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Older buildings associated with Portland’s Black experience recognized for their historical significance

News Article
Documentation of African American historic resources available for public review; comments on documents welcome until late February 2020.

Since 2017, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has partnered with the Architectural Heritage Center and community members to document historic places important to the African American community in Portland. This project was initiated to advance a more equitable approach to evaluating the historic significance of properties connected to Black history within the city of Portland.   

The project team and partners spent three years doing research, attending public meetings, conducting oral interviews and archival research, as well as compiling building documentation. The result of this work is a draft National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation (MPD) form which is now available for public review:

An MPD is intended to make significant buildings and sites within a defined area of history eligible for listing in the National Register. This MPD includes a comprehensive overview of the African American experience in Portland from 1865-1973 through seven discrete thematic contexts, including settlement patterns, businesses, journalism, religion, and civil rights.

Significant milestone

Once adopted by the National Park Service, the document will formally establish the Black experience as a significant area of Portland’s history and allow a more diverse range of properties to be considered eligible for listing in the National Register.

An individual nomination for the first property to be considered for National Register listing under the MPD – the Williams Avenue YWCA (Billy Webb Elks Lodge) – is also available for public review.

A vintage photograph of a building
Williams Avenue YWCA (Billy Webb Elks Lodge) is being nominated for individual National Register listing under the umbrella of the MPD. Listing in the National Register will add demolition protections to the property and make it eligible for grants and other incentives. 

Increasing the number of African American listings in the National Register

While there are more than 600 Portland places listed in the National Register, only three are listed for their association with African American history. In addition to honoring the importance of a historic building or district, listing in the National Register provides demolition protections and eligibility for financial incentives, such as grants and tax benefits.

The associated nomination of the Williams Avenue YWCA is intended to serve as a pilot for future listings under the MPD.

An old church building
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church is a significant religious institution associated with Portland’s African American community. Although the MPD itself will not list the building on the National Register, the MPD will establish the building’s eligibility for listing should the church seek designation in the future.

History of the MPD project

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability initiated the MPD project in response to policies in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, requests from the community, and action items included in the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) People’s Plan.

The information included in the MPD is the result of many years of work by Portland’s African American community, the Architectural Heritage Center, and BPS. Early collaborators on the project included Kimberly Moreland (co-author of 1993 History of Portland’s African American Community), Cathy Galbraith (co-author of the 1998 Cornerstones of Community report), and Raymond Burell III (author of a 2016 National Register nomination for the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church). Although both Galbraith and Burell passed away during the project, their contributions to the study of Portland’s Black history were vital to the completion of the MPD and Williams Avenue YWCA nomination.

Comment on the documents

The public is invited to provide comments on the draft National Register documents by emailing BPS directly at, or by attending one of the following meetings:

Portland Historic Landmarks Commission

Jan. 27, 1:30 p.m.

1900 SW 4th Avenue

Room 2500B (2nd floor)

State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation

Feb. 28, 9:45 a.m.

Nordic Northwest Nordia House

8800 SW Oleson Road

Next steps

At their Feb. 28 meeting, the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will vote to recommend the MPD and Williams Avenue YWCA nomination to the National Park Service. A final decision is expected in summer 2020, after which additional buildings and sites significant to African American history may be considered for National Register listing.