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Portland decades: the 1920s

The 1920s saw the Rose City build important infrastructure in the face of a declining economy and threats to social justice.

A scene on the streets of downtown Portland during the 1920s shows pedestrians in long coats.

Trenchcoats were very much in vogue.

Photo via Portland City Archives

The “Roaring Twenties” in Portland just did not have the same shine as they did elsewhere in the US. Industry trudged on as the economy crumbled toward the Great Depression.

With the construction of bridges and infrastructure, the city began to take shape, yet racism and corruption left dark stains that would persist long after the 1920s. Let’s turn back time and take a deep dive into this decade of Rose City history.

Population: 258,288

Mayor: George L. Baker (1917-1933)


Blocks along the Willamette River would flood often prior to the harbor wall’s construction.

Photo via Portland City Archives

1920 — City engineer Olaf Laurgaard proposes building a harbor wall to combat seasonal flooding and sewer backflow. The project would be completed before the decade’s close.

1921 — Members of the Ku Klux Klan arrive in Portland and call a meeting with civic leaders at Multnomah Hotel, where they outline their racist agenda and attempt to counter their hate group’s negative press. The Portland Clinic sees its first patients.

1922 — KGW transmits its first radio broadcast; early shows featured Lincoln High graduate Mel Blanc. Civil rights champion Beatrice Morrow Cannady becomes the first African American woman to graduate from Lewis & Clark Law School.

1923 — Work begins on The Grotto, where a cave is blasted out of a 110-ft basalt cliffside on former Union Pacific Railroad land. The project is led by Father Ambrose Meyer and receives the blessing of Pope Pius XI.

1924 — The Portland Junior Symphony is founded. Now known as the Portland Youth Philharmonic, it remains the oldest and longest-running youth orchestra in the country.

1925 — William “Bill” Sumio Naito, one of Portland’s most influential figures of the 20th century, is born to Japanese immigrant parents. Construction finishes on the Sellwood Bridge.

A historic photo of Multnomah Stadium's facade shows a small gas station.

Multnomah Stadium’s maximum capactiy was 35,000 when it was built.

Photo via Portland City Archives

1926 — Multnomah Stadium is built (at a cost of $500,000) in time to host the University of Oregon–University of Washington football game and 27,300 fans. The Burnside and Ross Island bridges open to traffic.

1927 — The Port of Portland earns Congressional approval to close a section of the Willamette River to create Swan Island Airport, the city’s main hub for air travel until 1940. Iconic aviator Charles Lindbergh lands for a brief visit.

1928 — The Jantzen Beach Carousel is moved from the pier in Venice, CA, to a new amusement park on Hayden Island. The attraction’s creator, C.W. Parker, travels from Kansas to personally oversee its installation.

1929 — To combat waterborne illnesses, Portland Water Bureau begins to add chlorine to the water supply. A 200 ft dam is built on the Bull Run River to create Ben Morrow Lake, named for its chief engineer.

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