A central commercial and residential area of downtown Portland, called over the years “Skid Road” or as booster Bill Naito renamed it “Old Town,” is generally measured by the Willamette River to the East, the railway yard to the West – demolished in the 2000s and replaced with condominium housing for the affluent called, again by boosters “the Pearl District,” to the South by Burnside Street and to the North again by the curving Willamette River.
Old Town has always been Portland’s vice district. From the first days of white people settling here, opium, alcohol, cheap temporary housing, cheap food, gambling and an off-the-books approach to law enforcement has flourished. What remains today is some of the archeological remnants, cast iron and brick buildings, two to five stories high. Originally these buildings had storefronts to entertain laborers and sailors. Upstairs would be rooms for rent, each about the size of a parking spot. Most buildings from that time – 1900 to 1930 – have been demolished. The remainder are remodeled offices, with some housing managed by churches, social services and private owners – still with people who like opium and alcohol, and where law is prejudiced.
One of the great planning influences on Old Town was a decision to widen Burnside Street from the bridge to the Park Blocks. This required demolishing, moving or de-constructing twenty feet of buildings on both sides of the street. The widening allowed streetcars to drive over the bridge along with autos, meeting lines running North and South on Broadway.
Below, three pictures showing the de-construction. On the right you can see the Broadway Hotel, now the Swindells. On the left, the eight story office building is today seven stories and the Mark O. Hatfield Alcohol and Drug Free Community.
Below is the Mark O. Hatfield Alcohol and Drug Free Community building in 1930 with it’s original twenty feet facing Burnside Street.
Below is the current view of the Mark O. Hatfield Alcohol and Drug Free Community building.