By John Stedman ::
Heritage Tree #235 is a Butternut on the grounds of the Charles Jordan Community Center in North Portland’s Portsmouth neighborhood. The tree towers over the single story wing of the community center with its fifty-four foot height and sixty-five foot spread. Its gnarled trunk, just over eleven feet in circumference, signals the maturity of this tree. The Butternut and the community center building stand together as they have for the last seventy-five years, vestiges of a turbulent period in the history of Portland.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, placed Portland on an immediate war footing. Three huge new shipyards joined existing, smaller shipyards and dozens of supply firms building ships to carry troops and cargo. The need for worker housing for was critical; Portland City Council created the Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) four days after the Pearl Harbor attack. HAP’s first project consisted of permanent houses with five units per acre. But as the housing need grew in early 1942, so did the density of HAP projects. The 2,005 unit University Homes project had a density of nineteen units per acre. To mitigate the effects of such high density, University Homes featured an administration building with a gymnasium, cafeteria and library. Time was of the essence: University Homes construction began on July 6, 1942 and was completed by the end of November. This composite photo shows a 1942 view of the newly constructed University Homes administration building and a recent photo taken from a similar vantage point.
Portland experienced tremendous population growth between 1942 and 1945, the influx of workers increased overall population by 25%. The African-American population increased by over 700%, a challenge to the predominantly white city that had historically been hostile to minority populations. The temporary units of University Homes were removed in 1953, and its administration building became the University Park Community Center. In 2005, the Community Center was renovated and in 2012 renamed for Charles Jordan, Portland’s first African-American City Commissioner and former Parks and Recreation Director. Heritage Tree #235 has witnessed all of this.
For more information see:
- HAP Staff, History of the Housing Authority of Portland, Oregon, City of Portland Archives and Records Center document AD/177, 1945.
- Carl Abbott, Settlement Patterns In the Portland Region: A Historical Overview, Portland State University, 1994.