On July 24, 2023, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio announced the listing of the Jim Pepper House in the National Register of Historic Places at a small ceremony attended by several dozen Portlanders connected to the life and work of Jim Pepper (1941-92). With its listing in the National Register, the house is now the third property in East Portland to receive federal historic site status and one of the first properties in the Pacific Northwest to be designated specifically for contemporary Indigenous history.
“I am proud to recognize Jim’s legacy as a part of Portland’s legacy,” said Commissioner Rubio at the gathering. “It’s my hope that this effort has opened a new door to celebrating and protecting more contemporary Indigenous stories in our built, natural, and cultural landscapes.”
The Jim Pepper House
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 National Register 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 family home for band practice and composed several of the tracks on Pepper’s Pow Wow in the 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.”
National Register Listing
The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historic places and is maintained by the National Park Service. To be eligible for National Register listing, a property must demonstrate historic significance and maintain physical characteristics from its historic period. 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. In Oregon, owner consent is required for landmark designation.
The nomination of the Jim Pepper House to the National Register of Historic Places was sponsored by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and funded, in part, by a grant from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. The nomination was prepared with the support of longtime property owner, Sean Cruz.
“As soon as I learned that this had been the Pepper family home for 50 years, full of stories and music to be explored, I knew that this house would need to be preserved,” said Cruz. “The City of Portland, the State of Oregon, and U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer teamed up to ensure that the Pepper House will stand forever. I could not be more grateful.”
Questions about the Jim Pepper House and recommendations for future nominations to the National Register of Historic Places can be directed to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Historic Resources Program at email@example.com.