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Sense of place resonates on Architectural Heritage Center walking tours

See and hear how Portland’s history lives on in the buildings and the people’s stories of what once was.

Two children and an adult walk across the stepping stones of Lovejoy Fountain.

Lawrence Halprin designed South Portland’s fountains — like Lovejoy Fountain — to be interactive.

Photo by Ben McBee, PDXtoday.

Context is the key to understanding any city, and Portland’s history is a door worth strolling through.

To that end, City Editor Ben recently joined a walking tour co-hosted by Architectural Heritage Center (ACH) volunteer docent Steve Dotterer and Judy Margles, executive director of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. The topic? South Portland and the Halprin fountains.

It started outside of Shattuck Hall on Portland State University’s campus. Once an elementary school, the 1915 building sports unique features of its time and place. Prevailing thought meant that classroom windows were only installed on one side, leaving plenty of room for architect Floyd Naramore to add elaborate brick ornamentation.

Two men cross the street in front of Lincoln Hall in Portland.

While attending high school at nearby Lincoln Hall, iconic voice actor Mel Blanc would practice speaking as different characters, inspired by the accents of his multicultural neighbors.

Photo by Ben McBee, PDXtoday

Next came the area where the city’s first urban renewal project took place during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Thousands of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrants were pushed out of their homes as the Portland Development Commission demolished 54 blocks in the name of economic progress.

Along the way, the group visited locations of various former establishments, including a movie theater and communal garage. Anecdotes and historic photos helped bring to life local residents of the past. There was Harry Mosler, known for a gruff exterior and heart-of-gold, whose bagels brought people to his bakery from far and wide. Some might even remember the smell of Sarah Neusihin making pickles on the street in blue plastic barrels.

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education executive director Judy Margles and head of public engagement Mariah Berlanga-Shevchuk share a photo of Sarah Neusihin, known for making pickles in South Portland.

To add to the family income, Sarah Neusihin (in the historic photo) made her famed pickles where Phat Cart is now located.

Photo by Ben McBee, PDXtoday

From there, the course followed the plazas and fountains of the Portland Open Space Sequence, designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to infuse nature into the urban environment. A keen eye can see how his adventures in the Sierra Nevadas influenced the asymmetrical stonework and cascading water of his designs.

The best way to learn more facts like these is firsthand. Although this particular tour will not be offered again until next year, ACH has several more planned into the fall that are open to the general public (registration is $25).