Saving the Good Old Houses: The 1989 Struggle in NW Portland

By Sandy Polishuk


From Eastmoreland, to Kenton, to Ladd’s Edition, to Northwest Portland, Portlanders are fighting to save good old houses and maintain the character of their neighborhoods–the City of Portland has called it a “demolition uproar.” Others call it a demolition epidemic.

As neighbors and neighborhood associations enter the fray, few are aware of a similar conflict in NW Portland and the events of May 23, 1989 when townhouse developer Philip J. Morford’s bulldozer attacked on NW Overton and twenty-three neighborhood residents were arrested when they put their bodies in the way.

Join History of Social Justice Organizing for this timely presentation on Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 7 pm, at the Architectural Heritage Center, 701 SE Grand Ave., Portland. Free and open to the public.

The clash had been brewing for months; a hearing was scheduled for the next day with the Landmarks Commission when Morford sent in the bulldozers early in the day. They were quickly noticed, a call went out and a crowd of protestors arrived. A number sat down on one of the porch of a targeted house and were dragged away by police.

In the aftermath, the Northwest District Association (NADA) and a neighborhood negotiation committee managed to save a grand Overton house designed by Whidden Lewis to be saved on site and for two other houses to be moved nearby. A few years later, the Alphabet District (an area zoned for historic preservation extending roughly between NW 17th and 24th Avenues, and between W Burnside and NW Marshall Street) was approved by the Landmarks Commission and the Portland City Council.

The panel will feature five central participants in the struggle:

Nancy Nesewich, the leader of the grassroots movement to save the houses, was one of the first arrested that day.

Ruth Roth, the first to occupy the porch, was dragged off and arrested a few minutes later. At the time, she was chair of the NADA Historic Resources Committee and spearheaded efforts to get the Overton Pettygrove houses declared historic landmarks.

As staff to the neighborhood association, Joleen Jensen-Classen coordinated the negotiation process.

Frank Dixon and Rick Michaelson were lead negotiators on the neighborhood negotiation team that reached the settlement.



Saving the Good Old Houses: The 1989 Struggle in NW Portland

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