Before the Swift Meat Packing company purchased the independent Union Meat Company in 1906, the neighborhood butcher was king; and because of its proximity to the meat-packing plant, Swift formed a company town in Kenton, a North Portland neighborhood bordered by Columbia and Lombard boulevards, Chautauqua Avenue and I-5.
“As Swift went, so did Kenton,” according to Alta Mitchoff, author of the book, History of the Kenton Neighborhood, published in 1997. The company exerted influence in all facets of the area’s life, including housing. Laborers usually lived in single-story frame houses located west of Denver Avenue; and executives often lived in cement-block structures either on or east of Denver Avenue, according to Mitchoff, who wrote “Kenton was mostly a blue-collar neighborhood then (1920s) and still is.”
In 1909, the Swift Meat Packing company built the Kenton Hotel of concrete blocks cast to resemble stone used in many buildings in Eastern Oregon. The hotel was saved from demolition and preserved in 1993. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it houses Kenton Station, a popular restaurant and bar where ghosts are reported to inhabit the basement.
In 1912, the “Kenton, Center of Industry” float won first prize in Portland’s Rose Festival Parade. Swift and Company attracted other manufacturers who prospered in Kenton, including Monarch Mill, Pacific Tank and Pipe, Ajax Auto Traction, Pacific Coast Safe and Vault Works, and U.S. Cash Register Company. The companies brought jobs; and, during WWII, Portland had more shipyards than any place in the country. Kenton thrived until the 1950s when I-5 replaced North Interstate Avenue as the city’s main north-south route, but it’s never lost its sense of community and working-class values.
Garland Horner: Kenton’s swift queen
Garland Horner, a long-time business owner of Insulated Windows in Kenton, is the former chair of Kenton’s Business Association (KBA). In 1976, Horner (named for actress Judy Garland) bought the building that housed the family business.
Although Horner and her family lived in the Northeast Alameda neighborhood for 40 years, she moved to Kenton in 2011 and now lives above the same storefront. “It was always my dream to live upstairs,” said Horner, who, along with her husband Jim, still opens the shop every day at 7 a.m. Their daughter, Alison, and son-in-law, Steve, took over the business after Horner retired.
Horner recalls that 40 years ago Kenton had several vacant buildings and unsavory characters who frequented nine bars and taverns in a three-block area. Younger families moved into Kenton because of its reasonable housing prices, envisioning a library as well as a MAX station. Horner feels a sense of community here and cites walkability, livability and friendly people as reasons to live in Kenton.
In Fall 2011, Horner spotted swifts from her large deck returning to the decommissioned chimney at Mackin’s Auto Repair next door. She called the Audubon Society who counted about 2,500 swifts migrating to Kenton. Horner began hosting swift parties for neighbors to gather and view the “cigar birds.” Horner is well known in Kenton and enjoys fresh eggs laid by her five resident Bantam hens. The “Spice Girls of Denver Avenue” are aptly named Miss Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Curry, Salty and Pepper.
Artists abound in Kenton
In 2011, long-time Kenton resident Troy D. Susan took a wrong turn while scouting a new location for his business, Bamboo Craftsman formerly located on Northeast Fremont Street and 50th Avenue. A large vacant property on North Willis Boulevard in Kenton “was a mess,” according to Susan, who learned it had been previously used as an auto body and repair shop. Susan tapped into his contracting background and vision of what’s possible to negotiate a deal to acquire the Kenton property. After overcoming zoning hurdles and hiring Irvington architect John Kyle, Susan developed a site plan and got to work.
Susan, originally from rural Clark County, Washington, earned a degree in photography from Portland Northwest College of Arts. While in college, he became interested in bamboo as a plant and building material. Soon after he started Bamboo Craftsman in 1999, the business was awarded the best urban oasis, which put his new venture on the map. Using both his artistic side and carpentry skills, his goal, he said, is to “inspire customers by taking an idea, plant, product or material to enhance their indoor or outdoor space.”
Susan leases the yard adjacent to Bamboo Craftsman to Salvage Works and Solabee Flowers. “Preston Browning of Salvage Works and Solabee owners Sarah Helmstetter and Alea Joy are likeminded Kenton business owners who share the vision of recycle, repurpose and restoration projects,” said Susan. All three owners are Kenton residents. Inside Bamboo Craftsman, Susan leases storefront space on North Willis Boulevard to landscape architect Marina Wynton and hairdresser Louie Sayer-Jones who owns Little Shop of Hairs salon. Behind the retail space in Bamboo Craftsman, Susan shares his spacious high-ceiling carpentry shop with fellow carpenters Katie Anderson and Tom Hambleton. Bamboo Craftsman resembles a compound of related businesses, but its outside yard boasts a 30-foot-tall, free-standing structure called a hooch.
In 2013, with the help of Vietnam veteran and carpenter, Joe Scherer, Susan constructed a hooch. Hooch is a modification of the Japanese word for dwelling: uchi house, that later became a slang term for thatched hut. Five supporting poles cut from bamboo trees on his family’s property are 25 inches at the base, tapering to three inches at the top. Susan’s hooch, with views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, is available for special occasions and short stays.
Susan said North Willis Boulevard is a hot spot for Kenton businesses on Third Thursdays, with live bands playing and showcasing local art. “It was my vision to have garden space and host private events at Bamboo Craftsman,” said Susan.
Drop by Bamboo Craftsman to discuss Susan’s vision for other Kenton business ventures, including a Seed and Feed store to replace the former Kenton Supply store. For store hours, visit bamboocraftsman.com or call (503) 285-5339.
Little Red Press: A family affair
On January 1, 2007, sisters Lisa and Kerry McPherson started their screen-printing business in North Portland, after moving here from Los Angeles to take care of their mother who had cancer. In October 2012, they opened a 1,000-square-foot shop on North Denver Avenue in Kenton, with room for retail in the front of the store and printing equipment in back.
“Providing good customer service is the foundation of our business. We like helping clients with their ideas; not just pushing some electronic button for design,” said Kerry.
Lisa adds, “We don’t want to be a big gigantic corporation. Hands-on and having eyes on the product is important to us.” Paying attention to details in their screen-printing process is paramount to the sisters, who produce apparel, bags and scarves. They help local musicians, including their brother, Scott, a drummer with prominent Portland singer/songwriter M. Ward, by offering them retail space in which they can sell arts and crafts.
Scott is a leather artisan who makes wallets. Other musicians who consign their work to Little Red Press (LRP) include Rachel Blumberg, former drummer with the Decemberists; a painter whose prints can be purchased at LRP; and Catherine Lazar Odell, an illustrator who sells a line of greeting cards.
It feels like family at the LRP. “It’s a benefit to work with a sister. The trust is built-in, and we often have a dialogue without verbalization,” said Lisa. For more information, visit Little Red Press at 8124 N. Denver Ave., go online at littleredpress.com or call (503) 449-5526.
Posie’s Bakery and Cafe
Jessie Burke, owner of Posie’s Bakery and Cafe at 8208 N. Denver Ave., is the current chair of the Kenton Business Association. Burke, who’s lived in Kenton for 10 years, opened the Cafe in 2009. She added the bakery and outsources products to Green Zebra Grocery, Blend Coffee House on North Killingsworth Avenue, and sells gluten-free pastries to Heart. Kenton business owners marvel at Burke’s enthusiasm and boundless energy, citing examples of Burke organizing the first Kenton street fair in 2010, decorating vacant store fronts on North Denver Avenue for the holidays and organizing volunteers to help Asfaw Chaneyalew improve his store front at Triple Crown Market.
“Kenton has a different culture here. Practically everyone who owns a business in Kenton lives in the community. We’re like a village,” said Burke. Rich Marsubian, owner of Smoke It Up, which specializes in tobacco products at 8213 N. Denver Ave., recently raised $750 by selling raffle tickets to benefit Kenton’s Meals-on-Wheels program. It’s yet another example of how the Kenton community pulls together to support its neighbors.
Fang & Feather
“Fang & Feather carries everything a pet owner could need from a pet store,” said owner Nancy Fedelem, who opened her second pet store in Kenton one year ago. Customers from Fedelem’s Salty’s Dog and Cat Shop located on Mississippi Avenue, encouraged her to open a pet store in Kenton, so when Shop Labor Ready moved out of the 1,200-square-foot space at 1926 N. Kilpatrick St., she jumped at the chance to lease it. “It was an easy transition to make from the Mississippi neighborhood. Kenton had a familiar feel and like mindset of business owners,” said Fedelem.
Convincing shoppers that small stores can be competitive with big-box stores can sometimes be challenging, according to Fedelem, “but our product knowledge and customer service gives us an edge. We wouldn’t sell anything that we’re not willing to feed our own pets.” Mississippi neighborhood resident Fedelem adopted Parker, a Border Collie and Lab mix from Pixie Project in early 2013. “He’s a kind and gentle tri-pod dog who’d be great as a therapy dog with kids,” said Fedelem, who often brings Parker to Fang & Feather.
On the first Sunday of every month from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Fedelem offers a good neighbor vet pet vaccine clinic at Fang & Feather. Kenton business owner Lisa McPherson of Little Red Press, takes her terrier, Gracie Allen to the clinic, citing affordable prices for vaccines. For more information, visit fangandfeatherpdx.com or call (503) 972-5822.
Old and new food markets
Residents and visitors to Kenton find two distinctly different types of food markets in the neighborhood. Ethiopian/American Asfaw Chaneyalew has owned Triple Crown Market, located at 8203 N. Denver Ave., for fourteen years. Chaneyalew knows what items customers want and he strives to get it. He’s gotten to know his customers over the years and “as they experience life’s ups and downs, I try to give them positive input.” Chaneylew expressed frustration at not being able to meet some customer’s needs, including perishable goods, because either his market is too small or he can’t get distributors to come in.
In January 2013, twenty Kenton volunteers worked to help Chaneyalew improve his business by cleaning and rearranging items in the store. The KBA advised him to replace the windows and make other renovations to improve the site. “Mona and Asfaw are good advocates for the neighborhood; and you can find practically anything you need in their store,” said Burke, owner of Posie’s Cafe.
In October 2013, Green Zebra Grocery, an upscale food market carrying healthy and local foods, opened on 3011 N. Lombard Street. “It’s like a New Seasons Market in a convenience-store-size space,” said Jessie Burke, who also wholesales bakery items from Posie’s Cafe. The store offers options not available at Triple Crown Market, like ready-to-go meals and a meat counter.
Kenton Neighborhood Association
Meegan Watts, an office manager for a small environmental concern in Northeast Portland, has lived in Kenton for four years and was elected chair of the Kenton Neighborhood Association (KNA) in February 2013. She cites two big issues facing Kenton: noise from trains and Portland International Raceway (PIR), and land use. “Noise pollution from PIR has generated complaints for 50 years,” said Ryan Pittel, KNA Board’s vice chair. However, relationships are improving with PIR based on increased communications. “It’s quiet now until February when racing season starts again,” said Pittel.
Unfortunately, negotiations with railroad companies are at a standstill concerning noise from trains blasting their horns as they approach stops along Columbia Boulevard. According to Robert Doeckel, chair of the train quiet zone subcommittee for KNA, the railroad company’s inclusion of three rarely used private crossings or spurs in addition to three Kenton intersections, makes qualifying for the federal quiet zone designation more difficult. “We think the night-time quiet zone (from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) is a good compromise between respecting the needs of Kenton residents and ensuring safety of train employees, customers, and the general public,” said Doeckel.
The Pearl District has a quiet zone, according to Watts, but it was a privately funded solution. Watts believes one solution to Kenton’s noise issue is to have the city of Portland collaborate with KNA to find cost-effective solutions to address the federal railroad authority and reduce noise impacts.
Land-use issues are also a big concern to Kenton residents. A two-acre lot near the intersection of North Brandon Avenue and Argyle Street has potential for high-density residential or light industrial use, but proposals to develop the property have so far been blocked. The topic will be on the table again in January 2014. “City groups need to collaborate and do what’s helpful for its citizens to help a community thrive,” said Watts.
Watts cited the “Swift Planning Group: Lombard Re-imagined” as a positive example of collaboration. The guidebook, based on 116 proposals, was adopted by Friends of Lombard group who are currently seeking grants from Metro Enhancement for emergency preparedness response and public safety improvements.
Sustaining growth while staying true to its working class origins gives residents hope that Kenton’s future is bright. As Troy D. Susan, owner of the Bamboo Craftsman said, “We have a history of do-it-yourself, which is a way of life in Kenton.”