A Snapshot of History: MLK in Motion

By Alan Silver

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.

A Brief History of MLK, Jr. Blvd

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.

Historical data are from Roy Roos’ Book, The History of Albina, ISBN#0-9662224-2-3 and also from the Skanner article, “Renaming the Boulevard,: a Retrospective” which can be found at https://www.theskanner.com/news/history/6518-renaming-the-boulevard-a-retrospective2010-01-14

Spontaneous Plutonian Boogie Mural

Spontaneous Plutonian Boogie Mural
Spontaneous Plutonian Boogie Mural

A series of short posts about some of the beautiful murals in and around our amazing neighborhood. 

Rob Lewis is the new artist to paint the mural on the Open Signal building. His project is called astral echoes. It consists of a mural, a visual meditation, and an audio piece made in collaboration with two artists and friends here in Portland, Matt Hayes (film) and Mat Randol (audio).

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Frigg’s Mercantile

Ever wonder how to make your own soap, cheese, or kombucha? What about homemade candles or cosmetics? Frigg’s Mercantile is an urban homesteading shop and studio that recently opened on NE MLK with a simple mission: to equip people with the supplies and knowledge needed to carry out traditional homesteading adventures that can be mastered in a typical Portland kitchen.

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Union Knott Gallery

Storefront of Union Knot Gallery
Union Knot Gallery at 2726 NE MLK. Photo by Sue Stringer.

Before there were the whitewashed walls of the small gallery space next to Bridges Café, there was clutter and a grotesque carpet. Heidi Snellman and her friends pulled out the carpet, added a wooden window bench and transformed the “box with a great window” into Union Knott Gallery.

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MLK Day Neighborhood Clean-up Event

Litter
Litter just waiting to be picked up.

Mark your Calendars!

Please join the Eliot Livability Team in honoring the great civil rights leader by helping to beautify Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd on MLK Day. Volunteers from near and far are invited to attend this litter pick-up event, which is sponsored by SOLVE. Eliot residents, come out to meet your neighbors and show some neighborhood pride! All supplies will be provided.

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Cascadia’s 52-unit Apartment Building

Garlington Center Housing
Garlington Center Housing

Garlington Place Apartments will open its doors in February 2018, offering 52 housing options including studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The four-story apartments will anchor the northern corner of Monroe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, offering 31 units for anyone qualified, with preference for former North and Northeast Portland residents.  In addition, 10 units will be for Veterans who qualify and who are facing homelessness, as well as 10 units for people with mental health challenges. Cascadia began accepting Garlington Place applications through the Portland Housing Bureau’s Preference Policy on Monday, October 16th in anticipation of new tenants moving in as soon as February 2018.  This article is the third in a series describing Cascadia’s Garlington Health and Wellness campus, and explains the Garlington Place amenities and application process.

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Gathering Together: Bridges Café and Catering

Interior of Bridges Cafe
Bridges Cafe

Bridges Café and Catering is a restaurant in which the love of family and friends is palpable, both in the overall environment and in the taste of the food itself. The moment you walk into Bridges, you are enveloped by a sense of warmth and coziness. The café is intimate, and is filled with bright colors that lift the spirits even during the darkest days of winter. Coffee mugs are cheerfully mismatched, tabletops are covered in beautiful mosaics, and the scent of delicious food wafts through the air. After beginning many a weekend morning at Bridges, I sat down with Laura Lane-Ruckman, one of the owners of the restaurant, to learn more about the family-operated business and its connection to Eliot.

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Eliot Sewer and Stormwater Project

Construction of the Eliot Sewer and Stormwater Project begins this fall and will take about a year to complete. City of Portland Environmental Services will be replacing or repairing approximately 10,000 feet of public sewer pipes in the southern part of the Eliot Neighborhood. These pipes are deteriorating due to age or are undersized for the sewer and stormwater flows in this area. The oldest pipe being replaced is 115 years old. These improvements will help protect public health, property and our environment by reducing the possibility of sewage releases into streets, homes and businesses.

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Afrodaddy’s – New Jazz Club Coming to MLK Jr Boulevard

Northeast Portland used to be a hot bed of jazz clubs back in the 1960’s. Audiences enjoyed a plethora of musicians as they came through Portland including some really big names such as Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk. Now, as we have all seen, the neighborhood has changed, the jazz clubs are gone, and there are varying opinions about the motivations and impact that gentrification has had. However, there is movement afoot to bring jazz back to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

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Fetch Doggie Day Care

Orange Dog Statue outside of Fetch
Fetch Orange Dog

A series of posts about places to take your furry friends in and around our amazing neighborhood. 

According to their website, Fetch Doggie Daycare provides a fun, safe, and loving environment where dogs can socialize, frolic, and bask in the affection of their experienced staff.  They are equipped with approximately 3,200 sq. ft. of indoor play-space, plenty of toys, play-structures and comfy furniture.

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Pounce Play and Stay

Pounce Play Stay suites and interior
Pounce Play and Stay suites

A series of posts about places to take your furry friends in and around our amazing neighborhood. 

Opening Pounce Play and Stay, a local cat hotel, has been a labor of love for Lisa Hernandez, owner, and Jennifer Krause, manager. They both have backgrounds caring and advocating for animals. Lisa used to work as an Animal Control Officer and Cruelty Investigator for the Louisiana SPCA and Jennifer worked for nearly a decade for Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles.

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