By Karen Hery
Montavilla has been a recognized neighborhood of Portland since 1889. The name originated from an abbreviation on a trolley destination sign for Mount Tabor Villa Addition shortened to “Mt. Ta. Villa”.
In 1854, a marker stood where Stark Street now cuts through the Montavilla business district indicating that travelers were five miles from the Portland city center.
The mile post, the inspiration for the Milepost 5 condominium community for creatives off 82nd St., still exists, freshly painted and nestled in the landscaping of a former upholstery business at 7724 SE Stark.
Montavilla, originally part of an unnamed 1,209 acres used mainly for farming and orchards between Rocky Butte and Mt. Scott, now boasts over 6,000 households. It stretches from I-84 to SE Division St including streets West of I-205 to SE 76th Ave south of Burnside and to NE 67th Ave north of Burnside.
The first wave of urban development bloomed from 1880 through 1900 as farmland was converted to urban home lots. The lots sold for $100 down and payments of $5 a month. The neighborhood got its own post office in 1891.
Stark St between 76th and 92nd was then and is still, the business center. An 1890 description of this growing business area included three grocery stores, a couple of meat markets, a livery stable, a privately-owned bank and two blacksmith shops.
One of those early grocery stores, the Taylor Court Grocery, is now a lone business surrounded by houses at SE 80th/Taylor Ct. It has been in existence at the same location for over 100 years.
Current owners, Errol and Mel have owned it for the past 20, while maintaining a residence two blocks away. Errol, who is a former tour guide, keeps the books and works the counter. Mel stocks the shelves. The store carries unique items requested by neighborhood residents.
Originally launched in 1948, the Academy Theater was a popular Montavilla destination until its closure in the 1970s. Over the following years, it fell into disrepair, but a full-scale renovation was completed in 2006, including careful restoration of the lobby.
Even the theater’s signature marquee has been recreated to imbue the building with authentic 1940s charm. Many people are enjoying the outside of the theater as well as the inside now that Olivia Knapp has created a mural across the back wall entitled “Other Hand”.
In the 1920s, a 74th St. house in Montavilla was the home of Annie Miner Peterson, one of the last known native speakers of the Coastal Indian Miluk language.
Peterson shared many of her stories and key recordings of the now extinct language with anthropologists and liked to gather nettles nearby and harvest wild service berries growing out beyond Sullivan’s Gulch.
Plenty of berries in season and other local foods will be on display at the Montavilla Farmer’s Market, SE 76th/Stark. The Market opens a month earlier this year, starting May 15 and continuing every Sunday through October 30.
Montavilla residents have formed the Montavilla Food Coop, which is in the process of recruiting members with the ultimate goal of opening a brick and mortar storefront. More information is available at Montavilla.coop.
Kelly Moyer currently works at the designer clothing store Union Rose and lives in the neighborhood. She has been a retail clerk at several different Montavilla stores.
“I’m so grateful that the neighborhood is still affordable for the people who also work here,” says Moyer, who sees Montavilla as one of the few inner city places where that still feels true.
Real Estate prices may be a far cry from the original $100 down and payments of $5 a month back in the late 1800s, but they haven’t risen as fast as other nearby neighborhoods.
Jarrett Altman, of Neighborhood Works Realty, has seen the jump in both rental and home prices over the past few years and a challenging drop in available inventory all over SE Portland. She can vouch for the difference between one side of Mount Tabor and the other.
“Homes in the Montavilla neighborhood that sold in the mid 200’s two years ago are going now for low to mid 300’s,” says Altman. “It’s a jump for sure but not anything compared to neighborhoods like Sunnyside where bungalows are being torn down to build full lot houses with an $800,000 asking price.”
Change is inevitable but not always comfortable. That may explain the comfort that grownups from the neighborhood and all around Portland are taking in adult coloring night at Vintage Cocktail Lounge at 79th/Stark every Monday night starting at 7 pm. Patrons are invited to color pictures of movie stars from the ‘40s and ‘50s (Ida Lupino was featured recently) and to turn in their works of art for a free music CD.
Local works of art are featured every First Friday at Milepost 5 and throughout the main business district. Details of First Friday events can be accessed at FirstFridayMontavilla on Facebook.
A lot has changed from the 1890’s and even from the 1940s and 1950s to now. One thing, at least for now, is holding steady: just a few blocks off the main streets, Montavilla still feels like that sleepy streetcar stop, five miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
This is the first in a series featuring areas of SE Portland with an eye to the history and happenings in local neighborhoods. To suggest a neighborhood, well hidden places and historical facts contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.