19 thoughts on “NW Front Avenue, 1930

  1. Number 59, someone please explain to me again what these guys were doing? Thank you in advance. Hope your day is good.

  2. @debrald — I copied this from a previous VP post as a reminder to myself, and kept it in my “notes”app. Unfortunately, I didn’t note the writer’s name, so my apologies to the writer for quoting without crediting.

    Number Man

    We don’t know the “Number Man’s” name, but after some digging we do now know what he was doing and what the numbers mean. As many have suggested on this site, the numbers are related to City public works projects. In the photograph below you can see the “Number Man” holding a sign with number 234 which corresponds to NE Beech and Union. Below that is a portion of the Public Works map for the street widening project. You’ll notice his number corresponds to the map’s number for the lot at the northeast corner of the intersection. The lengthy project records for the widening of Union (MLK) from NE Going to SE Lincoln include a text description and a number for each property affected by the widening project. For major projects such as street widening, the Department of Public Works created maps showing the affected properties and gave numbers to the corresponding locations. Public Works also created many records that describe the value of each property and how the owners would be compensated for their losses.

  3. I am thinking that’s the Broadway Bridge in the background and it then might be the on ramp to the Steel Bridge above the Numbers Man?

  4. Interesting to see how densely built up the east side was, with so many homes, built right to the river’s edge.

  5. This numbers man documenting property for the widening Front ave. (Naito today) to 100 feet from NW Glisan to SW Jefferson.

  6. The Ford Model T (yr? 1925) parked near the camera has a handwritten note on the front window; perhaps explaining why they are parked there and asking not to be cited.
    Because the number man is wearing a light colored (summer) suit it might be accurate to say that this photo was taken sometime in early spring and Labor Day.
    The pedestrian walking across the bridge towards downtown and the Union Pacific Railroad Maintenance Terminal add a lot of waterfront atmosphere to this photo.

  7. igor: Those are United Railway freight tracks. This picture actually shows the curve where the tracks headed west on Flanders to their connection with the UR line on NW 12th.

  8. We may never know who the numbers men were, but the man behind the camera is Lewis J Bailey, and here is a portion of a short story about L. J. Bailey from the Oregonian June 5, 1931.

    The city of Portland has an official photographer who spends his time taking pictures for various city bureaus and departments. He is L. J. Bailey, , and he took approximately 5000 5X7 inch photos last year. Every permanent improvement in the city is thus kept in permanent record in his photographs. The principal purpose of these photos, however is to assist the engineering staff in planning improvements and determining damages to property by street widening projects. They also are useful as evidence in damage suits brought against the city by property owners. Every house and every lot adjoining a street widening project must be photographed, according to Mr. Bailey’s instructions.

  9. Good work, Dennis. I still find it hard to believe that we haven’t been able to suss out the identity of the number man (men?). He certainly was a city employee. Hard to believe Mr. Bailey didn’t photograph a staff Christmas party at some point. I wonder if he still has descendants with a trove of old photos.

  10. I just found a real treasure! On May 21, 2015, OregonLive posted a long article about the Number Men. Here are just a few paragraphs from it, along with the link to the whole article. It’s by John Killen, who asks at the end if anyone has information about who the men might have been, giving his contact information.

    “The Number Man is the name given to two or three different men who appear in documentary photos stored in the PARC archives and on PARC’s photo blog, “Vintage Portland.”

    “There are at least two, and maybe three, Number Men, though one shows up more than the others. Number One Man, I’ll call him, wears glasses (tortoise-shell, I think), a three-piece suit, a Homburg hat and he’s usually smoking a pipe. He looks like he pays a lot of attention to the way he’s dressed.”

    “Number Two Man dresses more casually. He usually sports a partially crushed fedora and appears longer and leaner. No glasses and no vest, usually.”


  11. Additional information on the man behind the camera. Lewis J Bailey was featured in a Oregonian story on April 2, 1931 (page 12) for chasing down in his car a hit and run drunk driver, and holding him for the police. The story includes a photo of L J Bailey receiving a $25 reward from the Oregon State Motorist Association for his actions, in the photo L J Bailey is rather young (1900-1961), and his obit from April 9, 1961 says he had been a city employee for 41 years, and was survived by only his wife.

  12. I went to the public library’s digital research tools and looked up Lewis J. Bailey in the Ancestry Library Edition database. A member of his family has contributed a lovely family tree, titled “Lewis James (Bill) Bailey) with a formal photograph of him (headshot) and information about his life. There is a tab to click on, “Media,”which includes scans of numerous newspaper clippings, including the one Dennis mentions above.

    He was married twice — first (in 1922) to Bessie F. Faber (1903-1998) and after a divorce, to Agnes Louise Gilles (1917-1986). The family tree lists that marriage as having taken place in 1942, but the Oregonian has a wedding announcement (with Agnes’photo) dated 1947. Other discrepancies include the name of his father (in the family tree, it was Harry Hosford Bailey; in the wedding announcement, it was Louis H. Bailey.) His draft registration cards for both the First World War and the Second World War are attached to the family tree (and also available independently on the Ancestry Library database). According to the family tree, his relationship to the head of the household in which he died in 1961 was “father,”so perhaps he did have a child?

  13. Liz you added some great details to bring into focus the life of the man behind the camera. (Pun intended) Ancestry shows that photographer Lewis J Bailey (1900- 1961) whose father was Harry Hosford Bailey, also shows a Lewis J Bailey born 1925 whose fathers names Lewis H Bailey. I think part of the confusion is in the spelling of the name Lewis & Louis. The US Census taker from 1910 & 1930 list the photographer as Louis, and as Lewis in 1920 & 1940. I did not know the name of his first wife Bessie Faber (1904) but their 1922 marriage was not a long one. Multnomah County voter reg. has Bessie Faber as single on 9/24/1926, and the Oregonian on 9/2/29 shows Bessie Faber was issued a marriage license.
    Harry Hosford Bailey died May 5, 1944 and was survived by his wife Carrie, brother Fred & son C. P. O. (Chief Petty Officer) Lewis J Bailey (Oregonian 5/6/44 page 11)

    Oregonian May 12, 1944 page 14
    L. J. Bailey, who has been stationed at Williamsburg, Va., for 19 months as chief photographer in the Navy, is in Portland for a brief time, having flown here to attend the funeral of his father Harry H Bailey, who died May 5

  14. Thanks, Dennis. Did you look at Bailey’s draft registration cards? I’m thinking the WWI card showed a youthful handwriting, while the WWII one showed more mature penmanship. It was a bit of a thrill getting so close to the real guy we’ve been researching, if we believe nobody else filled out the cards for him!

  15. Liz I did look at the draft registration cards and agree that his cursive is much better when he was younger, and the same applies to me, I can’t remember when I last wrote a sentence in cursive because my penmanship is terrible. Liz I have a little more info on Bessie & Lewis, I believe that they met on the job. The 1920 US Census shows that 16 year old Bessie is working as a stenographer at City Hall, and her 17 year old sister Clara is working as a message girl at City Hall.

  16. Bailey listed his address as 505 NE Jessup on the WWII registration card. The house is online at various Realty sites (Zillow, Redfin, etc.) — built in 1899, not for sale, but you can see where he lived!

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