25 thoughts on “SE 2nd Avenue, circa 1940

  1. I recall the Fulton Delicatessen as kind of a grocery store in South Portland near the river off Macadam. Was it associated with today’s McMenamins Fulton Pub, which was originally started by Portland saloon man Jake Reisch circa 1926? When I was a kid Jake had long retired and the place was known as the “Home Tavern” before McMenamins took over in 1988.

  2. Quite different, actually. But first, some context.

    The photographer is looking south along the Union Pacific’s Second Street switching district. This is one of the older switching districts in Portland, with portions dating to the OR&N era, but most of it developed in the 20th century.

    Note the track going east-west at the bottom of the photograph, crossing (or “diamonding” as railroad enthusiast parlance has it) the UP line. This is not, as it might first appear, a track in the next street back (Main) but rather a track that blew right through the center of several blocks. This was the connection between the Portland Traction Company’s Water Street switching district, and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle’s operations on Third.

    Here’s an orientation map, part of my Portland Switching District Project, which presently is in the middle of an update to reflect its second round of photography.

    I am kind of surprised at the pavement. I expected that it would have been tarmac by this time, or perhaps Belgian block, but this appears to be macadam (crushed and pressed gravel), and badly maintained and dirty macadam at that. It must have been a nightmare for truck drivers, but it probably made track maintenance easier for the UP. I note the container for the file was Public Works, filed under traffic engineering, so I wonder if this might have been made to make the case for paving the road properly.

    While today, what little is left of produce business in the area are focused on distribution to the Portland market, at this period, Portland was still a net exporter of produce, and Produce Row (as much of this part of Central Eastside was then known) was a nightmarish hive of industrial scale transloading. Note that, due to block size, rail spurs could only be 200′ long, thus limiting their capacity to about 4-5 freight cars at a time. Distributors here in peak season would be busily receiving truckloads of fruit and veg from the valley, while their salesmen took orders from across the country. The problem was that the truckloads coming in, and the sales going out, exceeded the volume of those loading spurs. The result was that the railroads had to send switchers down these districts multiple times a day to pull loaded, sold carloads and replace them with empty cars. Can you imagine the cacophony of steam locomotives and cars going up and down the street three, four, or five times a day, plus all the trucks coming and going, *plus* crosstown traffic on the east-west streets, all day long? It is little wonder that most of the produce distributors eventually moved to larger and less constrained locations, nor that the city and state pursued the viaduct approaches to the bridges.

    Note, the source for this information is a remarkable thick document produced in the late 1920s by the city’s railroad companies, a study to determine if it was feasible to combine operations in the city’s switching districts in order to reduce costs. The constant demand for switching by the produce shippers of East Portland, however, was *the* poison pill that made such savings impossible, killing the plan. I don’t believe PARC has a copy of the document, but the Portland Terminal still has one, and if they ever part with it, I hope they think kindly of the city’s archives.

  3. Vlad: Christian isn’t really wrong about it, though: just different kinds of grit when the clock strikes six on either side of noon,.

  4. Looked to be a cool morning with a light fog after an earlier rain.
    The delicatessen delivery truck is 1935/36 Willy’s Panel Van, Model 77 – America.
    The other truck is a 1938 Ford (1.5 ton?) delivery truck with an add on box with side and rear loading doors.
    There’s a pair of hands seen in the right margin of a worker about to lay a square board down onto a pallet base.

  5. Alexander: I don’t consider it much difference in the abstract, but thank you for painting in the background detail.

    The viaducts seem like a good idea, but this context likely explains why they really got built. We’re still cursing the spaghetti junction in SE because it didn’t make the same economic case.

    The only surprise in there is no apparent consideration of dumping Portland’s corner-happy grid for superblocks. It seems like this city has a love/hate relationship with them and rarely makes the right decision.

  6. The building address on the right next to the boxcar is at 133 SE Madison but the name of the business is unknown, but the building on the left with the Fulton Grocer – Delicatessen-Meat truck backed up to the loading dock was the location of Ballif Distributing in the 1940’s. Ballif Distributed Mar-Vista Wine & Hamms Beer, so the man from Fulton was likely picking up his order on the loading dock hand truck
    From the 1930’s the Portland Police Sunshine Division showed that a food donation barrel was at Fulton Delicatessen at 1445 SW Macadam Rd., which this location no longer exist. In 1950 there was a story about a burglary at Fulton Provision & Delicatessen which at the time was located at 6407 SW Macadam, and today they are located at 16123 NE Airport Way and owned by SYSCO Foods.

  7. I just went back and checked and the address of 1445 SW Macadam would likely be from the old numbering system, and today would be 6407 SW Macadam

  8. This area looked much the same in the late 1940s and early 1950s when I was a kid, riding the Mt. Tabor streetcar, and later bus, to go downtown. Third Avenue was nearly identical, except for the block between it and Union Ave., just south of Belmont. That block held several tracks that usually held several boxcars.

    Thanks to Alexander Craghead for referencing his project about this area. His video (https://youtu.be/LLCaeXmo-tc) offers more interesting pictures from this era. His flickr page (https://youtu.be/LLCaeXmo-tc) has additional pictures and info about switching districts.

  9. Alexander…any relation to the National Geographic “Craigheads” who I first saw on one of their specials in the 60’s?

  10. Alexander, thanks for your informative writeup! Ditto DJ’s question: Are you related to the National Geographic’s Craigheads, who wrote many fascinating articles in the magazine in the 1950s and ’60s?

  11. Portland at one time was then biggest transhipment point and distribution center on the West Coast. Goods would come by rail from the east and then either loaded on ships to be sent to ports in the Orient or distributed to all areas of the NW and parts of the Rocky Mtn states. Conversely items from the Orient were sent by ship to Portland where they were then sent by rail to their destinations. Also goods and timber, mining and agricultural products were shipped by rail to Portland from all over the NW to be shipped to their destinations east. This accounts for the the docks, large warehouse districts on both sides of the river and the large amount of rail infrastructure. Lots of companies had their headquarters or at least a regional headquarter in Portland. Today Portland has none of these revenue producing endeavors that made it one time the 2nd wealthiest city on the West coast, far ahead of Seattle and LA.

  12. Alexander Craghead — I was so impressed with your comment — SO well written! — that I looked you up online. I’m going to find a copy of your most recent book, The Railway Palaces of Portland, Oregon: The Architectural Legacy of Henry Villard (The History Press, 2016). Thanks for contributing to VP today!

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