Eliot: A Brief Chronology

Published, Eliot News, September 2008


1874 East bank port town of Albina incorporated, boundaries similar to today’s Eliot neighborhood.

1891 Albina, now stretching north to Columbia Boulevard, annexed to City of Portland.

1912 Albina Branch of the Multnomah County Library, opens on NE Knott Street, a Carnegie library designed in the Spanish Renaissance style.

1915 Emanuel Hospital, founded three years earlier on SW Taylor Street, moved to present site.

1919 Code of “ethics” established by Realty Board makes realtors subject to dismissal if they sell to ethnic minorities outside of designated areas.

1924 Egyptian Theater [2517 NE Union] built, used for vaudeville until the 1930s when it switches to movies. Closed in 1962, it is used as a warehouse, and later incorporated into New Song Community Church, which opened in Eliot in 1998.

Egyptian Theater, circa 1933

Egyptian Theater, circa 1933

1929 Dr. DeNorval Unthank (1899-1977) recruited out of Howard University Medical School to come to Portland because the city needed a Black doctor. A tireless physician and civil rights leader, Unthank was named Doctor of the Year by the Oregon Medical Society in 1958.

Vanport circa 1943

Vanport circa 1943

1943 Vanport, the largest public housing project in the nation, is constructed south of the Columbia River (today Delta Park) to house workers at Portland’s wartime shipyards.

1945 Vanport population reaches high of nearly 40,000, about one-fifth of them Black.

1948 Vanport Flood: on Memorial Day, Columbia River breaks through railroad embankment and floods housing project, displacing 17,000 people, most of them poor families left unemployed after the shipyard layoffs.

1948 The YWCA (built in 1926 as the “Colored YWCA”) serves 515 meals a day during the summer to families displaced by Vanport . (This building today is the Elks Lodge at 9 N Tillamook.)

1950 Black families live in all but one of Portland’s 61 census tracts, though nearly half are within restricted area in North/Northeast (Oregon Street to Fremont, Interstate to Union).

1953 Oregon Legislature passes civil rights bill prohibiting discrimination at hotels, restaurants, theaters, swimming pools, etc. Mark Hatfield, then 30 and serving 2nd term in House of Representatives, credited for blocking referendum which had defeated this bill in the past.

Bobby Bradford and Cleve Williams at the Cotton Club, 1950s

Bobby Bradford and Cleve Williams at the Cotton Club, 1950s

1958 Last of Portland streetcars stop running when interurban service between Portland and Oregon City ceases. The cars serving Eliot had been gone since 1950.

1960 Memorial Coliseum construction finished; 476 housing units were demolished on site, along with historic Bethel AME Church and many Black-owned businesses. The commercial center of the Black neighborhood shifts north to Williams Avenue and Russell Street.

1964 Work completed on “Minnesota Freeway,” I-5 along the east bank of the Willamette River, displacing another 300 people, many of whom move east and north, out of Eliot.

1968 Portland Development Commission’s controversial Model Cities program gets underway, devising plans for eight neighborhoods in Albina. At this time, Eliot gets boundaries and a name-for the Eliot School, on N Flint.

1969 Portland Chapter of Black Panther Party opens free health and dental clinics in Eliot and operates them for ten years.

1970 Albina Neighborhood Improvement Plan acquires funding to improve streets, create parks, plant trees, and provide loans to rehabilitate 1,600 housing units. Despite major neighbor-hood efforts, PDC declines to expand the successful program into other Albina neighborhoods, describing them as “too dilapidated.”

1973 Residents and business owners are required to move to make way for 19-acre Emanuel Hospital expansion. Federal grant for hospital expansion never came through, leaving empty lots along Williams and Vancouver Avenues above Russell.

1987 Death of civil rights leader Rev. John Jackson, long-time pastor of Mt Olivet Baptist. Church relocates to larger property, leaving undecided the historic church building. Originally located at NW Everett and Broadway, the new church was built on the corner of NE Schuyler and 1st Avenue in 1921, at a time when Black congregations were moving east of the river.

1989 NE Union Avenue changed to NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

1993 City Council adopts Albina Community Plan, conceived by the city to “revitalize” Albina neighborhoods. It leads to successive waves of gentrification, viewed by many as a victim of its own success. Design guidelines are also adopted to protect and enhance historic and architectural features of seven Albina areas, including Eliot, though results prove disappointing as modern infill development sweeps through.

1996 City Center Self-Storage, on the east side of MLK between Russell and Knott, burns in a 30-foot blaze. The building had been in the Lampus family since 1921, as a restaurant, a department store, and finally a storage business. For most of the people renting the 321 storage units, the fire means a complete loss, as few have insurance.

1998 Defeat of local funding for South/North light rail that would have demolished dozens of houses in Eliot, as well as Boise and Humboldt. Tri-Met moves proposed light rail to Interstate Avenue, whereupon Eliot and other Albina neighborhoods successfully lobby for no public condemnation in the Interstate Urban Renewal Plan, a first for urban renewal.

2001 The Cleo-Lillian Social Club, one of the last vestiges of the once-vibrant African-American business and club district along North Williams Avenue (at 3041 N. Williams), is forced to close, following neighbors’ complaints of noise.

2007 Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, at 106 NE Ivy Street, is destroyed by a four-alarm fire that began in the sanctuary of the 1920 structure.

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