By Kathy Eaton
with photos by Judy Nelson
See our Facebook album with more of Judy Nelson’s Sabin photos here.
Originally forming the eastern border of Albina, today Sabin is surrounded by several Northeast Portland neighborhoods, including King, Irvington, Alameda, Concordia and Vernon. Sabin is bounded roughly by Northeast Fremont Street on the south, Northeast Wygant Street on the north, Northeast 10th Avenue on the west and Northeast 23rd Avenue on the east.
Robert L. Sabin Sr., an attorney for whom both the Sabin School and Sabin neighborhood are named, held many prominent positions in Portland, including chair of the Portland school board and director of the Portland Gas & Coke Company.
According to the 1993 Sabin Neighborhood Plan, the donation land claim that became Sabin neighborhood was established in 1853 by Alvin Allard. According to Rod Paulson’s Portland Neighborhood Histories (Community Press), Allard obtained a deed to a quarter section (160 acres) that extended from Northeast 14th to 24th avenues, between Northeast Fremont and Prescott streets. Allard later mortgaged the property and relinquished it to William Irving. By 1870, Irving sold the entire tract to George W. Shaver for $1,000. House lots were platted in 1888, and 85 percent of the houses now standing in Sabin were built between 1900 and 1939. Sabin’s development is characterized by smaller houses and a mix of working-class, white-collar and ethnic communities. German-Russians who worked at the Albina railroad yards initially settled Sabin.
The 1993 Plan referenced a strong and vital African-American community living in Sabin. The Vanport Flood in 1948 and subsequent construction of the Memorial Coliseum and Emanuel Hospital Urban Renewal Project in the 1960s, eliminated housing in the area. Sabin was one of the neighborhoods where African-Americans found affordable single-family housing and it was one of the few areas in Northeast Portland that didn’t practice redlining, or exclusion based on race.
Sabin School endures
According to Lee Paavola who wrote a Brief History of Sabin Neighborhood in 1976, Sabin Elementary School opened as a portable school in 1919 and was first named Dixon Place. The permanent structure was completed in 1928 but was reconfigured in 1941 as Boy’s Edison High School, a six-year high school for “disruptive” boys. In 1947, Boy’s Edison was discontinued and it returned to Sabin Elementary School. In 1970, Sabin’s extended day childcare program was established to provide babysitting for single-parent families, according to Paavola. Two years later, a community school program was added to build a sense of community and included adult programs. Since 1976, the kindergarten through eighth grade Sabin Elementary school located at 4013 N.E. 18th Ave. is still thriving. Paavola’s 28-page booklet is cataloged at the Oregon Genealogical Forum library, located at 2505 S.E. 11th Ave. For more information: See gfo.org or call (503) 963-1932.
Sabin Community Association
Sabin Community Association was formed in 1969 and participated in the Neighborhood Development Program along with King and Vernon neighborhoods to qualify for federal grants to upgrade the conditions of housing and general livability of their neighborhoods. In the mid-1970s, Paavola identified the top issues facing the association as sewers, education, streets and traffic, crime, and fixing homes that had fallen into disrepair. Other issues included improving the environment by initiating a neighborhood clean-up program, creating a health planning board to improve services, and improving both Irving and Alberta parks.
Similar issues identified 40 years ago still face Sabin today. Current president Clay Harris Veka said, “I love the activism and passion that Sabinites have for making positive impact in our community. Some of the recently implemented community-led projects include a naturescape playground and outdoor classroom at Sabin School, a street tree inventory in partnership with King Neighborhood, and a marked crosswalk with curb extensions and bioswales to Irving Park.”
The association is concerned about the future of Sabin Elementary as part of the city’s overall plan to balance overcrowding, and is wrestling with tough issues such as the city’s proposal to create homeless camps in all Portland neighborhoods. The board is taking steps to promote racial diversity and understanding in their neighborhood. Board members are formulating processes to distribute small grants to benefit the Sabin community. Concern for affordable housing remains a top issue. For more information: See sabinpdx.org.
Sabin Community Development Corporation
In 1991, concerned Northeast Portland neighbors formed the Sabin Community Development Corporation to promote affordable housing and residential diversity within Sabin and surrounding neighborhoods. Between 1992 and 1998, Sabin CDC acquired most of its current inventory of 116 units of rental housing (mix of single-family homes and small and large apartment buildings), 16 land trust houses and a dozen limited equity houses. Land trust homes are owned by homeowners, but the land is held in trust by the CDC. Under the lease-equity program, renters can apply lease payments toward eventual home ownership. Units and homes are spread throughout Sabin and six surrounding Northeast neighborhoods. Assets for Sabin CDC’s housing portfolio are estimated at $13 million.
In March 2013, Loulie Brown began as Sabin CDC asset manager. She has a doctorate in urban studies from Portland State University, and when she first arrived in Portland in 1993, there were six community development corporations. However, when federal funding shrank and philanthropic organizations took on a bigger role, the number of community development corporations was reduced to two. The focus of Sabin CDC has shifted to maintaining a diverse tenant population and Brown acknowledges that their tenant population looks very similar to what it was in 1990: 76 percent identify as African-American and incomes average from 20-50 percent of median.
Brown describes Sabin as a very heterogeneous neighborhood and said the CDC works cooperatively with the SCA to achieve their goals. “We are the diversity in the neighborhood,” said Brown, citing tenant population, including individuals and families, as determined by key factors such as race, educational attainment and income. The Sabin CDC’s goal is to maintain diversity and provide economic opportunities. In 2016, they’ll again partner with Portland Youth Builders to run a summer youth program for their tenant’s kids. For more information: See sabincdc.us or call (503) 287-3496.
Sabin’s commercial centers
Commercial businesses and restaurants largely cluster around Northeast 14th and 15th avenues on two commercial streets that bisect Sabin neighborhood: Northeast Fremont and Northeast Prescott streets.
A Children’s Place, is Portland’s oldest independent children’s bookstore according to current owner Pam Erlandson. In 2003, when her daughter, Audrey was 11 years old, Erlandson, then working part-time at A Children’s Place in Beaumont, bought the bookstore. In March 2015, she relocated the store to 1423 N.E. Fremont St. “The space is a miniature of what we had,” she said, “and it’s been an adjustment.”
Erlandson hosts author events and school fundraisers, in addition to providing a 20 percent educator’s discount. A Children’s Place offers free weekly children’s story hour at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday mornings. Audrey, who’s now 23 and works at the store part-time, may have her eye on taking over the business someday. For more information: See achildrensplacebookstore.com or call (503) 284-8294.
Backyard Bird Store, 1419 N.E. Fremont St., has operated here for about eight years according to store manager Chelsea Palm. Although the store is headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, there are four additional locations in the Portland area. Tom Rapp, who’s worked at Backyard Birds for the past six years, sees a loyal customer base, whether they’re searching for birding supplies, birdseed, or yard art. For more information: See backyardbirdshop.com or call (503) 445-2699.
Caffé Destino, owned and operated by Northeast residents Amy and Todd Perimon since 2012, is located at 1339 N.E. Fremont St. They kept the original name, but expanded the menu to offer meat in addition to vegetarian fare. Amy bakes most of the pastries which are local favorites. For more information: Call (503) 284-9455.
One year ago, owner-chef Johnny Nunn opened Verdigris Restaurant with a French-inspired menu, located at 1315 N.E. Fremont St. Nunn named his restaurant for the green-and-gray color of the patina of the Statue of Liberty. The restaurant space reflects the color scheme with artwork by local artist Korey Gulbrandson. Nunn grew up on the East coast, but after working in San Francisco, New York, and Spain, he visited Portland in 2007 and later returned to open Verdigris which attracts locals as well as business travelers. For more information: See verdigrisrestaurant.com or call (503) 477-8106.
Diners can easily spot several popular restaurants and cafes near the intersection of Northeast 15th Avenue and Northeast Prescott Street. The Sabin Triangle lot once served as a terminus for the Irvington-Jefferson line of the Portland trolley, but was decommissioned during the 1940s. Sabin Community Association is interested in developing the pocket park currently owned by the city.
Located at 1473 N. E. Prescott St., Grain and Gristle restaurant opened five years ago, and is owned by Marcus Hoover, Ben Meyer and Alex Ganum. Their philosophy of whole-animal butchering and a robust selection of beers earned them a wide following at this location as well as Old Salt Marketplace, 5027 N.E. 42nd Ave., which they opened three years ago. For more information: See grainandgristle.com or call (503) 298-5007.
Pok Pok Noi, a Thai restaurant and offshoot of the original Pok Pok owned by renowned chef Andy Ricker, is located next door to Grain and Gristle at 1469 N.E. Prescott St. The small space originally housed Podnah’s Pit Barbeque restaurant, which moved to 1717 N.E. Killingsworth St. Open daily, Pok Pok Noi (which means little) offers uniquely Northern Thai food and drinks. For more information: See pokpokpdx.com or call (503) 287-4149.
NOTE: We started the Out and About column in January 2014, visiting the Kenton neighborhood, and 28 neighborhoods later, we’re wrapping up in Sabin. Thanks to the Star’s owner-publisher Mary DeHart who enthusiastically supported the project, Nancy Woods, the editor who helped shape the concept for Out & About, Judy Nelson for photos that made neighborhoods shine, and Ted Perkins, the Star’s digital wizard and headline creator. I am grateful to the Oregon Historical Society research library staff, local neighborhood historians, and Portland authors Rod Paulson, Roy E. Roos, and Anjala Ehelebe. Local residents, business owners, and neighborhood association leaders sustained the column by generously giving their time and sharing their stories. Beginning next month, we’ll be launching feature articles about a variety of topics and people – many of whose stories we first discovered while Out & About. – Kathy Eaton