Situated between Marquam Hill and the Willamette River, South Portland is a unique remnant of Portland’s past. Its history encompasses the city’s immigrant roots, industrial prowess, and tumultuous early urban development. In its current state, it is an isolated fragment of historic Portland surrounded by increasing urban growth. The potential impacts of development within
the district, spurred by TriMet’s proposed Southwest Corridor, have led community members, stakeholders, and the general public to reflect on the future of the area.
Like many of Portland’s earliest neighborhoods, the history of South Portland is largely one of immigrants. Jewish and Italian immigrants were some of the community’s first residents in the 1860s, drawn by nearby booming industry. Lair Hill, as it was later dubbed, was a
neighborhood of residences and small businesses. While the majority of migrant residents and their families have moved elsewhere in the city, the district has maintained its working-class character and diverse household incomes. Unlike the majority of Portland neighborhoods, it is unique that a community so close to the downtown core would remain largely unaffected by
massive economic gentrification and large-scale development.
Lair Hill is, and always has been, a neighborhood surrounded by public transportation. The neighborhood initially developed between two major railways connecting Portland to its southern neighbors. Portland’s first horse-drawn streetcar ran through the neighborhood
on what is now Naito Parkway. Construction of the Ross Island Bridge in 1926 and later development of major automobile thoroughfares like Barbur Boulevard, Naito Parkway, and Interstate 5 continued Lair Hill’s history as a neighborhood surrounded by transportation. Residents consider their neighborhood “an island,” not only surrounded by hills and water but literally and figuratively enclosed within transportation arteries and overshadowed by the ever-expanding downtown Portland.
TriMet’s proposed Southwest Corridor expansion would add a MAX light rail line and stop to South Portland. Various stakeholders include Oregon Health & Science University, TriMet, Friends of Terwilliger Park, National University of Natural Medicine, and South
Portland community members. At potential risk is the historic character of the South Portland neighborhood as defined in the Lair Hill Conservation District established in 1980 and the South Portland Historic District established in 1998. As with the addition of any transit hub, TriMet and the City of Portland hope to increase the density of the neighborhood and add more commercial businesses. South Portland is not resistant to change and wants to remain a vibrant community while retaining its history.
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