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Friday, May 8, 2009

What's in a number?

The César Chávez Boulevard Sóap Ópera rolls on quietly behind the scenes in Portland. The ruthless gamesmanship of the proponents of renaming-a-street-after-the-fallen-civil-rights-leader still leaves three streets in contention: Broadway, Grand Avenue, and East 39th Avenue. It would be nice of them to narrow it down to one sometime, but apparently that trio of candidates will remain in play until the moment before the City Council approves one.

The committee of nonhistorians called together under the city charter to rule on the historic significance of the streets and their names has spoken: 39th Avenue has the least significance. And so despite the overwhelming opposition of the folks who own property over there, it looks as though 39th is the leading contender for the renaming. It seems almost inevitable.

One of the arguments that the opponents of the 39th name change offered to the city panel was that renaming their street would screw up the numbered-street array, thus potentially confusing motorists. It's obvious that 39th comes between 38th and 40th, but where is Chávez? It could be anywhere.

This "navigational" argument went nowhere with the history committee. Apparently the street numbering system isn't so important as to preclude a politically correct exception here or there.

Tell that to the ghosts of the folks who used to live on Glenn Avenue.

Glenn was a street in the northeast part of town, between 32nd and 33rd Streets. A hundred years ago, when the neighborhoods were being laid out, it stood proud. But sometime later, someone decided that the name had to be changed to make matters easier for motorists trying to find things. And lo and behold, NE 32nd Place was born.

The Glenn name survives only in curb markings on scattered corners where progress has not yet arrived in the form of cutouts for the disabled and other wheeled sidewalk users:

It won't be long before they're all gone:

But if you're over that way, check them out. And when the bureaucrats tell you that names should trump numbers in the grand scheme of Portland street labels, remember Glenn Avenue.

Comments (30)

Does this mean that Jack Benny will always be César Chávez?

O.k., I'm too slow today to get that one.

They haven't renamed Rochester, have they?

Well, it seems a done deal since the City has already allocated 150K for the re-naming costs (including signs at 172 intersections). What is not clear are the true costs to 39th ave business owners.

I love Portland, but it bugs me when we seemingly try so hard to be politically correct, only to get it all wrong.

One of Jack Benny's longest running jokes was that his next birthday was always his 39th.

Of course.

Little did I know, when growing up in Irvington, 50-60 years ago, that our favorite sledding hill, 32nd Place, was once Glenn Avenue. We'd trek up Fremont, pulling our Flexible Flyers. The City would block off the street, and with the right amount of paraffin on the runners, and 2-3 of us piled on top of one another for extra weight, we could glide from Fremont clear down to Knott. It was here that Madeleine, Alameda and Fernwood kids got to know each other, sort of a prep school for Yaw's drive in, where we hung out once we got to Grant or Central Catholic, and could borrow the family car.

Good times!

Thanks for the follow-up on the Jack Benny joke. Darn. It worries me when I don't get one. That frees up the rest of my day.

My wife grew up in Waukegan, Illinois right near the house Jack Benny grew up in.
They have a statue of him with the violin on a square downtown.
As a comedy writer I did a pilgrimage to both.
Jack Benny also performed at the Portland Hilton before my time but the sound engineer played me the tape. It was a convention of insurance agents and Jack Benny said, "I'm not going to tell you how much I'm insured for, but when I go, they go."
He's way before my time, but I loved Jack Benny.

If they must name a street, why not 82nd Ave? It could have Chavez as a dual, ceremonial name in addition to '82nd'... plus that street bears more of a working-class lineage to Chavez than thoroughfares in upper-class neighborhoods.

A dual name would allow business owners to adapt/adopt as they see fit. Plus, people aren't going to stop calling it what they've always known it as. The Boston Garden will always be the Boston Garden.

Anyone know who Glenn was?

Benny had a great delivery to go with hilarious material. Deadpan.


From a great blog about Alameda history:

The other three Alameda-only streets, Regents, Ridgewood and Edgehill were likely chosen for their appealing sound and the imagery they represented. The early name for Edgehill was Laura Avenue, as you can plainly see stamped into the curbs. Like Laura, Glenn Avenue is another street name from the early years that has been left behind. Glenn is now 32nd Place, renamed in a wave of Portland street renaming in 1931-1933. Who were Laura and Glenn? That riddle awaits solution.

Street renaming is nothing new in Portland. I live on Lafayette Street in SE Portland. It was originally named Frankfort. There were also Karl, Cole and Beacon streets in the Brooklyn neighborhood that are now varying different names. Street names change.

I view the "navigation difficulty" arguments as specious at best. You really think someone will get lost because it is a named avenue instead of a number? If so, why don't people get lost downtown when navigating between 6th, Broadway, two different Parks and 10th avenue?

However, I do take serious the arguments of the cost to the businesses along 39th. Those businesses will have to pay an extra tax, in a certain sense, to change all of their signage, listings letterheads, etc.

It was originally named Frankfort.

Street names with German connections got scrubbed during the world wars. In my old stomping grounds in the Ironbound section of Newark, Berlin Street became Rome Street in a hurry.

I view the "navigation difficulty" arguments as specious at best.

Like I say, tell it to the folks on Glenn Avenue.

Was that Glenn or Glenda?

"Was that Glenn or Glenda?" Ed Wood lives! Forget Plan 9 from Outerspace, Glenn or Glenda was his masterpiece. Also 48th Ave. in Southeast was once Walnut Street.

In my old stomping grounds in the Ironbound section of Newark, Berlin Street became Rome Street in a hurry.

Would that have been WWI?

FYI, one can view the Mulnomah County tax assessor maps here:


Click on "Address Search", enter an address, then click on the Tax Map icon in the results. Old street names are shown on these maps along with the new.

One person wrote in to the O and pointed out that the city should not be taking something away but adding to the character of Portland. This person offered up naming the new pedestrian bridge after Chavez. But no, the numb-skulls at City Hall would prefer to inconvenience lots of taxpaying citizens who have small businesses instead.
And yes that is an insult to the folks at city hall!...so jail me!

Could somebody please stick a fork in this Gumbas lady who is pushing this pile of politically correct crap on the City? She's not even a resident. And how does a petition with 2500 names on it somehow make the City Council jump? What tiny percentage of the City's population is that? Maybe 1/3 of 1%?

Frankly, as far as navigation goes, I think that the numbered Places, Courts, or whatever are far more problematic than named streets. I know I've turned down any number of streets thinking I was on the right one only to find I was a half-block off the actual avenue.

Although might I add that as time goes on and GPS systems become cheaper and built into more and more cell phones the nav argument is going to be useless.

Hey, Glenn to 32nd Place ain't nothin'. Multnomah Boulevard used to be a commuter-train track!

"If they must name a street, why not 82nd Ave? It could have Chavez as a dual, ceremonial name in addition to '82nd'... plus that street bears more of a working-class lineage to Chavez than thoroughfares in upper-class neighborhoods."

You mean, in addition to being "The 82nd Avenue of Roses" as it is now?

Been there, done that.

darrelplant, GPS devices and Google Maps and all these other new mapping technologies suffer quite horribly from the same flaws as good old paper maps. They get horribly outdated and contain inaccuracies.

I guarantee you that if 39th becomes Chavez, many of those navigation systems will be showing it as 39th for at least a decade after the rename. Heck, Google Maps shows SW Farmington Road as Oregon Highway 208, which it hasn't been since 1982.

I've got no problem with there being a "Cesar Chavez Blvd" somewhere, but if they are going to do it, it should either a) be a new road, ala Bill Frey Drive in Salem, or b) actually improve navigability, like what Washington County did with Roy Rogers Road and Cornelius Pass Road. 39th just doesn't make any sense at all. And quite frankly, there are more logical places in Oregon to honor Chavez . . . i.e. Woodburn or Cornelius.

For some historical perspective on existing street names in the Alameda neighborhood of Northeast Portland (including long lost Glenn and Laura): http://alamedahistory.org/alameda-stories/alameda-street-names/

Alex: Whatever made you think that this was about honoring Cesar Chavez? Don't confuse the pretext with the reason, which is flexing/building political muscle by tying white liberals in knots with their own guilt.

The inconvenience and cost of the switch to residents and businesses are a feature, not a bug -- the more the inconvenience and cost to haoles, the better the feature.

I think that every avenue with a name was renumbered as the "place" (instead of "avenue") of the number street to the west.

I personally think that if you know the numbering system in Portland, the numbered streets help. If you remember that avenues run north-south and streets run east-west and that every 200' (one block) of street contains one hundred street address numbers, divided equally, with evens on the east side of north-south streets and the south side of east west streets.

The problem is that most people don't know the 'system'....and, if you leave the 'street/avenue' designations off of NoPo addresses, you obscure a lot of helpful information, because all streets and avenues are names up there.

As for replacing numbers....meh. Look at MLKjr, Grand, Milwaukie, Water, and, of course, the soon to be Avenue of Roses.

This generation's fashion is to change it back to names.

I live a half block from 39th and I honestly don't care.

On the subject of ethnic mass-hysteria & the abuse of things German, spare a thought for & hoist a glass to one of the Albers Bros of local milling fame. During the War to End War, Albers, an unreconstructed Kraut [back off - Lalawethika's mostly Kraut himself] was enjoying a train trip from California to Portland on the old SP. Somewhere in the Siskiyous, he became quite inebriated & began to propose loud toasts to Kaiser Bill, Hindenburg, Ludendorff & all the other recently proclaimed enemies of Freedom. In one version, the Patriot population of the club car took time off from kicking Dachshunds to break into a compensatory chorus of "Over There," and at the end of the confusion, Herr Albers was taken into custody. Various punishments, up to & including hanging for treason, were discussed, and I think he did end up serving some time. The incident is well known, & I'm sure someone can correct my errors - haven't had time to look it up. I do believe that Geo M. Cohan claims he selected the first three notes in "Over There" because they are the call of the Whippoorwill = "Whip Poor Will" = Wilhelm the Kaiser. But back to renaming itself - Linus Pauling, James Beard, Mel Blanc, Heck Harper, Gracie Hansen, Graziela Boucher, hell, Dr. Zoom have more connection to this town than Mr. Chavez - they're just the wrong brand. Promoters of the latter are itching for a slight. Name a new bridge or a Farmers' Market for CC.

Veiledorchid: I grew up in a house on NE 32nd Court. It was between 32nd Ave and 32nd Pl. I wonder if it also had a different name at one time.

Gosh, I remember sledding on 32nd Place hill, back in the late 50's too. I don't think I ever made it all the way to Knott sledding, but I sure did one summer on my bicycle when the brake broke. By the way, I was one of the Fernwood guys.

Tensky -- is that you? The style was familiar but the name threw me for a bit.

What about naming 42nd Ave for Douglas Adams? Didn't those supporters get their request in first? How did they get aced out?

Satirist Adams proposed that " . . . the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything" is 42.

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