Another Williams Avenue View – Looking South

We’ve come across another outstanding early 1900s vantage point from Williams Avenue that you’re going to want to see (thanks Norm). This one is a nice southward-looking companion to the northward shot we featured a few months back. Be sure to study both and to take a good look at the Sanborn we assembled to get a feel for this long-gone place that was once a hub of activity for this part of Portland.

First, have a good look at the south view; then check out the north view that we’ve seen before. Then let’s discuss.

Looking south on Williams Avenue from Graham. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.


Looking north on Williams Avenue from Russell. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston.

What do you see?

Let’s start by looking at the northward image, where you can just about see where this southward view was taken. See the picket fence that appears below the steeple of the Immaculate Heart Church and the bushy tree? Nearby, check out the utility pole that is leaning toward the street.

Now, look at the southward view: there’s the picket fence and the bushy tree behind our man in the hat scratching his face (and the leaning utility pole). That should help put things in perspective and establishes the photo was taken from the corner of Graham and Williams.

The crank on the pole (you can see others like it in the northward photo) allows for periodic maintenance of the carbon arc streetlight hanging overheard.

Look how fresh and clean those curbs and sidewalks look. Chances are they were built by Elwood Wiles, a household name you can still see today stamped into sidewalks all over the eastside.

The Willliams Avenue streetcar tracks owned the middle of the street, with streetcars headed north/south to St. Johns, which were shifted over to Union Avenue about 1911. No automobiles to be seen.

Look at all the awnings: in the southward photo shading the west side of the street from morning sunlight (and it might still be somewhat early judging on the length of the shadows that spill out into the street).

Check out the onion-shaped dome from the old Hill Block building at the corner of NE Russell and Williams, which can be seen today in Dawson Park. That intersection was the center of the universe for early Albina and a crucial part of the African-American cultural landscape well up until when it was torn down in 1969. That block has been vacant ever since, but planning conversations are underway.

Albina’s Williams Avenue, 1909

The loss and complete transformation of what was once a vital Albina main street will always haunt this North Portland neighborhood, in so many different ways. Important chapters of Portland history have played out here, from the early days of being its own city before becoming part of Portland, through waves of immigration, to Civil Rights protests and the vibrancy of African-American owned business, life and culture.

Today, if you don’t know this history, you might drive north on Williams past Emanuel Hospital and not know you are traveling through a kind of sacred ground.

To help us imagine this lost place, here’s a pretty amazing photo from AH photo friend Norm Gholston, and a then-and-now shot we matched up during a recent outing. Norm shared this great old pic recently: it’s the image side of a “real photo” postard, popular in this era. Click to enlarge and take a good look.

Taken from just north of the intersection with Russell Street, the 1909 photo features a look at the Kennard and Adams department store on the left, which carried a little bit of everything. The first intersection in the distance is Knott Street. That’s the Immaculate Heart Church steeple at Williams and Stanton you can see in the distance, the only common denominator that really jumps out at you from the two photos (known back in the day as St. Mary’s Church, not St. Mark’s as the Sanborn implies).

Here’s a composite of several Sanborn maps we put together to be able to visualize where Norm’s 1909 photo was taken. The red box indicates the approximate photo point. Click to enlarge.

Details from Sanborn plates 268, 273 and 274, from 1909.

If you ride, walk or drive this way—or if you didn’t know the history of this amazing stretch of street—take a moment to check out the following  multiple sources of insight about what this neighborhood meant during its heyday, and how its loss has affected the people who knew it:

Historic Black Williams Project

An article about Albina in the Oregon Encyclopedia

A nice rewind that looks back across the years by The Oregonian

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