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December 31st, 2013 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: A Mollusk Moniker

How did the Pearl District get its name?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
How did the Pearl District get its name? I heard that only a few years ago the area was a bunch of vacant warehouses and industrial buildings.

—Chuck H.

As you read this, one of America’s greatest annual festivals is drawing to a close. I’m speaking, of course, of National Punt Week, that period between Christmas and New Year’s when American workplaces slow to the glacial pace of a Greek post office in the offseason.

In media, this cavalcade of lassitude leads to a lot of “Year in Review” and “Best of 2013” articles. Indeed, I was tempted to do “Marty’s Top 10 Restraining Orders of 2013,” but it’s so hard to pick just 10. Besides, you deserve better.*

The most widely circulated Pearl origin story is that in 1985, local gallery director Thomas Augustine was quoted in a travel magazine as saying that the neighborhood’s industrial buildings were like crusty oysters, while the galleries and lofts inside were like pearls. When I hear this, I can’t help but imagine Godzilla crunching through the stony rooftops to get at the pale and lustrous yuppies within, but maybe I’m weird.

The legend was extended in 2002, when The Oregonian’s Margie Boulé tracked down Augustine, who emended his tale with the late-breaking news that he’d actually named the ’hood in honor of his friend Pearl Marie Amhara. Amhara supposedly threw such great warehouse parties that people started calling it “Pearl’s place” or “Pearl’s district.”

I have no evidence that any part of this story is anything but true, but still, I’d be interested to see it corroborated. (Augustine’s trail goes cold at a gallery that closed several years ago.)

I encourage anyone who was there, or who knew Amhara, to get in touch. Make Dr. Know eat crow!

*No, you don’t.


QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

 
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