Portland Civil Rights Leaders Seek a New Address: Southwest Harvey Milk Street

That means renaming Southwest Stark Street. Let's go to the history books.

The Ace Hotel on Southwest Stark Street (Kari Sullivan)

Leaders from Portland's LGBTQ, civil rights and business communities want to change the name of 13 blocks of Southwest Stark Street to Harvey Milk Street.

Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California history, won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was killed in City Hall in 1978 by a former colleague on the board.

Benjamin Stark, the man for whom the street is currently named, was a New York merchant who made a fortune in Portland after buying out the holdings of another man who would later have a Portland street named after him, Asa Lovejoy.

Proponents of the name change launched a campaign this month and are seeking permission from the city of Portland. Milk had no known connections to Portland, but before its recent gentrification, Southwest Stark Street served as the center of gay life in the city.

Related: Why can't Portland have a gayborhood?

There's precedent for naming the city's streets after civil rights leaders with little connection to Portland: Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 1990, Rosa Parks Way in 2007, and César E. Chávez Boulevard in 2009.

The Chávez name change was contentious and took two years. This time, the committee seeking to make the change, which includes former Oregon Govs. Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, says it has already secured approval from 75 percent of the businesses along Southwest Stark as well as many neighborhood groups.

"We felt this could be a really positive, affirmative step, especially when President Trump is attacking some of the gains LGBTQ made," says Mikki Gillette of Basic Rights Oregon.

Here's a rundown of the street's current and prospective namesakes:

(Courtesy of San Jose Library)

Harvey Milk

Born: Woodmere, N.Y., May 1930

Time on the water: U.S. Navy veteran

Best move: Left New York City for San Francisco's Castro District

Political highlight: Helped beat anti-gay Proposition 6 in 1978

Died: Shot by ex-city supervisor Dan White, 1978

Lasting Portland connection: The movie Milk, directed by Portland filmmaker Gus Van Sant

(Courtesy of Historical Pub. Co. via Wikimedia)

Benjamin Stark

Born: New Orleans, June 1820

Time on the water: Sailed to Portland, then China

Best move: Bought Asa Lovejoy's land in Portland

Political highlight: Appointed to U.S. Senate, 1861

Died: Old age, 1898

Lasting Portland connection: The Ben Stark Hotel, now called the Ace Hotel

Sources: Oregon Historical Society, Harvey Milk Foundation

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