SE Harrison Street, 1929

A number man standing at a construction site located at 418 SE Harrison Street, 1929. For more information on the number man, click here.


City of Portland Archives, Oregon, A2009-009.2420

City of Portland Archives, Oregon, A2009-009.2420


View this image in Efiles by clicking here.

13 thoughts on “SE Harrison Street, 1929

  1. In the late 20s and early 30s Portland was in the process of widening streets, improving water/sewer lines etc. To document these jobs, pictures were taken at various (many) sites around the city. The “number man” stood in front of the camera at each site holding a card with a printed number on it. This number was then matched to a number on a city map to indicate location. Apparently, there were several “number men.” I believe this chap was the most common.

  2. It’s interesting to see the method used to build those concrete buildings where you can see the impressions of the boards from the form.

  3. 1929 was the height of the prohibition era. As a result, vice and corruption was rampant throughout all levels of city administration. City officials sent the “numbers man” to various locations where new construction or changes in zoning were taking place in order to ascertain how much “protection” could be born by the property owners. He also scoped out the amount in bribes an organization would be willing to pay for having officials look the other way during the permitting process. The displayed number was the indication of daily “fees” or, in the case of bribes, shorthand for the hundreds willing to be put up. A complex code indicated the difference between the protection wing of the organization and the bribery wing. This way, top officials could hide their activity from federal investigators.

    In current news, it looks like it’s going to be another glorious day on this first day of April.

  4. JIM
    Yours is the most thought inspiring definition of the numbers man to date. Great way to start April.

  5. well, the address is wrong, it seems. the 24 – 28 sanborns show no #418 (vol7, sheet 755); they skip right over it. stephens school is still there, but no warehouses are on the street yet. the 08 – 50 maps (1950 vol.7 sheet 755) shows a concrete logging machinery shop made of concrete, with a house to the right. this would place the numbers man near the se corner of 8th and harrison. the house # appears to be 494 (obscured)… 712 under new system.
    other alternative seems to be 418 under the NEW numbering system (vol 7, 24 – 50, sheet 754) – this is a foundry, which has a house next to it, but on the wrong side. i also think the foundry predates 29 by many decades!

    any other sanborn sleuths want to check my work?

  6. interesting – 708 – 712 se harrison today is a pair of buildings from 1884. the one to the east is so small that it is not visible from 8th and harrison. the house to the right has three windows up top, like the photo – tho looking like they are newer, as part of an addition built over the porch? and there is still a pole right by the corner on 7th. i’m not sold, but it looks possible.

    sadly, the shop to the east is from 1965, so offers no help.

  7. 708 was built 1884, but it looks like 712 was new construction in 1913. building in photo is clearly victorian-era. and might be getting torn down! either it had a flat roof, or is now missing one. so probably no cigar. if the address really is on harrison where stephens school use to be, we assume he is there for the widening of 7th.

    i didn’t really see any likely candidates around harrison and, say, union.

    has anyone ever visited the archives to look up the plat book all his numbers are in?

    has an example. the efiles link doesn’t work on that page, btw.

  8. Jim…that made my whole month. Funny I was gonna post something to that effect before I read the “comments” section…then I thought well I better not…and then i read your post. Awesome.

  9. assuming the date is wrong – or that the photo was at least labelled AFTER 1931 – would lead us to the old address of 380 e. harrison. there is a house there, and it was knocked down to make a foundry after 1925 (new system address of 418 se harrison). the problem for me here is that number man is sitting on a triple hydrant, and the only one nearby in 1924 is a block away, on third. the 1950 map has a triple on harrison and grand, but there is a house there on both maps, so i don’t think that is it. and i wasn’t getting the outlines and geometries of the houses in the picture to match quite right.

    the 99 viaduct comes through and trashes the whole area, of course, so we could be seeing a moment in time not captured by the maps we have.

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