By Kathy Eaton with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Eliot photos here.
In 1873, the original town of Albina was platted totally within the Eliot neighborhood, bounded by the Willamette River on the west, Northeast Broadway on the south, Northeast Fremont Street on the north and Northeast Seventh Avenue on the east. Today the Albina area spans several neighborhoods in inner Northeast Portland, including Eliot, Boise, King and others.
Developers in Albina had strong connections with railroad interests in the late 19th century, but one Portland neighborhood was named for Thomas Lamb Eliot. Eliot became known as the “conscience of the community;” and, in 1868, along with a dozen prominent Portlanders, founded one of the first humane animal welfare organizations in the country. Today the Oregon Humane Society, 1067 N.E. Columbia Blvd, honors the organization’s founder by including humane education in its goals.
Although Lesley Unthank never lived in Eliot, she’s connected to the neighborhood through her father, the late Dr. DeNorval Unthank, one of Oregon’s first African-American medical doctors who had an office in Eliot. Dr. Unthank’s office was located at North Williams Avenue and Northeast Broadway Street before being demolished for an interchange to I-5. Lesley Unthank recalls visiting her father’s office located above Madrona Record Store. “My sister and I’d go there after school to help with filing,” she said. “Our father’s secretary, Mrs. Verdell Rutherford, worked from her home on Northeast Shaver Street and Northeast Seventh Avenue where she’d transcribe tapes.”
Lesley Unthank, now age 72, recalls when the 1948 Columbia River flooded Vanport, displacing African-American shipbuilders and their families. The YWCA for Colored People, later renamed Billy Webb Elks Lodge, 6 N. Tillamook St., served as a USO center for African-American soldiers during World War II and as a relief center for families affected by the Vanport flood. “Historic structures in Eliot are significant to the Black community and need to be preserved,” said Lesley Unthank, who retired from the Urban League, which her father co-founded in 1943.
Eliot audio recordings
In 2009, a grant from Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods funded six Boise-Eliot School students to record Eliot luminaries. Students interviewed Lesley Unthank, long-time Eliot resident Mike Warwick, Lee Perlman (late reporter with The Hollywood Star News) as well as trumpeter Larry Morrell and E. Malcolm Slaughter, whose father Ed owned Savoy Billards, 1508 N. Williams Ave. Ed Slaughter became a local jazz historian and was known as the honorary mayor of Williams Avenue. Robert Dietsche’s book, Jump Town (Oregon State University Press), is an excellent compendium of stories from Portland’s jazz age. For more information: Visit eliotoralhistories.com.
Arts in Eliot: painting, glass and culinary
Local artist Bill Park teaches classes, including Painting for Pleasure, at his studio, located at 2637 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Park didn’t start seriously painting until age 41, coincidentally the same week he stopped smoking. As a boy, Park developed a passion for painting watching his grandfather paint and varnish furniture. Park eventually pursued his dream, painting full-time for a dozen years before showing his work to Mark Woolley of Augen Gallery in 1995. In 2006, Park found the perfect studio space in the heart of Eliot. “The community spirit is unique in this neighborhood,” he said. “I love the diversity of houses, people and businesses on either side of MLK.” Park also teaches painting workshops at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Otis, Oregon. For more information: Visit williampark.net or call (503) 234-2727.
In 1973, glass artist Eric Lovell founded Uroborus Glass. The company’s name refers to an alchemist’s term that is often represented by a dragon or serpent devouring its own tail. In 1984, Lovell moved his business to its current location in a 20,000-square-foot building at 2139 N. Kerby Ave. According to Lovell’s spouse, Lorna Lovell, who is the company’s systems director, what Eric Lovell likes about the building is “all the windows and light.”
Lorna Lovell is steeped in the history and glass production of Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose trademark designs depicting nature on lamps and panels are still highly valued. She saw a resurgence of Tiffany glass in the early 1970s, when few people were making glass. She credits the foresight of Portland’s Architecture Heritage Center (AHC) founders Jerry Bosco and Ben Milligan for preserving historic artifacts (including stained glass) and for hiring her husband to make glass for Genesis (Bosco and Milligan’s glass-making company).
“Today Uroboros sells glass worldwide,” Lorna Lovell said, “and we operate the cleanest glass factory in the world.”
Five glass companies exist in the United States today; two are in Portland. Uroboros runs three production lines: one that makes glass for cold processes and two lines for warm or hot processes.
Uroboros’ furnaces run 24 hours a day, seven days a week; they are always managed using safe practices. There’s no lead and only trace amounts of chemicals in their glass, according to Lorna Lovell, who said that her husband also designed ergonomically efficient equipment for the business, including a table-height conveyor belt, and efficient processes that minimize the number of times heavy glass sheets have to be handled. For more information: Visit uroboros.com or call (503) 284-4900.
Local cooking schools
“There’s no shortage of destination restaurants in Eliot,” said Mike Warwick, current chair of Eliot’s Land Use and Transportation Committee (LUTC), citing Ox, Mint/820 and Russell St. Bar-B-Que. For Portlanders who’d rather cook than be served, Eliot and Boise neighborhoods each house cooking schools.
Portland’s Culinary Workshop, 807 N. Russell St., offers a variety of hands-on classes ranging from kids’ cake decorating classes to knife-skills classes for adults. Three years ago, co-owners Melinda Casady and Susana Holloway picked the Eliot building for its large windows that naturally illuminate big open work spaces. For more information: Visit portlandsculinaryworkshop.com or call (503) 512-0447.
In nearby Boise, Hipcooks, 3808 N. Williams Ave., owner Tristan Blash limits class size to allow for hands-on instruction and meal preparation for all skill levels. The most popular classes include Thai One On and Shortcut to Nirvana, featuring Indian cuisine. For more information: Visit hipcooks.com or call (503) 281-0614.
Sorting out identity
Chair of Eliot’s Beauty and Livability committee, Angela Kremer works tirelessly to improve the neighborhood’s image and solidify its identity among inner Northeast neighborhoods. In 2010, Kremer, a 15-year Eliot resident, formed a partnership with Eliot Neighborhood Association, Lloyd Community Association and Portland Arena Management (Trail Blazers) to invest in neighborhood improvements. The Trail Blazers provided land for senior residents at Calaroga Terrace, 1400 N.E. 2nd Ave. to cultivate gardens. The ENA’s current chair, Alan Sanchez, is actively pursing outreach strategies with the African-American community to ensure that projects respect and reflect its residents.
According to Kremer, future goals include installing new sign caps designating major thoroughfares in Eliot while honoring its historic past; planting trees in key areas; improving parking in areas impacted by sports traffic; and partnering with businesses to purchase, install and maintain trash containers.
Land Use: neighborhood in transition
Eliot was originally formed as a streetcar community with four lines traversing it. Homes in the area were built on lots without driveways. “Built before the automobile was invented, homes characteristically had big back yards with room for gardens and the occasional horse,” said Mike Warwick. “The city is pushing for more density within Eliot’s borders, but we’re pushing back to preserve Eliot’s history, particularly homes built here before 1911.” According to author Roy Roos, who published The History of Albina in 2008, by 1959 a tract of dense housing and small businesses on the south side of North Broadway was completely cleared for the Memorial Coliseum project, deemed one of Portland’s first urban renewal projects. Displaced residents and businesses were forced to move north.
Between 1960-1990, Warwick estimates that Eliot lost half of its housing stock from expansion of Emanuel Hospital’s campus, completion of the I-5 freeway and individual home sales by absentee landlords all too willing to sell or tear down starter homes that had deteriorated over decades.
Having moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., Warwick is a 35-year resident of the Eliot neighborhood. Working for positive change in the Eliot neighborhood, he’s actively participated in numerous planning processes over three decades, beginning with the Eliot Plan and culminating in the city’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan which closed for second-round comments on December 31, 2013. As part of urban renewal efforts, several plans predicted capacity for projected population needs and employment opportunities. The Albina Community Plan, implemented in 1993 resulted in establishing historic zones, including Eliot. According to Roos, the largest collection of Queen Anne cottages in Portland have survived in Eliot and Boise.
The ENA endorses re-zoning Eliot to ensure that remaining housing stock is preserved in this historic conservation district and that zoning rules more closely match those of other inner city Northeast Portland neighborhoods. In addition to limiting density by preserving space inside lots, the LUTC is also proposing a zoning change on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to promote more commercial and mixed-used zoning.
Emanuel Hospital: institutional zone
Founded in 1912, Emanuel Hospital is situated in the heart of Eliot and governed by the city’s Institutional Zone. The ENA has a mutual agreement with Emanuel Hospital on general principles, including building signage and impacts from heavy traffic. In November 2011, Emanuel Hospital, 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave., partnered with ENA, LCA and Port City to establish the Albina Collective Garden located on a hillside off North Russell Street. “Despite bureaucratic processes, the relationship with Emanuel is solid,” said Warwick.
Intentional community: housing concept
A core group of senior Portland residents are currently seeking to form an intentional community of 25 households with 45-50 people, and construct a building around it, according to Irvington resident Jim Swenson. PDX Commons is a co-housing model rooted in Denmark where individuals own a condominium unit and collectively manage common space. Common spaces could include a large commercial kitchen and dining area where residents prepare meals and dine together, library or music/media room, laundry facilities, workshop and even a rooftop garden with a grill shack, according to Susan Fries, member of the core group. “We’re organized around community,” said Fries’ spouse Lew Bowers.
Swenson said they’re seeking to purchase and develop property in a close-in neighborhood for active senior urban dwellers. “Eliot, well-located and well-served, has strong character and history, and a diversity of residents,” said Swenson. The core group is considering building in neighborhoods like Eliot and Boise that don’t require tearing down existing homes. For more information: Visit pdxcommons.com or call (503) 493-0307.
Eliot’s destination restaurants
Mint/820: 816 N. Russell St.
mintand820.com (503) 284-5518
OX: 2225 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.
oxpdx.com (503) 284-3366
Russell Street Bar-B-Que: 325 N.E. Russell St.
russellstreetbbq.com (503) 528-8824
Toro Bravo: 120 N.E. Russell St.,
torobravopdx.com (503) 281-4464