously overwrought and poorly executed mixed-use building: The Linden. Designed by LA firm, KTGY, it was designed as a 55+ community on land owned by Portland Foursquare. Apparently the siren call of the market and associated profit proved too tempting and it ended up yet another overpriced development.
Powell’s Books brilliantly demonstrated how rehabbing an existing storefront can be both a savvy business move and a sensitive approach to entering an established neighborhood when they opened their second satellite store: “Powell’s Books For Cooks,” on Hawthorne in October of 1987. This was a marked departure from their prior expansion three years prior at Cascade Plaza, a brand-new strip mall across from Washington Square Mall in Tigard. That location embodied everything wrong with the soulless corporate monoliths then beginning to dominate the retail bookstore ecosystem, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Thankfully someone at Powell’s put the brakes on their own big-box expansion soon after. Since then the company has profited handsomely by doubling down on the idiosyncratic image epitomized by its landmark location on Burnside and invested heavily on the web.
Pictured in the summer of 1975, N Philadelphia near N Ivanhoe presents a vista of unyielding harshness. Save for a couple of trees in a dry and dusty patch of barkdust, nothing of this space is conducive to human joy. Soon, the city would initiate an ambitious redesign to stimulate reinvestment in the commercial district and serve as a model for neighborhood revitalization throughout Portland.
The Safeway on Hawthorne at 28th is pictured here in 1975 with an eerily vacant lot. Though it was a crappy due to poor management and ham-fisted renovations, the building had interesting roots from an architectural perspective.
Beyond the broad expanse of oil stained macadam and poor selection, this 33,000 sq ft store had the distinction of being one of the last “Marina prototype” store designs in the metro area still held by Safeway. So named for the 1959 debut location on Marina Blvd in San Francisco, this groundbreaking prototype had three variants but all featured a distinctive serpentine roof carried by soaring glulams. This afforded a voluminous sales floor almost entirely absent of columns. The exuberantly modern design made the brand a standout among the monotony of grocers, with a bank of tall plate-glass windows fronting the street, flanked by twin entrances against a masonry core. A tragically butchered example still survives in Lake Oswego and there are several which have been converted to other uses like Hong Phat Food Center on 82nd at Burnside. Some communities have even sought historic preservation for these threatened buildings but they hardly stand a chance in the face of impatient corporations and developers attracted to the acres of parking on which they stand. I should also note Safeway did remodel a Marina at their MLK Jr. Blvd. location but with pretty sad results. They basically crammed their current design typology, “Lifestyles”, into the space with little to no accommodation for the unique opportunities afforded the dramatic 25′ ceiling.
Now called St Johns Twin Cinemas, the theatre at the corner of N. Lombard and Alta has gone by several names but unlike other small theatres, has remained proudly family friendly. Built in 1924 an organist would accompany screenings of silent films. In 1926 it was upgraded to show “talkies” and renamed McCredie’s Venetian until returning to “St. Johns” at an unknown date.
Interesting tidbits courtesy of Wikipedia:
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.
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.
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.