Finding Albina

I’ve just finished a research project on a century-old house in the Boise neighborhood, an area known in earlier years as Albina. The house, on North Borthwick, was a rental for many years that held at least 17 different families and dozens of occupants of all ages. The research task was to track down all of the past residents and to learn something about their lives. What a fascinating pleasure it was to unearth the stories from newspaper clips, Polk directories and a handful of remaining public documents.

The part of the neighborhood I was focusing on was a Scandinavian stronghold in the early years: the house was built by a Swedish immigrant and for the first 40 years of its rental life, the house knew only immigrant families.

In the course of the research, I had occasion to read and enjoy a great book by former Northeast Portland resident and author Roy Roos, The History of Albina, which I recommend to readers of this blog.

The back of the book contains a thumbnail history of many properties in the Boise, King, Humboldt and Piedmont neighborhoods. You’ll recognize some of these buildings, particularly the ones up and down Martin Luther King Boulevard. But it’s the front part of the book—the narrative that describes how neighborhood geography has changed over time, and particularly the maps—that will haunt you. So much has been lost in these neighborhoods. Virtually all of Albina has been altered by development of Emanuel Hospital, construction of Interstate 5, and construction of the Fremont Bridge and its various ramps and fly overs. Overlay the map of old Albina on the geography of today and you can get a sense of just how much is gone.

If you are haunted by layers of history and enjoy seeking clues that link today with the past, read Roy’s book and then get out there on the ground, maps in hand, to imagine what must have been. You can find his book at Powell’s and many other booksellers locally and on the internet. Here’s a link to a neat story that ran in The Oregonian following the book’s publication.

Hat’s off to Roy for keeping these stories and places alive.

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