Northwest Portland, circa 1938

Aerial of industrial area in Northwest Portland, near the St. Johns Bridge, circa 1938.


City of Portland Archives, Oregon, A2010-001.150

City of Portland Archives, Oregon, A2010-001.150


View this image in Efiles by clicking here.

12 thoughts on “Northwest Portland, circa 1938

  1. Yes, part of the Portland harbor Superfund and on the left is the Gothic style GasCo building which was recently taken down much to dismay of Portland historians.

  2. note all the sand put down, likely as an absorbent for random spills.
    which is funny, because the large pile of coal (from which the gas was derived) sits directly over a creek – which was used as a drain for many of the liquids left over from the process. you can see the plume in the river… along with plumes from many other sources!

    the ground was pretty saturated as well; while i think the gasco building should have been stabilized and left (see smallpox hospital, roosevelt island, nyc), no-one will put condos up there for a very long time. they’ll wait for ikea and whole foods to go in first (see red hook, brooklyn!).

  3. looking at some photos from the superfund docs, it looks like the big pile of black stuff is actually lampblack, not coal. lampblack is basically soot (which blackened the lamp shades of oil lamps, thus the name), and was used primarily to color other substances. rubber is actually white when made, and is quickly damaged by ultraviolet light; when added, lampblack absorbed the UV rays and helped products last longer. it was also used in records for the same reason, and a number of other items. now most things are colored with dyes, but i believe tires still use carbonblack (modern name).

    the sand might be piled over some old settlement ponds which stood here, but i thought they were filled in later. the sludge settled in the pond, and then the water slowly cascaded across the property to another pond and stream further south, where it, too, entered the williamette. the epa found coal tar residues soaked into the basalt 70 feet down!

  4. @wl. I believe that the sand shown here is actually dredge spoil as the Guilds Lake area was still in 1938 undergoing “reclamation” and filling was underway in order to make more land available for war industry, in particular the ship yards and their associated support services. It was already recognized that the up river locations, safe from submarine attack and believed out of range of practical seaborne air assault would become important in any war in the Pacific. In some government circles war was thought unavoidable even before 1938 and planning was already well underway.
    The large black pile in the photo I think was coke, that would be pressed into briquettes that would be sold for home heating and more importantly used as fuel for forge heating. I recall seeing coke piled in that place in the mid forties.
    I have never personally seen carbon black stored in the open as it is prone to dispersal by the elements especially the wind when dry and believe me a teaspoon will blacken everything you own. Nasty just nasty. In fact pneumatic equipment is used to transport and unload it as it flows readily under very low pressures, 2 PSI pounds will get it moving.
    Would that the eventual environmental clean up costs from the obvious mess seen here have been so anticipated.

  5. I don’t think that many true historians lamented the demise of the Gasco building. It was contaminated and close to falling down anyhow.

  6. This heavy industrial area is part of the reason St. Johns and the upper peninsula was known as “stinky flats.”

  7. mike, untrue on all counts. ‘true’ historians lament the loss of any unique, important or beloved building. nor, according to the epa, was it so contaminated it couldn’t be fixed. and while the roof had issues, many who saw inside say the structure was sound. NWnatural just didn’t want to deal with it any more – the questions, the calls for it to be renovated, and most importantly, the cost of keeping people OUT. guard, gates, and no doubt a lawyer who explained the concept of ‘attractive nuisance’ to them.

    this is what SHOULD have been done:

    seen from the shores of manhattan, the ruin at night is magical.

    someday, when we are hong kong, the sight of that building would have reminded us of the gritty town that existed before all the glittering glass towers.

  8. wl: Agree with you. GasCo didn’t go down without a fight. The people attempting to save it had signs and signatures and fought until the end. Also agree that NW Natural just got tired of dealing with the allure of the building, needing guards to keep curiosity seekers out, questions, etc. Thanks for the info!

  9. They should have saved the Gasco building and while I’m at it how about the smoke stack at the old incinerator in north Portland. Must have been some way to stabilize it.

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