NB, Tuesday 20 Jan 2008: I noticed a lot of referrals here. If you have a few minutes, could you leave a comment saying where you came from and what got you here ... or at least where you came from? If this information helped you, then that's made my day Thanks!)
Today, we return to the 1928 Portland Hibernia Map to get another closer look. This time, we go back to Address Nerd territory.
One of the things that originally fired my interest in Portland geography was the complex (from my Silvertonian point of view) address grid. It was pleasing to the eye and easy on the ear: for some reason, saying Southeast Stark Street is intriguing to me in the way that simply saying Stark Street isn't. I like the way the letters S and W look when sitting next to each other on a street sign. Order in a directional quadranted grid is aesthetically pleasing to me.
But the idea of NE/SW/SE/NW/N had the air of an after-the-fact overlay, an artefact. So I started down the road of asking why. Eventually, I happened upon Snyder, and my questions were answered in the main, but knowing the basics I wanted to know more.
Eventually, after enough chipping away, old maps came my way in the cosmic way such things do. I learned about Portland geography before and after the Great Renaming.
As covered here before, Portland before 1933 was ordered in a different way, a thing that evolved from the merger of Portland, East Portland, and Albina in 1890 to form the modern City government and the need to bring a real wild-West style of naming (where developers got to name the streets in their new subdivisions whatever they wanted regardless of what names already existed elsewhere) under control. Names were duplicated willy-nilly across the entire city.
The plan that evolved formed the skeleton of the one we recognize today, but the nomenclature was different:
- All streets south of today's Burnside and west of the river were simply streets, with no directionals.
- All named streets north of today's Burnside and west of the river had no directionals; numbered streets were suffixed "North"
- The exception to 1 and 2 above was Broadway, which began life as Seventh Street and adopted the Broadway name after the Broadway Bridge was constructed and the street was extended over. North Broadway was Broadway north of Burnside; Broadway south of Burnside was South Broadway.
- Named streets on the east side were prefixed "East", but only if they had a counterpart on the west side. Downtown's "Stark Street" was called "East Stark Street". Named east side streets that had no west side counterpart had no directional (e.g. Thompson Street instead of NE Thompson St. Broadway was simply Broadway because the east side had it first; see number 3 above).
- Numbered streets on the east side were also prefixed East. What we today call SE 12th Avenue, for example, was known as East 12th Street.
- Numbered streets on the east side north of Burnside were, as on the west side, suffixed North, but still carried the East prefix for differention. What we today call NE 12th Avenue was known, therefore as East 12th Street North.
- There were 20 house numbers to the block, rather than the standard 100 that we know today. Between Front Street and First Street (no directionals, therefore the west side south of Burnside) the addresses rand 1-20. You didn't get to the 100 block until Fifth Street.
Now, for a couple of pictures. The truly exciting thing about the Hibernia Map other than its sheer age is that it contains information on how the addresses ran. Here's a section of the middle:
(surf this link to see it bigly in the Photobucket album). If you look closely, you'll see faded bold number in a sort of teal. Look near Lovejoy Street at the Broadway Bridge and you'll see the number "200". Near where Westover Road intersects Burnside, you'll see the number "800". This is how the address system ran in Portland in those days. An address in the 2400 Block of NW Marshall Street today would have been in the 800-820s on an un-directionalled Marshall Street. The Oregonian, at today's address of 1320 SW Broadway, would have been at about 280 South Broadway (speaking of location, of course; the actual Oregonian Building during those days was considerably farther north, in the middle of downtown).
Examining the map in full we find the highest address ranged only easterly into the 2200s (in the Montavilla area, around E. 82nd and E. Stark), southerly to about 1700 (Sellwood) and north along Union Avenue (today's MLK) in the 1500s. We assume that the addres schema increased going up the north Portland Peninusula into Saint Johns after descending to zero somwhere between Williams Avenue and Interstate Avenue, but the map is sadly silent on this point.
Now I did say that the address scheme was uniform thoughout the city. I'm afraid I told a little lie there. A curious thing can be found if we turn our attention south of Division and east of E. 41st, in the Holgate Blvd/Powell Blvd/Woodstock Blvd area:
(you'll definitely want to look at the embiggened version by clicking here to Photobucket). Moving down from the top we see E. Harrison, E. Lincoln, E. Grant, E. Sheridan, E. Caruthers (these streets perforce extended names from the westisde core area), Division (no Division on the west side, remember, so no "E. Division", and then ... all names are replaced by numbers. And that's not all; the numbered streets run north and south whereas the numbered avenues run east-west (in 100% contrast to the modern Portland Avenue/Street pattern). And not just that, but this area shows awareness that, despite the house numbers, Holgate Avenue (for example ... today's SE Holgate Blvd) is 45 blocks south of Burnside, and therefore would be 45th Street SE (also showing awareness that the area is south and east of the address origin point.
There is very little written about this area or why just that area had the SE directional applied as a suffix. The only hint we have comes from pages 59-61 of Snyder, who relates that during the years when those who cared about such things were trying to dice out the rationalization of city addresses, particulary in the year 1910, City Engineer J.W. Morris advanced the following plan:
- All Street names to be replaced by numbers.
- Avenues to run east-west, Streets North-south.
- Burnside, the principal street divider, to be called Central Avenue. We surmise that the other divisions would likely be the ones we recognize today
- 100 numbers to the city block.
The plan was met with round disapproval by people who were conversant with, were fond of, and understood the sense of history inherent in the current street names. An editorial form the 24 April 1910 Oregonian had it thus:
Some people evidently don't know that there ever were pioneers! They would abolish the names on streets, and subsititute bare numbers. But a large number of citizens will not sanction this change.
We wonder if that outer southeast area was envisioned as a sort of a pilot program for this scheme. We do know that it was actually implemented: the curbstone at SE 53rd Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard serves as evidence for that (old street names are left in many areas of town preserved thusly. Next time youre at a streetcorner, look down. You might be surprised at what you'll find there (in the good way!).
It does speak for the merits of the plan that the basics of the thing – address quadrants, 100-numbers-to-the-block, and numbered ordered avenues radiating from the origin point – did actually form the basis of the current plan-on-the-ground that we all know and use daily. We don't know about our readers, but we rather prefer that names were kept on the streets, though, noting the latter-day compulsion of some to change names to honor notable historic figures, we wonder if going with the all-number system would have had a benefit of removing the pain we've seen in the news. After all, renaming 65th Avenue NE to Rosa Parks Way or 15th Street North to Cesar Chavez Boulevard would hadve turned out to a welcome change.
All the illustrations I've been using for this posting series can be seen in the Photobucket album, here.
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