Sunday, September 19, 2021

African American Cultural Landmarks


Golden West Hotel

Thanks to recent interest in long-ignored ethnic history, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission has nominated three buildings for listing on the National Register of Historic Places that reflect African-American culture in Portland in the early and middle portions of the 20th Century.

Two – the Golden West Hotel and Mt. Olivet Baptist Church – are large buildings easily recognized in their Northwest and Northeast Portland neighborhoods, respectively.  Much less noticeable is the smaller and newer Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop located close to Mt. Olivet.

 All three buildings reflect the pains of social, economic, residential and employment discrimination from racial attitudes of the dominant white society well into the 20th Century.  Herewith are brief synopses of how these buildings played important roles in African American society:

 Golden West Hotel, at 707 NW Everett St., was built in 1892 and expanded in 1913, in a French Renaissance Revival architectural style with a Mansard roof on the 6th story.  Its vital role in African American history occurred from 1906 to 1930, when it was operated by William Duncan Allen. 

 Under Allen’s management, the Golden was Portland’s largest hotel catering to Black visitors and tenants.  Many tenants were waiters and porters employed by railroads at the nearby Union Station.   Most of the ground floor and basement were leased to African American entrepreneurs when those spaces were difficult to find in most of Portland.  The one exception in the Golden West was a Chinese restaurant.

 Despite Allen’s successful tenure as manager, the building was owned by Caucasians.  Allen departed in 1930 to run a hotel in Albina, a neighborhood where Blacks were being encouraged to live and work.


Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church followed path.  Originally located adjacent to the Golden West, the church moved to Northeast Portland in 1921-23, with encouragement to some degree from the mostly-white Northwest neighborhood.  Mt. Olivet at 1734 NE 1st Ave. was built in a Romanesque Revival style based on plans from an Illinois architect who apparently designed many churches largely by mail order.  The building includes 13 stained glass windows by Portland’s notable Povey Glass Co.

 Mt. Olivet, the first African-American church in the area, became well-known for its choir and gospel singers.  The church also played a leading role in civil rights activism for many years and hosted meetings and speeches by civil rights organizations and national leaders.

 Mt. Olivet moved away from the building 1994, but continues to own it and rents it to another congregation.

Dean's Beauty Salon and Barber Shop

Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop, at 213-215 NE Hancock St., was built 1956 in a Mid-Century Commercial style by Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean, according to plans largely created by Benjamin Dean.  Mary Rose Dean had run a beauty shop in their nearby house before the pair succeeded in achieving funds to build their shop when banks commonly would not lend to African Americans.

The Deans migrated to Portland from the South during World War II.  Benjamin Dean worked in the shipyards and later as a federal janitor before deciding to take up barbering, one of the few professions available to Black men, while Mary Rose concentrated on female clientele.  For several decades, Black-run barbershops played vital roles where people could congregate, converse and enjoy camaraderie and grooming free from racial bias.

The shop has two entrances; originally it was segregated inside for women and men.  The center wall later was changed to create a single interior.  The shop continues today under ownership of the third generation of the founding couple.  Few other similar shops have survived the decades of urban renewal, freeway building and gentrification of the nearby Albina area.

 Funding for preparation of these three National Register nomination forms was proved by the Portland City Council, a body that currently shows little interest in historic preservation.  Approval of the nominations by the State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation next month is expected to be a slam dunk.  Then they will be forwarded to the National Park Service for final action.

-----Fred Leeson

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