Local historian Val Ballestrem says: “Portland’s downtown began by the river, made mostly of wooden structures and populated by loggers and frontier families…at one point, men outnumbered women four-to-one.”
SW 1st and Main, 1888
In 1873, a fire wiped out most of Portland’s wooden buildings, doing over $925,000 of damage (about $17.5 million today). In their place came brick, terra cotta, and cast iron structures that now define historic Portland. Small retail shops, like the dru
SW 3rd Ave & Washington, 1905
As the city grew and its commercial sophistication increased, the city center’s heart moved slightly off the river, coalescing around SW Third Avenue. The expanding street car network and the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition stoked growth.
Third Avenue Arch Lights, 1915
In a promotional effort, downtown retailers installed “the Great Light Way”—illuminated arches at the corners of Third. By 1937, some of the lights were turned off due to the Depression. By 1940, the arched light ways were torn down altogether.
W Burnside and 6th Ave, 1931
By the early 1930s, the automobile began to dominate and transform the city center’s landscape (streets were widened) and retail habits (shopping began to disperse beyond the traditional core.) Portland had more cars per capita than large cities like Chi
SW 6th, 1939
On the eve of World War II, however, downtown Portland remained the city’s shopping hub. During the war, the city’s population (and business) boomed, as workers migrated to build battleships here.
Lloyd Center, 1962
The post-war transformation of American residential and retail patterns, driven by GI Bill housing assistance and new, auto-oriented development and infrastructure, found a local symbol in Lloyd Center. While relatively close to downtown, the new mall ai
Pioneer Courthouse Square Opening, 1984
Official efforts to revive downtown, after a long decline in the ‘60s and ‘70s, symbolically culminated in the creation of Pioneer Courthouse Square, on the site of the demolished Portland Hotel.
From rude beginnings as a frontier trading post, downtown Portland has always been the region's symbolic consumer hub—despite challenges from the suburbs and changing habits.
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