History of the Irvington Neighborhood
This page is adapted, with permission, from a history of Irvington researched and written by Carl Townsend of Net Adventures. Mr. Townsend's original work is posted here. The Irvington Community Association is grateful to Mr. Townsend for his extensive work on this history and has not attempted to verify the accuracy or sources of the information on this page. The research for this history, with the exception of recent demographic data, was done in 1995-96.
The Early History
The Irvington neighborhood is named for Captain William Irving, a steamboat captain of renown from Scotland. Captain Irving was born in Scotland in 1816 and sailed to Boston at the age of 15. Ten years later Irving became a captain, and in 1849 decided to come to Oregon Territory by way of Sacramento. He unloaded cargo for the California gold fields, then came north to Portland. In June of 1849 he purchased what was then Block 12 of the Portland townsite and began a business of transporting lumber from California to Portland.
In 1851 Captain Irving married 18-year-old Elizabeth Dixon, who had traveled with her family from Indiana to Oregon by prairie schooner (a large covered wagon) the year before. After they were married, they were granted a square-shaped donation land claim bounded by Fremont on the North, Tillamook on the South, 7th Avenue on the West and 24th Avenue on the East. There was also a narrow panhandle-like strip included that ran from what is now Halsey, Broadway, and Schuyler to the Willamette River near the current location of the Broadway bridge. The western half (from 15th) was in Elizabeth's name, the eastern half in William Irving's name. The total land claim was 635 acres with 1600 feet of river frontage, and was patented in 1865 and recorded in 1887.
Irving had a different set of values than those of the farmers in the area at the time as well as the urban dwellers who later settled the land. Being a seafaring man, he enjoyed the river frontage and the timber on the land. With his friend George Shaver (his borther-in-law, married to Elizabeth's sister), they could cut the the heavy timber on the land and found it was an excellent source of fuel for Irving's steamboats. Shaver street, named for George Shaver, is just north of Fremont.
The Captain built a large house of redwood in a Gothic style on a rise near the river where he and his wife raised five children there over nine years: Mary, John, Susan, Elizabeth, and Nellie. The location is marked today with a stone and plaque across from the Memorial Coliseum sign board.
In 1859, the family moved to New Westminister, Canada, where Irving pioneered steam navigation on the Fraser River, prospering greatly. There, with Alexander Murray and the Jamison brothers, he built the first steamer constructed in British Columbia. His Portland house remained in the family occupied next by Elizabeth Irving's sister and her husband, George Shaver. For this reason this original house is referred to historically as the "Shaver House" and no longer exists today. There was also a second house built in 1884 that was near the first that was occupied by Irving's daughter, Elizabeth Spencer, and her husband. This "Spencer House" was moved to its current location on NE 12th between Brazee and Knott (2611 N.E. 12th) in 1911 to make room for the Broadway Bridge. Today the Spencer House is the oldest house in the neighborhood.
William Irving became a leading citizen in New Westminister and died there at age 56 in 1872. At the time of his death, he was the head of his profession, admired by even his business rivals who considered his death as an irreparable loss. One who knew him well said at the time of his death that "his purse was always at the disposal of any one in need, and his generosity was unrestricted by class, faith, or nationality. He knew no distinction in his bounty, and never allowed a former injury to interfere with a present occasion for timely aid. He was a true gentleman in the true sense of the term." Elizabeth Irving moved back to Portland a few years later to manage her half of the land claim.
The Pre-War Years
The Irving land claim at this time had really two components: the eastern component from 15th eastward called John Irving's First Addition, and the western part (Elizabeth's portion) from 7th to 15th called West Irvington. To the west of West Irvington was a small town of Albina. The Albina housing consisted primarily of low-income housing and one-half-story late Victorian cottages. At the time of the Irving claim the Irvington area was almost all farms and forests.
In 1887, Elizabeth sold the eastern part of the land claim to a consortium that included David P. Thompson, John W. Brazee, and Ellis G. Hughes. Hughes was a leading developer at the time and founded the Irvington Investment Company. Hughes planned to develop Irvington as a self-contained middle to upper class residential district of approximately 120 double blocks, with eleven set aside for a park. Commercial activity would be prohibited. They platted the land (mapping it, dividing into building lots) for this in approximately 1884. Housing construction started in 1890 for this exclusive community. To maintain this exclusiveness, heavy restrictions were placed on those who built there - stronger than probably anywhere else in Portland. These restrictions remained in place for 25 years. The houses had to be at least 25 feet back from the property line, lots were a minimum of 50 feet, no commercial business was allowed, and each residence must cost at least $2,500. You were also not allowed to makeliquor at a residence in the neighborhood. The area has historically contained some of Portland's largest houses. "A great place," as Lowe (a realtor) once wrote in a letter, "for lumber people."
The Holladay Addition south of Irving had an important effect on the history of the Irving neighborhood. The Holladay Addition was named for the colorful Ben Holladay. Holladay had little to do with that land claim, which was purchased by Holladay's assistant, George Weidler in 1870 and platted in 1871. In a partnership with John Mitchell and Samuel Smith, they laid out this Holladay's Addition about 1870. Part of the Irving claim was purchased in the same year as a part of this Addition. Weidler sold some of the Holladay Addition property in 1872 to a real estate company he owned to start development. Like Irvington, the target development of the Holladay Addition was for upper middle class and the more affluent. Unlike Irvington, there is very little left today of the early homes in the Holladay Addition, the current location of the Lloyd Corporation developments. There is one house at Wasco Street and 15th, and another east of 20th between Broadway and Sullivan's Gulch.
Weidler, with Holladay, was involved with the first electric light plant in Portland. Weidler eventually became agent for all Portland steamboat lines. Most of the streets of the area bear steamboat names: Wasco, Multnomah, Hassalo, Wallamett, and Salem were riverboats, and Pacific and Oregon were ocean-going ships. Glisan was named after a prominent city doctor. Incidentally, Glisan Street had one of the city's first streetcar lines, with horse-drawn carriages making the run.
Portland was incorporated as a separate city in 1870 with a population of 1500. Multnomah county was created in 1854. The Morrison Bridge was the first Willamette River bridge at Portland and was built in 1887, the Steel Bridge in 1888, and the Broadway Bridge was not opened until 1913.
In 1891 East Portland and the small town of Albina were consolidated with Portland with a population of just under 50,000, about 5000 of which were Chinese brought here for cheap farm labor and house servants. Front street was the only paved street, actually cobblestones. When annexed to the city, some street names were changed. Irving street became Knott, 17th was renamed to Thompson, and 21st to Brazee. Three streets were given Native American names: Klickitat, Siskiyou, and Tillamook. In the Holladay Addition, Wallamett became what is now Irving, Salem became Hoyt, Grant became Hancock, Montgomery became Schuyler, and Clay became Broadway. 4th became Union and now Martin Luther King, and 5th became Grand. Here is some background of a few street names.
- Brazee - named after John W. Brazee, who came to Oregon about 1858 after eight years of gold mining in California. He built the first railroad in Oregon and was in charge of building the locks at Oregon City. He died in 1887 at the age of 59.
- Hancock - named for Winfield S. Hancock, a northern general in the Civil War. He was also the Democratic candidate for president in 1880, defeated by James Garfield.
- Klickitat - one of three streets named with the platt for an Indian tribe. The tribe lived in what is now Klickitat County in Washington, numbering about 700 in 1805 by the Lewis and Clark's account. They were primarily traders.
- Knott - named after A. J. Knott, who owned land near the Knott and Kerby location today. Knott was the owner and operator of the Stark Street Ferry, a principal connection link between the west and east sides of the city for years. The ferry operated successfully, even with the bridges built, until one of the bridges became free.
- Shaver - named after George Washington Shaver, husband of Sarah Dixon, the sister-in-law of William Irving. George Shaver, like William Irving, was a leading figure in river transportation. Shaver's son, George McClellan Shaver, carried on the steamboating tradition. The Shaver Transportation Company is still in the active tugboat business in Portland.
- Siskiyou - one of three streets name with the platt for an Indian tribe. The tribe lived in Southern Oregon.
- Thompson - named for David Thompson, one of the leading developers of the Irvington community. He was mayor of Portland 1879-1982, and was a friend of Ulysses S. Grant. Thompson had property in Irvington, and the street was named when the area was platted. He bequeathed to the city the famous Thompson Elk fountain on SW Main, erected in 1900.
- Tillamook - one of three streets named with the platt for an Indian tribe. The Indian tribe lived around Tillamook Bay. It numbered 2200 in 1805 according to Lewis and Clark, but only about 200 in 1849.
By 1890 trolley lines linked downtown to the east side, and by 1906 there were trolleys on Broadway and Multnomah. The Broadway car went east on Broadway to 24th, with every second or third car going up Regents Drive to 29th to serve the Alameda district. The Multnomah (or Irving) car came from town up Grand, turned east on Multnomah, and then down 15th to Tillamook, running east on Tillamook. The Tillamook extension was eventually abandoned in favor of the car moving on up 15th to Knott and later even further to Prescott. The trolley was the principal means of transportation at the time, as the automobile was not yet practical. Horse drawn buggies were not practical for this part of Portland, and there were no facilities for housing the horses. Automobiles appeared in 1909 and 1910 among the wealthy, but these were mostly for recreational use. Even in 1916, most commercial vehicles were still horse drawn. The trolley ride only cost a nickel. The closest shops were around 24th and Fremont, and this shopping area still exists today.
Elizabeth Irving married A. G. Ryan in 1887 and leased a far western portion of the claim to a W. S. Dixon for five years. The lease stipulated that no improper, unlawful, or offensive use of the property could be made, and was assigned to an innocent-sounding Multnomah Fair Association. The Multnomah Fair Association, in turn, was soon operating a race track in the area currently bounded by Fremont on the North, 7th on the West, 12th on the East, and probably to about Knott or Brazee on the south. The barns and stables were approximately where Irving Park is today. It was popular with businessmen who returned to their homes in the area for the weekend but worked downtown during the week.
In 1905 Elizabeth sued the MFA, claimed the terms of the lease were violated. There was an extensive legal hassle, but eventually Elizabeth regained the land. She eventually divorced Ryan, claiming him a drunkard. Later the racetrack property was laid out in lots. A 1908 prospectus brochure described part of the former racetrack now being developed as "Prospect Park", an area between Knott, Siskiyou, 7th and 14th, and the highest point in Irvington. It overlooked Holladay Park, the current location of Lloyd Center. The residential area had asphalt streets, cement walks, sewer, water, and gas. In 1912 Augustana Lutheran Church built its parsonage for their minister in part of what had been the racetrack.
Elizabeth died a widow in 1922 as scattered housing dotted the land claim.
The Irvington Development
In 1908 most of the beautiful homes were along Tillamook, Thompson, Brazee, and Knott as well as the connecting streets. There were many vacant lots north and east. North of Brazee about 14th and 15th was open woods and brush with some cows tethered, which upset the more upscale neighbors and the owner eventually removed them. Intersections were planked so one could cross streets in the rain and mud.
The Irvington School south of Brazee at 13th and 14th (1320 N.E. Brazee) was originally a wooden two-story structure that was built in 1905 near its current location. The brick building at the current location was built in 1932 and opened in 1933. Grant High School, east of the neighborhood, also serves the Irvington neighborhood.
The Irvington Club on Thompson between 21st and 22nd dates to about 1910 or 1911. Northward of the club and still south of Brazee was a park at one time, which disappeared in the 1920s.
- Frank Doernbecher residence at 2323 NE Tillamook (Built 1902).
- Spencer/Thomas home at 2611 NE 12th Ave. (Built 1884) was originally owned by E. W. Spencer, husband of William Irving's daughter Elizabeth. It was originally near the Willamette River, but moved in 1911 to prepare for the Broadway Bridge, which opened in 1913.
- Arts and Crafts style at 1908 NE 24th.
- Babcock house at 2607 NE 20th (1912).
- Freiwald Residence at 1810 NE 15th (1906).
- The White House at 1914 22nd (1912). Built by Robert F. Lytle, a wealthy lumberman for $40,000. Eclectic (multiple types of material and sources) in style. This is also known as the Hawley house, its second owner.
The primary home heating was by cord wood. Where coal furnaces were used, they often use Gasco briquettes. Some homes had electricity for lighting, but the electricity was used for little else. The carbon lamp quality was poor, and may still preferred the gas lights and used gas for cooking.
About 75 homes in the area are designated as being historically significant. Tours are given each year the Sunday after Mother's day. Extensive information about the houses of Irvington can be found in Roy Roos' book, History & Development of Portland's Irvington Neighborhood.
The Lloyd Development
South of Irvington in 1923 a Ralph B. Lloyd purchased the property where the Metro center now sits (and Sears before it) for $5000. Lloyd was a multimillionaire oilman from California who had as his vision the building of a pre-planned city in the area of the Holladay Addition and had the money to do it. This eventually led to the opening of Lloyd Center in 1960, at the time the largest shopping mall in the world. This would have a major effect on the residential Irvington community.
Ellis Hughes with the Irvington Investment Company was the principal developer of the Irvington community. After the war around 1920-1923 the sales were slow, development had started at Rose City Park and Laurelhurst, and the city was trying to auction over 4000 city lots for delinquent taxes. For a potential npurchaser as Lloyd, this was an ideal time to come into the Portland real estate market with lots selling for one-third their value. Although Lloyd did not purchase Irvington property, many people expected him to move that direction and destroy its residential uniformity.
The man most responsible for keeping the Irvington community residential was Major General Charles H. Martin, the late Hughes son-in-law, and now president of the Hughes Investment Company and eventually governor of Oregon. Through his banker friend John Ainsworth (chairman of the city planning commission), Martin was able to keep the city from auctioning off the Irvington properties. Such an action would have reduced the value of Martin's own lots. Even as early as 1921, however, the realtor (Lowe of Ritter & Lowe, who was working with Martin and Lloyd) was able to perceive that changes were starting on the southern edge of Irvington - apartments and flats were starting. The newer additions further out were now reachable by automobile and were much lower in cost than the Irvington properties. Eventually Martin became discouraged by the southern encroachment and sold 80% of his Irvington property in 1922.
Lloyd's dream was a city within a city and included a shopping center, civic center, hotel, apartments, and recreational facilities (golf course, baseball stadium). Single family residential units where not a part of the plan. Lloyd remained in California to develop his vision, but traveled here several times a year. He became very frustrated with his Portland investments, feeling local businesses did not provide enough financial incentives for his plans. He died in 1953, seven years before Lloyd Center opened.
There are three reasons given for the eventual commercialization of the Holladay Addition: three bridges that brought new commercial traffic, the removal of the zoning restrictions along Broadway, and the development of the Lloyd Center. Another important factor was the fast growth of high-rise apartments in the area.
Churches of Irvington
Here are the main churches/parachurches within and on the boundary of Irvington today:
- Augustana Lutheran, 2710 NE 14th. Augustana Lutheran started as a church for Swedish immigrants at Stanton and Rodney (outside the neighborhood). It had no English services until 1925.
- Central Lutheran, 2104 NE Hancock.
- Holladay Park Church of God, 2120 NE Tillamook. Holladay Park Church of God, like Augustana and Westminister, started outside the neighborhood in the southeast (perhaps at the current location of Nordstrom's) and then on Failing Street, and eventually to its present Tillamook location.
- Metanoia Peace Community, 2116 NE 18th.
- Mt. Zion Baptist, 831 NE Fremont.
- Northeast Community Fellowship, 636 NE Stanton.
- St. Mary Madeleine Catholic, 3123 NE 24th.
- Sister House, 2434 NE 15th.
Westminster Presbyterian, 1624 NE Hancock. Westminster Presbyterian Church was started in 1889 with its first building at 10th and Weidler in the Holladay Addition. Although the church members originally wished to place this church in Irvington, the residential-only zoning restrictions of the area at the time precluded this possibility. The current site of Westminster Presbyterian church is within the Irving neighborhood at 15th and Hancock. The Gothic-inspired building was built in 1914. The Gothic architecture has pointed arches designed to lift the eyes and soul upward.
One very interesting fact about these Irvington churches is that there are few churches within the original Irvington Addition boundary today. The community was zoned residential, and due to the increasing pressure of the commercialization from the Holladay Addition and Lloyd's financial interest there was very strong zone enforcement, and this included churches. The southern boundary at that time was Tillamook, and the Holladay Park Church of God is on the south side of this street, outside the original boundary. Westminster Presbyterian and Central Lutheran and further south, but within the current neighborhood boundaries. Mt. Zion Baptist and Northeast Community are outside on the North and West, respectively. Those within the former boundaries are Augustana Lutheran, Metanoia Peace, Sister House, and St. Mary Madeleine Catholic. Metanoia Peace Community and Sister House meet in homes. Fremont United Methodist is in the original boundary, but outside the current boundary. The "outside churches", however, are on the boundary, much like gates to the neighborhood. Augustana Lutheran built its parsonage on some of the former race track land.
Several years ago (about the time of the '92 crusade) there was a Providence Baptist Church at 3200 NE 21st Street just south of Fremont. It was a small church and the membership dwindled to near zero. The building burned several years ago, but it does not appear to have been from arson. The church does not exist there now.
The Irvington Community Association began in 1965 in an attempt by a group of community leaders to response to the deterioration of the neighborhood. A primary leader in this was Herbert Amerson (a black Northwest Bell Executive who resided in the neighborhood since 1958) and Rev. Robert Bonthius, then minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church in the area. Rev. Bonthius spoke of the "flight from race", muggings, lack of compliance with zoning ordinances, insufficient youth activities, inadequate street lighting, and the lack of a centrally located park. More than 400 people crowded into the Irvington School auditorium to head the appeals of these leaders. This was indicative of the interest of the residents, and the community has taken ownership of a new vision from that time.
The sixties were a time of racial turmoil in America, yet Irvington was recognized as a "model of a racially integrated community." This is particularly remarkable when one considers that about a century earlier it was illegal for a black to live in Portland. Dr. Bonthius was devoted not only to evangelism, but to social action as well as was an active participant in the revitalizing of the Irvington neighborhood. Bonthius referred to their success in integrating the blacks as one of the community's chief values and stated his belief that "America is destined to be a land of liberty and justice for all, where white and black live and work together. We hope to sell Irvington as an all-American place to live where people take pride in the reality of an integrated community." President Carter visited Portland in 1978 and spent a night at a home in Irvington. The house was considered an example of a "restored" older home in the neighborhood was chosen then as an example of an integrated and restored neighborhood.
Dr. Bonthius expressed strong views on the issues of civil rights, segregation, economic and social injustice, and the Vietnam war - even from the pulpit. As with many churches in America at the time, the people weren't ready for these messages and many pastors paid the price. Dr. Bonthius was one of these, leaving the church in 1966. He was ahead of his time.
In July of 1967 a riot broke out at Irving Park in the neighborhood that was a reflection of growing discontentment of the quality of life of the blacks. Incited by outsiders, the riots lasted two nights. Two local pastors, Wendell Wallace and O.B.Williams, were called to walk the streets and try to bring peace to about eighty rioters there. As Reverend Wallace recalls:
"On Sunday night in 1967 I was called by the Portland Police to walk the streets to get the kids to go home ... I called Mayor Terry Shrunk, and told him he better come to the park and talk with the young people because the kids were about to burn things up. The Wiedmer Brewery was already set on fire. He came and things calmed down."
Although the vision of a model integrated community was held by Bonthius, Amerson, and others, this vision was never actually achieved in practice. The 1990 U.S. Census shows the upper Northwest corner of the neighborhood as 54% black, with the eastern side of the neighborhood showing black percentages of 6.8% (southeast) to 8.5% (northeast).
The current neighborhood boundaries are from 7th on the West to 26th on the East, south to Broadway and North to Fremont. A northeast portion is carved out for the Sabin and Alameda neighborhoods, limiting the north boundary to Siskiyou east of 11th and Knott east of 21st. According to information from the 2000 census posted on a City of Portland website, the general boundaries contain 415 acres, 3159 residences, and 6,684 residents.
The current housing stock varies from older mansions (southeast and south), to modest tract-type houses (northwest near Irving Park), to apartments (southern edge). In addition to the houses mentioned previously, the houses along Tillamook and Hancock as well as the houses at 15th and Knott Street best symbolize the richness of the early residences.
The primary agent dedicated to keeping the neighborhood strong is the Irvington Community Association. The current plans include tighter zoning control, traffic dividers, urban renewal from 7th to Martin Luther King, more trees, underground wiring, and expansion of the Irvington School site. Low-interest loans are available for house renovation.
To many of the residents, the strength and weakness of the Irvington neighborhood are the same: the houses. The houses are not new, but spacious and comfortable. About half of the housing was built years ago between 1920 and 1939, most of the rest are even older. The houses were built well, but need care to survive. Commercial interests and apartments encroach from the Holladay Addition. The neighborhood has an extraordinary mix of ethnic groups and young couples.
- Friedman, Elaine S. The Facts of Life in Portland. (Portland Possibilities: Portland, 1993).
- MacColl, E. Kimbark. The Growth of a City. (The Georgian Press: Portland, 1979).
- Moreland, Kimberly S.. "The Christian Church in the Black Community". (Oregon Humanities, Summer, 1994).
- Oregon Historical Society, neighborhood news clippings.
- Portland: Its History and Buildings. Vol. 3. S.J. (Clarke Publishing Co., 1911).
- Synder, Eugene E. Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origins. (Binford & Mort: Portland, 1979).
- Watson, Esther. Westminster Presbyterian Church 1889-1979. (Hodson Col: Portland).
- Percepts Analysis, 1995.