20 July 2005

[geography] The Address Nerd on "Zero-Hundred" Addresses in the Portland Grid

NB: To the people who are coming here by way of some LJs and some Dreamwidth accounts, thanks for stopping by. I only thought this would be an obsession of my mind (and I AM obsessed by Portland geography – search "Address Nerd" for more if you care) but as it sometimes find the questions I ask myself frequently provide answers which answer other people's questions down the road at unpredictable times. I love the precision of a well-ordered street grid, but … Viva La Chaos!

A person, posting anonymously in my first posting in this ramble, asked the bollowing question:

Ok - pop quiz
if an address in Portland starts with a zero, what does it mean?

as in: 0234 SW Bancroft St.

Do you know why it starts with a zero?
This, my friends, is known as a Very Good Question. People in Johns Landing are very familiar with this.

The address landscape of Portland, it will be recalled, are defined by two things on the essential level: Burnside Street and the Willamette River. Now, Burnside Street is a nice, straight (well, except in the West Hills, but we can look past that for the sake of this particular conversation), obedient baseline.

The river is much less so. As soon as is passes north off Burnside, the Willamette swings wide and to the west, but all the streets continue in cardinal directions, requiring the establishment of a baseline avenue (N Williams Ave) which defines an area prefixed N.

South of the downtown area we have the sam situation, only less so. The Willamette runs close to N-S, but only just so-as you go south of the Marquam and Ross Island Bridges, the river actually tends to the east ever so slightly.

The catch is that the address grid is based on a bunch of straight lines that, ideally, are surveyed to run very close to N-S. Addresses on Streets west of the river decline toward zero as one goes toward the river, and achieve zero at Front Avenue (or, Naito Parkway).

Now, go to your maps. Find Naito Parkway downtown. It's right along the river there (to state the obvious and well-known), and runs in the same slanted direction as the other downtown streets to. Just south of the Hawthorne Bridge (coincidentally at the line of the old Lovejoy/Pettygrove Donation Land Claim on which the original city was founded), Naito Parkway doglegs and begins to run very close to cardinal N-S.

Extend this line south from the place where Naito merges into Barbur Boulevard to the County boundary, and you will find that this line will form the left side of a long sliver of territory with the Willamette River on the right. In this sliver of land are such notable areas as Riverplace, the new condo towers going up in the "South Waterfront" area, Johns Landing, Palatine Hill, and Riverdale. It was not split into its own district but kept with SW. One reaches zero at that line extended south from the end of Naito Parkway.

The solution to this dilemma was to start to increase addresses at 100 per standard block as one goes east, but add the number zero to the address in the most significant position. Why zero was chosen hasn't been recorded, at least as far as I'm aware or have been able to find, but it does nicely solve the problem and carries connotations of its own.

Perhaps the reason the zero was used was because the addresses were still southwest but lower than zero. Regardless, it preserves the identification of the area as SW and renders the definition of the area as a whole other direction (S, for instance) unnecessary.

The address Anonymous mentioned-0234 SW Bancroft St, which just so happens to be the address of the KXL radio studios-is perched on the hill overlooking Johns Landing, between SW Corbett Avenue and Kelly Avenue, three blocks west of where Naito Parkway would be. Naturally, the Avenues bear names-we already have numbered avenues in the southwest area.

Moving east from the zero address line, the avenues define the following blocks:

0100 - SW Water Ave (this is a hard street to find on a map)
0200 - SW Corbett Ave
0300 - SW Kelly Ave
0400- SW Hood Ave
0500 - SW Virginia Ave and SW Macadam Ave between Gibbs and Bancroft)
0600 - SW Moody Ave
0700 - SW Bond Ave

A valid address in the Johns Landing area along Pendleton between Hood and Virginia (very close to the traffic signal at the entrance to Willamette Park) would be 0423 SW Pendleton Street.

Avenues in the area carry through the north-south numbering trend and do not carry zeroes in front of thier house numbers. The address of the KEX studio (well, Clear Channel) is still 4949 SW Macadam Ave, not 04949.

There are Avenues in the Riverdale area that do not continue the names from the north but do continue the address pattern (the following is a guess on my part, based on reasoning from the map in the Thomas Guide):

0800 - SW Elysium Ave
0900 - SW Esquline Circus (yes, Circus. Neat, huh? Nice Roman influence.)
01000 - SW Frank Ave
01100 - SW Moapa Ave
01200 - SW Tryon Ave
01300 - SW Aventine Circus
01400 - SW Daphne Ave
01500 - SW Collima Ave
01600 - SW Hedlund Ave
01700 - SW Summerville Ave

After this the cardinal streets give out and the progression is more logical than physical. But I have heard of addresses on SW Military Road in the 02000-02300 range.

Altogether it's a nifty and innovative way of dealing with the necessities of ordering addresses along straight lines in a world where your divisions have the unmitigated gall of not following nice straight lines for you.


Anonymous said...

A thorough and clear explanation! Kudos, Address Nerd!

- Anonymous (yes, THE Anonymous)

Samuel John Klein said...

Anonymous: thanks for the kudo! Few people think about things like that-that's why I'm a Nerd about it!

Love knowing everything I can about it...


Riverwood Road runs farther east than Military, but is numbered north-south.

In cases like that, whoever was coming up with the pattern was faced with a diagonally-tending street, is my guess, and had to make a judgement call whether or not the houses would be numbered n-s or e-w.

Sometimes it causes more confusion than clarity. Barbur Blvd is a good example of this. Address-wise, it's treated as an Avenue-house numbers run n-s, concurrent with numbered Avenues-but the diagonal section in the farther southwest part of town seems to physically run more e-w than n-s. Moreover, it crosses numbered Avenues in such a way that people think that Barbur at SW 30th Ave is the 3000 Block (it's not, of course-it's more like the 8500 Block or so, just like the crossing Avenue).

Isaac again:

Interestingly, a few houses on (I think) SW Carey Lane and SW Tryon Hill Road don't follow the numbering grid at all and have only three digits.

I have access to a Cole's Directory (you know, the one that lists all addresses on all streets) and can check this out. Interesting if true, and no doubt reflecting the property of that area having a nearly complete e-w isolation from the rest of the street grid.

Sue Renhard said...

I lived for a couple of years at 032 SW Gaines (right near the Ross Island Grocery); had the worst time when I would give my address to people over the phone, convincing them to put the zero in--someone down the line would be convinced t was a typo, and take it out.

Anonymous said...

Another Portland anomaly. There are places in Portland where every block is not addressed 100 per block. For example in downtown Portland south of SW Montgomery.For a few streets it's every block is 50 not 100 till I-405. In other words it goes like this 1700 1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 2050 each street. In North Portland it gets really weird where two grids overlap. In places both going north and west there are big jumps sometimes as much as 1000 so a house could have the address 7500 N.Atlantic crossing a street going North the next house will have an address of 804o N. Atlantic. If you look at map you'll see why they had to do this.