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Vanport flood survivors
By Arashi Young | The Skanner News
Published: 08 December 2016

Through the work of survivors, historians and advocates, more people have become aware of Vanport, the one-time second largest city in Oregon that was destroyed by a flood in 1948.

Community members are now calling for a permanent way to remember the lost city -- by renaming Delta Park Vanport.

Lee Moore, who was a child living in Vanport at the time of the flood, said the significance of the former city is too great to go unnoticed and unnamed.

“There should be something more meaningful to commemorate what went on there through the 40s and the impact that Vanport had on the city of Portland,” Moore said.

Vanport was a quickly constructed workforce housing town built for the workers at Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. The town housed over 40,000 people at its peak and had schools, a post office, a movie theater, a library and a hospital.

Joe Kregal remembered seeing the houses of Vanport after the flood, but said he didn’t understand the significance of the city until he was older. His father worked in the shipyards, and Kregal worked on some of the Kaiser Liberty ships when he was a longshoreman.

Kregal spoke to The Skanner News, advocating for the name to be returned to the area. He said the name was erased due to the political correctness of the time, but it should be reinstated to honor the heroes of the era.

“It’s an insult, it’s an insult to the people that were involved, it’s an insult to Kaiser, it’s an insult to everyone that they named it Delta Park,” Kregal said.

Both Moore and Kregal point to Vanport as a pivotal point in history, both nationally and locally. Kregal believes the Kaiser shipyards were instrumental in the war effort. Kaiser’s rapid shipyard production famously produced the SS Robert E. Peary liberty ship in four days and 15-and-a-half hours, breaking the previous shipbuilding record of 10 days.

Moore said Vanport forever changed culture and environment of Oregon through the influx of workers from throughout the nation. He also pointed to the institutions that were born from the city.

“When you look at the things that came out of Vanport, which is Portland State University -- Vanport College became Portland State University,” Moore said. “Vanport Hospital was the beginning of Kaiser Hospital.”

Moore has been leading discussions on Vanport with The Skanner News during the screenings of “The Wake of Vanport,” the oral history project capturing Vanport survivor experiences. During these discussions he has found a lot of support for the idea of renaming Delta Park.

The Skanner News in partnership with the North Portland Media Training Center has been collecting community input on changing the name. People who are interested in the renaming effort are encouraged to call 503-285-5555 ext 521.

Both Kregal and Moore would also like to see a historical interpretive center in the Delta Park area. For Moore, a history center would be a way to provide an ongoing explanation of the city and its impact.

Kregal believes that people need to visualize the former city in place to really get a sense of what happened.

“I think they would be amazed if they could visualize what was down there, it’s shocking,” Kregal said. “If you look down there and imagine, all that housing and all those streets and all that stuff and then it’s gone.”

For more information or to get involved in this effort, call (503) 285-5555 ext 521.

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