My View: Can Lents return to community roots?
Recently, in one fell swoop, the wrecking ball and bulldozers demolished most of Lents, and with it a large part of my boyhood.
Gone was Mt. Scott Drugstore, where I enjoyed reading comic books and drinking phosphates. Gone was Stella's Variety Store, where I bought yo-yos, pea shooters and water pistols. Gone too was the Aero Theater, where during the 1940s and '50s I saw unforgettable films.
It's true that those buildings had served their purpose, and that Lents had been going downhill for 50 years. I suppose the existing buildings could not have been repurposed into trendy coffee shops and boutiques as has happened in other parts of Portland. Perhaps the reputation Lents has earned as a rough-and-tumble neighborhood requires that the past be obliterated in order to make way for the new.
I don't know what plans the city mothers and fathers have for Lents, but I do know that they want it to be a "community." Well, it was a community when I was growing up; the intersection of Southeast 92nd Avenue and Foster Road had everything a person could want. There were two drugstores, three sizable grocery stores, including a Safeway, two barber shops, a shoe repair shop, a Copeland lumberyard, three restaurants, a radio-TV repair shop, a large furniture store, two hardware stores, a bakery, a post office, a grade school, a couple of doctor and dentist offices, two service stations, a sheet metal shop, a library, several churches, several taverns, a fire station, a funeral home and that wonderful dumpy Aero Theater. And all within walking distance for many people.
As a kid I walked through the neighborhood or rode my bike, going to Bud's Barber Shop for a haircut, then to the Rexall Drug Store for a cherry Coke, where I also read comic books at length. Then I might visit Menasche's fruit store for an apple, or browse at the Goodwill.
I don't understand what law was operating, but there was always street parking for those who drove a car to Lents. And there were enough people to keep those small businesses going. I don't know that any storekeepers got rich, but they must have shown a profit because the businesses were there for many years.
So what happened? Meredith Fisher, who owned the Rexall Drug Store, said the beginning of the end was when the post office moved away. In 1974, Dwyer's mill closed. Customer buying habits changed when the Eastport Plaza and Clackamas Town Center opened. But the big change happened in the 1970s, when local officials decided to run the I-205 freeway right through the middle of Lents. That freeway removed hundreds of houses, and therefore families, and created a physical barrier that made it difficult to get to Lents. It soon became a neighborhood in which few people walked.
Change is inevitable; sometimes it's good. We'll have to see what kind of phoenix rises out of the ashes of Lents.
Albert Drake is a resident of Portland.