Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

A sense of place, a sense of time

In my 17th year (whoa) of living in Portland, I've noticed more and more a reaction of mine:

I wonder what parts of Portland were like in the 1980s. I saw certain, circumscribed parts of the city back then, a decade where I grew more aware of the wider world; I saw the areas my family members lived in or visited. I started to fall in love with the view from the top deck of the Fremont Bridge, heading into downtown; I remember how it looked before the new U.S. Bank building, a.k.a. "Big Pink" (really), was built in 1985 on downtown's north end. (Until then, very few tall buildings were in the north part of downtown. That's changed.) But I have a deeply incomplete image of Portland from then; and relatively few films or shows were being made in town, either, so we have little documentation of the town that way. (Old films are never a complete record of a city anyway, even in a place like New York where so many films and TV shows are shot.)

I have photos, somewhere, of what I saw: Grandpa Irv was a photographer already, I was becoming one, so those show a slice of Portland back then, but, still, just a slice, just a bit.

Memory can change those views, too. I simply don't remember all of the places I walked past or rode in cars past; I wasn't the one navigating or driving so I didn't need to know. Thinking "Okay, we had a picnic in a park" almost certainly won't help me figure out which park. I've likely often gone to or past places Eighties-Me already saw, and didn't know it, in the 17 (again, whoa) years I've been a resident.

So it's a small gift when I can tell, or at least feel, that some area still feels very Eighties. In 2009, I deliberately saw the film Watchmen at the Roseway Theater, since its neighborhood still has what feels like its Eighties look (Watchmen takes place in an alternate version of 1985, so this seemed apt). Each street I've lived on probably hasn't changed much in its look since not just the Eighties, but from even earlier; houses from the Forties, Thirties, and Twenties are along all of those roads, and many have kept their basic outside looks since being built.

Portland is in the midst of what feels like an overwhelming building boom (seemingly almost all expensive apartments argh), so I find some relief in seeing how people remember older Portland. I live near a community center with all sorts of photos of the neighborhood from past decades. That neighborhood had a streetcar line running down Foster Rd. then turning south on SE 72nd, near where I now live, with the curve onto SE Woodstock Blvd. where the track headed farther east. Also, Portland is one of those cities that too often mark places by what used to be there, which is kind of an unhelpful habit. "Yeah, that was once the Sandwich Depot, back four restaurants ago, before Tarboush and before Big-Ass Sandwiches. Now it's Big's Chicken." (We just hit the one-year anniversary of Big-Ass Sandwiches closing. I miss that place.) Seriously, sometimes we come close to saying "Turn left where the laundromat got torn down." (That's Busy Bee Cleaners, which used to be just south of SE Foster and Powell. Fr'ex.)

At some level, I'm sensing that a place obviously has history, but I don't know the details of it. And I'm craving the details. Is it my length of time here? Is it the redevelopment boom? A little of both, I'm guessing. There. It's noted.
Tags: portland

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