Northwest Portland Aerial, 1938

A spectacular aerial image of Northwest Portland from the Willamette River west to about 18th Avenue in 1938. The scene is so familiar and yet so much has changed. No longer will we find the Lovejoy and 10th Avenue ramps, the gas storage tank and the rail yards. Many of the low-rise buildings have been replaced by new high-rises, freeways or parking lots. The bridges and parks remain, reminding us of what once was.

A2010-001.78 NW Portland waterfront and trainyards 1938(City of Portland Archives)

9 thoughts on “Northwest Portland Aerial, 1938

  1. I would say the area (top, right) is improved in status from the time I grew up playing there. But maybe not so much from the time this picture was taken. The area was once an economic heartbeat of the city.

  2. If you look between Ankeny and Ash streets on the West side of Front Avenue, you can see that the Ankeny Block is gone and the attached Lewis & Flanders Block is apparently undergoing demolition. It is my understanding that the two buildings were demolished after being irreparably damaged by fire.

    (To see a great street level view of the Lewis & Flanders Block, search this blog for “Knapp Burrell & Company.”)

    By the time Minor White took his haunting photos of Front Avenue just prior to demolition for Harbor Drive, this entire block was already gone. Today the Central Fire Department sits on the site.

  3. Lots of great railroad information in this image. Be sure to add “railroad” to the tags. At the time of the photo the coach yard (now referred to as the “Pearl District”) was an active part of RR operations. In the 60s, as I recall, those tracks were used more for freight-car storage. I remember the sea of boxcars beneath the Broadway Bridge when I rode across on my bicycle.

  4. Elliott, the sea-wall had recently been built, and this was the area behind it. Before the seawall, it would have been wharves and warehouses, those were removed to build the seawall, and nothing had been done with the land yet. I am not sure if they were already planning on building Harbor Drive, and were leaving it for that.

  5. IF you look at this picture and the the Portland Harbor1910 drawing side by side you will see they did not demolish the wharves and warehouses. This picture clearly shows a same line of buildings on the river side of Front Ave. What they did was go out in the river beyond the old wharves and warehouses, built the seawall and then back filed the entire area including the buildings on pilings along the original riverbank. I had been told the same thing when I was a kid, but as I grew older I found out a lot I had been been taught in school was in error. When I went to school in Portland in the 50-60’s 3rd grade social studies was devoted to Portland history and facts. We had to memorize the street system, the bridges and everything else Portland. Give me an address that existed in the 1950’s and I can tell you where it is and on what side of the street. Try that with today’s educated wonders who couldn’t find the end of their noses without Google or TomTom and that includes my kids.

  6. This is a great picture. It looks like one of those pictures were the city is thinking of doing something big, like build a highway or something,.

    “A short time ago the sewer broke and washed out a hole under the bridge 12 feet wide, six feet deep, 40 feet long and exposed a high-tension power cable a city water main.”
    -Oregonian, September 11, 1938
    The article is about the west end of the Burnside bridge, which was being used as a parking lot, between Front and First.

    Mayor and officials make a trip around Harbor
    Filthy conditions in the Willamette River were view by Mayor Joseph K. Carson and other officials Monday from the decks of the harbor patrol boat Mulkey, which took the party on the inspection trip of the outlet of the city’s sewers.

    Mayor Carson declared that he had not realize the extent to which the river is polluted until he obtained this first-hand information from the decks of the patrol boat. Captain Prehn pointed out of that conditions were getting worse from day to day. He recalled, in a letter to the mayor, that at one time thousands enjoyed swimming in the river, and the city once operated a public bath house. Many business men learned to swim there, he said. All of these places have been forced out by the pollution of the streams.”
    -Oregonian October 11th 1938 page 5

    Officials Make Inspection From Airplane
    (Picture on page 24)
    The tell-tale streak of Portland sewage emptying into the Willamette River was seen from the air. Tuesday buy a party of Portland officials who made an inspection trip up and down the river by plane.
    Lester W Humphrey assistant to Mayor Joseph K Carson, represented the mayor on the trip while David B Simpson of The Portland Chamber of Commerce, Ed F. Averill, ex-state game warden and State Senator William Dickson, John Seabrook, deputy city attorney, comprised the official party. Guy Talbot Jr, of the airline and L.J. Bailey, city photographer, also made inspection.”
    -Oregonian, October 26 1938, page 7, the picture on page 24 is similar, but cover the space between the Morrison and Burnside bridges.

    “The return from 375 out 392 precincts in the city of also revealed that the people have approved Commissioner Ormond R Bean’s pay-as-you-go sewage disposal plan by a lead of 7600 ballots, a project that will be constructed in units and financed by a charge equal to 1/3 of the normal water bill.”
    -Oregonian, November 9 1938 page 1, election returns
    There are 44 sewer outlets dumping into the Willamette.

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