Latest National Historic Register Listing Helps Preserve Portland’s African American Civil Rights History
Today the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in Portland was listed in the National Historic Register. Raymond Burell III gives us the following insight into its history.
Overshadowed though it may be today by new development, the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church (located at 3138 N Vancouver Avenue) is an important cultural and social institution of the Albina/Eliot neighborhood and African American history in Portland. It is one of the few remaining historic structures from the thoroughfare of Vancouver Avenue in the 1950s, and a link to the era when the area was known as “Black Broadway”: the hub of African American life and culture in Portland.
Redevelopment in the 1960s spelled disaster for the black community in North Portland, and modern construction threatens the few structures that have survived thus far. As one of the last standing monuments to Portland’s African American community in the 1940s and 1950s, the story of the Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church is a vital social and cultural thread in the tapestry of Albina/Eliot’s and Portland’s past.
The Church’s roots began with the “Kaiser Caravans” that brought thousands of shipyard workers to the Northwest during World War II. Most of these new arrivals were Southern, many were black, and as these migrants settled into their new homes in Portland, the Northwest received an injection of Southern African American culture. The Church itself originally formed in 1944 in a shipyard worker’s housing project in Vancouver, Washington called Burton Homes. One year later, it had a new leader who would prove to be the driving force behind the Church’s whole story: the Reverend Oliver Booker “O.B.” Williams.
Under Rev. Williams and his wife Willa Ida Jackson-Williams, the next decade saw the Church relocate no fewer than three times. As World War II ended, the housing projects closed, and the Church moved into Albina in 1946. In Portland, the congregation quickly outgrew each new space they moved into, even renovating a condemned structure in 1947, only to find that they were too large for it by the time they had finished. The Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church finally moved into its current location in 1951: a Methodist Episcopal church built in 1909 that could hold 600 people. Even this was eventually found to be inadequate, and in 1957 Rev. Williams renovated the space to hold 800, making this the largest African American congregation in the Northwest.
The Church’s most famous moment came in 1961. As a central pillar of Portland’s black community, the Urban League selected it as one of the stops on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s national speaking tour. He met with the clergy and delivered a speech entitled “The Future of Integration” to the congregation, commenting that “if democracy is to live, segregation must die. Segregation is a cancer in the body of democracy that must be removed if the health of the nation is to survive.” Albina–still a heavily segregated neighborhood in the 1960s and just beginning to feel the Civil Rights Movement’s arrival in Portland–must have felt the weight of King’s words. Its principal role in the local civil rights movement was highlighted by hosting and supporting numerous community rallies, social programs and town hall meetings for social change. Alongside the rest of Eliot, the Church saw most of its community displaced over the next decade, and today its congregation is a fraction of its old size. Now flanked by redevelopment along Vancouver and Williams Avenue, its continued existence is under constant threat. The Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church still stands as a direct line and touchstone from the present back to the old Albina of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. However, like many other historical institutions, the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church’s historical recognition pays homage to, celebrates and preserves the significance of a cultural cornerstone and social change agent landmark in the city of Portland. Today, the church now an active membership of 400 and 72 years, is under the spiritual leadership of the Reverend J.W. Matt Hennessee and continues to serve the Eliot community fervently under a changing redevelopment landscape and population demographic.
By Titus Tomlinson
There I was – opening day at this year’s Main Street Now Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was surrounded by excited, spunky and passionate change agents representing Main Street Programs from across the country. At that moment it became very apparent that I am one of a very large group of individuals who see the importance of Main Street and the role it plays in creating healthy communities that we all can enjoy, take pride in, and embrace as our own. As I spoke with countless volunteers, coordinators and state coordinators one thing became very clear – Main Street is and always will be the heart of our communities, both rural and urban alike. As humans we all know that a healthy heart makes for a healthy body and the same goes for Main Street; a healthy Main Street makes for a healthy community.
So what can you do to help create a healthy heart in your community? The good news is that a world of resources, structure and support is available to help create a healthy heart! For well over 35 years the National Main Street Center has been working with communities across the Country to revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. And they do so using a structured “Main Street Approach” – an approach that has “has earned Main Street the reputation as one of the most powerful economic revitalization tools in the nation.”
One of my favorite components is the fact that this approach not only takes into account the local economy, its drivers and the regional context, but that it also realizes the importance of the stories each community has to share. It’s those stories that help create “sense of place” in all Main Street Communities. And when it comes to what sets each and every community apart, preserving historic building stock is one of the first things that comes to mind.
By embracing the history of our communities we often find those assets that set us apart from others. Whether we are talking about the Liberty Theater in Astoria or I.C. Nickelsen’s / Klindt’s Booksellers building in The Dalles – these are buildings that tell a story and create that sense of place I am speaking about. So what is it about your community that sets it apart and tells that story? Find it, embrace it and make it yours because sometimes the past really does play into the present!
Titus Tomlinson received the Elisabeth Walton Potter Oregon Heritage Preservation Scholarship to attend the 2016 Main Street Now Conference in Milwaukee, WI. For more information about this scholarship visit here.
One of this year’s recipients of an Oregon Heritage Excellence Awards is 65 years old and at that age could be retiring. Instead, the Oregon Archaeological Society is bursting with activity to educate the public about archaeology, advance archaeological knowledge and support the preservation of historic and prehistoric resources.
The society was founded in 1951 as important Native American sites were about to be flooded by The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River.
In the early days, some OAS members were often more interested in amassing personal collections of artifacts. However, in 1974 it adopted a code of ethics by which any member participating in excavation activities for personal gain would be expelled. A year later, it proposed legislation calling for an official state organization to administer site registration and permit process.
Today, it has a wide range of activities. It offers a six-week basic archaeological training, field trips, and speakers at monthly meetings. The speaker in April was the newest appointed member of the Heritage Commission, Chelsea Rose, who talked about her work in Jacksonville.
The Society has also entered into long-term partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to assist their activities. It publishes scientific reports and a monthly newsletter, and offers scholarships and grants to students, schools, and projects.
It is also participates in Portland State University’s Archaeology Roadshow, the Northwest Anthropological Conference, and other professional meetings.
In recognition of its decades of work educating the public about archaeology, preserving cultural resources, and advancing archaeological knowledge, the Oregon Archaeological Society was presented an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award.
If you look at most of the major preservation projects during the past 10 years in Corvallis, one name keeps popping up: B.A. Beierle [pronounced Buy Early].
Since she began monitoring Corvallis and Benton County public bodies with authority over historic resources more than 13 years, Beierle has taken on many important projects.
Many of these projects have involved PreservationWORKS, which she founded in 2003. PreservationWORKS is one of a handful of local nonprofit preservation groups in Oregon.
With her leadership PreservationWORKS has coordinated Preservation Month activities, develop tours, coordinated an architectural history conference, prepared the city’s successful Preserve America application, and coordinated the Corvallis Neighborhood Photo Survey.
This photo survey involved 60 volunteers canvassing more than 2,500 structures and took 6,000 images across 952 acres in an area surrounding the Oregon State University. This is an area straining to maintain its livability.
Beierle, who was presented an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award last month, has also served on numerous community advisory and preservation groups, including the historic Whiteside Theatre, which reopened sooner than anticipated because of her leadership.
Beierle is working with parks and recreation partners to preserve the Knotts Owen farmstead into a place where urban children can learn about the historic agricultural landscape. And she’s played an important role in saving and preserving the Gorman House, the oldest house known to have been built by black pioneers in Oregon.
One supporter wrote in the Heritage Excellence Award nomination that Beierle “has entirely redefined our community’s notions of what can be done in the realm of historic resources. She is never satisfied with simply repeating successful events, and her ongoing development of new collaborations will keep bearing fruit for many years.”
Ten years ago, the University of Oregon Libraries were at a turning point. They had served for more than half century as the official repository for the state’s newspapers and accumulated hundreds of newspaper titles. Many had been microfilmed. But microfilming was becoming expensive and the public was beginning to demand online digitized newspapers.
Out of that moment came the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program.
Since going live in December 2010, the Oregon Digital Newspapers website has drawn more than 6.6 million views from more than 350,000 visitors in 196 countries. The site currently hosts more than 140 titles from more than 60 cities across Oregon.
The website contains more than 740,000 pages of content. The newspapers are primarily from the period before 1923 due to copyright restrictions. These include the state’s first agricultural and African American newspapers.
In addition, by working with two dozen local organizations, governments and businesses it also includes digitized versions of other community newspapers.
Most important, each page is word searchable.
The Oregon Digital Newspaper Program is always changing, too. It helped develop the Library of Congress software for viewing digitized newspaper content online. Last year, it began providing digital access to current newspapers as opposed to microfilm access.
With the recent introduction of Common Core standards in K-12 classrooms, the digital newspaper project has increased its outreach to students and teachers with new lesson plans and other educational resources. The project also publishes a blog.
The UOs’s cooperative, ground-breaking efforts to create the Oregon Digital Newspaper Project and increase public access to important historic documents resulted last month in an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award.
Last month, program director Sheila Rabun also was interviewed by Jefferson Public Radio
by Rebecca Nielsen, Historic Preservation Program Specialist
One hundred years ago this month, May 8, 1916 to be exact, the Medford Federal Building opened to rave reviews. The Medford Mail Tribune called it “substantial,” “modern,” and “very attractive.” The $110,000 brick American Renaissance Revival style building housed the post office (it moved out in the 1960s), a courtroom, legal offices and chambers, and an office for Crater Lake National Park.
Three days short of its centennial last week the public celebrated the milestone with a noontime courtroom ceremony, speakers and an open house.
There were controversies over building a federal building in Medford. Post office receipts confirmed the city’s rapid growth. Once the funds were appropriated by Congress in 1910, location was a big issue. Residents speculated on which side of the river the government would build. There were complaints during construction about the bricklayers waking people too early, the bricks not being local yellow Willamina bricks, and the stone coming from Auburn, Wash., instead of Oregon. (The original design called for terra cotta instead of stone.)
“Few cities of the size of Medford have a more imposing federal building,” the local paper boasted (although Pendleton had a federal building of the same design completed a few months after Medford).
In 1939, an addition to the back of the building was added. It doubled the size of the symmetrical plan with arched windows and stone balustrade and cornice and it cost $230,000.
Today’s building, renamed the James A. Redden U.S. Courthouse in 1997, retains most of its original exterior, and inside you can view the original courtroom. Another historic feature is the recently restored original woodwork and original terrazzo flooring that can be found on the second floor.
For more information visit the website of GSA’s Center for Historic Buildings
Rebecca Nielsen is a historic preservation program specialist with the US General Services Administration.
This is the first of a series of posts about this year’s Oregon Heritage Excellence Award winners.
Built in 1895, the J.S. Cooper Block is the key architectural feature in Independence’s historic downtown. Its owner was a prominent banker who later became a key figure in the region’s booming hop industry, which eventually led the city of Independence to be named the “hop capital of the world.”
Despite its storied history, a series of remodels replaced the Cooper Block’s historic storefronts with dark, bunker-like walls and windows. Two storefronts were completed bricked over. For many years an absentee landlord declared tenants to be a hassle.
Two years ago that all changed. A local developer Florin Drutu bought the J.S. Cooper Building. With the help of another local developer and Central High School graduate Bodie Bemrose, they began to return the building at Main and C streets it to its glory look.
Using grants from the City of Independence and the State Historic Preservation as well as their own funds, they restored the building’s façade. Brick was repointed, and windows were repaired and restored.
The original steel columns of the C Street storefronts were found, enabling the original storefronts to be replicated. Historic photographs enabled an accurate representation of the Main Street storefront to be created.
Ninety percent of the building’s 30-foot-long , 2-by-12 inch joints had to be replaced with beams that were milled to true 2-by-12 inch dimensions.
Once again, the Cooper Block is alive. The three commercial spaces on the first floor are filling. Apartments and offices on the second floor are filled.
For people who are involved in their heritage or the heritage of their community, words like place, commemoration and power have important meanings. Yet we rarely talk about their significance with each other.
The Oregon Heritage Conference next month will give opportunities to converse about them as two keynote talks and several sessions will address them. The conference’s early bird registration rates end this week, so now is the best time to register and assure your spot in the discussions about these important topics.
Bob Beatty, the chief operating officer of the American Association for State and Local History, will talk about “Commemoration: The Promise of Remembrance and New Beginnings” in his keynote talk on May 5 in the Capitol’s House Chambers. In particular, he will show how it motivates organizations.
Reiko Hillyer, an assistant professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, will talk about “Who Owns History? The Politics of Preservation” in her keynote talk on May 6 in the Capitol’s Senate Chambers. The talk will give perspective on who owns the past, who decides what parts of the past get preserved, and the parts that are forgotten in the process.
Other conference sessions will also deal with these topics. More than 30 workshops, sessions and tours are part of the conference. Be sure to look at the preliminary conference schedule.
From upper left, clockwise: Bush House, Hallie Ford Art Museum at Willamette University, Oregon Capitol, Elsinore Theatre.
By Sarah Pearson
Salem maintains a diverse community of cultural-heritage organizations that add depth, passion, and a sense of belonging to the Capital of Oregon. Salem is the best of town and city, with a growing buzz around the events and programs coming from the array of organizations serving this community.
From deep-set traditions such as the Salem Art Fair and Magic at the Mill to newer programs like Deepwood’s Kid’s EdVentures, Salem’s cultural-heritage organizations reach out and work together to build a stronger community with a deeper connection to history.
Salem supports over 60 cultural heritage non-profits, with many other organizations contributing to the diverse framework of our community.
The Salem Heritage All-Star Forum was founded in 2013 in response to Salem’s designation as a Heritage All-Star Community by the Oregon Heritage Commission. It has worked diligently to foster a sense of collaboration and support for organizations of all sizes.
With amazing City of Salem staff support, the Salem Heritage All-Star Forum has completed significant projects, such as a collaboration handbook, which will serve the cultural-heritage community in the coming years. The Forum has also been working towards thematic packages that will promote visitation to the community.
Our Capital is more than what people expect. With a vibrant historic downtown that includes over a dozen museums, galleries, theatres and attractions, Salem is filled with surprising discoveries that we are passionate about.
The Salem Heritage All-Star Forum is excited to welcome the greater Oregon Heritage community for the 2016 Oregon Heritage conference May 4-7. We hope those visiting, and those who make Salem home, will look around this great place and discover Oregon’s Capital of Culture.
Sarah Pearson is the vice chair of the Salem Heritage All-Star Forum’s steering committee and the museum manager at Deepwood Museum and Gardens.
by Heather Kliever
The Daily Eugene Guard on May 17, 1898 printed a list of items that had been placed in the cornerstone of the new Lane County courthouse. Along with the business cards, miniature boot, and a list of teachers, the inventory included “part of a necklace worn by ‘Capt Jack’, Modock Indian chief, when he was hung for killing Gen Canby, by R.M. and Bessie Day.”
R.M. Day was an undertaker for the city of Eugene when the placement took place. It is possible that Day attended the Captain Jack’s hanging on Oct. 3, 1873 and thought the event and souvenir important enough to include in a time capsule 25 years later.
Captain Jack, whose name is Kintpuash, was chief of the Modoc tribe that had been forcibly moved by the U.S. military to live on the neighboring Klamath reservation in southwest Oregon. There was resistance to this move and eventually Captain Jack led a total of 150 people back to their home in the Tule Lake area- 55 were men with the remainder women and children.
When a fight between a soldier and a Modoc warrior took place during surrender negotiations in 1872, Captain Jack and his people moved to the Lava Beds for protection. In April 1873, during a peace commission meeting, Captain Jack and others killed Gen. Edward Canby and Rev. Eleazer Thomas.
Gen. Canby’s successor, Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, whose namesake was the Confederate president in the Civil War, dispatched 1,000 soldiers to the Lava Beds. The outnumbered Modoc surrendered on June 1, 1873 with Captain Jack laying down his rifle.
Six Modoc men stood trial and were convicted of war crimes by a jury comprised entirely of military men. Four men, including Captain Jack, were sentenced to be hanged.
More than 2,000 people attended the hanging.White bystanders took souvenirs off of Captain Jack’s body.
Working recently through uncataloged items at the Lane County Historical Society in Eugene, we happened upon Captain Jack’s beads, which had been donated in 1959 to the museum after the demolition of the 1898 courthouse. We immediately called the Klamath Tribes Culture and Heritage Department. The Lane County Historical Society and Museum is honored to announce the return of Captain Jack’s beads to his family and tribal members. Feb. 19, 2016 was truly a day of celebration with the return of the beads!
Heather Kliever is curator of the Lane County Historical Society and Museum and a member of the Oregon Heritage MentorCorps.