This past week the OMA participated in another tour regarding Portland’s multicultural history and took lots of pictures to share with you! This tour was hosted by the organization Know Your City which has various forms of programming including tours, lectures, publications, and school programs. The Multicultural Portland tour focused mostly on the city’s Asian American history and touched upon the histories African American and Jewish communities as well.
The tour began on a beautiful Friday afternoon on 2nd & Ankeny and for the next two hours we walked several blocks exploring old and new Chinatown, what once was Japantown, and the area that once was considered a predominately African American neighborhood. To get a sense of where things are, go to the Know Your City Multicultural Portland Tour webpage and scroll down to the bottom of the page for a Google Map with the tour’s starting location indicated.
The Chinese Community in Portland
Many Chinese immigrants, mostly men, came to the Pacific Northwest as merchants and laborers in pursuit of economic success. One of the first areas we walked in was the city’s original Chinatown location.
We then walked over to 2nd and Washington to the Waldo Block. Our tour guide gave us several insights into the Chinese community’s history. First, he noted that although the area was called Chinatown because it was predominately Chinese in terms of population, it was not completely segregated. Within Chinatown there were white-owned and run businesses alongside the Chinese businesses. Second, he pointed out the architecture of the buildings stating that although the structures are at first glance in a European style, there are design elements, such as balconies, that were included to meet the needs of the Chinese community.
Our next stop was the Oregon Pioneer Building, at SW 3rd and Stark. Within this building is the city’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s, established in 1879. While Frank Huber initially established the business, after he passed away, Jim Louie, a Chinese immigrant and cook, took over management. His family has since retained management and later, ownership of the business.
The tour’s next two stops highlighted the racial tensions within the area and the discrimination against the Chinese community. On one of the buildings is a plaque indicating the 1894 High Water Mark – the water level when the area flooded. The city used the water damage as an opportunity to disproportionately condone more Chinese owned businesses to then force the community to move elsewhere. The city wanted the area since is was prime real estate due to its location in the center of the city.
The next stop on 2nd and Ash St. was the New Market Theatre. This building was the host to an anti-Chinese gathering in the late 1890s that culminated in a riot. The white population wanted to force out the Chinese community, however, the Portland newspaper The Oregonian included a series of articles condoning the actions of the group with the reasoning that it made more economic sense for the two populations to co-exist.
Notably, inside the building is a free exhibit featuring the history of the Chinese population in the area. And, the exhibit includes various artifacts from when the building underwent a renovation.
Next, we moved on to the current Chinatown and viewed the gate, dedicated in 1986, and we also viewed the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) building which provides the community with a variety of services.
The African American Community in Portland
Golden West Hotel, 1906-1931 ~ African American entrepreneur W.D. Allen launched the hotel in 1906 in order to provide a place of residence for African American community members, especially railroad workers and other laborers since other Portland hotels denied them a place to stay. On the side of the building there is a permanent display panel that recounts the history of the hotel and the community it served.
The Vanport Flood of 1948 ~ Just as the flood of the late 1890s displaced the Chinese population, in 1948 the African American population was displaced due to a massive flood in the city of Vanport. The city was specifically created for the laborers of the WWII shipyards and a large influx of African Americans moved to the area in search of jobs. Although the area was an integrated community and both whites and blacks lost their homes, the African American community struggled more to rebuild their lives due to housing and job discrimination in Portland.
The Japanese American Community in Portland
With the various Chinese Exclusion Acts enacted by the federal government, Japanese immigrants began moving to the United States. They faced similar hardships endured by the Chinese community, however, it was during WWII that the community was completely displaced when all Japanese, even American citizens, were forcibly removed from their homes and moved to camps. They community members lost homes, businesses, and land. To highlight this community and history the tour stopped by the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center which documents Portland’s Japanese history. In the center’s window there is a small model of Portland’s Japantown which no longer exists. Find out more information about Japantown on the Oregon Encyclopedia entry: Japantown, Portland (Nihonmachi).
The Jewish Community in Portland
The tour stopped by a local business on Burnside and 3rd to view a plaque in the ground highlighting the Jewish community.
Overall, the tour was a great experience – it’s always great to have the opportunity to see all the places you read about; it really brings history to life!