Walnut Park is important.
But it’s likely that you’ve never heard about it. That’s forgivable. Restore Oregon didn’t know it existed until last summer. It’s probable that even some residents of Walnut Park don’t know that they live within its boundaries.
When platted in 1904, this undeveloped island of forest in Northeast Portland was bounded by Alberta to the south and Killingsworth to the north. Its western boundary, Congress Street, was subsequently vacated for the construction of Jefferson High School and, to the east, what was once Union Avenue is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. While much of the original plat’s western blocks were devoted to a mix of uses, the eastern half of the neighborhood was developed with a pleasant variety of middle-class housing types from the decades leading up to the Second World War.
Walnut Park was first sold to and occupied by the typical American mixture of Western European immigrants including families of Irish, German, and Scandinavian ancestry. In keeping with the rest of Northeast Portland which surrounded it, Walnut Park saw a cultural and racial change in its residents after World War Two. Prominent black Portlanders replaced white occupants of the neighborhood as it continued to ground the social and civic life of Northeast Portland. In the last 15 years, Walnut Park’s demographics have begun to shift once again. As in much of the city, many of the neighborhood’s older families have left in response to internal and external pressures. The inherent charm and history of the streets and their houses have attracted new residents who join a community which has evolved for a century.
Walnut Park is important because of that brief, paraphrased history.
It’s representative of much of Northeast Portland and speaks to significant eras in the city’s development and evolution. But that story is threatened.
In the summer of 2016, Walnut Park neighbors were surprised to learn that a landmark which had anchored their neighborhood for 105 years would be demolished. The Ocobock House and the fight to save it galvanized the residents who surround it. Their ultimate success, facilitated by Restore Oregon, but initiated, led, and secured by a core band of neighbors started a conversation about the value of Walnut Park and the likelihood of its survival in an ever-changing Portland. They have requested our assistance to continue evaluating options for the community which would document their history and identity and we agreed.
Like many across the city, the residents of Walnut Park have discovered that their neighborhood is vulnerable. Their stories might go untold. Their landmarks might be demolished. But unlike so many others, the citizens of Walnut Park are working proactively to shape the evolution of their neighborhood. Not to arrest change but to effect that change and direct it in a way that sustains their story and builds on the power of place that has been preserved in this corner of the city. And Restore Oregon will help.