Documenting Portland’s Black experience
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church at 1734 N.E. First Ave. was built in 1923 for one of Portland’s first Black congregations and today stands as the oldest surviving African American worship space in the historic Albina neighborhood. PHOTO BY INSTISAR ABIOTO/COURTESY PORTLAND PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus, has advanced support for designing three historic Black properties, the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop, and the Golden West Hotel, to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Portland Democrat released a letter last week to the Secretary of the Interior supporting the designations and outlining the endorsements of the proposals from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office and Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation. The Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in northeast Portland was the home of one of Oregon’s oldest Black congregations; Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop in northeast Portland is the city’s oldest, continuously operating Black-owned business; and the Golden West Hotel in northwest Portland was the first hotel in the city to accommodate Black patrons. “These landmarks play an integral role in understanding our history and demonstrate the resilience of Portland’s African American community in spite of systemic racism and government-sponsored clearance, redevelopment, disinvestment, and gentrification,” Blumenauer wrote in a letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office officially submitted the nominations for the three sites to the National Park Service at the same time, following public sessions and the recommendation last year of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation. Blumenauer called out the good work of the preparers of the nominations—namely Kimberly Moreland, Caitlyn Ewers, and Matthew Davis—who went to great lengths to conduct research, site visits, and oral interviews even with the disruptions to social interactions during the Covid-19 pandemic. He wrote, “These landmarks are all important to understanding our history and demonstrate the resilience of Portland’s Black community despite systemic racism and government-sponsored clearance, redevelopment, disinvestment, and gentrification.” His letter to Haaland described the significance of the properties: Completed in 1923, the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church served as a venue for cultural, social, and political events of importance to the Black community. The church provided critical meeting space for local civil rights organizations, hosting many civil rights leaders, labor activists, and politicians. Mt. Olivet’s renowned music ministry program fostered Black artistic expression and cultural pride through its public performances of traditional spirituals and gospel music and its social programs promoted fellowship within the congregation and beyond. Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean opened Dean’s Beauty and Barber Shop in 1956. Despite the discrimination they faced as Black business owners in mid-twentieth century Portland, they established the shop as financially successful and a safe, welcoming gathering space for its clients in Lower Albina. Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop embodies a long tradition of Black entrepreneurship in Inner northeast Portland, specifically the proliferation of Black-owned businesses along North Williams Avenue in the first two decades following World War II. It has survived to become the oldest continuously operated Black-owned barber shop in Portland. The third landmark, the Golden West Hotel, was the only major hotel in Portland to welcome Black guests in the early 20th century. It provided lodging for Black travelers, particularly men employed in the railroad industry, and visiting Black entertainers, athletes, politicians, and activists, all of whom were denied service at white-owned establishments because of their race. The Golden West Hotel was one of the city’s most prominent Black-owned businesses at the time and one of the most important community spaces available to Black Portlanders.