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Downtown Portland waterfront: 1944 to present

The area that would become Naito Parkway and Tom McCall Waterfront Park looked much different nearly eight decades ago

A black and white image shows an open waterfront area with a wide road and sidewalk.

Those ship moorings are still tripping hazards if you don’t watch where you’re stepping.

Photo via City of Portland

Before the world’s smallest park was born or pink cherry blossom petals dusted Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the western bank of the Willamette River in downtown Portland was a rather barren-looking slab of concrete.

This photo from 1944 shows a part of Portland that’s barely recognizable now. Aside from the seawall and the distant Hawthorne Bridge, most of what is visible has been left behind in the pages of history.

By the time this photo was taken, the western side of the Willamette had already experienced about 100 years of dramatic development. Buried beneath the Harbor Wall (which was about two decades old here), was a riverbank that had been ravaged by deteriorating dock pilings, mill debris + waste.

Today, this area is home to an iconic park that pays homage to Japanese Americans, police officers killed in the line of duty, a US Navy ship, and nature. The broad, featureless roadway from the photo (known then as “Front Avenue”) is now Naito Parkway, which is in the midst of major renovations to make it a safer, more accessible artery in downtown Portland.

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