The Portland Street Renaming of 1891 - Scout Realty Co.

The Portland Street Renaming of 1891

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Do you enjoy walking through the Pearl and knowing exactly how many blocks from Burnside or the Willamette River you are? Prior to 1931 people couldn’t navigate around the city so easily, so don’t take this small luxury for granted!

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In 1890, the municipalities of East Portland and Albina officially became part of Portland.  St. Johns followed suit in 1915 and thus Portland became the city we know (and love) today. Because of this merger, there were a number of common street names in use in different parts of the city, making getting around incomprehensible to anyone who lived in the area or not. And even to those who did. There were an abundance of street names like “A”, “3rd”, and, for some reason “Cedar” which caused confusion for postal workers, businesses, and residents alike. The government took the first step to organizing the city in 1891 when they renamed many of the numbered and alphabetic streets, imposing a bit more order to the growing city. This is when “G” street became Glisan and “L” became Lovejoy and Old Portland became the Alphabet District.

[I]n the newly consolidated Portland of 1891 there were twelve “A” streets, twelve “B” streets, twelve “First” streets,  nine “Cedar” streets  and so on.” – Eugene E. Snyder, Portland Names and Neighborhoods: Their Historic Origins

The Great Renaming of Portland was nothing short of a process. There were several solutions proposed and eventually over the course of many years the government took action to turn Portland into the grid it is today. This 5-step plan was recommended by Chicago city planner F. Vierling in 1891, and today almost all of his propositions have been effective.

  1. One name would follow one street clear across the city, rather than have several names in different sections.
  2. The oldest of the names would be preserved and the others discarded.
  3. There would be base lines dividing the city into quadrants and houses would be numbered out of these base lines.
  4. North-South streets would be called avenues, East-West streets would be called streets and highways would be called roads.
  5. There would be 100 numbers allocated to each block.

Of course, it took a number of years for a few of these suggestions to gain support. For quite a while the street names were sorted out there was no comprehensive numbering system in place. A building’s address number had absolutely nothing to do with its location in the city or on a particular street. All of this changed in 1933 with The Great Renumbering.

Intrigued by that fantastic name? Check out this post!