By Kathy Eaton
photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Sullivan’s Gulch photos here.
Crimes and misdemeanors
The Kerns neighborhood wasn’t always a desirable place in which to live, according to Jim Kautz, general manager of Bitar Companies, a commercial real estate company located at 2929 E. Burnside St. According to Kautz, Lebanese immigrant brothers Robert and Frank Bitar founded a grocery store in 1920 near Northeast Couch Street and 29th Avenue. During the 1930s, the brothers bought up commercial real estate and relocated their market to Northeast 28th Avenue. According to Kautz, the neighborhood once described as having a small-town feel with nice homes, trees and local services subsequently deteriorated as empty storefronts attracted transients and unsavory characters moved in.
In 1982, a survey of Kerns residents listed crime prevention and land use decisions as their top two issues. The Kerns Neighborhood Action Plan dated July 1987, claimed the crime rate in Kerns exceeded the city’s average by 48 percent. By 2013, Kerns’ crime rate per 1,000 residents significantly declined and is comparable to nearby Sullivan’s Gulch and Buckman neighborhoods. All three neighborhoods reported far fewer crimes than the Lloyd district.
Kerns turns the corner
Kautz said the neighborhood began changing in the 1990s after Starbucks moved into the building formerly occupied by a pharmacy at the corner of East Burnside and Northeast 28th Avenue. Starbucks brought a different clientele to the neighborhood when young families started moving in and demographics started shifting from non-owner occupied units to more permanent homeowners.
Kerns neighborhood is bounded on the west by the Willamette River, on the south by Burnside Street, on the north by I-84 and on the east by Northeast 32nd Avenue. The southern boundary between Northeast 28th and 32nd avenues extends to Southeast Stark Street.
Kerns’ hidden gems
“We’re a hidden gem in the Kerns neighborhood,” said Amy Miner, marketing and communications manager for Albertina Kerr, 424 N.E. 22nd Ave. “We invite everyone to visit whether it’s to volunteer, consign and sell items at Albertina’s Closet or enjoy a great meal at our restaurant. All proceeds help children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.”
In 1910, 20-year-old Albertina Sechtem married the Kerr canning jar magnet, but within a year, she died of typhus. Alexander Kerr subsequently donated their home on Northwest 14th Street in Portland to be used as a nursery for single mothers. When the nursery exceeded its capacity, Kerr and his third wife donated $10,000 to build the Albertina Kerr Nursery Home on Northeast 22nd Avenue between Northeast Glisan and Flanders streets. Designed by Portland architect Folger Johnson, the stately Georgian-style brick building built in 1921 is distinguished by outside medallions modeled after Andrea della Robbia’s 16th-century orphanage facade in Florence, Italy.
Records show at its height in 1928, Kerr Nursery cared for 306 babies. According to Kerr’s historian Connie West, “children appeared well-cared for whether they were foundlings abandoned by their parents or wards of the court system.” Original photographs documenting orphanage daily life line the walls or are archived inside the building.
In 1967, the Nursery closed its operation as an institution for the direct care of infants and shifted to offering foster homes and community based care.
By 1981, a group of dedicated volunteers had raised funds to preserve the historic building and annex to continue Albertina Kerr’s legacy. Today about 350 volunteers administer and staff four businesses in Albertina’s Place: Albertina’s Kitchen, Albertina’s Closet, Albertina’s Heirlooms and Albertina’s Jewel Box. For more information: Visit kerrshops.org, or call (503) 239-8101.
Bordering the Laurelhurst neighborhood, The Movement Center (TMC), 1021 N.E 33rd Ave., is a non-profit organization established in 1971 to promote spiritual practice, offering a variety of classes, retreats and programs. Built in 1912 as The Mann Old Peoples Home for wealthy women, the building was subsequently purchased in the 1980s by Kaiser Permanente as a drug treatment center for youth. In 1992, the Nityananda Institute known today as TMC, purchased the building, which in 1996 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today it houses about 60 residents, has a large meditation hall, yoga studio spaces and classrooms. “Our programs are open to everyone who is curious about meditation or wants to try it out,” said Brenda Siragusa, a resident who moved to Portland a year ago from California where she taught business courses at Pepperdine University. For more information: Visit themovementcenter.com or call (503) 231-0383.
Transit is key to Kerns
Transportation corridors including Sandy Boulevard, East Burnside Street, Northeast Glisan Street and Northeast 12th, 20th and 28th avenues, have played a vital role in developing the character of Kerns. In the mid-1980s, approximately 40 percent of Kerns residents took the bus, biked or walked to work. Business owners valued access to transportation, a stable workforce and centralized location.
Today, Kerns continues to be well-served by transportation options with multiple bus lines, according to Steve Russell, chair of Kerns Neighborhood Association (KNA) land use committee. The 20s Bikeway Project, an important 9.1 mile north-south bicycle route from Northeast Lombard Street to Southeast 45th Avenue, directly impacts Kerns. In order to provide safety improvements, the proposed route would eliminate about 100 parking spots on the west side of Northeast 28th Avenue in the heart of Kerns’ commercial district.
“Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has convened several forums to engage neighbors and solicit input about the 20s bikeways proposals,” said Russell who expects a final decision about the route by summer’s end.
Kerns is experiencing growing pains with the development of nine new apartment projects, totaling approximately 850 units, according to Russell. Maintaining the neighborhood’s livability with increased residential and commercial densities presents a challenge to Kerns. Russell speculates that future redevelopment of older sites and the construction of new buildings will involve the Weston super blocks (100,000 square feet versus typical city blocks of 40,000 square feet) located north of Sandy Boulevard between Northeast 12th and 20th avenues.
KNA Chair Angela Kirkman, a resident of Kerns since 2001, said, “The Burnside Bridge to 32nd Avenue has a broad spectrum of both commercial and residential land use opportunities.” However, she noted recent progress by PBOT’s proposals to improve pedestrian safety on East Burnside, designated a high crash corridor.
In November 2008, native Oregonian Chantal Angot opened the popular New Orleans restaurant, Tapalaya, 28 N.E. 28th Ave. Native New Orleans head chef Anh Luu joined her family who moved to Portland after Hurricane Katrina. Luu graduated from Tulane University and attended culinary school here while working part-time at Tapalaya.
“Often seen walking or biking, neighborhood regulars drop by Tapalaya for drinks, a meal or to listen to live music performed here on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Angot.
Dan Hart, owner of Prost! and Interurban on historic Mississippi Avenue, had his eye on Northeast 28th Avenue since 2008, and seized the opportunity to lease space vacated when Spints Alehouse closed in 2013. He likes the neighborhood feel and plans to open Stammtisch, 401 N.E. 28th Ave. by May 1, 2014. Hart originally proposed converting parking spaces on Northeast Flanders Street to accommodate a street seats platform, but when neighbors expressed opposition, he dropped the permit application.
Achieving success with Laurelhurst Market and Restaurant, 3155 E. Burnside St., its three owners have since opened Simpatica Dining Hall in Southeast Portland and Ate-Oh-Ate Hawaiian Restaurant in Kerns. Spencer Adams who’s managed the butcher shop inside Laurelhurst Market enjoys his job, and said “Cutting meat is fun.” For more information: Visit laurelhurstmarket.com or call (503) 206-3097.
In fall 2012, five micro-eateries debuted in the former tire store located on Northeast Glisan Street between Northeast 22nd and 24th avenues in the Kerns neighborhood. The Pie Spot, 521 N.E. 24th Ave., previously a food cart located on Southeast Division Street, offers individual homemade savory and sweet “pie holes” baked on the premises. When she relocated to the restaurant pod in February 2013, co-owner Ashley Ragsdale said that plumbing was the biggest improvement.
In 2013, The Sudra, 2333 N. E. Glisan, replaced the original Basa Basa and offers a variety of vegetarian Indian dishes for diners seeking authentic curry dishes and unusual specialty cocktails. The national award-winning meat purveyor, Tails and Trotters, 525 N.E. 24th Ave., co-owned by Aaron Silverman and Northeast resident Mark Cockcroft, joined The Ocean pod in December 2012. Their locally sourced pigs feed on “nuts, fats and flavor,” according to Cockcroft. Condiments, rubs, and Cockcroft’s current favorite, “Girl and the Fig Onion Confit” are available for sale in the pantry.
Records and books abound
In order to fix multiple leaks in the 45-year-old building housing Music Millennium, 3158 E. Burnside St., owner Terry Currier initiated a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to replace and repair portions of three roofs. Having raised their goal of $60,000, Currier expects to replace the flat roof by the end of May. By summer’s end, he plans to add a beer and wine bar and serve coffee sourced from Oblique Coffee Roasters in the vinyl room. “We’ve supported Kickstarter funding for roughly 25 musicians and album projects, so it was gratifying to get community support for infrastructure repairs and improvements to Music Millennium,” said Currier. For more information: Visit musicmillennium.com or call (503) 862-8826.
Laurelhurst residents Laura and Steve Russell had been looking to buy a residence with office space for 15 years. Then, about eight years ago, while walking their dog in the Kerns neighborhood, they found the perfect building at 623 N.E. 23rd Ave. Laura, a photographer, creates limited-edition, hand-bound artist books that tell a story or provide social commentary using photos and original text.
“Making hand-made books became my great obsession after attending a workshop at a paper store in Denver in 1997,” she said.
Russell shares studio space in the same building as Em-Space, a letter press and book art studio located at 521 Northeast Davis St. Seven years ago, Russell opened 23 Sandy Gallery on the ground floor of their Kerns residence. The Gallery features “fine art in the form of a book,” according to Russell, who also sells books hand made by artists from all over the world. For more information: Visit 23sandy.com or call (503) 927-4409.