Portland's Collectible Neighborhoods

In the market for a vintage typewriter, a gluten-free pumpkin doughnut or a pair of toe socks for those rubber flip flops?

Add Sellwood-Westmoreland, a pair of neighborhoods three miles south of downtown on the east bank of the Willamette River, to your list of Portland, Oregon find 
Collectors know the area for its sprawling antique malls and shops operating out of century-old bungalows crammed with vintage glassware and costume jewelry.
But like some of Portland's other reborn residential business districts — Hawthorne, Alberta Street and Mississippi Avenue — Sellwood-Westmoreland has evolved into something more as young families have moved in, bringing with them a taste for fresh-roasted coffee, organic restaurants and a healthy lifestyle. 

Two miles long and a mile wide, the neighborhoods form a teardrop-shaped business district with parallel main drags, Southeast Milwaukie Avenue in Westmoreland and Southeast 13th Avenue in Sellwood, connected at Southeast Bybee Boulevard.

Hillside overlooks lead to wooded trails in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, an urban wetlands area and park near the river. Nearby is the Oaks Park amusement park, built in 1905, and a three-mile segment of the Springwater Corridor, a paved biking/pedestrian trail that skirts the Willamette to downtown.

Considered attractive residential areas in the late 1800s when electric trains stopped on Sellwood's Southeast 13th Avenue, the neighborhoods declined after the Depression, as residents moved to other parts of Portland.

"It had been a lower rent area for quite a number of years," says Brent Heeb, the owner of two antique malls on Milwaukie Avenue.

"Then, about six or seven years ago, things started to change. It went from lower middle class to middle and upper class. The houses that used to sell for $30,000 were selling for $300,000, and that brought a whole new economic base to the neighborhood."

Replacing some of the antiques shops are new ventures such as Cravin' Raven, an organic, mostly gluten-free bakery opened a year ago by Cindy Sherman at 8339 S.E. 13th.

The former human-resources manager searched different neighborhoods for a year, then settled on Sellwood after her corner store space, a former antiques shop, showed up on Craigslist one morning.

"Being here is kind of like going back to the '50s," she says. "It's a very old-fashioned, kind of a nice, comfortable neighborhood."

One major draw is Columbia Sportswear's factory outlet store at 1323 S.E. Tacoma St., where I found winter ski jackets marked down from $140 to $39.98.

The other is food. Some of Portland's best restaurants are tucked away in its neighborhood business districts. Southeast 13th Avenue and Southeast Lexington Street in Sellwood is headquarters for a small collection of mobile food trucks serving quick, inexpensive lunches.

Drop by the bright red Curbside Grill, where Ray Koernig and Melanie Sandoval specialize in flame-grilled chicken sandwiches. Try the G-bird, made with thigh meat topped with Gorgonzola ($5.50).

A few doors away at Zenbu, Wes Kasubuchi works out of a silver Airstream, turning out Sichuan green beans, tofu balls or hand-rolled sushi ($3-$5). Canvas awnings draped above picnic tables provide shelter, but it was raining hard the day I stopped by, so I took my lunch next door to the Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters, and ordered a Cubano, a latte made with espresso infused with cinnamon and sugar.

Partners Flo Posadas and Cindy Wallace started out roasting beans in a hand-cranked popcorn popper one pound at a time, using a propane burner set up on their back patio.

They've since graduated to a German-made machine where they do small-batch specialty roasts in a backroom while customers relax out front in a cafe furnished with a leather sofa and stuffed chairs.

Around the neighborhood, storefronts and bungalows labeled with historical markers house a mix of restaurants, boutiques and antiques dealers.

Sock Dreams, a Portland online retailer, sells toe socks made in Taiwan and men's checkerboard crews in the former B.F. Smith house, built in 1892 at 8005 S.E. 13th.

Across the street, the Love Art Gallery displays work by 70 local artists. Metal sculptures of giraffes, horses and owls decorate the front yard of what was the Mordhorst House, built in 1908.

Two classy Italian restaurants, a Cena and Gino's, anchor opposite ends of 13th, but the best reason to make a visit to Sellwood stretch through dinner is the Jade Teahouse & Patisserie at 7912 S.E. 13th.

Four fat lemon grass tofu salad rolls ($5), billed as a "small plate," made a filling meal paired with a glass of local pinot gris, followed by a white chocolate macaroon made by the Laotian owner, who studied pastry-making in France.

On to Westmoreland

I started a morning of antiquing, hiking and bookstore browsing in Westmoreland with a trip back to the 1940s at Mocha Momma's Good Coffee Cafe, 6116 S.E. Milwaukie Ave.

Catch local poets, musicians and writers at "open mike" night Tuesdays, starting around 5 p.m. Otherwise stop in for a game of Scrabble by the faux fireplace and a plate of eggs or vegan "taters" served with toast and hummus.

Work it off with a walk through the nearby Oaks Bottom area, a 140-acre wetland that attracts hawks, quail, mallards and blue herons. Or spend a couple of hours wandering through the antique malls.

My favorite was the Dusty Tiger Mall of Collectibles, 6717 S.E. Milwaukie, with a 300-pound bronze tiger in the window. I passed on the 80-year-old foot scraper shaped like a dachshund, but was tempted by a set of seven etched cordial glasses for $15.

Sellwood is losing its neighborhood bookshop, the Looking Glass, tucked inside a red caboose at 7983 S.E. 13th. But Westmoreland still has Wallace Books, in a yellow bungalow at 7241 S.E. Milwaukie.

Surrounded by wooden shelves stacked with new and used titles, owner Julie Wallace keeps a wood fire burning near her desk on chilly days. There's one room set aside for cookbooks, another for mysteries and a wall for Pacific Northwest writers.

Wallace once worked at Portland's mega bookstore, Powell's City of Books.

"There are lot of people who just want to come into something a little smaller," she says.

She has only two rules.

"No computer books and no Harlequin romances."

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