Duck Duck Book

28 – walking tour
01.2.2006, 5:02 pm
Filed under: history & geography

A walking tour of historic Jewish Portland with people that lived there / Polina Olsen. 
Portland, Or. : Smart Talk Publications, c2004.
[MCL call number: 979.549 O52w 2004a; 11 copies, no holds; three copies reference only at Central, Hillsdale, and Hollywood Libraries]

Before the city’s misguided first attempt at the miracle of urban renewal, there was a thriving immigrant neighborhood in South Portland.  The few square miles south of downtown were home to many working class folks, and to new immigrants from Russia, Greece, Italy, Ireland, and China and their descendants.  South Portland was also the nucleus of the city’s Jewish community and contained five synagogues, a public library with a small Yiddish-language collection, a shopping district, and several neighborhood social and cultural organizations.  Now this part of town is divided into bits and pieces by the development of Interstate 5, Highway 26, Barbur Blvd., and Naito Parkway — and much of the neighborhood was razed altogether to make room for the South Auditorium Urban Renewal Project in the 60s. 

But Olsen’s guide shows us the infrastructure of old South Portland that remains today.  A Walking Tour of Historic Jewish Portland leads readers through a brief tour of 14 buildings and parks in the area just south of SW Arthur St.  Each stop is illustrated with a modern-day photograph, a brief description, and with memories from three “Tour Guides” — Norman Berlant, Leo Greenstein, and Gussie Reinhardt, all of whom grew up in the neighborhood. 

It’s the personal stories that really set this wee guide apart.  I’ve walked through this part of South Portland many times (even, once, on school field trip with an Oregon Historical Society-led walking tour), but reading Reinhardt’s description of the ball games on her street (p. 10), or Greenstein’s fond memories of the public library (p. 12) made the community here seem alive and vibrant to me, even though the old neighborhood is gone and its destruction is among the saddest and most shameful of our city’s stories.


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