Duck Duck Book

53 – portland red guide
04.14.2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: history & geography

The Portland red guide : sites & stories of our radical past / by Michael Munk.
Portland, Or. : Ooligan Press, 2007.
[MCL call number: 979.549 M966p 2007; 22 copies, no holds;
one copy reference only at Central Library]

I have a great love for my hometown, Portland, Oregon. It is a pedestrian sort of city in many ways, and its glamour is a little faint when compared to really fabled places — cities that have starred in films and been the inspiration for renowned works of literature. But, part of why I love Portland is that I am connected to it. I live here, and I am a part of its history. I remember businesses that are long gone, houses and neighborhoods that have been replaced with parking lots or road infrastructure, streets that once had different names, and parks that used to be sketchy but are now squeaky clean. However, my own memories go back only thirty years or so, and though Portland is a young city by most measures, thirty years is not so much of its history.

So I need a little help if I want to be truly well-versed in the details of what the buildings used to hold, why the parks and streets have the names they do, and what the neighborhoods were once like before everything changed. The Portland Red Guide is one place to go for help in this quest. Michael Munk spent dozens of years researching Portland’s history for tiny jewels — terse little stories of personalities, organizations, and institutions; of strikes and parties, criminal trials and cultural events; of parks, storefronts and streetcorners — all located simultaneously in the physical, historical, and cultural landscape of the city.

One quite startling thing The Portland Red Guide illustrates is the number of intact, surviving buildings and streetscapes that once hosted a slice of radical history. Pictures really bring this home: Lownsdale Square (between SW 3rd and 4th Aves. and across from the Multnomah County Courthouse) is shown in several historic photographs as the location of public meetings of Portland’s branch of the Communist Party; a beautiful 1950’s-era street scene shows the gay bar The Harbor Club (at 736 SW 1st Ave., in a building that is still with us); and houses once lived in by Portland’s most noted radical daughters, Dr. Marie Equi and Louise Bryant (at 1423 SW Hall and 2226 NE 53rd Ave., respectively) still stand and look downright normal in their photographs.

Munk divides Portland’s history into six chronological periods (from the late 19th century through Halloween, 2006), and for each he provides a brief introduction; a list of people, places, institutions and events; a map situating them in the city; and a selection of photographs. The book closes with an excellent bibliography of books on Portland’s history and an index.

* * *

I have discussed many other books, websites, and films that consider elements of Portland’s history. Gordon DeMarco’s A Short History of Portland (Lexikos, 1990, reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 22) and the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon History Project (reviewed in number 4) provide general views of the city’s past, but most of the others focus on specific topics:

Portland’s neighborhoods and communities are the focus of Cornerstones of Community: Buildings of Portland’s African American History (Bosco-Milligan Foundation, 1995, reviewed in number 47), A Walking Tour of Jewish Portland With the People That Lived There (by Polina Olsen, Smart Talk Publications, c2004, reviewed in number 28), Burnside, a Community (by Kathleen Ryan and Mark Beach, Coast to Coast Books, c1979, reviewed in number 29), Portland’s Little Red Book of Stairs (by Stefana Young, Coobus Press, c1996, reviewed in number 18), and the film Imagining Home: Stories of Columbia Villa (Sue Arbuthnot and Richard Wilhelm, 2005, announced in number 7).

Local architectural history can be found in the regional study Space, Style, and Structure: Building in Northwest America (edited by Thomas Vaughan and Virginia Guest Ferriday, Oregon Historical Society, 1974) and in Last of the Homemade Buildings (by Virginia Guest Ferriday, Mark Pub. Co., 1984, both reviewed in number 43), which focuses on a very small but glamorous group of buildings in downtown Portland.

The history of the Kalapuya people, indigenous inhabitants of the Willamette Valley area, is detailed in The World of the Kalapuya (by Judy Rycraft Juntunen et al., Benton County History Society and Museum, c2005, reviewed in number 31) and in Harold Mackey’s The Kalapuyans (The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, c2004, reviewed in number 33).

Elements of Portland’s hip hop and punk scenes are explored in the films Small City Big Hip Hop (Opio Media LLC, [2005], announced in number 23) and Northwest Passage (ID/ODD Productions, 2007, announced in number 42).

The Rose City’s notable trees are described and celebrated in the guide Trees of Greater Portland (by Phyllis C. Reynolds and Elizabeth F. Dimon, Timber Press, c1993, reviewed in number 16), while details of our gray winters, volcanic fallout, and famously warm and lovely Augusts are recorded in Raymond R. Hatton’s Portland, Oregon Weather and Climate: A Historical Perspective (Geographical Books, c2005, reviewed in number 37).

Ed Goldberg’s Dead Air (Berkeley Prime Crime, 1998, reviewed in number 22) is a mystery novel, not a factual history, but its setting among the staff of a local community-supported radio station makes it interesting for aficionados of local radical history even though it is fictional. And, the nearly-forgotten B-movie Portland Exposé (DVD published by Kit Parker double features / VCI Entertainment, 2006, reviewed in number 41), also fiction, explores another major chunk of our cultural past — corruption and organized crime.

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