08 February 2018

Harvey Milk Comes To Portland

This rather snuck up on me and took me by surprise, I'm abashed to say, but a rather historically-named street in downtown Portland is about to change its colors, rainbow-ward.

As reported by KPTV and other news outlets, on Wednesday, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to support the renaming of the 13 blocks of SW Stark Street, from Naito Parkway to where it merges into West Burnside at SW 13th Avenue, to "SW Harvey Milk St".

It's a change that's appropriately placed. For a very long time, the three-sided area bounded by SW 11th, SW Stark, and West Burnside was the hub of Portland's gay culture with popular nightspots like the Fish Grotto, the Red Cap Garage, Boxxes, and the Club Portland. Back in the day, some of those I knew called it the Pink Triangle, and it was gritty old-Portland. Today, it's the West End, the Fish Grotto's gone, the Club Portland has been McMenamized, and the old Ben Stark hotel is the modern-friendly boutique Ace Hotel. But the one axis all these had in common was SW Stark Street.

The change isn't yet quite in the bag, but it's very likely to happen. It has the support of the full City Council, as well as endorsement by more than 75 per cent of the businesses along the street. The rest, apparently, is all process.

My feelings are mixed about this, of course. The words I heard used on the radio and in the news defined Portland for me long before I lived here; geographically, the phrase "Southwest Stark Street" has a resonance that means purest Portland to me. But I'm not afraid of the name change, and expect to welcome it; and, as I said before, there's no place in Portland more apt for such a memorial.

Best of all, for those who would that a pillar of early Portland not be forgotten, this change applies only to Southwest Stark Street. There will still be more than fifteen miles of Southeast Stark Street, and the bits of West Stark that extend out into Washington County.

The Harvey Milk Street Project has a web page here (https://harveymilkpdx.org/), which may be read.


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