Sept. 8, 1997: The city agrees to tear down the old viaduct and sell the rail yards…

Only 20 years ago, inner Northwest Portland was a tangle of dirt streets, railroad tracks and warehouses. Train traffic contaminated much of the land with lead and creosote. A few people lived in the area, but zoning called for only 15 housing units per acre. Portlanders were wary of crossing West Burnside Street.

On Sept. 8, 1997, the city of Portland made an agreement with Hoyt Street Properties to develop 34 acres between the Willamette River, West Burnside, Northwest Broadway and Interstate 405.

Today, the Pearl District is overflowing with blocks of chic puppy boutiques and gleaming condos.

That deal also sealed the destruction of the Lovejoy viaduct, an approach to the Broadway Bridge that deposited traffic at Northwest 14th Avenue. The ramp would be rebuilt, with Lovejoy Street reaching grade at Northwest 9th Avenue. The Lovejoy columns, made so iconic in Gus Van Sant's breakout film Drugstore Cowboy (see Oct. 6, 1989, entry) would go, and development would rush in.

"The agreement—that one action—codified these two key events: the deal with the railroads, and the deal to get the Lovejoy ramp torn down and rebuilt," says Bruce Allen, then-development manager for the Portland Development Commission. "You couldn't have done anything without those acres, and you couldn't have done much without tearing down that ramp."

In the early ’90s, the city envisioned the neighborhood would grow to 5,500 housing units and 15,000 residents by the 2040s. There’s still a ways to go, but the Pearl’s population has already quadrupled from 1,500 in 1990 to nearly 7,000 in 2012.

From the Archives:

July 16, 1997: "How Dense Can You Get?", article on development of "Northwest River District"

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