After the renaming of Portland’s streets in 1891, a decentralized numbering system remained. For the years before The Great Renumbering, Portland addresses were fractured and inconsistent, reflecting a series of smaller grids that were no longer in use. There was no correlation between the numbers on buildings to the location in the city.
Although a number of community groups had voiced support for reorganizing street numbers after the renaming, City Commissioner Asbury Barbur (whose name you might recognize from Barbur Blvd.) began a strong push for change in the 1920s. It took years of debate and planning until the city passed an ordinance in 1931 dividing Portland into five “quadrants” (SE, SW, NE, NE, N) and city planners embarked on a comprehensive plan to bring some sense to the city’s addresses. These directional abbreviations became the prefix to most Portland streets creating an easily navigable grid.
Buildings were then numbered in neat rows of 100s with addresses counting up from the Willamette River and Burnside Street. The project was phased in over two years as a compromise to many area business concerned with the costs of updating their advertising and letterhead. After shifting and renaming several of the streets, the city provided and installed uniform house numbers to everyone in Portland who had to switch out the numerals on their buildings. In fact, many homes and business still display their original “Great Renumbering” black and white tile squares. Those little numbers are a part of Portland history!
Perhaps your house doesn’t have the original 1930s number tiles? That’s a problem that can be easily (and locally) remedied. You can purchase replicas at Rejuvenation Hardware.