Part two: Reaching for Community

by Karen Hery

In the beginning, it was a reach just to get across the river. The 384 urban acres from 28th to 49th between Hawthorne and Stark, known now as the Sunnyside neighborhood, was first homesteaded in 1851.

Prior to the Morrison bridge opening in 1887, life in Sunnyside existed in a much more isolated community. With just a ferry crossing over from downtown Portland at Stark, going downtown was a whole day’s adventure.

At that time, Sunnyside was an extension of the City of East Portland, a civic entity near the shore of the Willamette with a brief history. Incorporated in 1871, East Portland got consolidated, along with the city of Albina, into the larger city of Portland in 1891 forming one “big” city – population 11,457.

Before becoming part of the City, East-West streets in Sunnyside were lettered L to T where Washington to Madison now are and North-South streets were named after trees: Laurel, Myrtle, Maple, Laburnum, Acacia, Chestnut and Cedar at present day 31st to 37th Avenues.

The merger with the City resulted in the North-South streets being numbered along with the rest of Portland and the East-West streets taking on the same names as their corresponding streets across the river.

With a new bridge over the Willamette in place, the 1888 steam-powered streetcar began lumbering up Morrison, across at 26th and onto Belmont to Mount Tabor. Developers advertised a new community on the sunny side of the river away from the shadow of the West hills and pollution of downtown.

This reach for a sunnier form of living brought a working class neighborhood to life in Sunnyside between 1890 and 1930 including one of the first vibrant neighborhood shopping areas on Belmont between 33rd and 35th, known then as Laburnum after the old city street name.

This commercial strip continues to be Sunnyside’s main shopping district and still retains many of the historic buildings of the late 19th century. Many of the early Queen Anne-style homes also remain with original carriage houses on the side or out back. Some of the original brass or copper horse rings are still sunk into the sidewalk curbs . . .  for tying up your horse, of course.

Prior to the late 1970s, rings were being removed during sidewalk reconstruction or repair. In 1978, after a Portland resident complained about the disappearance of rings, Connie McCready, then a City Commissioner, announced that rings could be replaced. Today, original horse rings are reinstalled following curb and sidewalk construction or repair.

Photo: SE Belmont Street 1941