N Interstate & Larrabee, 1950

Portland street crews work on N. Interstate Avenue in this 1950 photo. We’re looking northwest; Interstate curves around to the right and N. Russell Street is just around the corner. Harding Avenue comes in from the left and Larrabee continues straight ahead toward the railroad yards; the Union Pacific smokestack can be seen behind the tree on the right. The little burger joint straight ahead is on the northwest corner of Larrabee and Russell and would be under the edge of the Fremont Bridge today.

(City of Portland Archives)

12 thoughts on “N Interstate & Larrabee, 1950

  1. Take a look at the tracks to the left. Note that they have three rails. That particular stretch of dual gauge track was highly unusual- The narrow gauge track is streetcar track, inbound to downtown from Mississippi Avenue. The outer rail is Union Pacific track, running on Interstate Avenue from the yards, near today’s Widmer brewery to a early industrial park area behind Fouch Electric and the Portland Water Bureau building.

    By the time of the picture the streetcar track was long out of service, replaced by electric buses. Thus, the narrow gauge city streetcar system shared one rail with the standard gauge freight steam railroad for about three blocks. I have never come across like sharing between a electric streetcar system and a steam railroad, with two different gauges, anywhere else.

    When the streetcar system was running, there was a second narrow gauge outbound track next to the dual gauge track. Thus, the dual gauge track to the left was one-way only for the streetcars, but two way for the steam freight locomotives.

    The freight track was said to still exist in the 1980s, but service likely ended in the 1970s. If someone has any anecdotes about these tracks I would really like to hear them. I have been told that service to the industrial park was late night only, and that flares would be dropped on Interstate Avenue as the train went down the track. Woe to a crew that could not get out of there by daylight. A holy grail for me would be a picture of a train on that stretch of track, or in the industrial area east of Interstate Avenue.

  2. Seen from above, the buildings in the industrial park that Dan H. mentioned still show the outlines of some curved spur tracks:


    (You can see it best by turning off the 45-degree option in Google maps.)

  3. I used to put the wheels of my 72 Volkswagon in the tracks and let go of the steering wheel for a block or so.

  4. Dan – a somewhat similar situation – until well into the 90s there were freight tracks down Main St. in Oregon City, and they would move trains into Main st in the middle of the night, I assume doing some kind of track switching up inside the pulp mill.

    On several occasions I turned right off of the old OC bridge in the middle of the night to the sight of a freight locomotive’s single headlight in my eyes.

    Sorta off-topic, but while we’re discussing the area… can anybody explain why they bothered to build an overpass for N. Flint ave over I-5? It seems strange to have built one for such a minor street.

  5. North Flint used to be a more heavily used street than it is today. Prior to construction of the interstate freeways in this area, Flint provided a direct connection between the neighborhood and transportation hub at the east end of the Broadway Bridge to the Russell Street neighborhood to the north.

    At the time that I-5 was built in the 1960s, most of the Russell Street neighborhood had survived the early freeway projects. I imagine that the Flint bridge was built as a way to keep both Russell Street and Emanuel Hospital connected to the grid streets to the south.

    Sadly, much of the Russell Street area was displaced in the 1970s by the I-5/I-405 Interchange and the proposed Emanuel Hospital expansion projects. Forty years later, vacant lots and an under-used N Flint remain.

  6. Lance- thanks for the insights on the Flint St. overpass! As soon as Tad mentioned it I started puzzling the question with no obvious answer in sight. I can now return to my regularly scheduled obsessions…

  7. Dan H: do you have anymore info about this area? We enjoyed your “first take” with regards to the train track and industrial activities at night.

  8. I’ve been gathering info for awhile, to write something up on that area. So far it has not reached critical mass- I keep hoping for a train picture on Interstate or in the industrial tracks- but as the operations were at night, that is a tall order. More likely is a picture of a streetcar running on the segment, when there were both inbound and outbound tracks.

    The area appears in early maps as a gully around Tillamook Street with a swampy area in the industrial area. At some point it was filled- an early Sanborn map refers to the area as a coal yard- it might have been associated with the railroad, which for a short time (between wood and oil fuel) had coal burning locomotives in Oregon. The industrial area dates from either the late teens or early 1920s (writing this without my notes), a very early manifestation of the industrial park concept. Rebecca Koffman wrote a great article in the Oregonian about one of the buildings sometime in the last year or so.

    Today, back along the fork of the railroad right of way that loops back toward Interstate, on the south edge of the industrial area, behind the Portland water department building, there is still a small spur track imbedded in cement- with a sign designating it as the water department ‘s for pipe cars only!

  9. @ Dan Haneckow

    On the north side of the street where N Kerby intersects with N Thompson there is a stamp embedded in the concrete sidewalk “C&L 1922”, although the “1” is missing. So your spot on on the dates.

    Another feature is the sidewalk wraps around, as if forming a corner going north. But it doesnt go anywhere, except into a loading dock now. ( I work there). And on the south side, it doesnt properly line up with Kerby at all.

    So I was wondering, could N Kerby & N Page (one block north) have been connected at one time? From the pics I can find on site, the land was an open yard till the 60’s, but shows no evidence of a connection in the 1940’s pics posted here.

    I tried to access the back of the building today to see if the tracks were still there, but it’s brambles galore.

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