South Portland and the Long Shadow of Urban Renewal

November 14, 2020 – Summer 2021

This original AHC exhibit examines the rise, fall, redevelopment, and future of South Portland.

In 2020, a section of Portland near the Willamette River and south of downtown was re-designated as the city’s new “South” quadrant, mostly aimed at making it easier for people to navigate the area. This designation alludes back to an era in the first half of the last century when this area and the surrounding neighborhoods were part of the city’s most ethnically diverse community—and commonly referred to as South Portland.

This exhibit looks at the logic and motivations of city leaders, beginning in the 1950s, whose redevelopment efforts focused on the future at the expense of the city’s past and present. These ambitions and impacted residents, businesses, and property owners in one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. But it also steered a stagnant, conservative city toward a modernist and meticulously planned aesthetic.

Today, a portion of the former urban renewal area is a National Register Historic District while nearby, what remains of the old neighborhood survived decades of change and is also designated historic. South Portland and the Long Shadow of Urban Renewal shows how new places can eventually become historic, while also shedding light on some present-day aspirations for the city that may transform the area once again.

Learn more about the history of South Portland in our online series.

This exhibit is presented with generous support from the Oregon Heritage Commission and the Cathy Galbraith Educational Endowment.

Companion exhibit
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE) is presenting a companion exhibit on the famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, opening June 23. As part of South Portland’s urban renewal, the Portland Development Commission invited Halprin to design a series of fountains downtown, which is now the renowned Portland Open Space Sequence. OJMCHE and AHC members will receive free reciprocal admission to both the Lawrence Halprin and South Portland exhibits.

East Portland: A Changing Landscape, a Forgotten City

Portland Cigar Box Manufacturing Co. (c.1900), Norm Gholston Collection

This original AHC exhibition on the historic city of East Portland focuses on the period from the 1840s to the 1910s. It explores the people who lived there, the impact of the arrival of the railroad and industry, and the changing landscape that in the course of only a few decades turned a flood zone into a thriving city.

What we think of today as Portland covers a broad swath of land on both sides of the Willamette River. In the late 19th century, that same area contained several mostly independent communities, including Albina, St. Johns, Sellwood—and East Portland, a small city on the eastern shore of the river roughly bounded by Division Street to the south, 12th Avenue to the east, and Sullivan’s Gulch to the north. While people had lived in this area for far longer than recorded history, East Portland only existed as an official city for two decades before merging with Portland and Albina in 1891. Learn more in this Lost Oregon blog post. Or read the story of the lost city of East Portland here.

Exhibits presented with support from The Jackson Foundation and the BNSF Railway Foundation.

Practical and Artistic:
The Life and Work of Architect Charles Howard Kable

A bungalow by Charles Howard Kable, c. 1909.

Charles Howard Kable moved to Portland in 1905 from Illinois a few years after he completed his architecture degree at the University of Illinois. He spent over four decades working on buildings in Portland and around Oregon. He worked on projects ranging from the well-known, like an additional to the Meier & Frank Department Store in downtown, to modest small town banks and residences throughout Portland and beyond. 

Support for this exhibit comes from Charles Reifsteck, architect in Illinois who is a member of the same college fraternity as C. Howard Kable, and from Charles Howard Kable’s granddaughter, Mollie Hunt. In 2013, Mollie generously donated and allowed us to scan a collection of C. Howard Kable’s papers, photos, and glass plate negatives. It is this collection that made the exhibit possible and that has shed new light on Kable’s work in Portland and beyond.


Black Exterior, Black Interiors

Albina Arts Center. Photo by Intisar Abioto.

With photos by Intisar Abioto, this exhibit examines the lived history of Black place through images of Black Portlanders in situ – in their homes, at work, creativity, and worship, and in places of architectural, cultural, and historical significance to the city’s African American community. Recently featured in The New York Times, Abioto helped document the places of historic significance to Portland’s Black community, a project recently accepted into the National Register of Historic Places.

Black Exterior, Black Interiors is funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council, the Van Evera and Janet M. Bailey Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, and the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.