Hill Block: Visioning to Heal the Past

The healing: In August of 2017, Legacy Health joined the City of Portland and Prosper Portland (formerly Portland Development Commission) in announcing a collaborative effort to develop a vacant 1.7-acre block on the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center property. This land once housed the Hill Block building and was considered the heart of the Albina business community where many African Americans resided in nearby homes until urban renewal came in the 1960s. Though vacant for nearly 50 years, this plot of land still evokes painful memories for many African Americans who still talk about the unfair destruction and loss of their community.

The past: In the early 1970s, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) and the City of Portland condemned, purchased and demolished 188 properties as part of the Emanuel Hospital expansion Project. Of these, 158 were residential and 30 were commercial/business proprieties and included the Hill Block building at N. Williams and Russell.

Urban renewal was a resolution to improve the area and PDC began the process of purchasing homes from current homeowners. Many relocated to other North/Northeast Portland neighborhoods. In total, 22 blocks of the Eliot Neighborhood were cleared.

The Emanuel Hospital Urban Renewal Project was intended as a multi-phase venture. Unfortunately, before the expansion was completed, federal dollars allocated for the urban renewal project dried up. The cleared land was left vacant for decades.  At the time, displaced residents expressed anger at the hospital, PDC and the City of Portland.

The visioning: A page was added to Portland’s African American history book when Legacy Health, the City of Portland and Prosper Portland collectively hosted an Open House and Information Session in January of this year to introduce a group of community representatives tasked to lead a vision for the vacant property. Called the Project Working Group. People either applied to serve or were nominated by community-based organizations who mainly serve African Americans.

In a video on Legacy Emanuel’s website, Legacy Health President and CEO Dr. George Brown shares his thoughts, and hope for the project and how this aligns with our Legacy Health mission and values.

For more information, contact Vicki Guinn, Legacy Emanuel public relations, 503-413-2939, vguinn@lhs.org.

By Vicki Guinn