"The architectural profession gave the public fifty years of modern architecture and the public's
response has been ten years of the greatest wave of historical preservation in the history of man."
George E. Hartman
This area was once composed primarily of industrial buildings and warehouses that were built to accommodate goods brought to Portland by rail. But as time passed and the trucking industry cut into the railway's shipping business, these warehouses became increasingly abandoned in the 1960s and '70s. And while light-industrial businesses like auto-detailing shops and hardware stores remained in the late 20th century, the low rent and large spaces available in empty warehouses proved attractive to art gallery owners.
* Nicknames Department: The name of the Pearl District was the invention of art gallery owner Thomas Augustine, who compared the area's hoary old buildings cupping art treasures with oysters and their pearls. The area was previously known by the less-flattering nickname of "Slabtown" and is currently also known as "Alimony/Empty Nest Flats" in deference to the "all children left behind" policy of many of its new residents.
Many buildings were zoned for both residential and industrial use, and starting in the late 1990s, warehouse "rehabbers" began a transformation of the Pearl into an unusual neighborhood. Condominiums sprouted like mushrooms in an alluvial plain, and their prices soon became the most expensive in the metro region. The newly built-up area's design generally reflects respect for the area's industrial past while also incorporating contemporary design elements. While some decried this faux-industrial approach, the consistent quality of design and generally modest scale of the new buildings has helped give the Pearl lively foot traffic and a genuine neighborly feel. (Having a streetcar running through the area is also a boon.)
* The Project for Public Spaces named the Pearl one of the "World's Great Spaces," where it joined likes of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Siena's Piazza del Campo.
The old Belgian Block street surfaces can still be found in the Pearl, leading past a mÃ©lange of disparate elements: loading docks, cafÃ©s, water towers, wholesale stores, art galleries, automotive shops, train tracks, conventional warehouses, antique shops " and lots and LOTS of condos.
The biggest single development in the Pearl was the Brewery Blocks deal. This was a five-block area purchased by a local developer, containing 1.7 million square feet of space, including the old Weinhard Brewhouse (see p. 163). This comprised the largest contiguous piece of property in Portland owned by one entity. Demolition of most of the existing buildings on the Brewery Blocks started in 2000, with work on new construction concluding in 2006. This mammoth project was "green" from the get-go; in fact, the Brewery Blocks may be the most environmentally responsible urban redevelopment in the nation.
The Brewery Blocks' combination of remodeled historic buildings and mixed-use modern structures created a unique mini-community within Portland. The new buildings, offices, apartments, and condos sit atop ground-floor spaces with massive windows that big-name stores salivate over. At first blush, the completed projects are individually impressive; when looked at as a whole, the Brewery Blocks is wildly successful, providing the perfect entry point from downtown to the rest of the Pearl.
* More Name Stuff: The Pearl's boundary voyages as far east as Broadway, and reaches to the Willamette between the Fremont and Broadway bridges. As for the "River District," it apparently exists to serve as a snappy marketing name for developers to use in their sales literature. Like the Pearl, it is an invented realm with arbitrary borders; the River District's area covers everything from the Broadway to north of the Fremont Bridge, with I-405 and Burnside forming borders to the west and south, respectively. (Yes, this also covers some of Old Town and nearly all of the Pearl District. Whatever.)Less Text