Southwest Waterfront, 1938

Today’s South Waterfront area is trendy and expensive. Three-quarters of a century ago it was a huge expanse of Portland’s industrial waterfront. Schnitzer and Zidell, still big names in Portland industry, both got their starts here. The battleship USS Oregon was on display just south of the Hawthorne Bridge.

A2010-001.131 Aerial of SW Waterfront 1938(City of Portland Archives)

26 thoughts on “Southwest Waterfront, 1938

  1. Ahh, I can clearly see the Lincoln Steam Plant just south of the battleship. Still hunting for the Greyhound building.

  2. Ugh. So that’s how the initial pollution began as they dumped everything into the river from there I’m guessing? Hopefully someday the businesses tasked with paying for the cleanup actually do it….

  3. To be fair, Schnitzer and Zidell have done quite a bit to clean-up or contain the pollution from their many decades of work there.

  4. Great picture, even a working paddle wheel boat. EcoGirl, 1938 was a totally different world than today as far as pollution is concerned. It was only thirty years earlier in any American town or city that you had horse and other animal byproducts spread all over the streets. The battleship Oregon is a sad story. During the early hysteria at the beginning of WWII, many questionable decisions were made during this time. The Oregon was given back to the government, presumably for scrap. Instead it was decided to cut her down to the main deck and use her as a ammo barge. This makes three wars that she took some part in. She ended up in Guam after the war and just sat there for years. In 1956 she was sold to a Japanese company for scrap. An ignoble end for such a famous ship.

  5. This is such an ugly picture. Not because of the manufacturing but because of how unorganized and inefficient it seems.
    There is a lot of detail that is indiscernible. Like, what are the little white things above the labelled buildings? Shacks? Junk? And between them? Was there a creek running down to the river above them?

  6. @ Carter, indeed that is the Jean . many of the stern wheelers operated in this fashioned while working in a close quarters maneuvering . They did so because in this operational mode they handled extremely well and the operator could see his work on the bow and communicate with his deckhands easily . The steamer sternwheeler Jean was unusual in her configuration as compared to other sternwheelers on the river. Unlike any other, she had spilt stern wheel, each half was independent of the other and could operate in ahead or astern independently of other. If operated correctly she could “crab” or move sideways in the water, which was very handy while moving barges . In her day, (mid 1930’s to the early 1950’s), she worked mostly between Portland, Oregon City, Camas and Wauna towing paper barges and log rafts. She was owner by Crown Zellerback . She is still in the area. Now tied up in Oregon slough across marine drive from the expo center. In disrepair and her stern wheels now removed, she is a shadow of her former glory.

  7. @Ecogrrl, although I agree that pollution is bad and it should be cleaned up; it was these businesses paying taxes and their workers, who also paid their fair share of taxes, that are responsible for all of the City, County, and State Infrastructure that we enjoy today .

  8. Nancy, it may look disorganized but I will bet you the Schnitzer’s and Zidell’s knew exactly where everything was and down to the last ton too. Family fortunes and wealth are not the realm of the the disorganized.

  9. Possibly the shacks Nancy refers to are these?

    Squatter’s shacks in “Hooverville,” Portland, Oregon, Arthur

    Rothstein, 1936. Hooverville was the popular name for shanty

    towns built by homeless people during the Depression. They took

    their name for President Herbert Hoover, who the American

    people blamed for the Depression.

  10. Ah, the good ole days: No environmental standards, child labor, no minimum wage or labor laws, women who knew their place, when white men were King, numerous diseases still prevalent, prior to that pesky Civil Rights Act and The Great Depression which was caused by, not the people, but greedy bankers and corporations. Oh, how I really wish I would have grown up then… oh wait, I can still move to present-day China. But, the advertisements back then sure were pretty.
    P.S. I have always found it very ironic that some people use the internet (created by the government) to look at photos taken by the City (also the government) and reminisce about the good old days when corporations and ignorance ruled.

  11. Sarah_D sure know her history well. Government would never do anything corrupt! Tho it is a great world know. Women rule, free things are given away, food stamps are the new norm, and just wait for that wonderful health care. Party like its a new day. Hear the birds cheering?

  12. Can we just enjoy the pictures and save the political commentary for some other venue.

    For the people positing links, try to use a url shortener when posting, the long links detract from the content of the comments, look at

    That is my rant for the day, thanks!

  13. I miss the old scrap yard, walking past piles of old brass and steel port holes and wooden ship hatches and tons of great stuff to buy. It was like Hippos Hardware on steroids!

  14. Mike,

    The photo is dated 1938. The country had been recovering from the great depression, but experienced a brief recession during this time.
    Unemployment was still high. Much higher than it ever was during our current “Great Recession.” There wasn’t much work to be had.

    jhunsingrer, History is a great tool for examining current political policy. It’s also a great way to inform decision-making and clear up misinformation. But I agree that we need to keep it civil. This isn’t the YouTube comment section.

  15. I enjoy seeing the “old” Morrison Bridge. It helps to have these photos when explaining how it “opened” to let the river traffic thru. I used to think that was so cool…especially when I got to see it actually open…or close. That made a trip downtown worth it!

    I remember 6 numbers…seeing the Zidell number reminded me! Looks like ATwater 3195! Ours was CHerry. I always enjoyed that…for some reason, it made remembering a phone number easier.

    Yeah…and in 75 years, just think about what they’ll be saying about Portland in 2013! I agree…let’s leave the political commentary out of this. I come to this site to help jog my memory, to enjoy the photos and read about other people’s memories. It really starts my day with a smile and gets me goin’. If I wanted a bitch fest, there are plenty of sites around for that…which I don’t visit because I’m really not interested in seeing who can out-do each other in their ranting and raving contests. Sorry…it just doesn’t do a thing for me…so, please…can we just come to chat and enjoy each other’s company and leave all the unnecessary negativity outside?

    Thank you…enjoy your day! Make a great memory!


    Oh…forgive me for this…Sarah…nice to see you’re using the internet to communicate with us and show us all you know your place. You find it ironic? Ironic? Or is that simply some new fangled electrical appliance for pressing a shirt or pair of pants that you lost and now you’ve found again? (Sorry…again…forgive me, Sarah…but you did kinda start it. Peace?)

    And if anyone wants to try and give me a bad time for my opinion, I really don’t care…hmm…something about something off a duck’s back comes to mind.

    Now, everybody smile and have a great weekend! Did ya notice…it actually rained last night! Ah……..oh how I love this city!

  16. The Library of Congress has 15 photos of Portland Hoovervilles from the Great Depression here:–Oregon

    I always thought that they were from the East side of Portland. Don’t really know why…the somewhat confusing part is they often reference migrant workers-working in Salem. Seems a long drive, when you have no money.

    Too bad for Hoover. He was actually somewhat of a genius when it came to handling hunger and poverty in Europe after WWI.

  17. portlandhistorygeek, the electric interurban s were still running at this time and SP still had it’s passenger milk trains running. A milk train is a combination freight and passenger train that used to pick up milk and freight and leave freight at every stop on the line. Passenger traffic was just an afterthought to generate a little more revenue. Trains like this had been running since the railroads were first built. In fact, I went on one from Oakridge Oregon to Portland in the late 50’s when I was a kid with my mother and younger sister. The train stopped at every platform for the entire trip which took over 10 hours. It took 10 years off my mother with 2 little kids and 95 degree temperatures that day with no AC. I am honoring the request of one the other posters to try to post memories of the past. Anyhow in the 30’s it would have been easy to have a home base in one of the Portland area Hovervilles and either take an interurban, milk train or hop a freight down the valley to where work was and return when there was no more work. The Yakima Valley fruit orchards you either hop a freight, hitchhike or pool with someone who had a automobile. Portland always had a nomadic population who would follow the work during the spring to fall but would return to winter in town. The Great Depression was no different.
    As an aside to you PHG on several of our other conversations I would have probably been a history teacher if I did nor have CP. The closest I came was In my junior year of HS when the history teacher appointed 4 peer teachers to assist the other 35 students in the class. I was one of the ones chosen and my HS yearbook is peppered with comments from my fellow students in that class.

  18. Greg, from what I’ve read of your posts, you would be a great history teacher! I certainly appreciate you bringing your knowledge to this site. I always find out something I didn’t know from your posts!

  19. When I was in high school, we sold fruitcakes. And they were decent fruitcakes, though still, yes, fruitcakes. Now my high school (50+ years later) has a MATTRESS sale every year as a fundraiser. So this idea has MEGA-potential! Though there may still be a few fruitcakes around too.

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