My friend lives in a lovely Victorian in inner Southeast. Over her door is a beautiful stained-glass window with her house number patterned in. Unfortunately, the number on the window isn't her address. I've seen this elsewhere, too—what gives?

—Lost in Translation

Return with us now to a bygone age, before Portlandia, before celiac became fashionable, before Tom McCall himself

The year is 1891. Handlebar mustaches and penny-farthing bicycles roam the Portland streets, which might lead you to believe that nothing is different. However, big doings are afoot.

Portland, originally confined to the west side of the Willamette, has just annexed the formerly independent cities of Albina (more or less where North Portland is now) and East Portland (self-explanatory). This, at a stroke, turns three formerly podunk towns into the Northwest's largest municipality.

Unfortunately, prior to the merger, each town had its own street names and address numbering systems. For example, there were apparently nine separate streets named "Cedar," which seems like a lot even for three cities. (It also suggests that creativity wasn't the pioneers' strong suit; we can only imagine how lame their band names probably were.)

In an event known as the "Great Renaming," these inconsistent street names were soon changed to (more or less) the ones we know today. However, the old house numbers remained, making navigation a challenge.

Fast-forward to 1931, when—after 40 years of flailing—the city approved an even more sweeping reorganization now known as the "Great Renumbering." Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of addresses changed overnight.

As veterans of the Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard wars might imagine, the change wasn't universally loved.

To soften the blow, the city paid for new black-on-white ceramic-tile house numbers—the same ones you've been seeing on houses (including, quite possibly, your own) your whole life. History: pretty trippy