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Having a HAND in east-side Portland origins

by: PORTLAND CITY ARCHIVES - Looking north on S.E. 11th from Division Street - part of just one of the many commercial districts located in the  Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood. During the 1940s it was not uncommon to see an automotive garage or gas station on every busy intersection in Portland.We have spent much time bringing you the history of Southeast Portland from Powell Boulevard south, but there is a large and important neighborhood that figured, early-on, in the Rose City’s history – stretching from Powell north to the Portland east-west dividing line of Burnside Street: Hosford-Abernethy.

In the September issue of THE BEE, we saw the creation of East Portland by pioneer James B. Stephens, in the 1870’s. After his death, East Portland took on a new life and continued to grow and develop in a section that later became a part of the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood, a widely diversified neighborhood as the Twentieth Century began – now represented by the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association (HAND).

As early as the 1890’s, Grand Avenue, and Union Avenue – now Martin Luther King Boulevard – were part of the first established commercial districts in this neighborhood. From Grand to the west and Division Street to the south, north to the Hawthorne bungalows, four square and huge craftsman houses began to appear in the Grand commercial district, followed closely by boarding houses, hotels, and apartments.

With plenty of working opportunities by the start of the Twentieth Century, immigrants streamed into and established homes in this East Portland neighborhood. Knowing very little of American customs and speaking little if any English, these foreigners formed churches to socialize, as well as share their religious beliefs.

Norwegians and Danes tended to live near Our Saviors Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church at 10th and S.E. Grant; the Greeks gathered near their church at 17th and S.E. Taggert.

New communities were created, and merchant shops and storefronts became plentiful, when streetcars first arrived on east of the Willamette River. Six commercial districts gradually followed the lead of Grand Avenue, forming around the busy intersections of the community. As the population increased, a second business district was emerging along 11th street, where the Eastside Railway streetcar traveled, on its way to the suburbs of Brooklyn and Sellwood.

Newly-laid tracks along Division and Hawthorne roadways lured prospective buyers into the upscale subdivisions of Ladd’s Addition and Colonial Heights. Later, barbershops, grocery stores, confectionaries, and meat markets began showing up along Clinton Street in the 1920’s.

The Waverly streetcar rambled along empty fields and lots along Clinton, encouraging Italians, Germans, and later Chinese and Japanese farmers, into an area where land was plentiful for gardens.

By the 1920’s, Hosford-Abernethy residents had a variety of little shops and stores to choose from – like Stafford & Sons Meat Market, or Bochi & Wetzler Grocers, along 11th Avenue. Division Street offered the sweet pies and breads of Patty Clyde and the Lang’s Best German Bakery at the Corner of 11th and Division, near the railroad tracks. Druggist C.C. Benfield, and the dry goods store of William Shevach, as well as the Sunkist Grocery, provided many more options for workers and families. Merchants along Hawthorne Avenue tried to rival the big businesses, banks, and theaters along Grand and Union. Fourteen grocery stores and five butcher shops were located along the busy streets of Hawthorne, stretching as far as 28th. The Eagle Drug store, Hawthorne Pharmacy, and Clark & Kerman’s Bakery were mainstays of area residents for many years.

It wasn’t until 1930 that Clinton Street joined in, beginning to show signs of a lively commercial district. From 20th to 26th shops like the Clinton Cleaners, Clinton Beauty and Barber Shop, the Clinton Café, the Clinton Garage, and the Clinton Shoe Store enticed shoppers and visitors from other parts of Portland to visit the Clinton-Kelly neighborhood.

For entertainment the opening of the historic Clinton Theater in 1915 and Clinton’s Pool Hall offered evenings of leisure and entertainment.

The indefatigable William S. Ladd who was at the time starting to develop Eastmoreland and Westmoreland, announced the opening of his Ladd’s Addition subdivision in 1910. Brochures, broadsides, and real estate magazines advertised the latter as an elite neighborhood with paved streets, sidewalks, sewers, gas, and electric lights – and of course some of Portland’s purest water around. At the time, paved streets and autos were still a luxuries, especially east of the Willamette River. Horses, wagons, and carts and buggys were still the usual form of travel for residents, while trolleys provided residents faster and better transportation for work and pleasure.

A century ago, in Portland “East Side”, most neighborhoods streets consisted of hard packed dirt, well-rutted roadways, and dusty graveled bike paths. While 150 autos were present at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Northwest Portland, it wasn’t until 1909 that there were over 1,000 autos registered with the county. Auto enthusiasts were still rallying city officials to support their “good roads policy”, and improve the streets.

In 1914, the Ford Motor Company opened an assembly and distribution plant in Portland – in a three-story brick building at 11th and S.E. Division. For the next twenty years the Ford Building provided employment for some 250 workers, many of them Norwegians, Danes, and Germans, who lived close to the factory where they assembled Model A and Model T automobiles.

One of the most influential ethnic groups in the early Twentieth Century in Southeast Portland was the Italians. Longtime resident Patty Torchia commented to THE BEE, “The southern section of Division was a tight-knit neighborhood – Italians, as well as Greeks, Chinese, and Japanese worked together in agriculture.” These residents all depended on each other as harvesters, growers, packers, distributors, sellers, and movers of the crops produced in East Portland. “My father Thomas Torcia,” Patty continued, “Owned a long-haul refrigerated trucking business, and had contact with the Japanese in Hood River, the Italians in Russellville, and other vendors throughout Eastern Washington and Oregon.”

The name Garlic Gulch was often used to describe where residents were living between the Willamette River and 26th Street because of their association with produce, and because of the numerous gulches that ran along and across property lines.

Florence Katrena’s grandparents, Joseph and Josephine Amato, arrived from Italy in the early 1920’s, and they too worked in the agriculture business. “People were interested in keeping their tradition, and a lot of the Italian tradition revolved around the St. Philip Neri Church,” recalled Florence. The church was built in 1913. To build a house in Ladd’s Addition, in a custom typical of that time, a “private deed restriction” was written into mortgage contracts preventing the resale of real estate to people of African or Asian descent. Minorities were encouraged to settle south of the Division Street line.

But, Hosford resident Linda Nettekoven e-mailed THE BEE that real estate brokers of the time actually welcomed, and placed ads welcoming, Asian people to the Hosford and Abernethy section of town – adding “that some of the first Buddhist Temples or place of worship were established in this area. Today there are at least four in the Buckman/ Hosford Abernethy community.” Chinese, Italian, Scandinavian, English and German children attended the Hosford and Abernethy Schools together, and nobody at that time ever thought of each other as different. The Unthanks, Bogles, and Hillards were some of the first African Americans living in the community, many years before the Second World War – when African Americans were needed to work at the shipyards, and public housing projects were set up in North Portland, including and especially the ill-fated Vanport community.

Residents who lived close to the new high school at 26th and S.E. Powell might in those days remark that they lived in the Clinton-Kelly neighborhood. Reverend Kelly, an ordained Methodist minister, was one of the original land claim owners on the East Side, and he donated a section of his farm to build the Clinton-Kelly School, later called Commerce High School, and now known as Cleveland High School.

Marilee Tillstrom lived with her parents, Mark and Ruth Borchert, in an apartment complex on the corner of S.E. 22nd and Powell. Her mother, and her uncle Howard Truscott, built the complex in 1927 where the neighborhood’s first Safeway store opened. In the 1940’s, Marilee’s childhood memories centered around the SP Meat Market, Porcos Bakery, and endless days of roller skating along the streets, or visiting the Brooklyn Library on 21st Street. Ben Wolf’s pharmacy and drugstore was a favorite stopping point for root beer floats at the soda counter then.

Big changes to the tight-knit community occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s, by which time the automobile was king of the road, and streetcars were no longer needed by residents to travel downtown or to other parts of the community, and were being discontinued.

New subdivisions were being built in rural sections of Multnomah County by the middle of the last century, attracting young couples to the modern conveniences in newly-built homes. Roomier kitchens, with the latest up-to-date appliances, top-of-the-line refrigerators, and electric washers and dryers, were more appealing than the former one-bathroom, small-yard homes, and the narrow inner-city streets that their parents and grandparents had grown up with.

Homes that once housed generations of families were by then becoming undesirable for young couples starting off in life. Part-time rentals, vacant overgrown lots, and abandoned houses were showing up along each block in sections of the old Clinton-Kelly neighborhood, or Hosford District as it was now being called.

Portland officials were gearing up to build a new freeway eastward down Division Street to allow commuters on the I-5 easier access in traveling east to Gresham. This proposed new highway was tagged the “Mt. Hood Freeway”. The state bought many of the houses along this route, and local residents – fearing that they would be living by a ‘mega highway’ – sold their homes in haste.

As it happened, however, determined residents of Ladd’s Addition, Colonial Heights, Hosford, and those living around Abernethy School, banded together and fought back to save their neighborhood. They stopped hundreds of homes and entire blocks from being demolished by the wrecking ball. In the 1970’s the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association, known by the acronym HAND, was created by local activists – and slowly, in the next few decades, a revitalization of the neighborhood began.

Today the Hosford Abernethy community has become a desirable neighborhood, much as it began in the 1800’s. Locally-owned shops, distinctive cafés, and coffee houses and unique grocery stores, can be found along the various commercial districts in this neighborhood.

Cars and trucks whiz by on the busy business districts of Hawthorne and Division, but bicycle right-of-ways and broad sidewalks create a calmer feeling along the blocks of historic working-class homes along Clinton Street.

A visit to 12th Street and along Grand Avenue will still give visitors a feeling of early 1900’s; streetcar buildings and wooden boarding houses still exist, now converted to apartments .

The Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association, HAND, is faced with new challenges these days, as the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail is being constructed through its community and across Powell Boulevard into Brooklyn and beyond, replacing old and sagging industrial buildings, and leading to the construction of four story multiple mixed housing business complexes.

Inner Southeast remains vital and ever-changing!