The alphabetical streets of Northwest Portland are named after historic Portlanders, but I can't imagine that the 26 most deserving lined up neatly, one per letter. Did any total schlubs wind up with their own street just because their name started with an uncommon letter?
—Capt. Xavier Quackenbush
Regular readers with extremely dull lives may remember our discussion of the Great Renaming (Dr. Know: "The Mystery of the Stained-Glass Numbers," WW, Nov. 4, 2015), a flurry of street-name changes that followed Portland's brutal 1891 annexation of two neighboring towns, the occupied territories of East Portland and Albina.
The Renaming was designed to make street names consistent citywide. This was apparently so much fun that the city fathers, drunk with power, decided to rename the already-consistent streets of the Alphabet District (formerly known simply as A Street, B Street, etc.) after some of their favorite white male landowners.
Simple arithmetic dictates that a given dead guy's chances of getting one of these streets named after him increases proportionally to the rarity of his last initial, which inevitably leaves one L.P.W. Quimby squirming uncomfortably in the spotlight.
Quimby's résumé—founder of a trucking company and state game warden—is indeed thin, but so are many others. Burnside Street, for example, isn't named after Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, but after businessman and volunteer fire department enthusiast Davis Burnside, who doesn't exactly bestride history like a colossus.
Even perfectly good letters are represented by scrubs. John Marshall's main claim to fame was being best friends with city founder Asa Lovejoy. (One can easily imagine Marshall hanging out the passenger's side of Lovejoy's ride, trying to holler at future historians.)
The champion? A 1921 Oregonian article on street names reported that the namesake of Thurman Street was already forgotten. However, other sources note that a G. William Thurman was drinking buddies with the guy running the renaming project—a theory that has the pathetic ring of truth.
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