16 September 2008

[map design, pdx_history] The Willamette River, Circa 1928 (Updated with link to Flickr photostream)


(Once again I forgot that some of my readers have a firewall issue. Here's a link to the specifically-tagged items in my flickr photostream).

The 1928 Portland Hibernia Map, detailed here, is a gorgeous thing. Taking a close look at the scales provided for image hosting is something of a obstacle, though, so over the course of a few non-consecutive blog posts, we'll take nice close looks at some things that I find interesting. This time, we'll take a gander at the lower Portland Harbor ... the Willamette River ... and see just what sorts of things a hard-working West-Coast inland harbor had about it in the late Roaring 20's.

First, forgive me dialuppers (if there are any), the images are a bit big. You just can't economize on image size and still have something to show one.

This is a scan of the upper-left part of the 1928 Hibernia Map:

(clicky to embiggen in the Photobucket account, or click here if that doesn't work). You'll see here that I've divided it into three more "bite-sized" chunks. The "Mile Circles" are taken from an arbitrary point downtown which seems to be Washington Street at South Broadway (as people in 1928 would have called them; we'd say "SW Washington and Broadway").

Section 1 takes in the river around Saint Johns and the area we today call Linnton:

Note the dot-dash line coming in via the river then cutting across the upper 2/3rds of the map; that's the Portland city limits in 1928.

Lumber and oil companies line both sides of the river, with lumber companies predominating. "Municpial Dock #3" is what we call today Port of Portland Terminal 3. Terminal 4's beginnings seem to be seen in the "Saint Johns Municipal Terminal No. 4" (complete with grain elevator) just inside the city limits

Also notable is the differing street names. We see that, west of Saint Johns' commerical center there, the name Lombard Street did not apply; they carried the names the original platters gave them, suggesting that the extension of Lombard was a way of rationalizing the street names in particular to that area (and giving motorists a consistent way to get through Saint Johns to get to the terminal; following one street name is a lot easier than following two or three.

What was to be the Saint Johns Bridge is at this time being serviced by the Saint Johns Ferry; the bridge was due to be built in about three years' time, however. The spaghetti of roads west of the river would of course never be developed into neighborhoods; they serve today as hiking trails in our magnificent Forest Park.

Just to the southeast of the ferry crossing is a small complex labelled "Gas Co.". That's the mysterious old building that the Portland Mercury's Matt Davis and The Big O's architecture and art writer Brian Libby tried to assay ... without success ... in this story.

But perhaps the most telling change is that road, which we today call "NW Germanown Road" is on this map called "Libertytown Road" (you can see it leading westward away from the ferry crossing). Recall that after World War I, anti-German sentiment was high (and apparently remained as such in Portland through the 1920s); anything German was seen as disreputable; it was common to swap "sauerkraut" in favor of "Liberty cabbage", for example. "Germantown Road" was so named, Snyder tells us, for the connection it provided the German settlers who lived in the northern Tualatin Valley over the hills to their work on the Willamette in those days.

Section 2 gives us what is today an industry-thick area with a University overlooking from the bluff as it was as it gave us Portland's first airport:

Obvious industrial presences here include the oil facilities on the left bank (Union and Standard Oil Companies) and Pacific Coast Steel just adjacent to those. The oil facilities still exist there, but under different names. The Union Oil Facility just in the upper right by the number circle is approximately where the Wacker Siltronic plant sits today. Today, the Peninsula Lumber and Shipbuilding sites is a Federal Superfund cleanup site.

Locals will recognize the location of todays University of Portland marked as "Columbia University". It's the same institution. When originally organized by the Catholic Church, it was named Columbia University in honor of the nearby Columbia River (presumably the name "Willamette University" was vetoed because there had already been a such-named institution in the state capital for some years by this point). Quizzically, there is a single street in the area of that campus ... Ballyntyne ... which seems to have no inlet nor outlet. According to this map, not only does it go nowhere, it comes from the same place!

And here you see Swan Island in its last days of being a natural feature. And, in contrast to today, the ship channel was actually on the north side of the island. That Swan Island Lagoon, that hydrographic dead-end, was once the main street! But sometime during the 1920s (soon enough before this map was drafted that they deemed it unncessary as yet to redraw it), Swan Island was leveled off and connected to the right bank by landfill to be Portland's first airport, dedicated by Charles Lindberg. It existed there until the early 1940s when it was made obsolete by the newer, bigger, and faster airplanes. Portland Airport moved out by the Columbia River, and Swan Island became an important part of Portland's port.

In Section 3, things really get busy:

There's a lot of stuff here, and a lot going on. Some things survive to the present day: part of the building called "Ainsworth Dock" may (or may not) be part of the McCormick Pier apartments. The Albers Mill Building still exists as an office building.

But most of the industrial buildings there have gone, given way to the ├╝ber-trendy "River District". Just left of the "Union Depot" used to be blocks upon blocks of rail yards (today replaces by blocks and blocks of condos where the nuveau-trendee moan and complain about every train whistle they hear). An interesting thing is the ferry connecting the foot of Albina Avenue to the intersection of NW 9th and Front (Naito Parkway today). The red marks of Portland Traction streetcar lines festoon the area.

An interesting difference comes in the area off Nicolai Street. What we today call NW 24th, 25th, and 26th Place are simply marked "24 1/2, 25 1/2, 26 1/2".  Just below Nicolai on the left you can see the Forestry Bldg ... the seed for the Western Forestry Center (or as well call it, the World Forestry Center). This was a leftover from the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition which persisted in this location until the 1960s at which point this building ... the huge log cabin ... was destroyed by fire. The Western Forestry Center was established in Washington Park in 1964.

The dull blue overprinted numbers are also significant. These are the system of Portland addresses that existed before 1930, before the Great Renaming that gave us the current system. The street names as detailed existed without directionals ... It was "Pettygrove Street" as opposed to "NW Pettygrove Street", for example ... and all numbered streets north of Burnside were suffixed "North" (21st St. N. instead of NW 23rd Avenue). There were at the time only 20 house numbers to the block, so Lovejoy ... which today, is the 1000 block ... was only the 200 block on the above map, and the 2300 block on West Burnside today was only the 800 block of upper Burnside Street of 1928.

There are other sections of the town to tour, so stay tuned.

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stan said...

As usual, your map geekery is a thrill for me to read...even with firewall-blocked images.

I remember reading that Lucky Lindy had flown in and out of the early Portland airport, and that they had to relocate it when they started the St. Johns Bridge due to planes' inability to ascend high enough to clear said bridge.

That Gasco building has always been a mystery to me, too. In 1993 and friend and I spent some serious time weighing the pros and cons of a break-in, but we decided that 1) it would have been better to enter during the day, so we could see what we were in there to see, but 2) the likelihood of getting caught and prosecuted increased dramatically during the day, so we opted not to go in.

I do like the idea that one Merc commenter had, that of repurposing the building as a bridge museum. We need one of those...after all, Portland is Bridgetown.

Isaac Laquedem said...

Here are some other things of note:
On Square 2, note where St. Helens Road leaves the river to move into the grid. Where are the arterials through the Guilds Lake Industrial District (Yeon and Front)? Not quite here yet - I think they came in the 30s. On Square 3, Front Avenue runs only to Nicolai Street, which then turns into St. Helens Road just off the left edge of the map. Bourne's Addition shows just north of 23rd and Nicolai -- it's the 4-block grid of Brewer, Canfield, and Bourne -- but no streets yet connect it to anything else. Also note that the eastern part of Westover Road is labeled Cornell Road, from Burnside to Johnson. I think in times past it connected over the hill to Cornell Road (which was earlier called Gubser Road), but I haven't been able to find when that connection, if it ever existed, went away.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


Sorry again. I keep forgetting you and your workplace firewalls here's a link to the flickr stream with the particular images.

With respect to the Saint Johns Bridge, lore has an interesting story to tell. In the beginning when it was recognized that the bridge would be a hazard to approaching and departing planes. They originally thought that they'd gotten them to paint the bridge towers like candy canes ... striped red and white ... but when they finally finished the bridge, there it was, in green just like today.

It's probably just as well that you didn't try breaking in. That would have ended in tears. Just look at how snottty they were to the Merc and O reporter!

I got nothing but approval for your idea of a bridge museum. That's a good one.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


On the other similar map to this, which was copyrighted by Armena Pittmon in 1933, the map does exhibit roads going through the area that once contained Guilds Lake: NW 29th and 35th Avenues, NW Yeon Avenue, NW Express Avenue. So your supposition seems to be right on.

I appreciated your remark about Bourne's Addition, at least for the point of fact that I didn't know what that plat was called! But the notice that they don't seem to connect to streets around it and the lack of a Front Avenue north of Nicolai also raise the possibility that the map was incompletely researched and drawn or was perhaps rushed into to production somehow.

As far as Westover/Cornell, looking at the way that they sort of line up on the map has always made me wonder that they were originally the same road, and Westover Road was born maybe when Kings and Arlington Heights was developed ... the name "Westover" has always had that "landed gentry" feel to me.

Cornell Road was once called Gubser Road? That's a thing that could use some looking into, I think!

stan said...

I wish I could take credit for the bridge museum idea. But I certainly second it!