Houses, houses, houses! In 1955 houses dominated the landscape in Eliot. This view of Eliot from above was taken as part of a larger photo of the downtown area. The image shows the neighborhood before the massive changes that came in the 60’s and 70’s. Memorial Coliseum had not yet been built, I-5 had not yet tore through the neighborhood, the Emanual Hospital campus had not yet sprawled into the neighborhood and Fremont was just a street (not quite in the picture) and not also a bridge. Also worth noticing, Lower Albina still had homes, Albina park was square, the grid pattern covered most of the area, and the now vacant lots around Russell near Williams and Vancouver had buildings.
We live and work on them. We walk, bicycle, and drive on them, but how many of us know the history behind the streets of Eliot? Here, with help from the book Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historical Origins, by Eugene E Snyder (Binford and Mort, 1979) are the stories of some of the neighborhood’s more well known streets.
Q1: What still in use structure on MLK had a bit part in a 1993 sleeper hit? What was the building? What was the movie? Bonus: What two word line (arguably one of the best in the movie) was uttered by an extra in that scene?
Q2: What used to be at the site of the Nike outlet store? What happened to it?
Q3: What is the name of the park adjoining Tubman School, and why is it hyphenated?
Allies of Eliot, a group of eight PSU community development students, has produced a historic walking tour of Eliot based on a series of interviews conducted by the Eliot Oral Histories Project and on community outreach conducted for the walking tour. The tour is self-guided and consists of an informational booklet with historical photos, and corresponding audio tracks taken from the interviews. Booklets and audio players will be available for checkout from Dishman Community Center, where the tour begins and ends. A condensed brochure version of the booklet and audio mp3s will be available for free download from the project website this summer.
The history of the Eliot Neighborhood has been something that has brought culture and identity to it’s residents for a long time. It is something of controversy, life, and community. However, the neighborhood is changing. In order to keep the legacy of Eliot alive, Laurie Simpson and Arlie Sommer have teamed up with a group of Community Development undergraduate students from Portland State University to create an oral history project for the Eliot Neighborhood. Fusing together informational interviews of long term residents in Eliot and historical research, the students will create a historical walking tour of the neighborhood, bringing out oral narratives to show the changes and the history that exists here.
During the early years of rapid development in the town of Albina, which most of is now inside the Eliot neighborhood, many well-known businessmen were involved with the process. When Albina was incorporated in 1887, it saw phenomenal growth through 1892. Much money was spent and made on real estate investments and industrial expansions tied into the railroad industry. Businesses during these years thrived on healthy profits in part due to an abundant supply of immigrant workers willing to work at working-class wages. The real estate market was exceptionally healthy due to soaring lot prices. After Albina merged with Portland in 1891, the value of property skyrocketed. Most Albina businessmen and property speculators though lived in today’s NW and SW Portland, which was generally where most of the “well-to-do” lived. Robert E. Menefee and his brothers were an exception to this rule as they resided in Albina during most of their lives. Some of the homes they lived in are still standing in the neighborhood today.
The Eliot Oral History Project has concluded their spring interview series. The project, sponsored by the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and the Eliot Neighborhood Association, brought elders together with students from Boise Eliot’s middle school class to record stories about the Eliot Neighborhood.
Students were asked to reflect on the experience. Here is what they said:
The residents of Eliot are fortunate today to enjoy ethnic and cultural diversity. What is more unique about our neighborhood is that it was always diverse since the beginning, during the last quarter of the 19th Century. A healthy mix of immigrants from Europe settled here and built homes. In the northerly portion of the original town site of Albina, which is bounded by today’s NE Morris Street west of MLK & NE Ivy Street east of MLK, a higher concentration of settlers from Scandinavian countries purchased property and built homes for themselves and related family members. Most of these men held a variety of occupations that were often unskilled, but they were well-taught and highly skilled in carpentry. Luckily, clusters of these small but decorative houses stand today and some have been sensitively restored.
The Eliot Neighborhood Association and Boise-Eliot School are about to begin the Eliot Oral History Project! This project will bring Boise-Eliot middle school students together with Eliot residents to listen and record their stories and piece together an oral history and walking tours of the neighborhood.
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.
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.
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.