Marabba West Apartments, 1977

The 1890s Marabba West apartment house was known by many names over the years; Virginia Hill Hotel, Hill Hotel, Hobart-Curtis Family Hotel, Jeanne D’Arc Hotel and the Princess. KGW Broadcasting eventually bought the building and wanted to demolish it in order to expand studio facilies and parking at their adjacent property at SW 14th and Jefferson. The city and Portland Development Commision fought to save this building but the city ultimately voted not to purchase. Demolition began the end of September, 1977.

(The Oregonian. Retrieved from

(The Oregonian. Retrieved from

21 thoughts on “Marabba West Apartments, 1977

  1. There appears to be either some contradictory statements, or deliberate spin in the article – “The Marabba is a cadaverous hulk violated by years of transients.” and “students lived here until July 30th.” The article is date August 17. What? Were the students the transients? Or did those pyromaniac transients and college students share the same living space? I understand college student populations are “transient” by nature, but that’s not the implication I took from the article.

    From another section of the article: ““but a tour of the Marabba West can be alarming, with tilting floors, an inoperable elevator, antiquated wiring and butcheries of remodeling throughout.” What’s the problem? It sounds just like the second downtown apartment that I lived in just up 14th on Taylor. When you walked into my unit, there was an overhead pendant lamp that hung straight down from the ceiling. However, because of the pitch of the building, it appeared to hang at a rather alarming angle. If you put a marble on the floor, it would roll the length of the room. Think Oregon’s Vortex house.

    It’s a beautiful old building with a lot of remaining original details and would be gorgeous if it were restored. Hopefully that will happen some day.

    If I remember correctly, KGW’s “expanded facilities consisted mostly of parking lot.

  2. I remember this building very well, when it was a hotel for single women. It was a very cool-looking building. After surviving the construction of the 405 it had to lose its life to a parking lot!

  3. ETA: By “it’s a beautiful old building” I meant my old apartment, not the now-demolished Marabba, though it too was a beautiful old building with a lot of wasted potential.

  4. @Jim, I lived in the apartment building at 14th and Taylor for about six months in 1972. The bed rolled out of the wall into the living room (which I thought was totally cool–never had to make it!). My unit was on the third floor, northwest corner. The only windows were the front room bays, but they were lovely. During my time there the elevator shaft filled with smoke one day. I remember banging on people’s doors to alert them because there was no alarm. I was freaking out; my neighbors seems amazingly nonchalant. There was no fire. The smoke eventually cleared. I never heard what caused it. Every time I drive by the building I marvel that it is still standing.

  5. @Jerilyn,

    Those trundle beds were great. I lived in a “one bedroom” top floor unit (actually a double studio – two large rooms with a bath, kitchen and two walk-in closets). Yours wasn’t the only fire. One night at about three o-clock in the morning, my dog woke me up whining at the door. This was very odd behavior for my pet. I opened the door to be greeted with smoke extending from the ceiling to about face-height. I slammed the door, called 911, was told to get out immediately, and grabbed the dog. When I opened the door again no more than a minute after opening the door the first time, the hall had entirely filled with smoke. No alarms were sounding, but luckily I was close to both the fire box and the fire door to the stairway. I pulled the alarm and stopped on each floor shouting FIRE!!! all the way down, dog pulling me along.

    The fire started in the apartment of a middle-aged handicapable section 8 tenant. Prior to the fire, the manager had to make a small repair and told me about the state of the apartment. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with stuffed animals….and porn. There was a narrow path to get to the kitchen and bathroom.

    The fire department only took minutes to arrive. No one was hurt in the fire which was started as a result of Mr. Furry falling asleep while smoking in bed. Most of the damage was contained to the fire’s starting point and water damage to units underneath the starting point. One of the most surreal points of the evening was watching a very large smoldering and smoking Bugs Bunny floating gently to the soot-grimed wet sidewalk. The firefighters were literally shoveling damp and smoking stuffed animals out the window. I don’t know what happened to the porn.


  6. @Jim,

    What a marvelous story! Had me laughing out loud! The Bugs Bunny image will stick with me for some time…. 🙂

  7. Agreed, Jim. So much for objectivity. You could almost hear the writer of that article rooting for the wrecking ball, eh?

  8. I though those fold into the wall beds were “murphy” beds. A “trundle” bed is low to the floor and slides under a regular bed for storage.

  9. @Bart, the beds in the May Apartment building actually rolled out of the wall. (No swinging up or folding like a Murphy bed.) When the bed was rolled back in, the wall was smooth except for the handles used to pull the bed out again. I think “trundle” is the better term for this since it is on casters.

  10. I lived at Marabaa West for one year around 1973. I was a student at PSU. Marabba was the cheapest student housing available. It was a crazy place filled with a number of characters that even later became famous. I got a sleeping room with a sink in the room for $55.00 a month. I had a window that looked out over Lincoln high School, the swimming pool and Mt. St. Helens (before it blew) The elevator was ancient, stopping a foot above or below the floor and sometimes not at all. The lobby was this strange mixture of old world chandeliers and large windows and aqua blue carpet and paint job. The TV room was nasty and had orange shag carpet. Star Trek was on every night at 6pm.

    We had a sauna and swimming pool. And in the summer the Native Americans attending the Pow Wow at PSU would camp out in our basement and party all night long.

    The kitchen was a large restaurant kitchen but pretty disgusting, so I ate at Denny’s off and on. Lots of top ramen.

    Some rooms had bathrooms and pullman beds but the rest of us had to use the scary bathrooms down the hall which did not have locks on them.

    We had a couple of fire scares with flourescent lights smoking in the hallway and incense and candles catching the shag carpet on fire. The hallways smelled like pot all the time. One guy got so drunk one night he started to freak out and scream “F(^^^$ YOU! at the top of his lungs and throwing furniture at his window.

    Lots of fringe and hippy types lived there.

  11. This is so great reading all these stories from the Marabba! I met my future/present husband while living there in 1971 going to PSU. I so remember Star Trek every evening in the TV room when I got home from school/work. My room was on the 5th floor off the stairway and I had the coolest oval stained-glass window in my room. John lived on the 6th floor. Yes I remember that community kitchen! It was so weird trying to share a cooking space with so many not-too-together tenants. Thanks for the memories!

  12. So amazing to find this! I also lived at the Marabba & enjoy memories similar to Susan’s. I also had one of the $55 studios with a sink. Shared the freaky bathrooms down the hall & the pay phone in the hall. The hall carpeting was a patchwork of various shag etc but in the rooms many had that old floral swirl stuff; lots of burgundy. I remember being thrilled when someone was moving out & sold me their old fridge which I pushed down the hall like a sled. This was wonderful as it expanded my diet beyond bread, butter & sugar on top. I was too freaked out to use the community kitchen for most of my stay. Dropped my key down the crazy elevator once. The manager had a Doberman & didn’t like to be disturbed.
    A nice room with its own bathroom & glass paned French doors separating the LR/BR came available for $85 so I moved up there with my cat. There were built in shelves, a huge mirror over a non-working fireplace & a great view. I loved it.
    Most of the tenants were in college but I was finishing HS at Wilson. Not sure why I didn’t just switch to Jefferson as it was right next door. Maybe since I worked out that way on Barber. No car, lots of busses.
    Someone moved a couple pinball machines into the main entrance area for awhile & there were frequently belly dance classes on the main entrance level. The porch was great. There were leaded glass windows throughout along with very eclectic alterations and paint applications. I think my sink was painted black. I really loved the sauna but the pool was out of commission by the end. Some rooms had very small balconies I think. If not then the window ledges must have been pretty large as my cat showed up in the apartment below mine after that tenant returned from a couple days away. That was scary: I had no idea where the cat went & I was on the 4th floor; for the tenant downstairs because she came home to find a surprising black streak zipping around her apartment completely uninvited. As for Amos the cat, he was happy to come back upstairs. That cat had plenty of zest to his life from the very beginning.
    Some of us Marabbans got into playing hide -n- seek for awhile as the layout on every floor was unusual and varied from every other. The roof was a blast. It offered a wonderful view & a refuge of sorts. Sometimes blew bubbles there or sailed paper airplanes off for kicks.
    Listened to lots of great music, learned that I did not want to take speed very much as there were some peeps there who were lost in a pretty wicked place with that. Mostly, a good time was had by all. I was there nearly to the end leaving the summer of ’77. As the last of us made our ways toward the future it was sad so many old treasures were not salvaged as far as I know. There was a short-lived attempt to save the building for historical value but they claimed the expense was too great. There were stories about Mark Twain having staid there breifly when it was a hotel. Good memories in my book. I was very glad to have such a unique and affordable place. Nice to see it here.

  13. The picture is so dark, it’s hard to tell if it was where I lived. I’m going back to 1957, At that time it was run by the Catholic nuns in there black robes. My roomate and I lived on the top floor with a turret front window. The bathrooms were down the hall, we did have a sink in our room along with two twin beds and two very small desks. We had breakfast and dinner their, the room was huge, it could very well been used as a ball room.

  14. Greetings,

    It’s great to find this website about Marabba West Apartments. I too lived there in 1974-75 while attending PSU as a freshman. This place was really far-out and groovy people. I loved the architecture of the building. It is sad that it got torn down for a parking lot. Good grief! A lot of other fine historical buildings in Portland were being demolished as well in the 70’s. I am glad that I had the experience of living in one of them, the Marabba West. I once took a picture of the building in 1975 before moving into the Goose Hollow High Rise. I will have to get another print of it made from the negative, so I can upload it to the net to share with all people who loved that building.

  15. ha, a good friend of mine lived at the May for about three years until just this last month or so. That elevator can be pretty scary and most of the time doesn’t work. and she lived on the second floor overlooking the small courtyard down below. Pretty decent apartment, although way overpriced (as are almost any portland rentals) and the bed is a cool feature. makes for an interesting platform in the large walk in closet.

  16. Marabba West was my home in 1974. I met my ex-husband while living there. At least 3 of these writers posting their memories here were part of my life in some capacity for years beyond the Marabba experience and then there was Amos the cat.

    There’s a bit of mystery here – I mean – it was 40 years ago! It would help if I could remember Bonnie. I thought that Amos was one of the many cats that lived in a communal household occupied by myself and 3 other women who moved out of the Marabba, but you know – it was 40 yrs ago and we probably had at least 7 cats and 3 dogs between us.

    I do remember Amos spending some time locked up in an empty room at Marabba and the happy news when he was found, but Amos got out a lot and 2 months after one of his great escapes, my cat birthed 2 little black kittens. We didn’t have window screens. I thought that Amos also had some connection with one of my future roommates, but maybe it was just that it was her room where he spent his mysterious lost weekend, because I remember her cat going to the vet for an abortion later. Her room was on the 6th floor, and mine on the 5th – on another side of the building, so Amos got around – when he wasn’t locked up. Even my cat got out – probably was out looking for Amos.

    Memory is a weird thing – the way it works – or doesn’t…. Might be fun to have a reunion and see what happens when we pool our memories and see what floats to the top.

  17. I’ve been looking for info on this building for many years. I thought it was called the Princess. I attended Multnomah Jr. College (secular) nearby in 1964-6 and had heard it was an apartment for women. This was about the time the the 405 freeway was being built. It seemed to be the last old building still standing near it. I would sit in my VW Bug eating lunch and wonder about it.

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