History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society
homeSection 3Subtopic: Building an Urb...
Subtopic : The Mature Distribution Center: Building an Urban Center

Themes: Social Relations, Arts, Economics, Towns and Cities

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Stark St. Ferry at West Side Dock, 1894
OrHi 39359

An investment in the early 1880s by William Ladd illustrates how local bankers made fortunes through real estate speculation and political influence. He invested $10,000 in a 126-acre plot in East Portland bounded by Hawthorne Street, Division Street, and Twelfth and Twentieth avenues. While the area was not completely platted for homes until the mid-1920s, by the mid-1890s an electric trolley line across the Madison Street Bridge to Hawthorne Street made the area easily accessible to downtown. A new water main from Bull Run reservoir — whose route was approved by the Water Commission on which Ladd sat — provided fresh water. The subdivison soon had a market value of over $1 million. The developers, influenced by some early ideas about neighborhood planning, then platted the major streets to run diagonally and to intersect at a circle in the middle. Side streets met at odd angles or ended in small parks. Though surrounded by what became commercial areas, Ladd’s Addition has remained comfortably residential ever since. 

Downtown Portland by 1890 was also a much more worthwhile location to visit. Large palaces of entertainment and of shopping for all segments of society dotted major thoroughfares. By 1875, William Ankeny had completed the New Market Theater on Second Street near Burnside, as a three-tiered emporium. Only a block from the Turnverein gymnastic center, it featured a 1,200-seat theater where boxing exhibits were held. The Casino Opera House opened in 1884 at Park and Washington, a more sedate part of town. Its 1,200-seat auditorium featured vaudeville. The Marquam Grand Opera House, which specialized in concert music for the elite, opened in 1890 on the north side of Morrison between Sixth and Seventh. Its general manager, Samuel Friedlander, even brought operatic arias and piano recitals to entertain his B’nai B’rith lodge, whose members patronized the opera house.

In 1887 the leading bankers subscribed over $500,000 to complete the Portland Hotel, whose foundations Henry Villard had abandoned after his bankruptcy. Opened in 1890 across Morrison Street from the Marquam Grand Opera House, it was a massive six-story masonry building with an interior court for carriages; for fifty years it was a downtown landmark. Over the next fifteen years Morrison Street also came to hold the major department stores, each of which occupied its own block:  Meier and Frank, Olds, Wortman, King, and the more elegant Lipman, Wolfe. Many hotels, theaters, and specialty stores filled in smaller spaces. As Portland accumulated railroad yards and became one of the world’s major ports for shipping grain and timber, entrepreneurs lined the banks of the Willamette with foundries and machine shops, saw mills, furniture manufacturing companies, flour mills, and meat packing plants. Most of the industrial sites, like the Doernbacher Furniture Company, William Ladd’s Portland Flouring Mills, Simon Benson’s Benson Logging and Lumber Company, and Henry Weinhard’s City Brewery were locally owned.

© William Toll, 2003

Themes: Social Relations,Arts,Economics,Towns and Cities

Regions: Portland Metropolitan Area

Date: 1870-1920

Author: William Toll

Portland’s urban and cultural center developed in an atmosphere of real estate speculation and political influence.

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