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PDX HISTORY IN WILLAMETTE WEEK

It’s All In The Personal Details For Portland.

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Historic data reflects how things were and warn against what might be coming.

After the facts of an event circulate through enough hands it becomes hard truth.

The forty year history of Portland as recounted by Willamette Week reporters show a city recent arrivals will never know.

This boomerpdx blogger showed up in Portland the the same year as Willamette Week, but didn’t stay.

1974 might be a watershed year for the most influential weekly paper in town, but they aren’t alone.

I came to town a few times that year, once for an Eagles concert in the old Paramount, once for an Army induction physical, and once to catch a plane to Ford Ord, California and begin my soldier phase.

Imagine seeing a group famous for filling up huge arenas before they got famous.

The haunting themes of violence and betrayal in the old west of Desperado was perfect for Portland. Dan Fogelberg opened.

From WW: “Pioneer Courthouse Square was a parking lot, hookers prowled the South Park Blocks, and storefronts stood deserted as shoppers flocked to swanky new suburban malls like Washington Square.” 

Army recruits stayed at the Portland Hilton in ’74. A local bar, Peters’ Inn, was a short walk away. So was the induction center.

Five years later, after living in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, I moved in for good.

1979: A studio apartment on NW Lovejoy ran $155/mo. The Earth Tavern rocked 21st. Sacks Front Avenue blasted doors off down by the river with Euphoria Tavern doing it on the eastside. Starry Night was still a couple years away on Burnside.

The Hawthorne Bridge had a rotting wood walkway on both sides.

The Lovejoy Tavern was a dive bar before it became a destination. Heavy Number Taco sold a mean burrito across from Paola’s Fine Food which had been a Safeway. The owner, Mike Paola, was a Marine in the Pacific during WWII. Now it’s a big Starbucks store.

The Columbia Sportswear store on Broadway used to be a food court. One day the coffee guy said he had a new trial brand, would I like to try it? It was the coffee the world was waiting for. Starbucks, again.

The coffee guy knew the city. I asked him about a news story. What happened to the older man found dead in a room across the street from Jakes? He explained the nature of the business: hourly rates with a warm towel.

I still didn’t get it, so he explained: “It’s a place where older men take younger men. Sometimes these things happen.”

Add another place to the list of, “Where You Don’t Want To Be Found Dead.”

A flat sign on the building’s Burnside wall advertised “16 oz T-Bone” forever.

In 1979 you could ride a bike up through Washington Park and come out near the top of Burnside near the radio towers and coast all the way down to the traffic lights on NW 23rd without stopping. It was a fast ride.

Portland Baby Boomers were young in those days and saw a city that boasted a view of Mt. Hood coming out of the Highway 26 tunnel. Now you see the KOIN tower.

What I saw in Portland was a chance to live a meaningful life. It wasn’t a rust belt city with aging architecture in heroic preportions. It wasn’t a sun belt city full of modern glass and steel boxes.

Cast iron buildings drew enough interest to save them from the wrecking ball that took so much away in other cities.

Mayors included bar owners, police chiefs, and career pols with strong enough coat tails to get their chief of staff elected to a term.

A reputation grew as a place for rich hippies to retire young and send their kids to Reed College.

Eventually Portland got on board with the idea of the city as a hub, not a place to flee but a place to thrive.

After too many clogged commutes into to town and out, suburbanites in their McMansions realized how many years they wasted in traffic and started looking for a better way.

That better way has names like The Pearl, The East Side, and for the hardcore urban, a condo off a hallway with elevator service.

There’s nothing more big city than living in a tower and walking out the front door to the sort of excitement you see on television. The big difference is the sirens and buses and people on the sidewalks now belong to you.

And you belong to them.

About David Gillaspie
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