Oregon History

Central Eastside Industrial District: 10 years ago

A decade ago I wrote for Neighborhood Notes, a cool community-focused digital publication based in Portland. The now-defunct site went offline a couple of years ago but the editors have graciously let me repost a couple of the posts I wrote. 

I’d thought I’d post this because a lot has changed in “Produce Row” and it’s interesting to see those changes since 2009. Strap in for a time travel visit to Central Eastside!

Snuggled west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard., from the Burnside Bridge down to OMSI, is just one small snippet of the Central Eastside that’s starting to see renewed life after years of false starts, neglect and even annual flooding from the Willamette.

Though the Central Eastside officially encompasses a large swath of land, north to I-84, east to Southeast 12th, south to Southeast Brooklyn and butting up to the Willamette to the west, the waterfront area—known locally as Produce Row—has seen a rebirth of once-abandoned warehouses and crumbling brick structures transforming into a diversified handful of businesses, including coffee roasters, restaurants, breweries, delis and a mix of retailers.

Shleifer Furniture

Despite the many wholesalers and retailers that have been long established (Lippman’s Party Supply, Pratt and Larson Tile and Stone, and Mesher Supply Co. to name a few) the influx of dining and drinking spots is a renaissance that’s been long in the making.

A Spark in the 1980s
Randy Miller, director of Produce Row Management Co., a real estate company, and a member of the Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC) has seen many changes since buying property in the area in the early ’80s.

“Before I-5 was built in the ’60s this area flooded all the time and the water levels would rise and everyone would just ignore it,” says Miller. “But when the freeway was built, it blocked it [the flooding], so all of a sudden the area became more developable but still ignored based on demographics and economic circumstances.”

Around the time Miller set up his business, much of the area’s property was acquired by Portland Development Commission (PDC) to reestablish the area as a “produce center.” The area was planned to be a wholesale/retail project with a nod to the produce wholesale history of the area that was to include themed restaurants and a farmers market. It never happened. A developer was selected, the groundbreaking occurred, and then the developer promptly went broke on another project.


Miller meanwhile needed more room for his growing business so he acquired some of the property from PDC, built out the property in 1986, leased out space to tenants and is still operating the building at One Produce Row to this day, including tenant Tazo Tea company.

Still, he says, it’s been slow to redevelop the area due to zoning requirements that stipulate a development be industrial in the area west of MLK. But that’s about to change.

“As our older more industrial types have declined due to technology and innovation a lot of the buildings fell into disuse or there wasn’t that much demand for them. A few years ago we (CEIC) really pressed the city to change our zoning to permit more general employment so that we could legally expand the use. So now because of the general employment area, you’re finding more businesses here such as web designers, architects, and engineers.”

Condos and Lofts? Don’t Count On It
One thing that’s noticeable when strolling around the area? A legit urban feel but a distinct lack of housing—at least legal, approved housing. And there’s a reason for that.

The CEIC has worked for years to keep housing from being built west of MLK which they say would destroy the cool, gritty character of the neighborhood and could potentially interfere with any kind of development.

“People don’t like railroads. People don’t like trucks coming up and down the street at all hours. So rather than try to convert it to a Pearl District model were moving away from that because we really want to retain the employment base. We have a strategy that’s plausible and it’s working,” Miller says.


Artisan Roots
Part of that strategy is making the area friendlier to eateries and their customers, as evidenced by more established restaurants and pubs who have managed to endure and newer ones moving in. Though many produce wholesalers and purveyors have left the area, leaving only a few that still crank out trucks of produce in the early morning hours to local restaurants and stores, Portland’s food heritage lives on amongst an ever-growing, artisan restaurant scene.

One well-established restaurant, the Produce Row Café, took its name from the area. An early urban pioneer, it originally opened in 1974 and was recently renovated as a more modern space in tune with the newer feel of the neighborhood.

New owner Alan Davis embraced Produce Row’s industrial location and ambiance in the new space by using recently torn-up train tracks and ties from the area and incorporating them into design elements in the back patio. The patio’s exterior walls also feature cedar siding coupled with reclaimed 25-year-old siding from the old patio, while the interiors have been completely gutted and renovated.

Hair of the Dog

“I was looking for an industrial neighborhood to establish a bar and looked around the north industrial area, working my way down. Aesthetically I liked it and it felt comfortable and started paying attention to what businesses were in the neighborhood and fell in love with the space of the Row and saw the potential—both on the property and the within the hood,” says Davis.

produce row cafe 1983.jpg

What also attracted Davis, like many before him, was the diversity of established companies—warehouses, produce companies and independent businesses as well as the history and heritage of produce companies. In a way, Davis has come full circle with the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to him, he learned while talking to family members that his grandfather used to bring his mother to Sheridan’s on Sundays to get produce. “I had no idea until I moved here.”

Keeping the Industrial Heritage Alive
Around the corner from Produce Row Café is the recently renovated Olympic Mills Commerce Center and its most popular tenant, Olympic Provisions. You can’t miss the decorative mustard-colored building which has become somewhat of an architectural compass in the area, acting as a landmark to those strolling through the neighborhood.

Once housing a cereal mill the building has seen changes throughout its life much like many other structures in the neighborhood. The building now houses some of Portland’s creative industries such as advertising agencies, architects, and graphic designers.

“The [Olympic Provisions] space itself is wonderful, like the high windows and a big bright open kitchen—it has the prime spot in the restaurant and gets the most light,” says Olympic Provisions’ Elizabeth Gaston. “You can still see the wood-slatted walls, concrete and old wood and it all adds up with the improvements we made to make a warm, modern-looking space,” she says.

“We’ve only been here nine months but I feel like we already have seen a big influx of business and interest in the neighborhood which is really heartening. It has a lot of potential to go in any direction—the area is a clean slate,” says Gaston.

About a half-dozen blocks south of Olympic Provisions is Water Avenue Coffee (1028 SE Water Avenue), a new coffee roasting company housed in the same building as American Coffee Barista School, which, not so coincidentally, have the same owners. The building itself utilizes the original old wood beams as well as reclaimed fir from the neighborhood.

“We moved into the area about five years ago and were inspired by the area when we first decided to relocate our business to Portland,” says co-owner Matt Milletto. “Even five years ago everyone down here was taking a bit of a leap of faith that it would really revitalize and I think we’re seeing that now.”

Established food-centric businesses such as the upgraded Produce Row Café and clarklewis have inspired businesses such as Milletto’s to join the burgeoning central eastside food scene. “Long-time residents like Montage and City Liquidators are all pretty special places that really fill out the neighborhood. We’ve really taken the neighborhood into consideration, with everything from menu to the layout of our space. Instead of trying to change the history of the area or try to do something different we evolved with the neighborhood,” says Milletto.


With newer businesses moving in, a strong sense of community among merchants, the addition of the Portland Streetcar, and after years of stops and starts, the area is definitely evolving and moving ahead full throttle but thankfully keeping its original, industrial history and soul intact.

All photos from various years from the Lost Oregon Instagram account.


Oregon History Portland History

East Portland: Evolution of a small city

West’s Block building on SE Grand: Now home to AHC’s headquarters. Bult in 1883 and possibly the oldest standing building on Grand Ave.

What we think of today as Portland covers a broad swath of land on both sides of the Willamette River. In the late 19th century, that same area contained several mostly independent communities, including Albina, St. Johns, Sellwood—and East Portland, a small city on the eastern shore of the river roughly bounded by Division Street to the south, 12th Avenue to the east, and Sullivan’s Gulch to the north. While people had lived in this area for far longer than recorded history, East Portland only existed as an official city for two decades before merging with Portland and Albina in 1891.

The Architectural Heritage Center’s (AHC) current exhibit, East Portland: A Changing Landscape, a Forgotten City, explores the area and its history in imagery and displays (hint: there once was a huge body of water that sliced through SE—imagine crossing a bridge over SE Grand).

Here’s an interview I did with AHC’s Val Ballestrem on the exhibit and how SE Portland has changed since its beginnings. The exhibit runs through April 2020 —go check it out!

What was the motivation behind the exhibit?
We recognized that it was a story that has been given very little attention over the years. In the process of researching, the most recent published history of East Portland (other than photo books) I could find was written in 1930! We had already been considering an East Portland exhibit when we became aware of the After Promontory exhibit. Once we were on board with hosting After Promontory, it made sense for us to do the East Portland exhibit at the same time.

Was the eastside primarily industry mixed with housing and apartments? Did any of the people that lived east “commute” to downtown or stay eastside?
From the 1870s onward, there were always industries near to the river, but because of the landscape, much of the land west of present-day MLK Jr. Blvd. remained undeveloped until into the first two decades of the 20th century. There were some houses and hotels in that area, but most were on bits of land that stayed high and dry during Willamette River flooding. The earliest concentrations of housing in East Portland were east of MLK and north of Oak Street. Housing in that area shows up in some of the earliest photos of the area. To the south, the housing was a little more sparse, in part due to the large presence of the Hawthorne (or Asylum) Slough that cut a large swath through the area south of Stark St. as well as a sizable amount of land set aside for what was then called the Oregon Hospital for the Insane. There was also quite a bit of land at the south end of East Portland that was used as farmland.

 By the 1880s, it was clear that the east side was viewed as a residential suburb of Portland even though it was still its own city. There was a lot of flat lands as you moved farther away from the river, making home building easier. It took until 1887, however, for the first bridge to appear (Morrison St.), which immediately led to the rise of streetcar suburbs on the eastside. I’m sure there were lots of people using the various ferries that crossed the river prior to the arrival of the bridges. It should also be noted that one of the details that came out of consolidation in 1891, was that all of the bridges became free to use. East-siders had been clamoring for this – probably most of whom needed to get to work or otherwise conduct business on the west side.


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Can you talk about the pond that once existed? When was it finally filled in?
There was a spring-fed slough that cut through East Portland from about present-day Madison St. and 11th (adjacent to the asylum), north toward Belmont, and then north and east toward the river. Early maps and photos show this slough that by the end of the 1880s had been cut off from the river and was considered as a pond. The Goat Blocks development was built on some of the land where there was once a slough/pond. Also, the building that includes Next Adventure at SE Grand and Stark was built on the filled-in pond.

 Basically East Portland was bisected by this slough. There was a 15 – 20 foot ridge that ran along MLK roughly between Stark and Hawthorne, this is why much of the land west of MLK and south of Stark remained undeveloped until it was filled in. The early roads in that area were built on pilings as were many buildings.

If you’re trying to explain the boundaries of East Portland to someone today, what would that be?
The city boundaries of East Portland were roughly the river, Division St., 12th and approximately what is now Lloyd Blvd (or I-84). The Central Eastside today encompasses this entire area, but extends to Powell at the south.

 Was there a particular industry that reigned?
Food-related businesses (especially processing businesses) show up pretty early in East Portland, including canneries and meatpackers. There were grain mills on the east side from the 1850s onward. Gideon Tibbetts’ flour mill was the first, but was to the south of East Portland, near Clinton and 11th. In later years (after 1900) wholesale grocers started to become more prominent. Since lumber was necessary for growing cities, lumber mills showed up pretty early as well, but really dominated the southern end of what was East Portland into the 20th century.


How did the arrival of the railroad impact east Portland?
The simple answer is that the construction of the railroad, beginning at the end of the 1860s, led East Portlanders like James B. Stephens, to envision a city that could perhaps rival their west side neighbor. Over a couple of decades, the railroad helped transform what was initially a farming village into a small, industrial-minded city.


Portland Real Estate

On Whiskey Hill, an old schoolhouse will be reborn 

The Whiskey Hill School. Circa 1924-25. Source.

Snuggled in the most southern section of Clackamas county sits Whiskey Hill. It’s not considered a town, it isn’t even on maps. “It’s just an area, almost a nickname, given to an actual hill where, legend has it, there was a still built during Prohibition— some people say there are still remnants in the woods,” says Amy Lenhardt.

It’s an area seeing change, too, like wineries and vineyards popping up, but for the most part has stayed the same throughout its history. 

One placemark that most locals know is the Whiskey Hill Store, recently a convenience store. To say it nicely, the place was rundown, and it turns out, in foreclosure. The building itself has a great history. It was built in the mid-1920s as a school, then it became a community center, a grocery store, and finally the convenience store. 

“My father-in-law went to school in the building,” says Amy. “There are four people alive from his class. I think they’re the oldest people alive who actually went to school in that building.” 

Amy knows a lot about the building and its past. 


Because she and her husband Darryl purchased it and are revitalizing it. 

They both grew up on Whiskey Hill, meeting at Zion Mennonite Kindergarten. Grown up and leaving Whiskey Hill, they went on their separate ways and led separate lives for decades, reconnected, and married four years ago. 

On the hunt for an older building
That’s when they started another journey —finding an older building to fix up and even better, finding one on Whiskey Hill. Enter the battered, old convenience store they recently bought.

After the papers were signed, the first step they made was to reach out to the community. “We  just put up a little sign that said we’re having a community meeting at the school,” says Amy. “We thought a few people would come but 50 people came and we were shocked.” 

WHC 1963
Whiskey Hill Community Center, 1960s. Source. 

At the meeting the couple introduced themselves, offered up a questionnaire, and shared their vision. 

Then the real fun began. 

Years of neglect
Like lots of older buildings, the Whiskey Hill Store had been neglected. In the back sits a residence on its own, a crumbling foundation and a very unsexy septic, added in the 1950s, and of course failing.   

Now the fun begins. Source. 

There were other surprises—some good, like discovering the original windows on the north wall (“they’d been covered for decades,” says Amy).  The bad? Nineteen-seventies wood paneling, a staircase smack dab in the middle of the building, and a 30-foot cooler that was installed directly on the wood floor. (Use your imagination on what happened to that floor.) 

An evolving plan
Once rebuilt the couple’s intention is to return the schoolhouse to as much of the original look as possible. The couple also plans on rebuilding the residence in the back and living on the property, then dive deep into the store portion, with a vision still up in the air. Maybe a meeting place for the community? Coffee shop? Small store? 


Fourth grade at Whiskey Hill School, circa 1941. Darryl’s dad, Floyd Lenhardt, is on the far left. His brother, Leslie, is fourth from right. Source. 

“It’s going to evolve over time and we’re probably going to have to do some experimenting,” says Amy. 

As far as a customer base, it might be already in place. Add locals, then folks visiting the Tulip Festival, nearby wineries, wedding venues, and the (hyper) local airport traffic. 

It’ll be fun to watch their journey and embrace another forgotten Oregon building that will get new life. 

“When I was handed the keys, I realized that we don’t own that building,” Amy adds. “We are the stewards and will cherish it and display it so everyone can enjoy it as much as we do.” 

Check out the Facebook page for the The Whiskey Hill Store on frequent updates to the project or join the Facebook group for even more. 

Adaptive Reuse Oregon Design and Architecture Oregon History

Vote for Astoria’s Odd Fellows Building

Astoria oddfellows

The Odd Fellows Building in downtown Astoria has the chance to nab some hard cash in preservation funding from American Express, in addition to an initial grant of $10,000 to increase public awareness of these historic places and build grassroots support for their Main Street district. 

A new campaign, 2019 Partners in Preservation: Main Streets, shines a light on historic buildings and sites celebrating the contributions of women in local communities across the country.

In honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, Partners in Preservation: Main Streets features 20 sites that each highlight and raise awareness for the often unrecognized contributions of women to American history and society. 

The Odd Fellows Building in downtown Astoria was the first building the community chose to rebuild in 1923 after a fire devastated the town. Almost a century later, three local women purchased the building and, with an incredible amount of community support, saved it from developers.

Today, the building houses a gallery, apothecary, art studio, and coffee shop, as well as Astoria’s only nonprofit dance studio and black box theatre—all owned and operated by local women. Funding will restore and weatherize the building’s historic facade and windows to ensure it continues to serve the community for generations to come.

Vote here. 

Oregon Design and Architecture Oregon History

Central Hotel in Burns, Ore., gets new owners and new life 

The Historic Central Hotel. Source

Established in 1884, Burns, Ore., apparently got its name from postmaster George McGowan in honor of Robert Burns,  the “Bard of Ayrshire” from McGowan’s ancestral homeland of Scotland. The town then became the designated seat of government for the newly created Harney County in 1889. Skip a few decades to 1929 and that’s when the Central Hotel entered the picture. After sitting vacant for numerous decades, the old hotel could’ve easily also left the picture, eventually to demolition or just crumbling into itself (this happens way too often). 

Luckily it caught the eye of Jen and Forrest Keady. 

“We really wanted there to be more life and activity around us,” Jen says. At the same time, they were renting a room via A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b‌ in their home, the former Masonic Lodge, which was actually their first retrofitted building in Burns. While renting the room they were surprised at how many people were staying with them but also traveling right down Broadway. 

Enter the historic Central Hotel. It had sat for decades, abandoned and rotting. Their thinking was that an updated hotel in town could be successful, based on the traffic they encountered, but could also draw even more travelers to town.

They purchased the hotel in the summer of 2016 and immediately went to work, adding a roof and “basically buttoning it up so we could do all the demo” during the winter. 

The things you find in a shuttered, old hotel. Source.

But first, funding 
Retrofitting older, historical buildings don’t happen in a bubble. Those buying the property have to rely on a lot of their own money for funding, and though public funding is an option,  they still need to be cautious on how that money is spent. “We were very aware of every penny and where it was going, and just really being budget minded, but with quality being the most important thing,” says Jen. 

They tapped into various funding and grants (Oregon Main Streets, State Historic Preservation Office, Diamonds in the Rough) with some that had specific guidelines.  “We had to put in $30,000 to get $100,000 for one grant. You don’t just get a blank check. You have to pay for it, submit your receipts, and then get reimbursed,” Jen says. 

Then there were grants they sought out, and that meant grant writing. “You don’t have to have a degree in grant writing, you just have to be detail oriented and willing to wade through all the paperwork,” says Jen. 

Pre-retrofit. Source.

Time to build
There are assumed steps in retrofitting an older, neglected building. Of course, first you have to find a building (depending on where you live this might be easy or not). Then comes the funding. And then the actual construction. That’s where the fun begins. 

“ Jen and I went at it with the frame of mind of everything and anything could go wrong. So we didn’t set our plans without flexibility,” says Forrest. 

He says he also got great advice when they were renovating the former Masonic Lodge: “Any renovation, whether it’s remodeling a bathroom or redoing a hotel, is like eating an elephant. You’ve got to do it one bite at a time.” 

That’s a good philosophy to take because they had a few hiccups along the way. 

  • After they demolished the interiors with now just the skeleton inside, they noticed that all the framing upstairs was done with 2x4s, fine for 1929 but not so when you need a sound barrier between rooms. They ended up double walling.
  • Rot. Of course, rot. There’s always rot.
  • Just before their opening, they discovered a piece of cast iron plumbing outside the building under the sidewalk had split on the top. That meant no running water for guests. It was fixed at the last minute by a team of contractors.
That’s the Central Hotel on the right back in the day. Source.

Retrofitting a hotel and building a community
It all turned out fine, though, obviously. The couple officially opened the doors of the Historic Central Hotel in summer 2018 and since then, a handful of buildings have sold and are in the midst of renovation. “We’ve had more people sprucing up their businesses and it’s definitely causing that chain reaction we’ve been hoping for,” says Jen. 

She also believes that Burns is slowly becoming a place to stop, not just to go through on the way to Steens Mountains or Alvord Desert.  “We’re finding that people are rerouting because they want to stop. I feel like the hotel is definitely one of the hubs for making things happen, and Burns is slowly becoming more of a destination,” says Jen. 

Historic Central Hotel
171 N. Broadway Avenue
Burns, Oregon

Adaptive Reuse Oregon Design and Architecture Oregon History Portland History

Rejuvenating Estacada’s main street, one building at a time

The long-gone Hotel Estacada.
The long-gone Hotel Estacada.

Snuggled along the Clackamas River, you might know Estacada as the town where you stop in for supplies before heading out to the river or maybe as the home of the now defunct Safari Club that once showcased stuffed animals while diners enjoyed a meal or a cocktail.

Estacada is more than that, with a deep history going back over a century. It started out as a camp for dam builders, then a weekend destination for Portlanders who stayed at the (long gone) Hotel Estacada, shuttled there via trolley line (also long gone) from downtown Portland. The key word here though is: dam. In fact, there are four dams on the river near Estacada built by workers who have lived in Estacada at one time or the other (while earning the nickname “the dammedest town in Oregon,” according to an old diner’s matchbook).

Sure, it’s had its moments—some positive, others negative.

There’s been several decades where Estacada suffered from a negative perception challenge that it was a rough and tumble place on the outskirts of Clackamas County,” says Matt Lorenzen, Estacada’s Economic Development Manager. 

Downtown Estacada
Downtown Estacada

However, thanks to a strong economy and population growth in the greater Portland region, engaged city staff, a forward-thinking City Council, and tools like tax increment financing (urban renewal), downtown Estacada is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. Several downtown buildings have been recently rehabilitated and occupied by new businesses, including a dance studio, an outdoor outfitter, and a frozen yogurt shop, with help from local urban renewal grants. 

Most recently a Revitalization grant made available through the Oregon Main Street program—a division of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)—will make possible the retrofit of the popular Broadway Building, built in 1938. 

“If you do a back-of-the-envelope pro forma on putting a quarter million dollars into this building, it makes no sense whatsoever,” says Lorenzen. “But with these public funds you can do some cool things to breathe new life into a building, and in our case, into a highly visible corner in a downtown that’s trying to come back to life.” 

Renderings for the Broadway Building renovation. Source.

The Broadway Building sits in a key location at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Broadway. In Estacada, Broadway is considered the “main” street, even though there’s an actual Main Street. It’s the first intersection visitors come to when exiting or entering downtown from Highway 224, and with the public art on the walls, it’s a highly visible building. 

Using historical photography, it was discovered that the building had a somewhat dubious addition to it in the 60s or 70s that Lorenzen describes as “very utilitarian,” and “at any rate its [architecture is] incompatible with downtown and with the corner that we’re revitalizing.”

The goal, he says, is multifaceted in that it will restore the facade of the building, taking a historically incongruent facade on Fourth Avenue and bringing it into alignment with the downtown and with the building that it’s attached to.

SUM DESIGN STUDIO + architecture, the team behind the design, came on board and agreed the Broadway Building was the more cost-sensitive in terms of not having to do a deep demolition and treated it as more of an addition project. 

“We looked at it from a storefront aspect,” says SUM’s Matt Loosemore.  “We’re doing an awning replacement, we’re taking off all of a failed stucco system, exposing the substructure, and then re-stuccoing the facade.” The goal, he says is to scale back the existing two facades by breaking up the canopy line, keeping them at a consistent height, and adding more glass into the center space. “That way, we’re actually gaining an additional retail space.” 

However, because grant dollars are through SHPO, they’re required to follow Oregon’s Secretary of Interior’s standards for revitalization or rehabilitation, compelling the team to respect the historic aesthetic of the building.

The building will have a bit more modern touch, using a steel canopy, with all new window systems. “You’ll be able to see the old character of the building, but at the same time, appreciate some of the newer amenities,” says Loosemore. 

The Broadway Building is just one project out of many helping to contribute to downtown Estacada’s revitalization. 

“There’s a bit of a demographic shift taking place and an economy shifting towards tourism and outdoor recreation,” says Lorenzen. “That shift doesn’t mean just razing old buildings and building new ones, but rather preserving and enhancing and doing it in a way that’s respectful to the past.” 

Oregon History

Rust, Rot, & Ruin: Stories of Oregon Ghost Towns

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“There’s no ghost town here. The internet lied to you.” 

That was the most memorable line—delivered by a wary local —of an epic road trip two summers ago. Some pals and I rented an RV and drove it across Eastern Oregon in search of ghost towns. Despite the ominous conversation and the rotten wood and rubble we could only find at the dusty spot (the dude was right, at least) we did end up finding ghost towns, or at least what remained of them on the rest of the journey. Fueled by beer, road food, lack of sleep and long stretches of driving on lonely roads, the trip was a success and it only solidified by own obsession with ghost towns. I’m not alone. 

“Ghost towns hold our fascination for a variety of reasons,” says Theresa E. Rea, MLIS, CA and archivist at Oregon State Archives. “There’s something simultaneously macabre and romantic about them that draws curiosity and intrigue. I can’t speak for others, but I think of ghost towns as unique time capsules. Many nameless souls at one time made their lives in these towns. The remnants allows us a small peek into the past and contemplate what secrets they hold.” 

OHD_#6450_Bourne Main St.jpg

And, to celebrate these long lost towns, the Oregon State Archives are debuting a new exhibit:  “Rust, Rot, & Ruin: Stories of Oregon Ghost Towns.” 

Rea graciously offered to answer some of my questions about the exhibit as well as go a little deeper on what makes ghost towns so alluring. 

What’s the inspiration behind the exhibit?
Oregon has hundreds of abandoned settlements, mining camps, and company towns across the state, and the Archives want to exhibit the rich history of a choice few of these decrepit places. Each town is a unique story of dashed hopes and sundered dreams – each is a tombstone where a frontier community failed. These towns and the forces which slew them were tied to advances in science, industry, and transportation that changed the face of Oregon. In eulogizing these lost places, we will examine the historic factors which contributed to their rise and fall, the people who called them home, and what of their remains lie scattered across the state. 

OHD_#6449_Cornucopia City Hall.jpg

What should visitors expect?
Visitors will encounter stories of selected ghost towns sudden burgeon and demise. Portions use imagery to depict the “then” and “now” of some towns while other segments resurrect towns that have disappeared. Guests can learn about Oregon’s mining, lumber, transportation, federal projects, and tourism industries that informed a ghost town’s fate. Attendees can read about a remarkable 9 year old newspaper editor of a company town or how much a lumberjack ate to sustain their daily work. We are also displaying related artifacts, all on loan from the Oregon Historical Society and the Forest History Center.   

What makes Oregon’s ghost towns unique? 
I have read claims that Oregon has the most ghost towns in the whole county. Whether that is the case or not, I don’t dare to speculate, but ghost towns are woven into the fabric of Oregon’s robust history of industry, transportation, and tourism. Remember during much of this time period, Oregon was far from settled by Americans and other pioneers. Many of these towns drew individuals and families from all over the world, seeking their fortune. Those who remained helped populate the state and became an integral piece of Oregon’s history.


Why did some towns fail while others thrive?
Research reveals that many of these towns died as quickly as they sprung into existence. This can be due to many reasons. One primary reason which we encounter time and time again is resource exhaustion. Gold mining towns in particular are a great example of this. Many of these places were typically dependent on a single activity or resource, such as mines, mills, or resorts. Crossroads towns are also fascinating because their economic importance was reliant solely upon the railroad. Revitalization or preservation of a ghost town can be seen through the efforts of a citizens invested in keeping history alive. 

Oregon State Archives Annual Open House and the debut of Rust, Rot, & Ruin: Stories of Oregon Ghost Towns will be on Saturday October 26; 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. The exhibit runs from Fall 2019-Spring 2020. 

Adaptive Reuse Oregon History Portland History

An under-appreciated mid-century spot in Milwaukie

Downtown Milwaukie is experiencing major changes to its downtown core. From the south Downtown area (there’s an actual crane up in Milwaukie) with two huge mixed-use projects up within a couple of years, to a new library, to more mixed-use dotted along McLoughlin, downtown will look different in 2-3 years. It hasn’t seen this much growth and construction probably since after WW2.

That said, Milwaukie has an impressive stock of mid-century ranch homes sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods that have remained unscathed in their original condition.

Many commercial mid-century buildings also dot the landscape from super-mod churches to office buildings to bowling alleys.

millwaukie cleaners

One mid-century building still standing is the (now former) Milwaukie Cleaners building. Almost invisible, since it sits on a desolate part of Main street (most people usually drive by it to hop on 99) it was built in 1959 and designed by Joseph H. Rudd & Associates, a Portland architecture firm. The streamlined design and folded plate roof were commonly found on dry cleaners of the time. The space is a bit striking and unusual, most notably that roof.

According to Leesa Gratreak, MS, Architectural Historian, at HDR, Joseph H. Rudd & Associates was started by Joseph H. Rudd in 1950 after completing his degree in architecture at the University of Oregon. Rudd, originally born in Idaho in 1922, was active in local philanthropy and housing boards in Portland, as well as an active member of the city planning committee in Vancouver, Wash. Rudd continued to design with the firm until his retirement in 1990 and he passed away in 2003.

Examples of additional work include Yaw’s Top Notch Restaurant in Portland; quarters for the Sisters of St. Dominic on the Marycrest High School campus in Portland; a U.S. National Bank Building on Division Street in Portland; as well as numerous residential buildings throughout the Portland metro area.

“The building is an excellent example of mid-century plate glass design and exhibits a folded plate roof and decorative concrete block patterning,” says Gratreak. “The roof is considered a common feature associated with dry cleaners as it allowed a wide overhang for items to be safely transferred into the vehicle.”

Once Milwaukie Cleaners closed shop, the future of the building remained unknown. Just recently, tell-tale signs of a new business showed up—brown paper on the windows—with word on the street that new tenants will be involved in the budding CBD industry.