Sept. 7, 1989: Old Northwest Portland homes fall, and new rowhouses burn…

Northwest Portland, long before the boutiquing of 23rd Avenue, had a grit to it. Many blocks had shuttered storefronts or saloons where pensioners sipped 40-cent Hamms.

In the mid-1980s, residents saw gentrification coming, but they couldn't yet see what it really meant until Phil Morford arrived.

Morford was a Lake Oswego developer, which alone made the residents of Northwest look on him as a disease-carrying colonizer. Morford saw, presciently, the potential for new homes in Northwest, even though his idea was charmless: He would buy up a string of old homes to level them and put up rowhouses in their place.

Metropolitan Homes, Morford's firm, had already built more than 70 rowhouse units in the Portland area. He told The Oregonian in 1988 his properties appealed to an "increasingly cosmopolitan attitude." His developments fit within the city's strategy of encouraging more density. But the shock in Northwest of seeing grand old houses brought down by bulldozers was too much.

Morford had bought homes along Northwest Overton and Pettygrove streets, and when renters were told to get out, they sounded the alarm. In May 1989, police arrested 23 people who tried unsuccessfully to block the demolition.

"[Morford] was perceived as having the attitude that the architectural heritage of Northwest Portland wasn't important," says Cathy Galbraith, executive director of the Architectural Heritage Center. "And it was so unimportant that he was going to tear them down."

On the morning of Sept. 7, a Morford development under construction on Northwest Thurman Street burned, and the fire caused $250,000 in damage. Fire officials suspected arson, and federal agents later raided two eastside homes in an attempt to link the arson with Earth First! and other eco-terror groups. No one was ever arrested.

Morford agreed to save four houses targeted for demolition; two were moved to the corner of Northwest 23rd Avenue and Overton Street, where they now serve as offices. His rowhouses otherwise went up as planned.

No one has torched a building lately, but the militant attitudes remain—from resisting the apartment boom along Southeast Division Street to the outrage in wealthier enclaves such as Eastmoreland or Willamette Heights, where this summer neighbors successfully shamed a Google exec to abandon his plans to level a $1.3 million mansion.

1974: Mt. Hood Freeway Killed    

1975: Soccer City, USA  |  A Vet Shuts Down Nuclear Power 

1976: A Home for Refugees  |  Intel Changes the Economy 

1978: Bill Walton Sits Down

1979: Busing Ends in Portland Schools | Oregon Wine Gets Famous

1982: Courts Pave Way for Nudie Bars | The Other Daily Paper Folds

1984: Satyricon's First Show | A Bartender Becomes Mayor | The Air Jordan Saves Nike

1985: First Female Police Chief Ousted | Wieden+Kennedy's Most Important Ad

1986: Dark Horse Comics' First Issue 

1988: Inaugural Oregon Brewers' Fest | Rise of Hate Groups

1989: NW Rowhouses Burn  |  Gus Van Sant's Portland Hits Screen

1990: Our First Great Restaurant  | Oregon's Longest Tax Revolt

1991: Cleaning up the Willamette

1995: Bicyclists Sue Portland

1996: Vera Katz Builds a Wall | March to Save City Nightclub  | Powell's Rebuffs Amazon

1997: Path Cleared for Pearl District

1999: Stumptown Coffee Opens  |  Fight Club Hits DVD

2000: Largest Union Pension Fraud Ever

2003: Fred Meets Carrie  |  Suicide of Elliott Smith

2004: Gay Marriage Legalized (Briefly)  | Goldschmidt Exposed  | Eastside Portland Rises

2006: The Death of James Chasse Jr.

2008: Our Fanciest Restaurant Ever Bombs

2009: Sam Adams Admits Lying

2011: Occupy Portland 

WWeek 2015

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