Celebrating the Legacy of Bill Naito for AAPI Heritage Month

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Learn about Bill Naito's role in shaping the city we know and love today.

Remembering Bill Naito

For our second posting for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting someone who has had a huge impact on the city of Portland in many ways: Bill Naito.

Bill Naito was a businessman, philanthropist, and civic leader. He helped shape the landscape of the city through his love of trees, transit, and historic buildings.

Early Life

Born in Portland in 1925, Bill Naito’s early life was deeply impacted by the anti-Japanese sentiments of the time. His parents emigrated to the United States from Japan in 1912.

The family-owned a curio shop in downtown Portland. He is often quoted saying, “Because no one would hire Japanese men for a “real” job, they had to start businesses on their own.”

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Portland became one of the exclusion zones created by executive order 9066. Japanese Americans living within 200 miles of the Pacific Coast were forcibly interned in encampments. His family avoided this by moving to Salt Lake City. After graduating high school and joining the army, Naito returned to Portland to study at Reed College.

Work in Downtown Portland 

Bill Naito is most known for his work revitalizing Portland's downtown. His legacy can be found in many areas, including:

  • White Stag Portland, Oregon sign
  • Japanese American Historical Plaza at Tom McCall Waterfront Park
  • Portland Saturday Market
  • Galleria

But Bill Naito's work was not limited to this area of focus.

Founding the Urban Forestry Commission

His passions also included trees. He led an effort to plant 10,000 trees through the Street Tree Advisory Committee, which he founded and later became the Urban Forestry Commission in 1975. This group is made up of 11 volunteer advocates that advise on matters relating to regulations budgets, policies, and plans. Naito chaired this commission from its inception until his death in 1996. His favorite tree was said to be the sweetgum. Sweetgums are planted in clusters around the city in areas such as Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center and the street trees around Oregon Park.

Bill Naito Community Tree Award

To honor his work, Urban Forestry created the Bill Naito Community Tree Award in 1997. The Bill Naito Award was created to recognize the stories of individuals, organizations, or projects that have continued Bill's work and reflect his dedication to trees and this city.

Bill Naito’s legacy is impossible to capture in such a short article. Below are more resources to learn more about his incredible work in Portland.

Learn More About Bill Naito