History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society

Portland Panorama Historic Viewer

These three views of Portland, all shot from southwest of present-day downtown, show the city in 1867, 1985 and 1999. When C. E. Watkins took the first photograph in 1867, Portland’s central grid had been cleared less than twenty years earlier, but the city already had about 7,000 residents. By then, Portland had established itself as the Willamette River’s principal port, benefiting from its natural wharf and its position as the furthest point upriver that the larger ocean-going ships could navigate. In the photograph, forest still lines the shore of the Willamette River on the east side, and a wall of trees borders southwestern farm plots. Macadam Boulevard is a thin bright line above the rightmost farmhouse. Mount St. Helens and Mt. Hood are blurry shapes on the horizon. Densely packed buildings hug the river’s west shore surrounded by a perimeter of farmhouses. In the left half of the panorama, the Park Blocks are discernible as a strip of land running north-south. Can you find the baseball diamond?

The whitewashed buildings, farmland and wilderness in Watkins’ photograph contrast dramatically with the modern urban landscape in George Champlin’s 1985 and 1999 panoramas. (Portland’s population was 366,383 in 1980 and reached 529,121 by the year 2000). In both scenes, much of the east side has been cleared of forest, replaced by an expanse of business and residential districts, but, paradoxically, trees fill green spaces within the urban landscape. The Park Blocks have grown from a barren strip into a green belt. Bridges span the Willamette River at several points: On the right side are the Ross Island and Marquam bridges, and at the left edge is the Fremont bridge. Although the two more recent panoramas are quite similar, downtown Portland’s skyline of widely-spaced towers filled in considerably between 1985 and 1999. New buildings in the 1999 photograph include the Fox Tower (shown under construction, just west of Broadway), the 1000 Broadway Building (completed in 1991, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue) and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse (completed in 1997, on Third Avenue).