Save the Good Old Houses: The 1989 Struggle in NW Portland


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Air date: 
Tue, 11/18/2014 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Live panel discussion - broadcast live on KBOO!
KBOO will Broadcast this event LIVE!!!

From Eastmoreland, to Kenton, to Ladd’s Addition, to Northwest Portland, Portlanders are fighting to save good old houses and maintain the character of their neighborhoods–the City of Portland has called it a “demolition uproar.” Others call it a demolition epidemic.

As neighbors and neighborhood associations enter the fray, few are aware of a similar conflict in NW Portland and the events of May 23, 1989 when townhouse developer Philip J. Morford’s bulldozer attacked on NW Overton and twenty-three neighborhood residents were arrested when they put their bodies in the way.

Join History of Social Justice Organizing for this timely presentation on Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 7pm, at the Architectural Heritage Center, 701 SE Grand Ave., Portland. Free and open to the public.

The clash had been brewing for months; a hearing was scheduled for the next day with the Landmarks Commission when Morford sent in the bulldozers early in the day. They were quickly noticed, a call went out and a crowd of protestors arrived. A number sat down on one of the porch of a targeted house and were dragged away by police.

In the aftermath, the Northwest District Association (NADA) and a neighborhood negotiation committee managed to save a grand Overton house designed by Whidden Lewis to be saved on site and for two other houses to be moved nearby. A few years later, the Alphabet District (an area zoned for historic preservation extending roughly between NW 17th and 24th Avenues, and between W Burnside and NW Marshall Street) was approved by the Landmarks Commission and the Portland City Council.

The panel will feature five central participants in the struggle:

Nancy Nesewich, the leader of the grassroots movement to save the houses, was one of the first arrested that day.

Ruth Roth, the first to occupy the porch, was dragged off and arrested a few minutes later. At the time, she was chair of the NADA Historic Resources Committee and spearheaded efforts to get the Overton Pettygrove houses declared historic landmarks.

As staff to the neighborhood association, Joleen Jensen-Classen coordinated the negotiation process.

Frank Dixon and Rick Michaelson were lead negotiators on the neighborhood negotiation team that reached the settlement.

More about the panel participants:
Frank Dixon, currently the State Chair of Democratic Party of Oregon, has lived in Portland since 1976. He practiced consumer law for fifteen years in state and federal courts. He started community organizing as a precinct committee person and neighborhood association leader. He’s served as chair or director of Neighbors West/ Northwest Coalition, Northwest District Association, Right to Pride PAC, Basic Rights Oregon and the Democratic Party of Oregon GLBT Caucus. He was also one of the founders of Veterans for Human Rights, an early LGBT war veterans group. Appointed to serve on numerous city and countywide commissions, Frank became the Portland City Commissioner’s staff liaison to the Office of Neighborhood Involvement in 1999.

Joleen Jensen-Classen has lived in NW Portland since 1981. In February of 1989 she became executive director of Neighbors West/NW the coalition office serving 10 NW and inner SW neighborhoods. In December of 1999 when she went to work for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement at the City of Portland. She worked for the Bureau of Environmental Services providing community outreach on the Westside Big Pipe project.  In November of 2005 she provided community outreach for the Portland Development Commission.  She currently is the Marketing Director for the NW Examiner Community Newspaper.

Nancy Nesewich had an initial career in law in Chicago before she moved to NW Portland in 1986 and began working as a coordinator of community and environmental projects. She became active in the NADA, where she learned of Morford’s plans to demolish a block of vintage houses in order to build a row of townhouses. In the 1990's and thereafter, she ran several small businesses, including importing and wholesaling kilims and rugs from the Middle East and leading hiking tours in France.

Rick Michaelson's career has been split between for-profit real estate development and volunteer work for governments and non-profit agencies in the fields of planning, community revitalization, housing, and historic preservation. He has provided civic leadership with over 20 years of service with the Portland Planning, Landmarks, and
Design Commissions. He is also an active board member of a number of historic preservation organizations. He has been actively involved in NW Portland since the 1970s and was one of the early participants in the residential and commercial revitalization of the area. He is responsible for the relocation and renovation of over fifteen NW houses slated for demolition. He is presently part of the team working to save the historic Bernard Goldsmith house on NW 24th.

Ruth Roth, a Portland native, has lived in the NW neighborhood for twenty-seven years. In 1989, when she heard the bulldozers were preparing to begin demolition, she rushed to the site and indignantly sat down on the front porch of one of the houses and refused to move despite entreaties by the Police. “My actions were fueled by pure fury,” she said later. She continues to support historic preservation efforts in northwest Portland and was one of the contributors to the fund that saved the Goldsmith house earlier this year.       
History of Social Justice Organizing is an ongoing series of presentations by activists and scholars on a wide variety of social justice organizing topics in Portland and elsewhere.

For more than 25 years, the Architectural Heritage Center (AHC) has worked to preserve our shared built environment – from vintage homes, to landmark commercial buildings downtown, to churches and schools down the street. By building appreciation for this legacy through programs, tours, exhibits, and advocacy, the AHC demonstrates that historic preservation means economic development, is a foundation for good planning, and promotes cultural and environmental sustainability. The AHC is housed in the historic West’s Block, built in 1883, and located at 701 SE Grand Ave., Portland, OR 97214. For more information, go to
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