Until last summer, two Victorian houses, both built by a Black family, stood near the southern border of the Eliot neighborhood. Allen and Louisa Flowers built and owned these houses, which may have been the oldest standing houses built by Black people in Portland. The buildings had initially been part of a larger group of identical houses built by the Flowers family in 1885, but one of the other homes had been demolished in favor of a Ford owned parking lot in the 1970s. In an ironic example of history repeating itself, OB Portland Properties LLC – according to Portland Maps the same group that owns the land under the Broadway Toyota Dealership – bought and demolished the remaining houses in 2019. Presumably, these houses will also become a parking lot or some other car-focused infrastructure.
Although many of our cities’ streets and parks bear the name of previous residents, I hadn’t heard of the Flowers family until a neighbor mentioned that we were losing an important part of Portland history with these houses. Allen Flowers moved to Portland in 1865 after jumping ship from the Brother Jonathon where he’d been employed. Mr. Flowers became a porter for the Portland to Seattle route of the Northern Pacific Railroad and later married Louisa. Mrs. Flowers moved to Portland from Boston in 1882 after marrying Allen. At this time, Portland’s Black community numbered fewer than 500 members, which is not too surprising given contemporary politics. Oregon’s citizens included a Black exclusion law in their 1857 constitution, paving the way for Oregon to enter the Union in 1859 as a “whites-only” state. It wasn’t until 1959, that Oregon officially ratified the 15th amendment, allowing all people the right to vote, regardless of their race.
In this environment, the Flowers family built their version of the American dream. They maintained a farm near Mount Scott which became a hub for Black Portlanders and they were active members of their church. Allen Flowers developed NE Schuyler Street, supposedly to provide the only through street to the river for Louisa and their baby stroller. Louisa became a founding member of the Williams WMCA (now the Billy Elks Lodge) and active in the NAACP. The Flowers demonstrated leadership and compassion while living in a city that didn’t always welcome them. The Flowers family seemed like they would have been ideal neighbors.
The site of the former Flowers houses is designated as a Commercial Mixed-Use 3 zone. According to Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, land with this designation should have buildings that are six stories high and are intended to be pedestrian oriented. For a civic minded family with a history of pedestrian improvements, increasing walking accessible housing seems like a potential extension of the Flowers legacy. However, since the current buyer’s portfolio includes a car dealership on the neighboring property, it isn’t likely that these sites will provide homes for new neighbors or pedestrian focused infrastructure.
After some thoughtful research, Home Forward, Portland’s housing agency, named its newest site the Louisa Flowers. Financed by low-income housing tax-credits, the building provides 240 affordable apartments and honors the impact that Mrs. Flowers had on Portland. Although the Flowers houses no longer exist in Eliot, The Louisa Flowers building continues the family’s work towards building a more welcoming Portland.
There were three small old houses inside our wonderful Eliot neighborhood that were demolished quickly last fall in a peculiar quiet fashion and not to the notice of most of our residents. Well, this rapid and hasty act appears to be deliberate and turns out to be a tragedy for our neighborhood and diverse cultural history. At this time, the author is not clear on the details of what happened on the west side of the block of NE 1st Avenue between Broadway and Hancock Streets on that late fall day back in 2019. What happened may not be the total blame to the developer and much of it rests on the City of Portland and their policies that severely lack an incentive for historic preservation. What is a bigger travesty is that these houses may only be replaced by a parking lot to serve the Toyota dealership on this block.
As of until recently, these 3 houses were owned by Pauline Bradford, a long-time resident of the Eliot neighborhood since 1945 who was very active for many years in the Eliot Neighborhood Association. She was a critical force in trying to make our neighborhood a better place for residents and made an impact on thwarting much adverse development. She was also one of the longest living African-American residents of our neighborhood and worked hard to help improve the living standards and rights of black residents. She also was a strong force in helping put together an inventory of buildings significant in African-American history back in the 1990s that was backed by the Bosco-Milligan Foundation (now Architectural Heritage Center). Known by the author for many years, she mentioned the many times that there were strong efforts by the property owners of the dealership (formerly Coliseum Ford) to pressure her and her husband in selling as far back as the 1970s. Sadly, since the 1970s, adjacent houses all around them were gobbled up as the building and parking lots were expanded. Now the entire block that goes west to N Victoria and north to Hancock may be completely in their ownership. It is not known if Mrs. Bradford recently passed away or relocated for health or other reasons. The last time the author made personal contact with her was in late 2017. The destruction was swift, and apparently, no parts of the houses were even salvaged or recycled. It is possible the owner(s) knew of the great historic significance of two of these houses as being associated with Allen Flowers, one of the first African-Americans who came to Portland and stayed. It is also tragic that the small houses could have been relocated in the general proximity at not too high of a cost due to their smaller size. Recent tax-break economic incentives by the Federal government to encourage rehabilitation of historic buildings would have made it sustainable and economically practical. There are many young ambitious homeowners to-be in the community and investors that would have been interested to save these houses and taken it on in short order. It could be that the new ownership acted on panic.
Now backing things up to the 1800s, Allen Flowers came to Portland in 1865 by jumping ship from a steamship where he was employed when it docked here. He managed to get by with many service-oriented jobs including the Lincoln Hotel in lower NW Portland for a number of years. Later, he became an operator for ships that delivered goods up and down the Columbia River and managed to secure a homestead in the Mount Scott vicinity. In 1884 and 85, he had a wife Louisa M. and purchased 2 lots in Elizabeth Irving’s First Addition of East Portland, now the block with the dealership on it. Interestingly at this early date, people of color were not excluded from purchasing at this location. He commenced construction of 3 houses, for his own new family and other relatives. Flowers chose this location due to his new occupation as a porter-in-charge for the Northern Pacific Railroad between Portland and Seattle. He remained in one of these houses for the remainder of his long life until 1934. He had 4 sons who also lived in these 3 houses with their families. One of his sons, Ervin M. Flowers remained and became the president of the NAACP during the 1920s. The entire family was very instrumental in improving the lives of black residents of Portland and their success in business and careers was also a motivating factor for encouragement to others.
At the present time, it is apparent that the two Flowers Houses that stood here were the oldest known in all of Portland that were black-built. In the historic photo taken just before 1900, all three are clear and very similar. Two of these remained until recently. It is a possibility that there could be a few other survivors of near the 1885 vintage in the general close-in North Portland proximity that are still unknown that could have been moved to other locations during the course of the 20th Century. So far, research has not produced anything known. It was discovered by the author back in the 1990s that the decorative Queen-Anne style cottage that stood at 1745 NE 1st Avenue was built in 1888 by James Curran in McMillens Addition to East Portland and moved to this spot in 1910 due to construction of an apartment building. McMillens Addition also allowed people of color and Chinese to purchase and build. That replacement building was torn down in 1960 along with many adjacent structures, for construction of Memorial Coliseum. Pauline Bradford lived in this house since 1979 and the interior was adorned with gorgeous woodwork and very tall ceilings and was in excellent condition. This was such a waste that we residents hope to never see happen again in our diverse neighborhood and a loss of a cultural resource that cannot be replaced. A tidbit from the book “The History of Albina”, available at Powell’s Books downtown and Broadway Books at NE 17th.
Another historic home may be on the move in Eliot soon. The property at 2316 N Vancouver has been sold and the Joseph M. Manning Cottage is slated for demolition unless it can be moved soon. The developer is open to the idea of moving the house and a few people who have an interest in the house’s future are working to make that happen. More in our summer issue on this, but for now, a little history about the home, built in 1892, from The History of Albina by Roy Roos.
“This Queen Anne cottage was moved to this location in 1949 and was previously located at 2307 N Flint, where now Harriet Tubman Middle School and Albina-Lillis Park is. Joseph M. Manning, the original owner and builder, was a street grading contractor. By 1898, he formed a partnership with William Lind as general contractors that lasted until about 1904. Manning independently returned to street grading which he continued until retirement. After this house was moved it was owned and occupied by Perry and Della Coleman. Mr. Coleman was employed by Union Pacific and African- American. After his death, Della remarried to Reverand Otha W. Warren, pastor of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in 1962.”
By Jimmy Wilson, Co-Chair of Eliot Neighborhood Association
Having lived in this community all my life, which is 60 plus years, serving as co-chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, and being one of only three members of color in the association, it has become increasingly clear that my voice and presence is critically necessary as we seek to preserve our sense of community in an environment of gentrification and social change.
From my early years, as a kid living and walking the streets of my neighborhood, I have fond memories of the streets, parks, schools, churches, community centers, the families, the neighbors, the local grocery stores, the black-owned gas stations and auto repair shops that represented my community. At that time, over 250 black-owned businesses occupied North Portland from Mississippi, Vancouver, and Williams to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Looking back, I see how we took for granted the sense of a village and community we enjoyed.
Gentrification has brought about enormous changes some good and some not so good. Recognizing that change is inevitable in a community, the question becomes how is the change managed in such a way as to provide a balance between those who are new to the community and those who have been longtime members? Extremes in either direction are harmful to a healthy, harmonious community.
For many of us who have been longtime members, we fail to see the value in high-rise structures, traffic congestion, garbage on the streets, and an increased homeless population that we must address because it is a safety and health issue. We ask ourselves, what happened to the 250 black-owned businesses? What happened to the institutions, the cultural centers, the local hangouts, and other places where the community would meet? They are all gone! All except Dawson Park. What’s more, it is the failure to recognize the harmful effects of the forced displacement when gentrification occurs. For example:
· 10,000 black residents of the inner N/NE core have been removed over the last 15 years
· In 1970, 50-84% of N/NE neighborhoods were African American
· In 2010, only 18-30% of N/NE neighborhoods were African American
· In 1960, 4 out of 5 African Americans lived in the Albina area, and since 2000, less than 1 out of 3 African Americans live in the Albina area.
· The vast majority of our residents were uprooted by no choice of their own; but were systemically, forcibly displaced via an intentional, multi public sector plan to divest in the inner core while simultaneously making plans to reinvest and turn our neighborhoods into bastions of greater wealth for White Americans.
With this in mind, as Co-Chair of the Eliot Neighborhood Association, I have identified three primary goals as my priority in the association.
1) Create an environment of mutual respect and inclusiveness. This association must resist tribalism and understand that it represents the broad constituents in our community.
2) Be a proponent of equity. Our association must seek fairness, evenhandedness, impartiality, and justice. 3) Diversity. Our association board must vigilantly pursue the cultural variety and mixture of our community if we are to have legitimacy.
The City of Portland is in a sweet spot. There’s a ripe opportunity to redeem racist policies that destroyed Portland’s thriving Black community but whether city leaders will do the right thing remains unseen.
The Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2, EDPA2 is an ad hoc community-based organization with membership comprised of survivors and Descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion forced removal. EDPA2 wants the City of Portland, Emanuel Hospital, Home Forward, formerly Portland Housing Authority, and Prosper Portland, formerly the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to do the right thing and return land they took from a majority Black community.
During the ’60s and ’70s, more than 70% of Portland’s Black residents lived in Central Albina. This was a problem for Ira Keller, then Director of PDC, concerned with the “high concentration of Negroes in Central Albina.” Utilizing eminent domain under Federal Urban Renewal Law, Prosper Portland and Emanuel Hospital demolished the houses and businesses in Central Albina. It was a contrived effort that involved the participation of a religious organization, local business, the City of Portland, the State of Oregon, law firms, financial institutions, title companies, electric company, elected officials and city leaders, prominent Portland families and an aggressive propaganda campaign to stoke fears of a “Negro Ghetto”. The City of Portland created a pamphlet and radio spot featuring an Ogre-like cartoon character called Creepy Blight whose sole purpose was to warn white residents of “Blight”. In 1967, the local NBC affiliate KGW produced a film titled “Albina: Portland’s Ghetto of the Mind”, The Portland Housing Authority, now Home Forward, exercised discriminatory housing practices like requiring a $20 deposit and monthly rent aimed at evacuees of the Vanport flood forced to relocate to Guild’s Lake. The Housing Authority also provided funding for the 1962 Central Albina Report used to justify and legalize the removal of Portland’s Black community from Central Albina. Prosper Portland created a pamphlet ameliorating the devastation caused by Urban Renewal and instructed residents on how to move!
In 1970, Black residents in Central Albina formed the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association, EDPA to combat the destruction of their community and to move “with dignity and without suffering financial loss” as stated in the 1949 Fair Housing Act. They filed a complaint with The Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD. Finding merit with the complaint, HUD’s involvement forced Emanuel Hospital, The City of Portland, PDC (now Prosper Portland), The Portland Housing Authority (now Home Forward) and EDPA to sign a Replacement Housing Cooperative Agreement. The Agreement demands all parties to work together to replace every home that was demolished, a 1:1 replacement for the families forced to relocate. For close to 50 years various organizations and individuals have tried to encourage Emanuel Hospital to enforce the Agreement. To this day, the Agreement remains incomplete. Note: adhering to the legal stipulations of a Cooperative Agreement, The City of Portland adopted a policy preceding the Agreement to address the 1:1 replacement housing; the policy and Agreement were never implemented.
On August 1, 2017, City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler joined Executive Director of Prosper Portland, Kimberly Branam, and former President and Chief Executive Officer of Emanuel Hospital, Dr. George Brown, in a press conference to acknowledge racist policies responsible for the demolition and ultimate destruction of a once-thriving and self-sufficient Black community in what was Central Albina. Emanuel Hospital intentionally allowed portions of the demolished lands to “remain vacant for future development” for close to 50 years. A glaring reminder of a painful past for Portland’s Black community. Now, they claim to return a small parcel of land at the corner of N. Williams and Russell. For the record, Emanuel Hospital acquired more than 55 acres for their expansion yet less than an acre is offered for “return.”
To add insult to a longstanding injury, city officials claim the only way to develop the returned land is by placing it into the Interstate Urban Renewal Area, IURA. In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the IURA removed thousands of Black residents away from the city’s core in N/NE Portland where the majority of the city’s Black community used to reside. The IURA forced Black folks to relocate to east county, the poorest area in Multnomah County. The IURA is the largest, most gerrymandered and overused–it’s set to expire in 2021…
On August 9, 2017, at a regularly scheduled Prosper Portland meeting, members of EDPA2 and other community members stopped the vote to include the corner at N. Williams and Russell in the IURA. The vote goes before Prosper Portland’s Board of Directors again on March 11, 2020.
EDPA2 does not want the property at N. Williams and Russell included in the IURA where it’s expected to generate millions of dollars. How will the descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion receive any of those funds? EDPA2 wants city leaders to enforce and adhere to the Agreement that was signed many years ago. They want anything Emanuel Hospital and Prosper Portland “returns” to go to impacted families of the Emanuel Hospital expansion some of whose names are listed in the ten-panel historical display located in the Emanuel Hospital atrium. EDPA2 has met with City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on this issue for more than 3 years. In December of last year, EDPA2 responded to the Mayor’s request for a plan with a presentation that includes long term economic development with a focus on community inclusion naming an internship program for neighboring students at nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School, job opportunities for high school students and a training/mentoring program for college students and ownership for Descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion. This plan is backed by an international company.
According to the August 1, 2017 press conference, it appears Wheeler and Branam want to relegate the Black community to affordable housing only, omit input from EDPA2 and deny long term economic development opportunities like the plan EDPA2 presented to the mayor.
On April 27, 2020 via zoom (rescheduled from March 31), EDPA2 aims to interject the omitted experiences and stories of impacted families into the current political discussion by presenting The Reclaiming Black Lands in the “Whitest City” lecture. Follow EDPA2 on Facebook. Contact EDPA2 at email@example.com.
Join EDPA2 for Q&A Session for Reclaiming Stolen Black Lands in the “Whitest City”
Many of our readers may remember the series of articles we have printed about the Martin Mayo House. You can find them on the Eliot Neighborhood Association website at eliotneighborhood.org. To recap, this Victorian house has had a very mobile history in our neighborhood moving three times to where it now stands at 236 NE Sacramento Street.
Back in the middle of 2018, the owners of the house were going to have the house demolished as they had sold the land to a developer who was going to build a new apartment complex. Enter, Cleo Davis, whose family has lived on the street since the 1980s. Just a few doors down to the east, where a little house sits at the back of the lot, is a piece of vacant land that once was occupied by an apartment building owned by Cleo’s grandmother. Unfortunately, the property, that was supposed to be income-producing for the family, was demolished in the late 1980s because of being deemed as blight.
Cleo is a local artist who was looking for a place to house the ARTchives which will focus on Black history in our neighborhood as well as other Black people who have made contributions to the community. When he saw that the house was going to be demolished, he went to work on buying the Mayo House, getting it moved down the street and then getting the property rezoned to accommodate businesses and residences. This was all accomplished by January of 2019 and the little house moved again, hopefully for the last time. It now sits on its new foundation awaiting renovation.
The history of the Davis family and the house move can be seen in a touching, short documentary called “Root Shocked” by Cecilia Brown, which can be found on Vimeo.
Most recently, potential ideas for renovations have been undertaken by the University of Oregon graduate students in the architectural program. Cleo co-instructed the course as students learned about the history of the neighborhood covering redlining and displacement. Then the students used the theories of spatial justice to draw up plans to build out the space using the existing Mayo House in the plans and provide community space and opportunities for displaced residents and artists. Each graduate student displayed creative uses of the space and house as final exam projects.
What the future holds for this historic home is uncertain as to the design and final architectural plans, but one thing is certain, this little house will not have to move ever again if Cleo Davis has any say in the matter. His grandmother can rest easy knowing that her property will be a place of community, provide financial security to her family and that future families will have a place to live that honors the past and provide bright opportunities for the future at the Martin Mayo House.
There is a big banner hanging from the Billy Webb Elk’s Lodge at Tillamook and Williams. The yellow lettering boldly says “Open to the Public.” The fraternal organization hasn’t always been open to the public. The club has occupied the corner since 1959 and historically has been members only. The club is now hosting many weekly events, like free Jazz on Sundays from 5-8 pm. Their full bar serves cocktails, Executive Groove lays down the music, the dance floor is open and food is available. The club hosts card games on Mondays and Thursdays, has a DJ on Friday nights and is finishing a new kitchen soon.
The Billy Webb Elk’s Lodge is a great place to meet neighbors and support the boldly standing Black-owned building of Portland’s African-American community.
Sundays 5-8 pm
Billy Webb Elk’s Lodge
6 N Tillamook St
Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard is the spine that supports our inner Northeast neighborhoods. What happens on the street affects everyone nearby, and we can track the changes in our community by seeing what people make of the street. Its businesses and sidewalks, road surfaces and atmosphere – we can see who we are, and who we want to be, in what use we make of them.
Living near Alberta Street for some years, I found that as that street’s commercial uses changed rapidly, I was struggling to remember what it looked like before
gentrification swept through, tornado-like. With MLK Boulevard, I wanted to be able to remember what it looked like before its next wave of development made it into something new – so I decided I wanted to create a photo record of what the street looked like. When I learned the story of Erwin Grant – a gentleman who filled a warehouse near Fremont with toxic waste – I decided to dig deeper into the history of the boulevard. My website of photos and stories of the boulevard became a launching point for gaining a better understanding of how people have used the boulevard and its buildings throughout years past.
Strongly-debated aspects of American life have repeatedly filtered down to the boulevard, as people have again and again contested with one another on how their ideals should affect life on the street. Racial aspects of gentrification; a deliberately-set explosion in a building (still standing!) that was serving as a military recruiting center during the Vietnam War; protests in support of, and opposition to, abortion; numerous other issues have been contested on the street. One story, now little-heard, is a city police raid on a porn theater at MLK (then Union Avenue) and Alberta, in 1964. The city vigorously prosecuted this case, filing charges against both the producer and director of the movie being shown. This was a time when cries about the dangers of pornography were running high. Mayor Schrunk wrote a screed in 1962, warning parents that children were never safe in commercial spaces by themselves – porn might lurk behind any sales counter. The city pursued the film’s makers into the 1970s when a court in New York state declined to extradite the filmmakers.
With the World Arts Foundation, I organized a celebration for the 25th anniversary of the boulevard’s name change in 1989. While the conflict over the name change slowed the process, residents of the area led the move to name the street after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Success in place-making such as this is often citizen-led; city-directed place-making often leads to disappointment, as with a Gateway project that fell short of what was promised, and is now sequestered in a little-used concrete plaza.
While I’ve uploaded fewer pictures in the past couple of years to mlkinmotion.wordpress.com, I continue to collect stories of people’s experiences on the street. We create a world in miniature along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
On May 28, 1873, under the direction of Edwin Russell, the townsite plat of Albina was laid out and filed with Multnomah County by George H. Williams. Many of the street names have stayed the same such as Page, Russell and Williams. However, many street names have been changed, some even multiple times. Our current NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard is one such street.
The original name of the boulevard was Marguretta Avenue named after Albina founder Edwin Russell’s wife. In 1888 Portland & Vancouver Railway built tracks for a steam-powered line along Marguretta Avenue. The rail line stimulated business and residential and some commercial development. The name Marguretta didn’t last long. In June 1891 an election was held for all residents of Portland, Albina, and East Portland to consolidate the three cities. With this new city formation, the street name was changed to Union Avenue. The street was widened in the 1930s and streetcar tracks were laid.
Union Avenue held its name until 1989 when the Albina Community Plan was developed to revitalize distressed neighborhoods in and around the Albina community. After inquiries about why Portland didn’t have a street named after Martin Luther King, Jr, especially since the minister had visited the Vancouver Baptist Church back in 1961, Union Avenue eventually was renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard after a long and tumultuous process.
Our long time neighbor, Walter Cole, who is also the world’s longest performing drag queen know as Darcelle XV, is being honored two different ways this fall.
Triangle Productions is producing a musical called, “Darcelle: That’s No Lady” performed by Kevin Loomis (as seen at OSF, on Broadway, Frasier, and The Practice) at PSU’s Lincoln Hall through October 5. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at trianglepro.org.
Oregon Historical Society (OHS) has an exhibit of some of Darcelle’s costumes which Walter made and embellished as well as some interesting information about each of them. The exhibit runs through November 3. OHS is located at 1200 SW Park and entry is free to Multnomah County residents with ID. Also, check out a partial 1979 interview between Margie Boulé and Walter Cole/ Darcelle on You Tube. Plus, for information on Walter Cole’s life check out the past Eliot News article, “Just Call Me Darcelle”
Summer is here! Portlanders can take advantage of the warmer weather to explore new parts of town and meet new people. While moving around Portland, you might notice posters supporting neighbors of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Although this might seem unnecessary in “liberal Portland,” this wasn’t always the case. Starting before Oregon even achieved statehood, its inhabitants enacted various laws to preclude the immigration of non-white neighbors.
You may have overheard jokes about the lack of diversity in Oregon. For example, “There are no Black people in Portland.” Or, “You live in the Great White North.” You might have shaken your head and continued on, but the lack of diversity in Oregon is very real and isn’t due to chance. According to The US Census Bureau’s 2018 data, the percentage of Black residents nationwide is 13%. The percentage for the state of Oregon is 2%. The city of Portland is slightly higher, with 6% black residents.
The low number of black residents in Oregon is not an accident and is the outcome of over 150 years of exclusionary policies.
1844: The first Black exclusion law was adopted. This law mandated that “blacks attempting to settle in Oregon would be publicly whipped—thirty-nine lashes, repeated every six months—until they departed.”
1850: The Donation land act of 1850 granted land to white settlers, establishing home ownership specifically to whites. This offered an incentive for more whites to populate Oregon, and reap the benefits of land ownership.
1857: The Oregon Constitution was adopted. It excluded blacks from legal residence, including voting, using the legal system, and owning property.
After explicit race-based policies were unavailable, other methods were utilized to maintain the homogenous status quo. The Ku Klux Klan had an active presence in Oregon, targeting not only black but also Jews and Catholics. This preference towards white protestant neighbors led many neighborhoods and individual homeowners to add restrictive clauses to their deeds or neighborhood documentation. For example, a deed from neighboring Irvington (officially Dolph Park at the time) included the following, “For a period of twenty-five years from the date of this dedication, the premises shall be used exclusively for residence purposes and shall be occupied by the white race and no member of any race other than the white race shall own or occupy any portion of DOLPH PARK”. This practice, called Redlining, made it difficult to procure bank loans and housing insurance for homes in non-white neighborhoods. Redlining also meant that these homes weren’t providing as many wealth building opportunities to its owners as those in white neighborhoods.
These clauses and related attitudes consolidated non-protestant whites into specific areas of the city, such as Eliot. From 1910 to the 1960s, blacks began moving to Eliot because of its convenient location to transportation, railroad, and hotel jobs. After the end of World War II, Portland targeted Albina (including Eliot) as a suitable neighborhood for blacks who were displaced in the Vanport flood of 1948. According to an interactive redlining map of Portland from around 1930, the Eliot neighborhood ranked as “Hazardous”, the lowest of 4 possible categories. The clarifying remarks are, “Zoned multi-family residential and business. This area constitutes Portland’s “Melting Pot” and is the nearest approach to a “slum district” in the city. “Three-quarters of the Negro population of the city reside here and in addition there are some 300 Orientals, 1000 Southern Europeans and Russians.” These categories made it difficult to qualify for loans and home insurance in Eliot, but residents often didn’t have much choice, as they were unwelcome in other parts of the city.
Portland’s lukewarm approval of a multicultural neighborhood in the middle of the city wouldn’t last. In the 1960s, the I-5 construction destroyed parts of Eliot and displaced many black residents. In the early 1970s, the city condemned parts of Eliot – including the land purchased for Legacy Emanuel – further disrupting black families.
Today, housing in Portland is unaffordable for many people of all races, religions, and ethnicities. Let’s move beyond our history, and support policies that help all people feel more housing secure in our state, city, and neighborhood. A key to helping our neighborhood thrive is to allow diverse types of housing that would be more affordable to more people. Currently, much of Eliot is zoned for single-family homes, pushing up housing costs, and supporting a policy with racist roots. The Residential Infill Project aims to make housing more affordable by allowing more types of housing to be built in areas zoned for only single-family homes. Another resource is Portland for Everyone. They’re advocating for housing that will serve many different types of neighbors.
Let’s learn from past mistakes and embrace diversity. Let’s be good neighbors, especially for people that might not have historically been welcomed in Oregon.
Please note that a response to this article, as well as an editor’s note, follow this article.
What started as a way to buy an affordable house ended up a many-years-long adventure to refurbish a home while unexpectedly experiencing the spirit world up close and personal.
Gardner and Donna Murphy knew they wanted to get out of the northwest Portland apartment they were living in and started the search to buy a home. In 1979 homes were much less expensive than they are today but still, most home prices were out of reach for the young couple. After being shown many homes by their real estate agent in “white” neighborhoods they wondered if there were any other neighborhoods they could explore where they could afford to buy. As was common practice, their real estate agent would not take them to any of the homes for sale in the “black” neighborhoods so the Murphys took matters into their own hands. While looking in the Oregonian real estate section, one house jumped out to them. The sweet home at 206 NE Sacramento Street built in 1896 seemed like just the property they had been looking for. The current owner was a businessman who owned several properties that he had brought up to code and then rented them out. However, he was getting ready to move out of Portland and this particular house needed a lot of repairs to bring it up to code. He had been able to obtain a loan because of the success of the other homes he had refurbished. The Murphys agreed to provide a lot of sweat equity and to assume his loan for what was a very affordable price. They were given a deadline to complete the repairs, but it would end up taking a lot more sweat equity than originally anticipated to complete the project.
“I thought Gardner knew more about construction and he thought I knew more about construction,” says Donna Murphy. “We had to get an extension of a few more weeks from the owner,” Donna says, “but, he liked what we did.”
The home had no heat at first except for a sawdust burner. “For the first 2 or 3 years ‘til we got the PDC (Portland Development Commission) loan there would be ice on the inside of the windows,” Donna remembers. Gardner recalls, “there was almost no interest on that PDC loan.” They were able to get other PDC loans for the storm windows and insulation.
A few months after they had moved into the home the ghost activity began. Donna confesses, “I never believed in ghosts ‘til I saw one within a few months of moving in. Our little baby, Annie, coughed in the middle of the night and I looked over to see if she was okay and there was a man with a plaid shirt on, like a flannel shirt, looking over the crib looking at her. I thought it was Gardner. I thought Gardner beat me to the crib and then I realized, no, Gardner’s right here (next to her in bed) and this man that was crouched over drifted that way and into the kitchen. It was never scary, it was just interesting. The next morning I thought, ‘I saw a ghost!’ I read that Martin Mayo had a baby while living at that house.”
Donna learned that fact much later after they had moved from and sold the house so she didn’t know who this ghost might be.
Because of this detail and other details about Martin Mayo, the Murphys think that the ghost could have been the spirit of Martin Mayo. Mayo was a cook at a restaurant which he ended up buying and naming it the Mayo Restaurant. Lucretia and Martin’s only son, George P. Mayo was born in that house.
Gardner recalls, “I never had any thought of ghosts until living in that house. In a gas stove, there is an igniter that usually goes click, click, click (fast). Ours started going at night when you weren’t in the room as you were getting ready for bed and it would go click (pause), click if it was bedtime and you weren’t in the kitchen. Our renters asked us about that too.” The stove was changed out three times and each would have that same random clicking at bedtime which would stop when anyone went into the kitchen.
Also, says Gardner, “I felt the bed shaking once and you did too (Donna). I woke up. I took a quick peek and then back under the covers!”
Donna also recalls smells coming from the kitchen. “There was the smell of oatmeal and bacon in the middle of the night.”
“And the voices… One day my sister, as we were bringing in the groceries said, ‘did you leave a radio on?’ And I said, ‘No, that’s the spooks.’ The one was a man having a conversation with himself and the other was a female upstairs in the attic talking slow and measured for hours at a time. You just get used to it. It was like living with roommates next door,” says Donna. “I never felt in any danger. However, I was having nightmares about the clicking and one night I said, ‘You have to stop!’ There was two separate loud pops or bangs and pretty much after that, there was no more ghost activity.” So it seems that Donna had gotten through to the ghosts for the time being!
Apparently, others who have lived in the house have experienced the same thing including tenants of the Murphy’s, some kids who came by and said they had lived in the house and asked if they had heard any ghosts and also some friends of their daughter, Annie, who also lived in the house. Pretty persistent spirits, those Mayos.
Even though the house was haunted, the Murphy’s loved owning and living in the Mayo house and enjoyed the diverse neighborhood and wonderful neighbors. They also enjoyed the adjacent two lots which they purchased from a developer who was going to put up a 6 unit apartment building. They basically purchased those for just over the cost of the back taxes. Saving the lots from development, they turned the property into an urban forest, farm and playground for the kids. Tall trees to climb, room to play baseball and ride bikes, it was a veritable wonderland. Ironic that now the property will again be transformed by a developer building an even larger complex than the one originally avoided in the 1980s.
Fast forward to 2019 and the lucky opportunity to meet the Murphy’s at the Mayo house move on January 27th. The Murphys and many other neighbors, friends, family and intrigued residents gathered to watch a house move for the third time down the same street. This time the house will become home to the Black history archives courtesy of Cleo and Kayin Davis. They purchased the house and through a lot of bureaucratic sweat equity and help from the city planners, were able to get a zoning change, fees waived and coordinate the logistics to move a house to their property at 236 NE Sacramento. The actual process was awesome to watch and hard to imagine possible that a 123-year-old home can handle that much movement. Who knows, maybe Martin Mayo and his wife are happy that the house is moving to a third location on the same block and their spirits will be at rest. As for the Murphy’s, they are at peace. Back in 1986 when they sold the house to one of their renters they bought a house in the Beaumont Neighborhood. Thankfully the house they now own is, “at peace with itself,” according to Donna.
We’re not going to say this is the final chapter of the Martin Mayo house story because there is so much more to come with the “ARTChives” the Davis’s are going to create. Who knows? The house may last another hundred years so it will have a chance to have a much longer story with guaranteed interesting twists and turns and perhaps some new ghosts to haunt its rooms.
Shara Alexander submitted this response to the above article.
Response to “A Story of Sweat Equity”
The April 2019 Eliot News story about a previous owner of the Mayo house used a word in the title that has a connotation other than ghosts. That word is “spooks”. (“A Story of Sweat Equity and Spooks- More Martin Mayo House History and its Amazing Move”) People over the age of 50 or people of any age who have read about or experienced racism will be familiar with this racist epithet for African Americans. The title of the article has been changed online.
In addition to using a racist epithet in the title, the article seems to be indifferent to the context of racism, loss and displacement for many residents of this neighborhood. It’s the story of a white family taking advantage of the disparity in home prices and conditions in a redlined area of the city in 1979. This is not just one family’s experience, but is a broad national economic trend founded in racism. I am also white and took advantage of the seemingly irrational low prices of homes and lots in this quadrant of the city when I bought my home in 1992. Even if I didn’t have much money at the time I bought my house, I was in a better economic position than many existing residents and had access to more resources (bank loans, family money, job opportunities) as well as the ability to be comfortable and welcomed in any neighborhood in the city due to my race. This is not a victimless advantage, and it’s not a coincidence, even if we are blissfully unaware as white home buyers. As long as the homes and lots in this neighborhood were owned by people of color, they had lower value. Once the area was transferred into primarily white hands the values began to increase. It was gradual but irreversible, and we are seeing the result of this process today. Economically disadvantaged people are priced out and scramble to find housing again in the currently less desirable parts of the city. The parts of town deemed less desirable by real estate agents and high income buyers changes over time, but are always home to the poor, people of color and immigrants through this economic process of loss and gain. If we are blind to that history and to the continuation of economic disparities by race and other biases we are allowing the system to continue. This entrenched problem may be complex, but if we recognize and acknowledge it we can begin to work together to find solutions.
This neighborhood paper has published many articles about the neighborhood’s history of racism, most recently “ARTchives could be a Game Changer for Portland’s Black Diaspora” January 27, 2019 and “Emanuel Apologizes” September 6th, 2017. I hope readers will continue to think critically about what they see in the neighborhood, how we got here, and who is most impacted by the continuing gentrification and displacement of families in Portland.
Additional resources for learning about racism and the home ownership history of Albina/Eliot:
“Priced Out” the documentary film will be shown from 7pm at the Leaven Community Center on May 2nd
The above article “More Martin Mayo House History and its Amazing Move” was published in the spring issue of the Eliot News. The original title and a quote in the article had some phrases that are insensitive and though, not excusable, in the context they were used they were not intended to be offensive. The article title has been amended to exclude those words. The article also does not adequately explain the issues surrounding home buying and selling in the racially diverse Eliot Neighborhood in the not so distant past.
The Eliot News team will take this oversight as an opportunity to explore topics of racial equity, cultural sensitivity, and historical inequities in our neighborhood. We want to be sensitive and thoughtful when choosing and sharing content with our residents and the extended communities in Portland.
Portland’s history (and present) is riddled with stories of housing discrimination. However, when we discuss the history of clearing out predominantly Black neighborhoods to make way for things like the I5 Freeway, Memorial Coliseum, and Emanuel Hospital, or the systemic practice of redlining, it’s often through the prism of broader narratives and statistics. As a result, many of the individual stories get lost.
The Eliot neighborhood may soon be losing an historic resource, a cute house with a unique curved front porch connected to a man who dedicated much of his life to the community over one hundred years ago. The house now at 206 NE Sacramento Street is a little bit tucked away behind shrubbery on a double-sized lot and proposed to be replaced by bland modern higher density housing. The current owner, Danielle Isenhart of Emerio Design based in Beaverton, filed a demolition permit earlier this spring and was approved on May 4th. The one condition posed by the city was a demolition delay of 120 days to provide a possible alternative to the destruction of a historic resource.
New residents to Northeast Portland may not know that Williams Avenue in the 1960’s was very different than the Williams Avenue of today. In 2015 we posted an article from the Regional Arts and Culture Council. This is an update to that article.