By Kathy Eaton
with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Buckman photos here.
The Buckman neighborhood is bounded by East Burnside on the north, Southeast Hawthorne on the south, the Willamette River on the west and Southeast 28th Avenue on the east. According to Rod Paulson’s Portland Neighborhood Histories, Vol 1 (Community Press), there are about 30 platted subdivisions within Buckman’s boundaries.
Buckman’s history dates to the 1820s when a Hudson’s Bay Company trapper built a log cabin in the vicinity of Southeast Grand and Morrison, according to long-time Buckman resident Ed Lyle’s booklet, “150 Years of Community Action.” Lyle described a booming East Portland during the 1880s, with lumber mills, shipping and storage facilities, and foundries that grew around railroad tracks and riverbanks. By 1891, when Portland, East Portland and Albina were consolidated, activists Abraham H. and Cyrus Buckman owned large parcels of land between Sullivan’s Gulch and Southeast Stark Street. An elementary school for 600 students built between 1921 and 1922, was named for Cyrus Buckman.
During WWII, Buckman’s population swelled to accommodate a large influx of shipyard workers, but during the ensuing decade, houses began to decline and in 1957, the city rezoned Buckman for commercial and medium-density apartments. By 1970, 81 percent of Buckman properties were rentals. In 1965, when Buckman neighborhood was declared a “poverty pocket,” community organizers stepped in and formed the Buckman Community Action Committee to help stem the tide of decline.
During the 1980s, the Buckman Community Association which formed in 1971, convened three Buckman community congresses, seeking housing cooperation and community economic development. For more information: See buckmanpdx.org/history.
Don MacGillivray, who’s lived in Buckman since 1976, said the neighborhood is “the center of everything” and comprises approximately 40 percent industrial and manufacturing businesses and 60 percent residential. A member of the BCA board and former chair, MacGillivray would like to see Buckman retain some of its general character, but anticipates opportunities for development in the next 20 years with increased services, stores and employment options.
MacGillivray was the principal author of the 1991 Buckman Neighborhood Plan’s history section, citing Buckman community as “the oldest and one of the proudest on Portland’s eastside.” In the 1890s, Buckman reflected diverse households, thriving commerce, and vibrant street life. The same livability factors attracted a new generation to settle Buckman a century later.
When Portland Public Schools shuttered Washington High School in 1981 based on declining enrollment, MacGillivray recalled recently that the city made a commitment to build a community center for families who lived in Buckman. Although the community center was supported in 2004 by then-mayor Vera Katz and the city council, funding has not materialized to build it. In 2013, Venerable and PacTrust purchased the high school property which has since been extensively renovated and developed for approximately 113,000 square feet of space for retail, offices and a music venue, Revolution Hall.
Activism stokes Buckman
Today’s BCA, co-chaired by Susan Lindsay and Lake Strongheart McTighe, continues to provide a forum for Buckman residents and proprietors who are passionate about shaping the future of their neighborhood. Lindsay cites housing needs as a top issue facing the community, and is concerned about high-density building development along transportation corridors in Buckman. She acknowledges a large transient population living on the streets and in parks with no cohesive plans to create viable shelter options. According to Lindsay, housing scarcity has resulted in multi-story development, but new apartments are not necessarily affordable. She pointed out that studios and one-bedroom apartments do not meet the needs of low-income families with children.
BCA co-chair McTighe recognizes the need for density, but says affordability is tied to maintaining Buckman’s diversity, which includes students and seniors aging-in-place, as well as a variety of ethnicities and income levels. “It’s important to have more than one housing type while also preserving old bungalows,” she said.
Ultimately McTighe would like to see more family-sized rentals with two to three bedrooms and still retain “funky Buckman.” Applying thoughtful design methods, she supports maintaining the neighborhood’s character while accommodating housing needs of future generations.
In 2014, Home Forward affordable housing group partnered with Catholic Charities to build a 102-unit apartment building to meet low-income housing needs. The building will eliminate the one-acre St. Francis Park owned by St. Francis parish for the past 45 years. Ed Lyle, who’s lived in Buckman for 50 years, led a community fund-raising effort to bid on the property and was disappointed in the outcome. “Buckman’s a park-deficient neighborhood and it’s a shame St Francis Park couldn’t be owned by the people who built it,” he said.
An increasing homeless population has impacted Buckman businesses, including offices housed in a Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894 that Dr. Tracey Hoffman bought in 2006.
Hoffman and her ex-husband extensively renovated the house located at 1210 S.E. Oak St. to ultimately lease office space to ten licensed psychotherapists. She sees three factions of homeless camps in the neighborhood: those who opt to be homeless, those who are mentally ill and a criminal element. As the situation worsened, tenants threatened to leave for safety reasons, and parking became an issue. Hoffman is currently pursing permit parking on two blocks for clients. She’s invested in the neighborhood and remains sensitive to development that’s changing Buckman.
Iconic Buckman businesses
According to Donald Nelson’s book, Portland Oregon: East of the Willamette River (2012), during the 1920s, a commercial garage company servicing Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge cars, was housed in a large building at the corner of East 11th and Burnside Street. A decade later, widening East Burnside and installing sidewalks resulted in the loss of retail space and the business, once advertised as open day and night, closed.
But the building remained and in 1990, Hippo Hardware and Trading Company, moved to 1040 E. Burnside St. from its original location at Southeast 12th and Ash Street. Steve Miller and Steve Oppenheim started Hippo Hardware’s “buy, sell and trade” business in the mid-1970s. Today, with 5,000 lighting fixtures in inventory, Hippo Hardware does all the lighting for McMenamin’s properties, and has been the site for familiar TV and film features including Leverage and Jackass: The Movie. While Grimm has not yet filmed an episode here, they have purchased and rented items according to office administrator Annie Grenawalt who’s worked at Hippo for the past 20 years. The July 2014 issue of This Old House Magazine named Hippo Hardware & Trading Company one of the five iconic hardware stores in the nation. According to Grenawalt, four Japanese magazines promote Hippo Hardware as a tourist destination, which draws customers into the store to buy antique and reproduction hardware. For more information: See hippohardware.com or call (503) 231-1444.
In 1948, Monte Chusid and his father acquired a hardware business which they sited in several different Northeast Portland locations before landing in Buckman. In 1996, Chusid and his son Norm relocated Ankeny Hardware and Nor-Mon Distributing, a wholesale distributing company for appliances, HVAC parts, hardware, and tools to its present location at 1134 S.E. Stark St. Norm, who grew up in Buckman, left college to work at W.L. May company for eight years before taking a 75 percent pay cut to work for his dad. Norm recalls now that at age 13, his dad tasked him to run the store while he was recovering from illness. He learned lessons early in life about treating customers with respect and giving back to the community. For the past 35 years, Chusid has allocated 10 percent of his business profits to assorted charities based in southeast and northeast Portland.
Asked if his two adult sons who are employed by a large accounting firm in California would ultimately join the family hardware business, Chusid said, “It’s not in the cards.” Chusid’s been approached by developers to sell his hardware store but he doesn’t want to leave the community. One customer recently said, “This hardware store is a local treasure; anything I need, I can find here.” For more information: See normonddistributing.com or call (503) 234-6110.
Serving the community is a strongly held Chusid family value. In 2007, Norm’s younger brother Larry created the Pongo Fund, a nonprofit organization that donates pet food to Portland’s homeless population and families who can’t afford to feed their pets. The project name honors Chusid’s rescue dog who lived 19 years. To date, the Pongo Fund has donated more than eight million meals to feed more than 80,000 animals in the Portland area. For more information: See thepongofund.org.
New generation of entrepreneurs
In May 2015, an L.A. Times reporter visiting Portland spotted a row of shops on S.E. Stark St. which she dubbed a “Vegan Mini Mall.” Chad Miller and his wife, Emiko Vadillo, own a vegan grocery store, Food Fight! Grocery, 1217 S.E. Stark in a building formerly housing a sign painting company. According to Miller, “It was a big space and the rent was cheap,” that attracted them to Buckman in 2007. Miller knew the owners of Sweetpea baking company, 1205 S.E. Stark, specializing in vegan baked goods, Herbivore Clothing Company, 1211 S.E. Stark and Scapegoat Tattoos, 1223 S.E. Stark. Miller expressed concern about the homeless camps located nearby but he’s eager to pursue a solution that balances development and the need to provide affordable housing for an underserved neighborhood population.
Variety and venerable restaurants
“The Buckman community of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues is very diverse and upbeat, and getting saturated all the time,” said Jordan Buck, who works at the Oregon Humane Society but was previously employed at EastBurn, 1800 E. Burnside St. According to EastBurn’s owner Michael Bender, who with general manager Josh Roeder opened the restaurant in 2008, “We wanted to open a neighborhood public house and business began to pick up when other restaurants, Fire on the Mountain and The Matador came in.” In addition to serving brunch and dinner daily, EastBurn offers live music and comedy night performances. For more information: See theEastBurn.com or call (503) 236-2876.
In 1953, Produce Row Cafe, 204 S.E. Oak St. opened as a cafe for nearby produce dockworkers, and 20 years later was acquired by the McMenamin brothers who converted it to a pub. Ownership changed hands until The Row suddenly shuttered in 2014. Two Portland restaurant entrepreneurs, Josh Johnston and Jim Hall, bought the 40-year-old Portland landmark and reopened it in May 2015. In addition to 24 taps, The Row also offers beer and whiskey pairings, and great food which has kept the crowds coming back to this familiar place set in the industrial Eastside. For more information: See producerowcafe.com or call (503) 232-8355.