Abandoned North Portland Bar Taken Over by Squatters Burns to the Ground

There were plans to demolish it following neighbor complaints.

Farmer's Barn (Portland Fire & Rescue)

Another one of Portland’s vacant neighborhood landmarks has gone up in flames.

This week, it’s Farmer’s Barn, an abandoned bar in North Portland that WW examined in January. The building had become a frequent stop for city emergency responders called out to address fires and fights among its new clientele.

After a neighbor went to City Hall in January to complain directly to Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city boarded it up. Yesterday, the building burned to the ground.

“It looks like the end of the world in our backyard,” says Eric Marentette, who lives next door.

This is becoming a pattern, as fires in homeless encampments surged during the pandemic. It’s not immediately clear whether occupants of the bar sparked the fire. (Portland Fire & Rescue has not said what caused this latest blaze, but said no one was injured.)

It was the eighth time the fire bureau had responded to the building in the past year. This time, firef crews arrived at 7:30 pm to find smoke streaming out of cracks in the cinderblock walls and flames shooting through the roof.

Around 40 firefighters responded, shooting in water from above and the sides. The building had been marked too dangerous for them to enter.

This has been a frequent problem for firefighters, who were forced to take similar tactics in fighting blazes at a former Elks lodge earlier this month and a century-old Korean church in January.

The neighborhood dive had been abandoned in 2018 after its owner died, and was sold to a California developer whose attempts to board up the building proved futile.

When WW investigated in January, reporters found someone sleeping inside and a charred hole in the floor.

In the following months, the city obtained a warrant to investigate the building, boarded it up, and appeared planning to demolish it. Permits to do so were filed in March.

Sara Ryan, chief of staff for Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, told a neighbor that she’d heard “the owner didn’t show up for the hearing,” in an email exchange shared with WW by Marentette.

A spokesman for Portland’s Bureau of Development Services could not immediately confirm what happened.

Three weeks ago, squatters had once again pried open the boards and were entering and exiting the building, Marentette says.

He lays much of the blame on the city. “I feel that they let this go on for so long that this was inevitable,” he says.

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