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Influential Native American musician Jim Pepper’s Portland house nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places

News Article
Exterior photo of the Jim Pepper house
Portlanders can testify on the City-sponsored nomination at two hearings in January and February; National Park Service decision expected in the spring.
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The NE Portland home of Kaw / Muscogee Creek musician and composer Jim Pepper (1941-92) has been nominated for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Historic Resources Program.

If listed by the National Park Service, the house would be the third property in East Portland to receive National Register designation and one of the first properties in the Pacific Northwest to be listed specifically for contemporary Indigenous history.

The public is invited to testify on the nomination at one of two public hearings scheduled for January 23 and February 17.

About Jim Pepper and the Pepper family house

Jim Pepper playing saxophone in the house (ca. 1950s). Image courtesy Pepper family.
Jim Pepper playing saxophone in the house (ca. 1950s). Image courtesy Pepper family.

An innovator of both jazz-rock fusion and world music, Jim Pepper is internationally renowned for his compositions melding popular jazz music with rock, folk, and especially traditional Native American music. Pepper is especially well known for his influential, genre-defying 1971 album Pepper’s Pow Wow, which included a rerecording of his magnum opus, “Witchitai-To.”

Jim Pepper was born on June 18, 1941, in Salem and died on Feb. 10, 1992, in Portland at the age of 50. While the nomination focuses on the musician’s life and legacy, the achievements of Pepper’s parents Floy and Gilbert, who were both significant in their own right, are also described in the nomination.

Not only did Pepper spend much of his childhood in the Parkrose house, as an adult he regularly returned to the home for band practice and composed several of the tracks on Pepper’s Pow Wow in the house’s living room.

According to Caitlyn Ewers, an architectural historian and preparer of the National Register nomination, “His family, friends, and collaborators alike regard the house as a particularly significant place for Pepper, both personally and professionally.”

To capture the rich story of Jim Pepper's life and legacy, Ewers conducted extensive historical research and interviewed people significantly associated with the artist, including James Pepper Henry, Ed Edmo, Gordon Lee, Tom Grant, Ron Steen, Steve Riddle, Bob Moses, and Sandy Osawa.

According to the National Register nomination, “Pepper’s jazz career broke boundaries in the genre. More than 50 years since the release of Pepper’s Pow Wow, he is remembered as a pioneering artist in both jazz-rock fusion and in what has come to be known as world music. His artistry challenged preconceived notions about jazz music and about what it means to be a Native American artist.”

The 51-page National Register nomination form is available online.

About the National Register of Historic Places

The Jim Pepper House is being nominated to the National Register not for its architecture or design, but because of its association with the life of a person significant in our past.
The Jim Pepper House is being nominated to the National Register not for its architecture or design, but because of its association with the life of a person significant in our past.

The National Register is the nation’s official list of historic places, ranging from individual buildings such as Pittock Mansion to districts like Ladd’s Addition. In Portland, listing an individual property as a National Register Landmark automatically results in the application of a land use demolition protection known as demolition review. Additional land use regulations — and certain incentives — are provided to properties that achieve a separate City Historic or Conservation Landmark designation. To be eligible for listing in the National Register, a property must meet established National Park Service criteria for both historic significance and physical integrity.

The nomination of the Jim Pepper House to the National Register was sponsored by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and funded, in part, by a grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

According to the current owner of the house, Sean Aaron Cruz, “National Park Service recognition of the Jim Pepper House is important to me because I came to realize that Jim Pepper’s music was important in a musicological sense, that in the history of popular music it has its own place, and that three generations of Indian educators lived here, each making their own marks in the field. Also, I promised Jim’s mom that I would do all I could to see that her son got the recognition he deserves.”

Upcoming Public Hearings and Next Steps

The National Register nomination for the Jim Pepper House will be reviewed at two upcoming public hearings. Written and oral testimony is accepted at both hearings and all community members are invited to participate.

Portland Historic Landmarks Commission
Monday, Jan. 23, 1:30 p.m. (virtual hearing)
Hearing information and testimony registration

Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation
Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30 p.m. (hybrid virtual and in-person hearing)
Hearing information and testimony registration

Following the two hearings, the nomination will be forwarded to the National Park Service for final consideration and a decision in the spring of 2023.

Questions about the nomination and hearings process can be directed to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Historic Resources Program at historic.resources@portlandoregon.gov.