NW Front & Glisan, 1930

This wonderful little brick building stood in the shadow of the Portland Gas Co. tank at the southwest corner of NW Front and Glisan Street in 1930. The 1908-09 Sanborn map labels it “Meter Rm. & Laboratory.”

A2009-009.2479 NW Front Ave and Glisan St 1930(City of Portland Archives)

17 thoughts on “NW Front & Glisan, 1930

  1. There was another gas holder tank just south of the Burnside bridge on the east side of the river.

  2. These tanks held coal gas, gas made from retorted coal. The process produced a number of nasty pollutants to the air, water and land. Natural gas did not become available until the 1950’s.

  3. So, this would have been torn down for the construction of the approaches to the Steel Bridge? Based on the opening date for the bridge (1912), this photo may have been taken as part of the planning process for the bridge.

  4. Ah, I see I should have read Dave’s post first. I see that tank did survive the construction of the ramp in the 1950 photo.

  5. Coal gas was used mainly for lighting. My first house which was built in 1903-4 still had the gas pipes in place for the gas ceiling lights when I bought it in 1977. It also had the wood lift in place for the wood kitchen cooking stove although it had been converted to a cabinet with shelves. Also could tell where a second wood stove for heating had been in the house, it had no fireplace. It had been converted to electricity with knob and tube wiring along the way. When I remodeled the house it was interesting to peel back the layers of time and see how it once had been.70 years later I bought gas back into the house for heat and hot water.

  6. @Greg

    The house I grew up in was built in 1938. It featured a coke briquet furnace, gas water heater and a gas range. The furnace was manually stoked and was set alight by burning newspaper topped with kindling wood. Once a sufficient blaze was achieved, a few briquets, half a shovel’s worth or so were ladled over the blaze and after about half an hour a full fire of briquets could be laid, The furnace did not have forced air but rather the heat was directly distributed by rising through a floor grate over the plenum. The grate was about 30″ X 30″ with a 1″ mesh, made of cast iron and set into a hardwood floor in the dining room. In addition to heating the house the furnace grate also functioned as a clothes drier in inclement weather with the addition of a wooden clothes rack.

    The house was built over a half basement which housed the gas water,heater, the briquet furnace and a 6′ X 10 bin built to hold a one half truck load of coke briquets delivered thru a window set into the foundation.. Both the furnace and the water heater exhausted thru separate blued sheet metal tubes to the chimney at the opposite side of the basement. Coal gas is very corrosive and will rust out metal surfaces fairly quickly. .The tubes were sold in partially formed 30″ sections every hardware store in the area and needed to be replaced every two years; and the homeowner was tasked with removing the old tubes, very nasty dirty business of assembling and installing the replacements. And if the gasses were not corrosive enough the prudent homeowner would throw in and burn a can of Red Devil soot remover at least twice every season in the interest of preventing flue and chimney fires which are very scary and dangerous speaking from personal experience. The gas range however produced excellent meals in spite of the absence of a pilot lite.

    A highlight of any summer was the day in August when the Portland Gas and Coke Company delivered the briquets. A big crewcab truck pulling a 30′ semi trailer piled with gunny sacks stood 2 tiers high stacked on end and a 8 man crew pulled up under the walnut tree at the curb. The men would climb out and 5 of them would be wearing leather chaps, aprons and shoulder covers over one arm. The leather featured a multitude of straps and in places was highly polished from wear. They brought with them a wood and metal lined chute that they would install in the window thru the foundation. When the chute was secured the fun began, One man, the driver would have mounted the trailer and untied the load. One by one the men in leather would back against the trailer deck and the driver would lay a gunny sack of briquets on the protected shoulder. The man would grasp the sack by it’s ears and start the trudge up the little incline between the houses to the chute. Once at the chute he would bend a little while still holding the bag by it’s ears and stand it at the mouth of the chute. The bag was secured with twine by some magical combination of knot and stitch which he removed in single deft motion dropping the twine into a pail. He then up ended the sack pouring the contents down the chute, At that point he handed the empty sack to the tally man, presumably the foreman who stacked it neatly and returned to the truck

    The kindling arrived by small dump truck from the Montevilla Ice and Coal Company in the form of green sawmill slabs and was dumped at the curb. It was then hauled around the back in a Radio Flyer red wagon and neatly stacked. It was split on a as needed basis either by us or a panhandler in exchange for a sandwich and a glass of milk. In the early years these guys were common as we lived only a block from the tracks and there was a large “Hooverville” under the 82nd and Halsey overpass.

    The house on either side of us were built at the same time by the same builder but were fitted with different burners. One used sawdust and the other coal with the same direct heat delivery thru the floor grate.

    Starting up that old briquet burner on cold morning was the way most of my days started for a long time. As soon as natural gas came in my mother made the switch.

  7. We’ve seen a number of pictures of these gas storage tanks around Portland, but I’ve never heard *why* these tanks were needed, and why we don’t still have them around for storage of natural gas that’s distributed to homes. What technological change happened that put an end to these giant storage tanks?

  8. They were needed to even out the production vs demand. Retorting of coal in which it is heated to drive out the volatile gases which are captured and stored for use can only produce so much gas an hour. The excess was stored in the tanks for high demand times. The reason they are not used anymore is that NWNG stores it natural gas in the in the ground in Mist, Oregon. It is the site of a depleted natural gas deposit discovered in the early 70’s.They buy the gas at times when prices are low and pump the gas into the wellfield to be pumped out again as needed.

  9. Interesting as it is those gasometers are a telescopic sort of construction what rises and falls as the gas volume within changes.
    I remember L.A. in the 60s these things were in use, they would rise and fall on a filling schedule.
    Dont really know how they were sealed between the sections either.
    I expect the weight of the telescopic structure is what provided the pressure to push gas through the neighborhood piping system.

    If you did not like those ugly steel behemoth things in the city landscape.
    Google “gasometers in Vienna” to see brickwork the Austrians did to surround them.

  10. The Natural Gas fields at Mist are not used for daily swings in demand. They are used to store gas that’s bought cheaply on the spot market in the summer and stored till high demand in winter. The reason those tanks are not need anymore is that natural gas bought off interstate pipelines and not made locally.

  11. there were three gasometers on the east side of the Ross Island bridge until roughly 1990, I believe the foundation of one of them is still there. There was also one in the field south of Jefferson High School south of Alberta Street.

  12. Lefty’s link to Poor’s Manual was interesting, and noting that all the shares seem to be very closely held I googled the controlling ‘parent’ American Power and Light: looks like the courts broke the holdings up because they were “evil”.

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