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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PEARL DISTRICT

Prepared by Marianne Kadas, 5/30/01

THE PEARL DISTRICT DEFINED

Portland, Oregon's Pearl District can be defined as the area between Burnside and Marshall Streets and the Willamette River and Highway 405, covering 260 acres. This includes the area known as “Old Town”, sometimes considered a separate entity.

The name “The Pearl” reportedly came from Thomas Augustine, owner of the Augustine Gallery, who spoke of the precious gems hidden in the neighborhood’s crusty old warehouses. Earlier the area was referred to as “The Northwest Triangle.”

MODERN HISTORY

Portland’s Pearl District has a 150-year old “modern” history, dating to 1850 when Captain John Couch filed his Donation Land claim to 640 acres north of downtown Portland. His southern property line was along the present West Burnside Street. Captain Couch laid out his grid for development oriented to a bend in the Willamette River rather than to the city’s existing streets, resulting in some triangular-shaped blocks on the south side of West Burnside Street.. In 1851 the city incorporated Couch’s Addition, 154 acres of the future Old Town and the Pearl District, triggering a 50% to 100% annual increase in the land values.

In 1869 the Oregon Central Railway constructed a line beginning on the riverfront of Couch’s Addition. Nine parcels appraised at $2,900 in 1869 sold for $62,000, within two years, about $750,000 in today’s dollars. Around the rail lines, the future Pearl District became a blue-collar neighborhood of European immigrants. In 1896 the Northern Pacific Terminal Company built Union Station on land donated by Captain Couch.

The Lewis and Clark Exposition held in 1905 at Guild’s Lake (now the Northwest Industrial District) opened the door to a growth jump that doubled Portland’s population in the 10 years from 1900 to 1910. In the first decade of the 20th century, the proximity of this area to Union Station changed as residences gave way to wholesale warehouses, manufacturing and shipping buildings, and storage facilities. These businesses were served by spur lines going west and south to Burnside from the depot. The spur lines were the lifeblood of the rail shipping system as they branched off of the main lines. The first spur line from the depot was on NW 13th from Johnson to Glisan; it was later extended to within 100 feet of Burnside. Another component of development in the area was the P & S Railroad purchase of 40 blocks which extended the terminal facilities to NW 12th. The completion of the Broadway Bridge in 1913 and the construction of the Lovejoy Ramp in 1927 brought more traffic to the Pearl District as the automobile took over transportation opportunities from the railroads.

NEXT: 1920s through 80s