In 1905, when St. Johns was its own city (in between stints as Portland’s best neighborhood), city leaders decided they’d show their independence by commissioning a grand new City Hall.
The building, designed W.W. Goodrich and built by Youngfedorf & Son, opened July 1, 1907. But it almost didn’t. Money troubles for the struggling city of St. Johns almost forced officials to sell the plot of land it had set aside at 7214 N. Philadelphia.
Old City Hall is still there. But it’s been Portland property ever since St. Johns was annexed back into its bigger neighbor in 1915. It’s dodged a few bullets — plans to close it have come and gone over the years — while giving quarter to Portland’s police and fire bureaus at various times.
The building most notably served as the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct until 2007. In recent years it’s been home to the police bureau’s training division. It currently houses the bureau’s traffic division. And it continues to be a recognizable landmark for travelers coming on or off the St. Johns Bridge.
The Multnomah County Library System is the busiest in the nation — with the second-highest circulation by volume.
St. Johns has traditionally been one of the system’s gems. The area hosted one of the system’s first reading rooms in 1907 and then the little city (as it existed at the time) became home to one of the growing system’s new Carnegie-gifted libraries just a few years later.
The library system tells that story and several others about our local branch on its website:
“In 1907, five ‘reading rooms’ opened in various Multnomah County locations, including the St. Johns area. The 1908 annual report describes them:
The reading rooms have proved an economical and effective method of book distribution. They are maintained by the cooperation of the residents of the locality with the library, the former providing the room heated and lighted, while the library is responsible for the salary of the custodian and furnishes the books and magazines. The rooms are open for five hours during the afternoon and evening and in addition each custodian is required to spend one morning each week at the central library for instruction and suggestion. A small group of reference books has been placed in each room and between 200 and 300 circulating books. These are kept fresh by weekly exchanges and a weekly delivery of books specially requested supplements this deposit collection.
The St. Johns Reading Room opened in a rented building on Jersey Street on April 20, 1907, with Mrs. T.T. Parker in charge. It closed in 1908.
The Peninsular Reading Room opened on April 27, 1907, with Mrs. Frances Rhomberg in charge. The first year’s circulation totaled over 3,000 items. Membership grew in the next year, and circulation increased to more than 8,000 — the second highest for all of the five reading rooms.
By 1911, enthusiasm for a St. Johns branch had increased. The Library Association of Portland’s 1912 annual report states that on May 1, 1911, ‘a sub-branch was opened at St. Johns, which has met with unusual appreciation.’ Miss Mabel Rundall was St. Johns Library’s first librarian.
In 1912, W.B. Ayer, Library Association of Portland president, wrote, ‘it is my pleasure to announce to you the gift of $60,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the construction of four additional branch library buildings; also the gift of three sites for branch buildings, having a total value of $18,000…the one [site] at St. Johns was the generous gift of Mr. M.L. Holbrook.’
St. Johns Library opened on November 22, 1913, with Miss Mabel Rundall in charge.”
Every year since 1962, neighbors and people from all across the city gather in a swarm on N. Lombard on the second Saturday in May for the St. Johns Parade. Marching bands and schoolchildren file behind outlandish floats loaded with pirates and cool old cars ferrying political candidates and elected officials.
See the 2016 parade route here.
And then, once the parade ends neighbors since 2006 have been packing downtown St. Johns for a close-the-streets party affectionately known as the St. Johns Bizarre. The Bizarre, run by volunteers, brings in dozens of vendors, artists, nonprofits and bands — not to mention games, craft beer and tasty food.
St. Johns sits across the river from one of the nation’s largest urban parks, Forest Park, and all of its many lush hiking and cycling trails. But you don’t have to cross the St. Johns Bridge to bask in some of Portland’s finest greenery.
Kelley Point Park, with its riverside swimming beaches at the very tip of the peninsula, is a short bike ride away.
Cathedral Park, below the bridge, offers history, fishing, boating, big fields and striking views. It also hosts several events, including the neighborhood’s annual Jazz Festival.
Pier Park offers playgrounds, picnic areas, an outdoor pool, disk golf, trails and shade. St. Johns Park, on N. Central, is home to our community center and a playground that sits steps from homes.
And that’s not including smaller neighborhood parks, from George Park to Open Meadows, where neighbors young and old can come together and enjoy a pleasant day.
Every year, the St. Johns Neighborhood Association receives a small grant from the city to put on a neighborhood cleanup event. Last year, volunteers from the St. Johns Neighborhood Association and Friends of Cathedral Park worked with groups such as the ReBuilding Center to offer neighbors a chance to dump some trash but also find a home for recyclables best kept from the dump.
We’ll update this post when information about this year’s cleanup, likely in April or May, becomes available!
Yep. We’ve got a lot of ’em in our back yards and sometimes in our front yards and sidewalks. They’re cute. They pop out rich and delicious eggs (sometimes so much that your neighbor might share some if they’re lucky and you’re nice). And maybe don’t tell any little kids this… but when they’re not too wiry, chickens also taste good.