Like many longtime Northeast Portland residents, Pauline Bradford remembers the way her community looked right after World War II. She remembers the businesses that flourished and flopped before Interstate 5 divided the peninsula; and the streetcar that used to run up and down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
But the one thing Bradford remembers most of all, is how it is to forget – especially when a neighborhood's history is not preserved.
"There is so much Black history, so much American history, in this city that people don't know about," she said.
As the time runs out for the MLK Boulevard Urban Renewal Area, one final, nearly forgotten project has resurfaced for the public to debate.
As far back as 1993, the Portland Development Commission's Albina Community Plan called for the creation of public art to both mark the gateway into inner Northeast Portland and mark historically significant areas of the neighborhood.
Now, 15 years after being relegated to the backlist of priorities for the urban renewal area, the Gateway and Heritage Markers Project has been reborn, and the PDC is looking for community input to determine just what the project could look like.
Living in inner Northeast Portland since the 1940s, Bradford said she was afraid this important project would be lost among bigger, flashier ones. The 79-year-old has seen many changes in her life — not all of them good, she says.
Bradford wants to sit on the advisory committee for the Heritage Project to make sure developers get it right. She wants the project to represent the true history of Portland's African American community.
"The gateway needs to tell the truth and not gloss it over," Bradford says. "History in this country has been largely whitewashed … People tend to forget about what has happened."
Irene Bowers, Heritage Project coordinator for the PDC, the gateway will be built at the intersection of Northeast Grand Avenue and MLK Boulevard.
Depending on community input and funding, the placement and number of heritage markers could be anywhere from one to one hundred. Bowers said $75,000 from the PDC's Convention Center Urban Renewal Area budget has been allocated for the project's design – the rest of the money will have to be raised. And the total cost for materials and construction will largely depend on the size and scope that the advisory committee – consisting of representatives from neighborhood associations, business owners and others — will approve.
So what could the project look like?
"We have no idea," says Bowers, who has a background in landscape architecture and urban planning. "This is the very beginning … I want to make sure it's something spectacular and permanent. There is so much history in North/Northeast Portland that needs to come out."
Bradford had hoped to see a park at the proposed gateway spot, but says it's more important to record the details of life now forgotten – the MLK Boulevard streetcar; the destruction of homes and businesses to make way for the freeway; and other major projects; and the struggle to get banks to finance African American homes and businesses.
"I have been pushing to make sure (this history) didn't get wiped out," she said. "To make sure people know they are entering an area that, for 50 or 60 years, has been enmeshed with African Americans."
Jennifer Jardee-Borquist, co-chair of the King Neighborhood Association, said she hasn't formally discussed the project with her association, but that she – like Bradford – has high hopes for the project's truthfulness.
"The North/Northeast area has had such a long and rich tradition," Jardee-Borquist says. "I hope (the project) is inclusive of all its history."
Bowers said the PDC would have a table set up at the Good in the Neighborhood celebration on Saturday, June 23 at King School Park at Northeast Wygant Street and Seventh Avenue. Questionnaires are also available online at www.pdc.us/ura/convention_center/heritage-markers.asp. Community outreach meetings will begin in September, which is when designs will be available for the community to review.