By Kathy Eaton
with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Buckman photos here.
Humboldt is one of eleven North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods that once comprised Albina, long known as an area for working-class communities that served as an entry point for immigrants to the city. Platted in 1872, Albina was incorporated as a city in 1887, and in 1891, was annexed with East Portland to form the city of Portland. In 1993, a revitalization effort resulting in The Albina Community Plan, stated that Humboldt was initially carved from the Piedmont neighborhood.
Humboldt is bounded by North Ainsworth on the north, Skidmore Street on the south, I-5 on the west and Rodney Avenue on the east. North Killingsworth Street forms the main commercial corridor, and Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus comprises its geographic center.
According to Roy Roos’ The History of Albina (2008), William Killingsworth was a primary force in the development of North and Central Albina and played a key role in developing the Albina transportation infrastructure, including one of the first electric streetcar lines in Oregon. In 1892, he built his family mansion on North Alberta Street west of Vancouver Avenue at a cost of $25,000. Killingsworth descendants lived in the house after their parents died in the 1930s and the residence was sold to developers in 1943, according to Donald Nelson’s book, Portland Oregon: East of the Willamette River (2012). Several architectural pieces from the home were donated to the Architectural Heritage Center.
Although library service started in a house on North Albina Avenue in 1909, the Humboldt community subsequently received funds from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to build a new branch library. Located at 512 N. Killingsworth St., the Jacobethan-style building, designed by architects Jacob Jacobberger and Alfred H. Smith, opened on February 20, 1913. The two-story building included a children’s reading room and a 150-chair assembly hall.
In 1987, Michael Powell, owner of Powell’s Books, donated a collection of 300 books written by significant African American authors between the early 1800s and 1920 to the North Portland library. The collection, then valued at $5,000, was originally donated to Powell by Fisk University, a historically black college and university in Tennessee. North Portland Library’s Black Resource Center opened in 1987, containing both scholarly and popular materials relating to African Americans.
Patricia Welch recently celebrated 19 years as manager of the Library, saying, “This job is a gift I gave myself.” She embraces the building’s architectural beauty and recalled hearing stories about paranormal activities inside the building. The proximity of Chapel of the Chimes funeral parlor and crematorium located across the street contributed to the mystique.
Today, the second-floor meeting room and training center hosts computer labs for members of the community. Humboldt resident Isa Dean, a Multnomah County library employee, is coordinator for the computer labs. Offering classes on workforce preparedness as well as a beginner’s guide to the cloud and how to use Craigslist, Welch said they attract seniors who are “not digital natives.”
Read to the Dogs is a popular weekly program that builds confidence for kids to read in a nonjudgmental, supportive environment. “Seeing groups of small children holding hands and marching into the library in their brightly colored coats always makes me smile,” said Welch.
On Sunday, December 27, the second day of Kwanzaa, the North Portland branch will celebrate Kujichagulia, honoring the principle of self-determination. For more information about library events: See multcolib.org/events or call (503) 988-5394.
McMenamins Chapel Pub
The Little Chapel of the Chimes, built in 1932, still has the original doors, beautiful woodwork, and iron work crafted by O.B. Dawson. In 2006, the McMenamin Brothers acquired the Byzantine-style mortuary located at 430 N. Killingsworth St. and repurposed it as the Chapel Pub, converting the second floor of the building to house their headquarters office. The original 1925 Robert Morton organ was removed from the Strand Theatre in Seaside in 1932 and is still operational today. For more information: See mcmenamins.com or call (503) 286-0372.
The Skanner celebrates 40 years in business
On October 28, the Skanner newspaper celebrated 40 years of service giving voice to African Americans and minority communities in the Pacific Northwest that had lacked media representation. A special anniversary issue celebrating the newspaper’s journey that started in 1975, is chock-full of photos and stories documenting the history of African American advocacy in Portland.
In 2005, John Swanson, owner of Little Beirut Properties, a family-owned business managing rentals and commercial properties, moved to Humboldt to live near the properties he owned and managed. “Diversity is the strength of the neighborhood,” said Swanson, who believes that African Americans are keys to preserving the past. He doesn’t like seeing families uprooted by development in a neighborhood initially settled by Slavic and German immigrants who worked at factories and railroads. Swanson supports improved zoning laws where commercial properties are better integrated with residences. “It appears that the developer’s desire to make a buck sometimes trumps what’s right for the neighborhood, and it stresses residents,” said Swanson.
He understands the need for greater density, but he’d like to see a range of housing options to keep residents in Humboldt. “We support local suppliers, contractors and hardware stores that are small, family-run businesses like our own,” said Swanson. Last year, his daughter Erica opened the Tea Bar, 1615 N.E. Killingsworth St., in the nearby Vernon neighborhood.
Jane Olberding, who lives in Northeast Portland and develops affordable housing projects, is the daughter of Neil Kelly who founded Neil Kelly Design/Build Remodeling business in 1947. Homes get fixed up when gentrification occurs, according to Olberding, who believes it’s society’s responsibility to help families rise out of poverty by improving access to jobs, education, mental health resources and affordable housing. She began working on affordable housing projects in Boston while in her 20s and when she returned to Portland in the 1980s, she bought twelve homes in Humboldt to renovate as rentals properties. “It was rough for a while because of crime resulting from gang activity,” said Olberding. In 1998, she built 40 units of affordable apartments large enough to house families. MLK-Wygant, located at 4710 N.E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., has ground-level businesses, including an on-site property management office.
Olberding also owns North Star Ballroom, 635 N. Killingsworth Court, an event venue that she leases for weddings and community uses. For more information: See northstarballroom.com or call (503) 240-6088.
Guest housing in Humboldt
Travelers’ House hostel, 710 N. Alberta St., offers guest quarters at affordable rates for travelers who typically rent for 10-14 days while visiting Portland. Three years ago, Grant Williams, who manages the property with four on-site staff, moved to Portland after living a nomadic, backpack lifestyle traveling internationally for the previous eight years. He’d worked for Carpe Diem Education and traveled in East Africa, South America, Nepal, Thailand, and other countries. Former executive director Ethan Knight became Williams’ business partner and opened the Travelers’ House in February 2013.
Williams chose Humboldt because it was affordable, but also ethnically and culturally diverse. His clients are typically road warriors who like the community-shared bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen. The location is convenient for guests to rent bikes, walk or take mass transit. Two years ago, Williams joined the Humboldt Neighborhood Association and serves as the co-communication chair.
Williams sees lack of affordable housing and gentrification as neighborhood concerns. Developers are pushing density, but he wants Humboldt to preserve its cultural character. Humboldt has no community gathering center and the neighborhood is park-deficient, according to Williams. Although the city owns Albina Green at North Alberta and Sumner Streets, it’s maintained by the neighborhood association and other partners. Williams believes increased efforts to re-brand the Humboldt’s identity could potentially result in more community engagement.
Recently elected HNA communications co-chair Isa Dean has lived in Humboldt for 13 years. She’d like to see more residents join the board and is also concerned about maintaining diversity in Humboldt. Although there’s still gunfire in the neighborhood, she said it’s often initiated by individuals living outside of Humboldt’s borders. Dean commented that there are pluses and minuses to having Portland Community College reside within their boundaries.
“We’re in the last stages of an expansion and renovation of our beautiful campus, and now we’re concentrating on building our academic programs and using our existing facilities to their fullest potential,” said PCC Cascade campus president Dr. Karin Edwards, by email. “We’re committed to being a good neighbor and remaining within our current boundaries.”
In 1996, Hugh Gray founded Big City Produce in Humboldt to bring fresh produce to an under-served community. Employees Lana “Rebel” Spilsbury and Amanda Wiles acquired the business in 2007, renaming it Cherry Sprout Produce Market while continuing to supply many southern staples – collard and two types of mustard greens, turnips, jumbo jams and smoked meats. Nick O’Neill, who grew up in Irvington and graduated from Grant High School, will take ownership of the market, 722 N. Sumner St., in January 2016. Adapting to customer requests for organic items, he’ll expand the space to include a commercial kitchen.
“We’ll continue the original mission of bringing in fresh, locally-grown produce,” said O’Neill. For more information: See cherrysprout.com or call (503) 445-4959.
Earl Marson, also known as The Sewing Man, provides sewing and tailoring for men and women, in addition to doing custom upholstery.
The Sewing Man, 122 N. Killingsworth St., offers repairs while you wait, or two-day turnover for tailoring jobs. Marson was born in Jamaica and learned to sew as a child out of necessity. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983 and made his way west to Portland in 2007. After living in Maui for a brief period where he learned to play reggae music, he returned to Portland to hone his tailoring skills and ultimately opened his own business.
“I’m very detail-oriented and often my own worst critic. I don’t cut corners,” Marson said. He’s undaunted by challenges including leather repairs, knowing he “can figure it out, and if it’s not perfect, it’s close.” People are welcome to bring their projects to a sewing circle he convenes in the shop on Thursday nights at 6 p.m. For more information: See thesewingman.com or call (503) 753-8099.
Sweedeedee, a North Portland cafe, 5202 N. Albina St., attracts neighborhood patrons as well as students attending PCC’s Cascade campus. Owner Eloise Auguystn has managed the popular cafe for the past three years, serving breakfast and lunch daily, offering locally sourced meats, vegetables and eggs. For more information: See sweedeedee.com or call (503) 946-8087.