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April 18, 2005 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Vanport was once Oregon's 2nd largest town. Built by shipbuilder Henry Kaiser during World War II to accommodate his workers, Vanport was the first Oregon city to house black Americans in significant numbers. (Blacks had a rough time in Oregon, even being legally prohibited to enter the state via the state constitution's exclusion law).
The city of Vanport was destroyed by a flood in 1948, displacing more than 18,000 citizens. Of these, over 25% were black. Although the city was never rebuilt, Vanport was Oregon's catalyst into racial integration and enlightenment. And dams.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Vanport was Oregon's catalyst into racial integration and enlightenment

You mean Oregon used to be whiter?!?!

(I'm from Seattle, who am I to talk?)
posted by gurple at 9:45 AM on April 18, 2005


Very interesting, thanks for putting this together. Also:

Kaiser's solution was to build his own city in the flood plain of the Columbia River.

Yep. That's always a good idea, temporary housing with temporary dikes in the middle of a flood plain. And the fact that this town was only useful and profitable, it would seem, from 1942 to 1944 just underscores how shortsighted it was.

This makes me think of the Kaiser plant in Fontana, CA: what was once farmland becomes this big industrial complex that pollutes the land and doesn't contribute back to the area's tax base (due to the way everything was negotiated). After the plant shut down, Fontana became a very sketchy town, indeed. Now it hosts California Motor Speedway; don't know what that's doing for the town, it's fairly new.
posted by davejay at 9:50 AM on April 18, 2005


Too funny, I was just trying to explain the whole Vanport thing to someone yesterday.
posted by yodelingisfun at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2005


That must be why I posted this one instead of the one about sea snot.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2005


I knew nothing about this and I thank you for telling me. Fantastic post.
posted by languagehat at 10:37 AM on April 18, 2005


Weird, I was just discussing this with a friend last week too. We happened to be driving by Heron Lakes, a golf course that covers a portion of what used to be Vanport.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 10:53 AM on April 18, 2005


Not all was lost in the flood: the educational facilities, aka Vanport college were soon housed in downtown Portland, where they began their new life as my graduate alma mater, Portland State University.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2005


Nice post, DeepFriedTwinkies. Very "matteo" in topic and style.
posted by shoepal at 2:50 PM on April 18, 2005


there were also some photos of the flood and aftermath featured on the city webpage during portland's 150th anniversary. I thought there were more, but all I can find now is about four.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 3:45 PM on April 18, 2005


Excellent, excellent post. Thank you.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:05 PM on April 18, 2005


Some time last year, I got ahold of an old 1940's transit map of Portland. Unbeknownst to me until I later finally unfold it, on the reverse side (for no apparent reason) is a complete map of Vanport.
posted by theonetruebix at 6:06 PM on April 18, 2005


OMG b!x!!! You rock!
posted by yodelingisfun at 8:47 PM on April 18, 2005


Is anyone posting on this thread not from Portland? Shout out to my P-town mefites!

And btw, regarding what davejay said this morning about Fontana, the history of Fontana, and the rise and fall of Kaiser Steel is wonderfully documented in Mike Davis's superb City of Quartz.
posted by pieisexactlythree at 9:20 PM on April 18, 2005


I lived in Portland for three months. Do I count?

As for Mike Davis, he has been found out to be a liar. How he can hold a position at a respected public university boggles the mind.

As for Fontana, I think it's doing fine when it's thinking of needing "unaffordable housing". The speedway, like the steel mill, is outside the city limits.
posted by calwatch at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2005


Well mr. twinkie is actually from the couv (boooohisss), heh just teasing twinkie you rise above the Washington ickyness.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:41 PM on April 18, 2005


Another PSU alum here... One other thing is that a lot of the students at Vanport College were black, and PSU has maintained a strong african-american heritage to this day. Well, as strong as can be maintained in this city ... unfortunately, as the last graduation address pointed out painfully to those that are maintaining it, 98% of the student body is white or asian and don't really care.

BTW, for all those PDXers (and vancouverians) that are posting in here and WEREN'T at the last Portland MeFi Meetup, mark your calendars for May 9th, when the next one's planned. Lucky Lab Brewpub, Hawthorne, 5:30, out back by the parking lot & heaters.
posted by SpecialK at 10:10 PM on April 18, 2005


Mr. Twinkie puts the Van in Vanport if you know what I mean...

btw specialk-we prefer to be called vancouvelians. except on thursdays, then we like 'quonsar'.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 10:15 PM on April 18, 2005


I live in Portland, but the other one.

DeepFriedTwinkies, you are becoming one of the posters I am always excited to see a post from. I love it when I can peek into the hidden corners of American history. Thank you so much for taking the time to build this post and to share it with us.
posted by anastasiav at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2005


I live about half a mile from the former vanport site. Thanks for the information, i never knew about this part of Portland's history.
posted by ramix at 9:36 PM on April 19, 2005


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