An online meeting for Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation shut down early after an attendee began writing racist comments. The meeting was covering several historical buildings, including those that have played a prominent role in Oregon’s Black history. We’ll hear more about the buildings, including places like Portland’s Golden West Hotel, and their legacy. Kimberly Moreland, an expert in historic preservation, shares details.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB this is Think Out Loud, I’m Dave Miller. Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation held a virtual meeting last month. The committee meets three times a year to consider sites that could be added to the National Register of Historic Places. This time, the group was going to consider nine sites, including three that have played central roles in the lives of Black Oregonians over the last 120 years. But about one hour in, the meeting had to be shut down after an attendee began writing racist and homophobic slurs in the Zoom chat. So we thought it would be good to hear about these buildings so central to Black history that the committee did not get to. Kim Moreland is the owner of Moreland Resource Consulting. She has a focus on shepherding sites through the process of getting them on this National Register. Kim Moreland, welcome back to Think Out Loud.
Kim Moreland: Thank you. I’m glad to be back.
Miller: So let’s start with the sites themselves. One of them was formerly the Golden West Hotel, which goes back about 120 years. What was it?
Moreland: It was a hotel established by W.D. Allen in 1906. It was one of the leading hotels that provided housing and entertainment for Portland’s small black community.
Miller: What options did either Black oregonians or Black people who were just traveling through here have in terms of places to stay at that time?
Moreland: Very limited. They mostly stayed in boarding homes owned by African Americans. And there was a few back then. They also stayed in the homes of their friends and family. But for the tragic porters who were working on the trying continental rail lines, stationed at Union Station, they didn’t have a lot of options. So W.D. Allen, which is William Duncan Allen, him and his wife operated the Golden West Hotel from 1906 to 1930, when he opened up another facility.
Miller: What have you learned about what an average day or an average night was like at this hotel? What was the culture of the place?
Moreland: You know, it was really what we would call today a black cultural hub. During the day it provided activities and retail spaces. There was a mixed use development at the ground floor. It had a soda shop, a barbershop. People could go there after church and eat there. They also had meeting spaces for some of the early women’s clubs.
But at night it took on a different tone. It had some illegal activities, such as prohibition, or lack of at the time. They also had a European spa at the bottom. So there was some prostitution, and some other negative activities. Some of the early newspapers would highlight those moments when the police would raid the facility and they were often targeted for some of that activity. But it was a place that was enjoyed by every segment of that small black community.
Miller: The Mount Olivet Baptist Church is another site on the list. The congregation is here to this day, even as, correct me if I’m wrong, but the building has actually moved twice. There have been three different locations. It’s almost like the church tells the story of African American or Black migration within Portland, as a kind of microcosm of the larger community. But your focus is on the church building on the east side, a little north of what’s now known as the Rose Quarter. What should we know about this church and this building?
Moreland: I mean you’re absolutely right. It does kind of epitomize the journey of African Americans at the turn of the century. And like you said, it has had three different buildings, and one of them was next door to the Golden West Hotel. It was demolished, but that was the first church that they actually constructed. And then most African American churches began to move across the river to the east side, and Mount Olivet was one of the first churches to build over there, in 1923. A lot of the workforce were porters who had settled in Portland and brought their families, and you had some significant political and community activity take place in the Mount Olivet Church. Marcus Garvey spoke there, Beatrice Morrow Cannady often spoke there when she was advocating for intraracial relationships in Portland. You even have early womans’ suffrage leaders organized at Mount Olivet. And even the first black union was organized at Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
Miller: My understanding is that you’re actually a member of the Mount Olivet Church. What was it like exploring the historical legacy of the church that you have such a personal connection to?
Moreland: It was powerful. As part of this project, I had an opportunity to really go inside the building, which is now occupied by another church. And so I had the opportunity to go and walk around. They had a plaque in the middle when you first come in the front door, a list of some of the older founders that I have read about. And looking at some of the beautiful stained glass windows, it was almost timeless. And so it was pretty powerful.
And the legacy continues. Mount Olivet, considering how long it’s been around, had very few pastors. They tend to stay a long time. And they each contribute to the history of Portland’s African American history as well as the spiritual growth of Mount Olivet. So it was a powerful moment for me.
Miller: There’s one more site that’s on the current list, actually pretty close to the church building you’re talking about, Dean’s Beauty Shop, beauty salon and barbershop. What do we know about this business and this building?
Moreland: This is an amazing story. The building in itself is not of architectural significance, but it was designed by the founders, Benjamin Dean and his wife. Benjamin was a shipyard worker, and previous owner, Mary Rose, was a hairstylist. And she actually was trained by Madame C. J. Walker in her hometown in Alabama. The couple constructed the building in 1956 after working in their home. The building was probably one of the few black owned buildings that was actually constructed for that purpose, as a beauty and barber shop. And it has a unique structure where it has two doors, one for the beauty salon and one for the barbershop. And it’s a fourth generation owned beauty salon. It is now operated by Kimberly Brown, who is the granddaughter of Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean.
And their daughter, Kay Toran, also has a unique history of her own when she became one of the first black leaders in the state of Oregon. I believe she was with the Department of Human Services. But she has quite a legacy in Portland as well. And Kay Toran’s daughter is also part of the beauty industry and she sells her own hair care products. And so this is just an example of a multi generational black owned business that have lasted through urban renewal, transportation planning programs, and gentrification.
Miller: What would it mean to you personally to have these three sites be placed on the National Register of Historic Places?
Moreland: Number one, these three properties would be only among five properties that have been listed to the National Register in Oregon. Also, it’s material evidence of the rich heritage of African Americans in Portland and Oregon. And it also mitigates erasure of the Black culture in Portland, an area that is gentrifying rapidly. And there’s extreme development pressures in that area. And so it’s a way of saying we are still here, and we’re proud of the heritage that we have in Portland. And it’s just part of the United States’s unique Black experience.
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