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About Portland

Portland is a city located near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. With a population of 562,690[2] it is Oregon's most populous city, and the third most populous city in the Pacific Northwest, after Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia. Approximately two million people live in Portland metropolitan area (MSA), the 24th most populous in the United States as of July, 2005.[3]

Destination Guides > North America > USA > Pacific Northwest > Oregon > Portland

Portland was incorporated in 1851 and is the seat of Multnomah County; it extends slightly into Washington and Clackamas Counties as well.

Skyline of Portland, Oregon

The city and region are noted for strong land-use planning[4] and investment in public transit, supported by Metro, a distinctive regional-government scheme. Portland lies in the Marine West Coast climate region, which is marked by warm summers and rainy but temperate winters. This climate is ideal for growing roses, and for more than a century Portland has been known as "The City of Roses," and has many rose gardens – most prominently the International Rose Test Garden. Portland is also known for its large number of microbreweries, and as the home of the Trail Blazers NBA basketball team.


Portland in 1890
Portland in 1890

Portland started as a spot known as "the clearing",[5] which was on the banks of the Willamette about halfway between Oregon City and Fort Vancouver. In 1843, William Overton saw great commercial potential for this land, but lacked the funds required to file a land claim. He struck a bargain with his partner Asa Lovejoy of Boston, Massachusetts: for 25¢, Overton would share his claim to the 640 acre (2.6 km²) site. Overton later sold his half of the claim to Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine. Pettygrove and Lovejoy both wished to name the new city after their own home town; this was decided with a coin toss, which Pettygrove won.[6]

At the time of its incorporation on February 8, 1851 Portland had over 800 inhabitants,[7] a steam sawmill, a log cabin hotel, and a newspaper, the Weekly Oregonian. By 1879, the population had grown to 17,500.[8]

Portland's location, with access both to the Pacific Ocean via the Willamette and the Columbia rivers and to the agricultural Tualatin Valley via the "Great Plank Road" through a canyon in the West Hills (the route of current-day U.S. Highway 26), gave it an advantage over nearby ports, and it grew quickly.[9] It remained the major port in the Pacific Northwest for much of the 19th century, until the 1890s, when Seattle's deepwater harbor was connected to the rest of the mainland by rail, affording an inland route without the treacherous navigation of the Columbia River. During this time, corruption in the government allowed for some very unsavory activities to go on as well: "white slavery", specifically including the abduction of men to be used as forced labor on sailing ships, was so common that a network of underground tunnels, formerly used to transport goods from the river to nearby hotels and bars, was coopted to accommodate the practice. (See the Portland Underground, also known as the "Shanghai Tunnels.")[10] The first known reference to Portland as "The City of Roses" was made by visitors to an 1888 Episcopal Church convention, the nickname growing in popularity after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition where Mayor Harry Lane suggested that the city needed a "festival of roses"[11] The first Portland Rose Festival was held two years later, and remains the city's major annual festival a century later.

Geography and climate

The Willamette River with the Lloyd District in the background.
The Willamette River with the Lloyd District in the background.
A view of downtown with Mount Hood in the background.
A view of downtown with Mount Hood in the background.

Portland lies at the northern end of Oregon's most populated region, the Willamette Valley. (As the metropolitan area is culturally and politically distinct from the rest of the valley, local usage often excludes Portland from the valley proper.) Although almost all of Portland lies within Multnomah County, small portions of the city lie within Clackamas and Washington counties, with mid-2005 populations estimated at 785 and 1,455, respectively. The Willamette River runs north through the city center, separating the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city, before veering slightly northwest to join with the Columbia River (which separates the state of Washington from the state of Oregon) a short distance north of the city.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 145.4 mi² (376.5 km²). 134.3 mi² (347.9 km²) of it is land and 11.1 mi² (28.6 km²), or 7.6%, is water.

Portland lies on top of an extinct Plio-Pleistocene volcanic field known as the Boring Lava Field.[16] The Lava Field includes at least 32 cinder cones such as Mount Tabor,[17] and its center lies in Southeast Portland. The potentially active volcano Mount Hood, to the east of Portland, is easily visible from much of the city, and the active volcano Mount Saint Helens, to the north in Washington, is visible in the distance from high-elevation locations in the city, and is close enough to have dusted the city with volcanic ash during its spectacular 1980 eruption.


Downtown, in the southwest area of Portland, at night, from the east.
Downtown, in the southwest area of Portland, at night, from the east.
View of downtown Portland from the south.
View of downtown Portland from the south.
Pioneer Courthouse Square, with Fox Tower in the background.
Pioneer Courthouse Square, with Fox Tower in the background.

Downtown Portland lies in the Southwest section between the I-405 freeway loop and the Willamette River, centered around Pioneer Courthouse Square ("Portland's living room"). Downtown and many other parts of inner Portland have compact square blocks (200 ft [60 m] on a side) and narrow streets (64 ft [20 m] wide), a pedestrian-friendly combination.

Many of Portland's recreational, cultural, educational, governmental, business, and retail resources are concentrated downtown, including:

Beyond downtown, the Southwest section also includes:


NW 21st Ave.
NW 21st Ave.
The Made in Oregon sign above Old Town.
The Made in Oregon sign above Old Town.

Northwest Portland includes the Pearl District, most of Old Town Chinatown, the Northwest District, and various residential and industrial neighborhoods. A range of streets in Northwest Portland are named alphabetically, from Ankeny (actually one block South Of Burnside, which, even though it is technically the divider between north and south, is the "B" street in the alphabetical sequence) north to Yeon. (Several characters in Portland native Matt Groening's TV show The Simpsons have names based on these: Ned Flanders, the bully Kearney, Reverend Lovejoy, Mayor Quimby, Milhouse Van Houten (actually in North Portland), and possibly C. Montgomery Burns[ide]. Contrary to popular belief, the character Sideshow Bob Terwilliger is not named after SW Terwilliger Boulevard in Southwest Portland.[18])

The Pearl District is a recent name for a former warehouse and industrial area just north of downtown. Many of the warehouses have been converted into lofts, and new multistory condominiums have also been developed on previously vacant land. The increasing density has attracted a mix of restaurants, brewpubs, shops, and art galleries. The galleries sponsor simultaneous artists' receptions on the first Thursday of every month.

Between the Pearl District and the Willamette is the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood. It includes Portland's Chinatown, marked by a pair of lions at its entrance at NW 4th Ave. and W Burnside St. and home to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Before World War II, this area was known as Japan Town or Little Tokyo; Chinatown was previously located just south of W. Burnside St. along the riverfront.

Further west is the compact but thriving NW 21st and 23rd Avenue restaurant and retail area, the core of the Northwest District. Parts of this area are also called Uptown and Nob Hill. The residential areas adjacent to the shopping district include the Alphabet Historic District (with large Victorian and Craftsman homes built in the years before and shortly after 1900) and a large district centered around Wallace Park. The neighborhood has a mix of Victorian-era houses, apartment buildings from throughout the 20th century, and various businesses centered around Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center. The Portland Streetcar connects Nob Hill to downtown, via the Pearl.

West of the developed areas is the northern portion of Portland's West Hills, including the majority of extensive Forest Park.


North Portland is a diverse mixture of residential, commercial, and industrial areas. It includes the Portland International Raceway, the University of Portland, and massive cargo facilities of the Port of Portland. Slang-names for it include "NoPo" (shortened from North Portland) and "the Fifth Quadrant" (for being the odd-man out from the four-cornered logic of SE, NE, SW, and NW).

North Portland is connected to the industrial area of Northwest Portland by the St. Johns Bridge, a 2,067 ft (630 m) long suspension bridge completed in 1931 and extensively rehabilitated in 2003-5.

During World War II, a planned development named Vanport was constructed to the north of this section between the city limits and the Columbia River. It grew to be the second largest city in Oregon, but was wiped out by a disastrous flood in 1948. Columbia Villa, another wartime housing project in the Portsmouth Neighborhood, is being rebuilt; the new $150 million community is known as New Columbia and offers public housing, rental housing, and single family home ownership units. Since 2004, a light rail line runs along Interstate Avenue, which parallels I-5, stopping short of crossing the Columbia River.


The Oregon Convention Center in NE Portland.
The Oregon Convention Center in NE Portland.

Northeast Portland contains a diverse collection of neighborhoods. For example, while Irvington and the Alameda Ridge boast some of the oldest and most expensive homes in Portland, nearby King is a more working-class neighborhood. Because it is so large, Northeast Portland can essentially be divided ethnically, culturally, and geographically into inner and outer sections. The inner Northeast neighborhoods that surround Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. were once predominantly African American, resembling typical urban inner-city environments found in most major U.S. cities. That is now changing due to the process of gentrification. Inner Northeast includes several shopping areas, such as the Lloyd District, Alberta Arts District and Hollywood, and part of the affluent Irvington, Alameda, and Laurelhurst neighborhoods and nearby developments. The city plan targets Lloyd District as another mixed-use area, with high-density residential development.

At the base of Northeast is the Rose Quarter. It is named after the Rose Garden Arena, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, and also includes the Blazers' former home, the Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum is the home to Portland's hockey team, the Portland Winter Hawks, of the Western Hockey League, though they often play at the Rose Garden. The newest Rose Quarter tenants are the LumberJax of the National Lacrosse League. The city still holds the lease to the land and owns the Coliseum, but the Rose Garden and other buildings were owned by private business interests until they went into receivership. The area is quite active during the teams' home games, and the city hopes to extend the activity by promoting a major increase in residential units in the quarter using zoning and tax incentives.


The Bagdad Theater in the Hawthorne district.
The Bagdad Theater in the Hawthorne district.

Southeast Portland stretches from the warehouses by the Willamette, through the historic Ladd's Addition, to the Hawthorne and Belmont districts up to Gresham. Southeast Portland residents initially tended to the blue-collar but have since evolved into a wide mix of backgrounds; inner southeast is home to several thriving subcultures including Hippies, Hipsters, and environmentalists, while the outer edges are populated by a diverse, largely working-class population which includes immigrant communities from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. The Hawthorne district is known for its hippie/radical crowd and small subculturally oriented shops. The area is home to Reed College.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, Southeast was home to Lambert Gardens. Southeast Portland also features Mt. Tabor, a dormant volcano that has become one of Portland’s more scenic and popular parks.


Portland has a growing restaurant scene, and was recently recognized by the Food Network Awards as their "Delicious Destination of the Year" for 2007.

Popular culture

Portland is well known as a hub of American youth culture.

From the late 1980's through today, Portland has been a major center for movements such as zine-making, including hosting such events as the Portland Zine Symposium and home to major zine distributors such as Microcosm. Portland is also home to radical feminist and lesbian activist movements together referred to as Riot Girl (aka Riot Grrl). Portland is also considered a haven for punk, hardcore, and anarchist movements and subgenres, including the self-reliant DIY movement that has been part of the aforementioned subcultures.

It has produced many artists of significant impact within their respective fields, including musicians and musical groups Poison Idea, The Dandy Warhols, Everclear, Pink Martini, The Shins, Elliott Smith, Lifesavas, and The Decemberists; animator Matt Groening; filmmaker Gus Van Sant; and authors Beverly Cleary, Katherine Dunn, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Chuck Palahniuk.

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