Washington Center Drug Den and Environs Cleared by Police Squadron

Now, it’s up to the Menashe family to secure Portland’s most notorious property.

Clearance: Portland police officers exit Washington Center on April 12, after searching the building for squatters. (Anthony Effinger)

Portland police and fire crews blocked two square blocks of downtown this morning and sent teams into the Washington Center office-and-retail complex to clear any squatters, before the Menashe real estate clan takes more action to reclaim the buildings from drug dealers and users.

Police began the action at about 7:30 am. Thirty officers cordoned off the area and a dozen went in to clear the complex, which includes the seven-story building at Southwest 5th Avenue and Washington Street where people had broken windows and gained entry to an old KeyBank branch.

When police came out, fire personnel went in to check the buildings for hazards so the Menashe family can put the structures in mothballs. Trucks carrying plywood arrived on the scene around 10 am.

Police Lt. Josh Kraner said police found no one inside, and little that surprised law enforcement after years of monitoring what had become one of Portland’s most notorious eyesores.

“There were no exciting treasures,” Kraner said in an interview.

On a visit to the buildings last month, reporters from WW found people wandering around inside the buildings. The safe in the old KeyBank was covered in graffiti and a dead rat lay in the lobby.

Eric Zimmerman, an adviser to Mayor Wheeler on cleaning up downtown, was on site for the clearance and said he was pleased at how it was going.

“This location had become a beacon for bad behavior,” Zimmerman said. “We as a community realized we had to take more action.”

That realization came three weeks after WW published a March 22 story detailing conditions at the property.

The onus now is on the Menashes, who have agreed to put up even more plywood to keep people out. After WW wrote about the building last month, the Menashes put a forest’s worth of panels on the two-story windows in the old KeyBank. That wasn’t enough, though, and people kept gathering in the myriad protected plazas and alcoves to sell and use drugs.

“We have made it abundantly clear to the owner that they need to board the building up fully, and that they need to check on it regularly to make sure people don’t try to tear down the barriers or live behind them,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the deal.”

Lauren Menashe, daughter of company founder Barry, 69, said the firm has hired Kennedy Restoration, a Portland company that specializes in securing properties that have been damaged by fire, water, wind and vandalism, to board up the buildings.

“They will focus on the alcoves and any other potential access points,” Menashe said in an email. “I hope our continued efforts to secure the property and collaborative efforts with [the Portland Police Bureau] prove effective. Our private security group will continue to monitor this site on a daily basis.”

In the run-up to today’s action, Portland police started round-the-clock patrols of Washington Center to dissuade people from selling and using drugs there. In a matter of hours this week, the crowds around the buildings vanished and the sidewalks cleared.

“It was incredible to see what a few days of police presence could accomplish around the site, which we are very appreciative of,” Menashe said in her email.

To flood the zone the way they did, police on the night shift had to work into the morning, taking 911 calls, while officers on the day shift swarmed Washington Center, Kraner said.

“This took the entirety of day shift to come out here,” Kraner said.

Zimmerman said he thinks the investment was worth it. “If this leads to the end of the most problematic corner in downtown Portland, then that’s a good day,” he said.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.