When most people think of jazz, Portland, Oregon, is not the first place that comes to mind. And yet, for a golden decade following World War II, the Eliot neighborhood, a thriving African American neighborhood that would soon be bulldozed for urban renewal, spawned a jazz heyday. Such luminaries as: Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and local talent; Wardell Gray and Doc Severinsen headlined Portland clubs. The fact that Portland was a port city with a busy railroad, and had a bustling shipbuilding industry, made it ripe to become a jazz Mecca. Jumptown, by Robert Dietsche is a fascinating blend of music, politics, and social history.
A Building Full of Colorful History & Stories
Our neighborhood is so fortunate to have buildings that have survived for nearly a century or more. Every building has seen much use from many people over the years and has many stories to tell as well. The White Eagle Saloon & Café at 836 N Russell Street is a great example of a simple building known for its colorful past. The White Eagle, as it is now known as, has not only serviced many different people from different walks of life, but also is full of stories of events passed through several generations. In 95 years of existence, the building has served the same function as a saloon, tavern, or pub. Perhaps the walls are trying to talk as mysteries still shroud this building and reports of haunting by ghosts continue.
In Eliot there’s little left to see of the neighborhood’s complicated past. Once the vibrant, if sometimes dilapidated, center of Portland’s Black community, today almost all the landmarks are gone. The drugstore that anchored the busy intersection of Williams and Russell was beheaded and razed, its beautiful dome transplanted to Dawson Park. The Prince Hall Masonic lodge is now a tapas bar; the Cotton Club, flourishing in the sixties, sits abandoned behind a chain link fence; and the Black Panther medical clinic, which provided free health care to the community throughout the seventies, is long closed.
Two white ladies, both remembered as “angels” in Portland’s Black community were, improbably, both named Collins—though unrelated.
The Eliot neighborhood may soon be losing a historic home at 216 NE Tillamook. A demolition permit was filed by the company who purchased it two years ago but the city required a 120-day demolition delay on the house due to the fact that it is inside a historic zone and the age of the house. The delay is designed to provide some opportunity for someone to move the house to another location and restore it. Fortunately for the house, the owning firm who planned a condominium development on the site had financial problems and the property entered foreclosure recently.
If you have read many of the postings from the “History” category on eliotneighborhood.org or if you are a regular reader of the Eliot News newsletter you probably recall reading about a history book in the works. Author Roy E Roos, who has written many Eliot News articles over the years, finished the book last fall.
Compiled by Martha Gies with help from historic preservation activist Cathy Galbraith, Executive Director, Bosco Milligan Foundation.
Jane Weber graduated from Grant in 1948, attended University of Oregon, where she earned a Bachelor’s in General Arts & Letters in 1952, then took a one-year post-graduate course in medical records at Duke. Returning to Portland, she worked in the records department at St. Vincent’s until she and Don Bachman, whom she had married in 1958, adopted their first child. They had adopted two girls and a boy by the time they had three daughters of their own.
Emma and Finn Brown came from Biloxi, Mississippi, to the Pacific Northwest by train, and settled in Vancouver, Washington, in 1949, where their only child, Annie Louise, was born at St. Joseph Hospital. Finn first got a job working at a cannery; later, when he was hired on at Rich Manufacturing in Portland, they moved across the river. Emma went into domestic service with a family in Dunthorpe, with whom she worked for more than two decades. Widowed in 1978, Emma Brown, has also outlived many of her clients. Today she is 84 and still working part time.
For nearly 7 years, Eliot residents have wondered what the future is for the building that housed the Cleo-Lilliann Club for many years. At the corner of N Williams & Monroe, it was a fixture for social gatherings in the neighborhood until closing in 2001. Since that time, it has sat vacant and been a target for taggers as no real estate deals apparently have been worked out between owners and potential buyers.
Eliot lost a historic building in October 2007, but to the relief of some residents as it had been an eyesore in recent years. The two story wood framed structure was at 2240-2248 NE MLK on the corner of NE Sacramento. Over the last 50 years, it suffered insensitive alterations and neglect. In its last years, structural problems became more apparent as the elements took a toll on the exterior. It was the last of several turreted Victorian structures that formerly lined a busy Union Avenue (MLK today) during the 1890s. Under the present ownership, a future new mixed use building is planned for the site since it is a prime location for retail development.
Russell Street Looking West 1910′s
Lower Albina and the Factory District in the early 1900’s. There are at least 8 buildings in this picture that are no longer standing. In the picture, on the left side is the building that is home to Mint and 820 and further down , the White Eagle. To the right you can see part of the Davis Block, the former hotel next door and in the distance, the Smithson Block – now home to Widmere.
Egyptian Theater 1933
This 1933 picture shows the entrance to the Egyptian Theater located on Union (MLK) near Brazee. The neighborhood theater was built in 1924 and owned and operated by the Graeper family. Originally it was home to live vaudeville style shows and later in the 30’s was showing motion pictures. The building operated as a theater until 1962 then as a warehouse until 1989.
Martin Mayo Building 1930’s
The Martin Mayo Building, 2401 NE Union, is on the corner of Union (MLK) and Sacramento. It was built in 1912.