What vandalism it would represent to dilute this magnificent city presence with the humdrum and the regimented.
-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
After eight months in Portland, I'm happy to say that the city's northwest quadrant is officially my neighborhood, specifically the Alphabet District. Because after traveling abroad for so long admiring the ancient treasures of Europe, I forgot how charming and downright delightful North American architecture can be. This area of the city is bursting with street life and historic buildings, and as an ardent supporter of car-free urban spaces, there are many opportunities for positive, people-oriented growth that I'll touch on in my next post.
Where is this little slice of heaven, you ask? This neighborhood that many describe as one of the most vibrant and walkable in Portland, and possibly nation?? The Alphabet District, a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and also referred to as West End Historic District or Nob Hill Historic District, is "roughly bounded by NW Lovejoy and Marshall Streets, NW 17th Avenue, W Burnside Street, and NW 24th Avenue" (that's fifty blocks!). With a period of significance from 1880 to 1940, the district's architectural classification is both late Victorian and late 19th and early 20th century with notable styles being Queen Anne, Italianate, Craftsman, and Colonial Revival. The name "Alphabet District" references the quadrant's grid-oriented streets running west to east, starting with Burnside Street on the southern edge and going north to Wilson Street.
According to the Alphabet District's National Register nomination form, the district "is unique in Portland for its concentration of early twentieth century multi-family structures -- many of which were designed and constructed by the city's premier architects and developers." In the 1880s, this area was home to Portland's elite and in 1905, development began focusing more on large apartment buildings and less on single-family houses. As of 2000, there are 215 primary contributing buildings within the district (including my own apartment building), 263 secondary contributing, and many noncontributing or incompatible buildings, way too many to dive into here but enough to know that a stroll through the neighborhood is a very (very) good idea.
So, let's take a pictorial stroll through the Alphabet District, shall we?
Many thanks to Scott Daniels of he Oregon Historical Society and Mary Hansen of the Portland Archives & Records Center for their assistance with historic photos and information on the Alphabet District.
Buildings & Details
Then & Now Comparisons
Portland, especially NW Portland, boasts an excellent stock of historic housing. Most of the large apartment buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s remain today in the same impeccable condition as when they were built.