OregonScape: Winter 2015

Winter 2015, 116:4

Before I-84 existed, next to the train tracks in Sullivan's Gulch and between Northeast Twelfth and Northeast Twentieth streets, a village made of temporary buildings offered shelter to those who had lost jobs and homes during the Great Depression. Across the country, people built thousands of such shelters, often called Hoovervilles (in reference to President Herbert Hoover). By June 1941, when this photo was taken, Portland was home to over a thousand such villages, including a cluster under the approaches to the Ross Island Bridge.


On May 26, 1940, the Sunday Oregonian featured an article about how these encampments — which  by then had existed for about a decade — were taking on attributes of permanent houses. Safety concerns, particularly the danger of fire, were addressed in the article as "a constant source of worry to the fire department." Thirteen months later, those fears materialized. Early in the morning on July 1, 1941, the Oregon Journal reported that a fire had destroyed several vacant shelters under the Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) viaduct. The Oregonian also reported on July 1 that the Portland City Council had passed an ordinance in June "declaring such buildings a public nuisance and violations of the fire protections, sanitation and health codes." The city then began enforcing the ordinance by bulldozing and burning the structures, beginning with the vacant ones. 

— Mikki Tint, former special collections librarian, OHS Research Library