This blog, Café Unknown, is not so much about history as it is about place.
Perhaps the difference is merely semantic, as for me the two are closely intertwined.
Without continuity of place, a city loses its identity, it becomes a merely a collection of buildings, pipes and wires.
For a person as historically minded as myself, this is self evident: Like that kid in “The Sixth Sense,” I see dead people -the ghosts of Portlanders past- all the time.
Places, stories (and ghosts) all need continuity and context to survive (which is why so few new subdivisions are haunted).
From high rise condominiums and row houses encroaching on historic residential neighborhoods, to the adolescent scrawl of the tagger or the Darwinian laws of business, the elements which make
Music Millennium on Twenty Third Avenue, the Lovejoy Ramp, Quality Pie, Henry Ford’s Restaurant and the Church of Elvis are relatively recent additions to a long list which includes most of the cast iron fronted downtown, the jazz clubs and neighborhoods along Williams in Albina and the large portion of downtown slicked off in the 1960s for the South Auditorium urban renewal project.
It is hard now just to keep
(An old mnemonic doggerel, dating at least from the 1930’s listing the order of Prescott, Going, Wygant and Alberta Streets in North and North East Portland.)
There is an effort now before the City Council to rename
Streets lend a city continuity.
Of colonial Nieuw Amsterdam nothing exists, except the warren of streets on
Long after the personages whose names grace
Beyond geographic functions, people live work and play along streets for decades, if not generations. Two blocks “off Interstate,” my new next door neighbor is a woman in her mid-eighties who recently moved back to the Overlook area to be near her son; he lives directly across the street in a house that she once owned in the 1940s. Much has changed in
(Click on photos to expand)
Broadway and Interstate circa 1940.
When Interstate Avenue opened in 1917, it started at Broadway, on the east side of the Broadway Bridge, and ran north through old Albina bordering neighborhoods of railroad workers; those of the Volga Germans in “Little Russia” and the Polish neighborhood, further up the bluff along the east side of Interstate near the St. Stanislaus Church. Directly across the street ,on the west side of the Interstate, was a largely Scandinavian neighborhood, many of whom which also worked for the railroad.
By the time the above photo was taken, the area around Broadway and Interstate was one of
The Portland Van Storage Building in the picture still exists. The neighborhood does not. It was demolished by the redevelopment for Memorial Coliseum in the early 1960s.
Note the subway access to the pedestrian transit island in the middle of Broadway. The electric bus (trolley coach) is on Interstate Avenue (Interstate was lowered and brought closer to the river then extend south during the Memorial Coliseum redevelopment. The old alignment in now part of Larabee Avenue). The MA sign on the streetcar stands for the
Street re-naming in
Many German names were removed during World War I. The street re-numbering plan of the early 1930s (which divided
Changing names of long established streets to honor admired personages however is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In 1996, in a staggering outbreak of historical amnesia,
To fight these strictly elective alterations to
It requires the willingness to go up against an organized opposition with motivations that in themselves are honorable. It requires playing catch-up in a shadowy process whose rules are altered at the whim of City Councilors.
Who has the time and energy to mount opposition, especially when examination of the process that lead to
And finally, who would want to take on Rosa Parks?
It is the perception that opposition to the renaming a street is the same as opposition to honoring a person, which is the biggest obstacle to those not in favor of re-naming.
Allow me to state, in the clearest most concise terms possible; I have no argument against honoring King, Naito, Parks or Chavez.
In the case of Rosa Parks, the demolition of the “Bill Roberts Transit Mall” (a.k.a. the bus mall) was a sufficient break in continuity to have allowed the new transit mall that replaced it to be named for her, with poetry that hardly needs to be stated. It was a opportunity mind-boggling to have been missed.
A like suggestion by John Wylder, in the Oregonian’s Commentary page from September 8 2007; that a new farmers market for
Both ideas are additions to the character of
But if street re-naming is the only way to honor a personage, perhaps a solution, where a numbered street is appended with a name, such as with
Once again, it is addition without subtraction.
For make no mistake about it, when a street named is changed through political means, something is being taken away from somebody.
The issue goes beyond
It is reasonable to assume that other groups will have their own heroes they would like to see honored.
For what it is worth, the city code states that the City Council is allowed to change a streets name only to correct errors and eliminate confusion. A similarly ignored portion of the code allows street name changes only with a citizen based process that includes a petition and a panel of historians.
Interstate Avenue in the mid-1970s, looking east from
With the city code arbitrarily disregarded, who decides that one group’s hero has more merit than another?
Is there any reason to believe that re-naming will be restricted only to civil rights heroes?
If honoring minority viewpoints and voices is truly paramount in
Meanwhile Portlander’s cynicism with process will grow.
And what other long established
The Marco Polo Motel, circa the 1960s on the corner of
The “Marco Polo” today.
Another view, circa 1939, of the area around Interstate Avenue and
Courtesy of the
The Crown Motel (here in the 1950s) on
It is not like its going to grow or anything.
The next post will be entirely non-issue driven.
To Eugene Snyder, author of "Portland Names and Neighborhoods".