South Auditorium & Downtown, 1963

What a terrific photograph; there are just so many details to pore over in this 1963 aerial view. We see the north edge of the South Auditorium urban renewal project just after the area is cleared; it looks like the earth is still fresh and the bulldozers just left. The pre-remodeled auditorium is clearly visible in lower left. The skyscraper era has not yet begun in Portland; four- and five-story buildings are the norm in downtown. Harbor Drive still dominates the west side riverfront while the groundwork for I-5 is still being laid on the east side. It was a dynamic time in the city.

(City of Portland Archives)

9 thoughts on “South Auditorium & Downtown, 1963

  1. Fascinating picture….

    So…the Waterfront Blues Festival at the Hawthorne Bridge definitely wasn’t “on” for that weekend!

  2. I graduated from high school in 1967 when the auditorium was being remodelled. So our class graduated in the Oriental Theater instead of the tradition of graduating from the auditorium.
    I can remember crossing over all of the construction on what was being referred to as the “Minnesota Freeway”. The Hilton & Standard Plaza were the 2 new “skyscrapers” on the skyline around ’63.

  3. That would be cool if there were a similar shot but looking south a bit more and then it would be possible for someone to superimpose a more recent view of the same area to get a kind of “before and after” effects of urban renewal.

  4. Thanks for the link, portlandpreservation. Wish I could be up there to see the exhibit.
    When I took the dreaded bus rides up to the dental college as a kid I got to watch the 3 Portland Center apartments going up.

  5. Hey Patrick, there definitely are a number of buildings in this photo that continue to stand today. Sadly because of the failed highway system, farmer’s market (too early for its day & bad placement at the time), with the mentality of classical architecture being “old fashioned,” and “oppressive,” we are unable to experience many of these buildings. The cityscape looks more like a sprawling, war-torn area where commerce used to take place. Our modern American culture, post-WWI, has taught people that the old way of thinking, ornate and complex buildings are holding us back so we built lackluster exteriors of glazing & plaster, and sloppily these laid-out plans in their place. Take the fire station that is visible just north of W Burnside, for example. The block’s predecessor took up the entirety of the property, provided space for many unique businesses, provided a context for a healthy, historically relevant urban experience. The station turns its back on the New Market block, fountain square, and tries to inspire the few who dare to walk in the area by randomly placed remnants of cast-iron ruins that were. I appreciate and love that they did present these ornate details but they do nothing compared to what the original, gracefully composed buildings did. The Lewis & Flanders block is sadly gone and wasn’t considered for reuse, as was the Kamm Block that captured the southern end of the opposite block. The Smith Block – neighboring the Kamm and mirrored the aesthetic of Lewis & Flanders – although missing a quarter of its original coverage, still stands and houses modern businesses that have consciously adapted their advertisements to the structure that remains.
    The 1960s & 70s saw a number of demises that scarred the waterfront with parking lots, and even to this day we are unable to find ways to deal with the the main reason we chose to demo these masterpieces. The automobile allowed us to escape our problems, not looking them in the eye and changing them, but left our downtown unwalkable in many areas, clearings of parking lots. Luckily we could be seeing a revamp of many of the old 100+ miles of streetcar lines coming back into downtown that may increase the commerce in these older districts that have stood the test of modern abuse and deserve to be saved.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Yes, there are a number of buildings in this picture that still exist. The large theatre down on the left is the Schnitzer Theatre as well as many buildings at the western foot of the Burnside bridge, specifically ones that are owned by the Naito family, whom have been preserved.

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