Old Town Chinatown

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Old Town Chinatown
Old Town tower, Portland Oregon.jpg
Old Town Chinatown is located in Portland, Oregon
Old Town Chinatown
Old Town Chinatown
Coordinates: 45°31′31″N 122°40′21″W / 45.52528°N 122.67246°W / 45.52528; -122.67246Coordinates: 45°31′31″N 122°40′21″W / 45.52528°N 122.67246°W / 45.52528; -122.67246PDF map
CountryUnited States
 • AssociationOld Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association
 • Total0.20 sq mi (0.53 km2)
 • Total3,922
 • Density19,000/sq mi (7,400/km2)
Signage on the south side of West Burnside Street over where Saturday Market is held

Old Town Chinatown is the official Chinatown of the northwest section of Portland, Oregon. The Willamette River forms its eastern boundary, separating it from the Lloyd District and the Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods. It includes the Portland Skidmore/Old Town Historic District and the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been referred to as the "skid row" of Portland.[3][4]

In the Northwest section, NW Broadway forms the western boundary, separating it from the Pearl District, and W Burnside Street forms the southern boundary, separating it from Downtown Portland. In the Southwest section, the neighborhood extends from SW 3rd Avenue east to the river and from SW Stark Street north to W Burnside Street (with the exception of areas south of SW Pine Street and west of SW 2nd Avenue, and south of SW Oak Street and west of SW 1st Avenue, which are part of Downtown).

Despite the name, most Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants had already moved out of the area by the time the city officially reworked it as an official Chinatown in the 1980s; the increase in property values following the renovations drove out many of the remaining Chinese immigrants, with a section of NE 82nd Avenue in East Portland becoming the new unofficial Chinatown.[5][6] Old Town is well known as the primary homeless district of Portland. The Oregonian reports homelessness, open drug use, crime, and the perception of danger and dirtiness that accompanies them were deterring factors to development. One prominent developer told the newspaper "transient activity" is "perhaps the foremost deterrent" to developing in this neighborhood.[7][8]


The neighborhood is well-served by various modes of transportation. Amtrak's Union Station and the bus station operated by Greyhound Lines are located in the northwestern portion of the neighborhood. The Broadway Bridge marks the northern tip, and the ends of the Steel and Burnside bridges are along the area's eastern border.

The MAX Light Rail line turns south into the neighborhood from the Steel Bridge and stops at Old Town/Chinatown, Skidmore Fountain, and Oak Street/Southwest 1st Avenue; the system connects the neighborhood to Northeast and North Portland across the Willamette, and to Downtown Portland to the south and west. The Portland Mall begins at the Greyhound station, providing local bus and light rail service along 5th and 6th Avenues south into downtown.

Old Town[edit]

Old Town was the original urban core of Portland. It straddles West Burnside Street and includes an area under the Burnside Bridge. The Portland Skidmore/Old Town Historic District, created in 1975 and roughly bounded by Naito Parkway, Everett Street, 3rd Avenue, and Oak Street, is an important part of Old Town Portland. Attractions include the Saturday Market; the Shanghai tunnels; and Ankeny Square, site of Portland's oldest public art work, the Skidmore Fountain (dedicated September 22, 1888). The fountain, designed by Olin L. Warner of New York, is named after pioneer druggist Stephen G. Skidmore. Naito Parkway (ex-Front Avenue) is named after the late Bill Naito, a longtime Old Town-based businessman and developer, who with his brother Sam Naito in the 1960s helped to halt the decline of the area—then known as Portland's "Skid Road"—by opening a retail store, buying and restoring old buildings in the area, and convincing others to invest in the district over the next several years.[9] Bill Naito died in 1996.

New Market Block, 50 SW 2nd Ave, is an historic six floor building.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Portland Skidmore/Old Town Historic District was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977, its national significance based on its historic importance as a major 19th-century west coast port, and also for its collection of cast-iron commercial architecture.[17][18] In 2016, Portland Mercury described the Old Town as a neighborhood "well known as Portland's primary homeless district."[19]


The Chinatown portion of Old Town extends north from West Burnside St. to Union Station. The entrance is marked by a China gate (built in 1986),[20] complete with a pair of lions, at the corner of NW 4th Ave. and W Burnside St. The core of the area, from W Burnside St. to NW Glisan St. and from NW 5th Ave. to NW 3rd Ave., was designated in 1989 the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District.

Major organizations based in Chinatown include the Port of Portland, Oregon Department of Transportation's Portland offices and NW Natural Gas. There is also a parking structure with a helipad on top.

In a step towards revitalization of the area, the Lan Su Chinese Garden opened September 14, 2000. The $12.8 million park covers an entire city block and was built by 65 artisans from Suzhou, China of imported materials (though all plants were grown locally). More recently, NW 3rd and 4th Avenues received streetscape improvements, including plaques describing historical features. Two block-long "festival streets" that can easily be used for street festivals were also created between these streets.[21] In 2008, Uwajimaya anchored a redevelopment proposal, similar to the Uwajimaya Village in Seattle's Chinatown-International District. It would host the store, an underground parking garage, mixed-income apartments, and other small retailers. It was hoped to revitalize the area and bring in more tourists.[22] In August 2011, Uwajimaya decided not to put a store in Chinatown because its stores in downtown Seattle and Renton, Washington are not meeting their potentials.[23]

Japantown history[edit]

Prior to World War II, the area that is today called Chinatown was Portland's Japantown. Beginning in the 1890s, many Japanese immigrants were processed through Portland, creating a demand for hotels, bathhouses, and other services. Businesses that formed in the city's Japantown thrived in the low-rent areas near the river. Before World War II, the Japantown in the Northwest District was home to more than 100 businesses, and was Oregon's largest Japantown.[24] Today the Japanese American Historical Plaza and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in what is today Portland's Chinatown serve as reminders of what was once Portland's Japantown.[25]

Translation of street names[edit]

The street signs in Chinatown are both English and Chinese. The Chinese on the signs is written in traditional characters, and its pronunciation is Cantonese (using Jyutping romanization).

  • W Burnside Street — 西本世街sai1 bun2 sai3 gaai1
  • NW Couch Street — 西北葛珠街sai1 bak1 got3 zyu1 gaai1
  • NW Davis Street — 西北戴維斯街sai1 bak1 daai3 wai4 si1 gaai1
  • NW Everett Street — 西北愛和烈街sai1 bak1 ngoi3 wo4 lit6 gaai1
  • NW Fifth Avenue — 西北第五街sai1 bak1 dai6 ng5 gaai1
  • NW Flanders Street — 西北芬蘭達士街sai1 bak1 fan1 laan4 daat6 si6 gaai1
  • NW Fourth Avenue — 西北第四街sai1 bak1 dai6 sei3 gaai1
  • NW Glisan Street — 西北紀利臣街sai1 bak1 gei2 lei6 san4 gaai1
  • NW Third Avenue — 西北第三街sai1 bak1 dai6 saam1 gaai1

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "communique.portland.or.us". Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b Demographics
  3. ^ Hewitt, Lyndsey (September 12, 2017). "New homeless shelter in Old Town/Chinatown sparks old debate". Portland Tribune. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  4. ^ "Old Town/Chinatown". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  5. ^ Asian American community in east Portland's New Chinatown ponders the future
  6. ^ Portland's Old Chinatown is Fading—We Visited Every Chinese Restaurant That's Still There
  7. ^ Oregonian/OregonLive, Gordon R. Friedman | The (2018-10-17). "In Portland's Old Town Chinatown, a $57 million rebirth promise broken". oregonlive. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  8. ^ Van Wing, Sage (March 8, 2022). "Old Town Neighborhood Association releases plan for revitalizing neighborhood". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 9 March 2022.
  9. ^ Orloff, Chet. "William Sumio Naito (1925–1996)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
  10. ^ "New Market Theater Block". OfficeSpace.com. Retrieved 24 March 2021. Historic six floor office/retail building with ample off-street parking
  11. ^ "lccn-no2016039780". Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  12. ^ "New Market Block & Theatre, 1035 Southwest Second Avenue, Portland, Multnomah County, OR". Library of Congress. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Colonnade of North Wing of the New Market Block, Portland, Oregon - Preserved Architectural Remnants and Ruins". Waymarking.com. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  14. ^ "World > North America > U.S.A. > Oregon > Portland > New Market Block". Archived from the original on August 15, 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  15. ^ Callister, Scotta (27 May 1984). "WHAT'S DOING IN PORTLAND". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 March 2021. The New Market Theater Building at Second and Ash Avenues has been transformed as well. In addition to business offices, it now has restaurants and a column-lined plaza that lets in the sun for basking.
  16. ^ Perry, Douglas (9 October 2018). "Portland's 19th-century cast-iron buildings: History lives on as new development encroaches (photos)". The Oregonian/OregonLive. Retrieved 24 March 2021. The New Market Theater, built on First Avenue, between Ankeny and Ash, and designed by Elwood M. Burton, opened in March 1875. 'It was reputed, at that time, to be the finest theater structure on the Pacific Coast,' The Oregonian wrote. A contemporary observer described the theater as 'bewildering to the senses.' By the middle of the 20th century the interior had been torn out and the building was turned into a parking garage as suburban flight impacted downtown Portland.
  17. ^ "Skidmore/Old Town Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
  18. ^ Carolyn Pitts (February 19, 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Skidmore/Old Town Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service. and Accompanying 13 photos, from 1960 and 1975. (1.18 MiB)
  19. ^ Streckert, Joe. "The Birthplace of Homelessness". Portland Mercury. Retrieved 2019-12-30.
  20. ^ Hottle, Molly (February 2, 2011). "Chinese New Year celebration at Portland Chinatown gate also will celebrate its 25th anniversary". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 13, 2011.
  21. ^ "Old Town, Chinatown: 3rd & 4th Avenue Streetscape Plan". Archived from the original on 2006-10-11. Retrieved 2021-11-22.
  22. ^ Gunderson, Laura (July 1, 2008). "Sign in to OregonLive.com". The Oregonian.
  23. ^ "Uwajimaya, citing economy, won't open store in Chinatown: Portland City Hall roundup". The Oregonian. August 1, 2011.
  24. ^ Dowsett, Libby (2019-01-11), "When Portland had the largest Japantown in Oregon", Street Roots, retrieved 2011-09-01
  25. ^ Office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer. "About the District". Retrieved February 21, 2016.

External links[edit]