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City partners with Architectural Heritage Center to document Portland’s African American historic resources

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has partnered with the nonprofit Architectural Heritage Center to document potentially significant historic resources associated with Portland’s African American history. With grant funding from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, the project will complete an umbrella National Register of Historic Places document known as a Multiple Property Documentation (MPD) form. MPDs record groupings of historic resources associated with a significant historic context (such as a building type or ethnic/cultural group) to allow for individual owners to more easily list their property in the National Register.

Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church during the historic period. Although the 1909 church building was heavily remodeled in the 1950s, the alterations are significant in their own right as they were undertaken to accommodate the growing congregation in the years following the Vanport Flood. Image courtesy Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church.

The partnership with the Architectural Heritage Center builds off of the nonprofit’s 1998 “Cornerstones of Community” project, a citywide survey of African American historic resources and companion educational materials for local fourth grade students. According to Cathy Galbraith, who managed the Cornerstones project and is serving on the MPD project, “Formal documentation and protection through National Register listing of our city’s African American heritage is long overdue. Without proactive efforts by the City and the community, Portland risks losing a significant part of its cultural heritage.” Members of Oregon Black Pioneers and historic preservation professionals from various backgrounds were tapped to participate on the project team to ensure the MPD is accurate, comprehensive, informative, and useful for property owners. 

As an umbrella document, the MPD will not automatically nominate any property to the National Register, but will provide owners of significant African American historic resources with an easier and clearer path to designation. Because owner consent is required for a property to be listed in the National Register, the MPD is intended to make it easier to recognize, designate, and protect African American historic sites in Portland.

Vancouver Avenue Baptist ChurchInterior of the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church during a 1959 church service. Image courtesy Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church.

Interest in designating African American historic resources has been on the rise in recent years. One such designation is the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, listed in the National Register in October 2016 for its association with a majority African American congregation that relocated to inner North Portland following the 1948 Vanport Flood

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The Architectural Heritage Center welcomes submission of photos, stories, or other documentation that may aid in their work. Contact Cathy Galbraith 503-543-6813 to share your stories. A community open house will be held in early summer 2017 to collect additional stories and share progress on the project. The MPD is expected to be completed in early fall 2017.

Vancouver Avenue Baptist ChurchThe Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church as it appears today. The church was listed in the National Register of Historic Plans in 2016 for its significant role in Portland's African American history.

The project will also achieve early implementation of a policy in the proposed Central City 2035 Plan, which calls for the identification and documentation of African American historic resources in inner North and Northeast Portland.