The last time we were in Portland, Oregon, we never did any street exploration outside of downtown. So I had no idea how Portland really felt on the ground apart from the city centre, the Interstate, and the malls. However, the feel of a city is always more than just its downtown and highways.
The Travel Portland magazine (available for PDF download from their website) recommended a few neighbourhoods for tourists to explore. I didn’t have time to go to all of them so I picked a couple of streets very close together. In the magazine, they feature Belmont and Hawthorne streets together. I’ll talk about them separately for the purposes of my blog.
We made our way down Portland’s streets on the east side of the Williamette River. We noted that a lot of these main arterials don’t feel like the big streets in Vancouver. They felt like small streets with traffic. It reminded me of how some of the busy streets in Toronto are like in terms of width, but with a lot less traffic and a smaller city feel.
Belmont Street is in the Southeast quadrant of Portland. It didn’t seem like a very busy street when we drove down it. Belmont is a very unassuming street between 33rd and 38th Avenues. There are quite a few eateries and coffee shops along this stretch, but they are dotted in between a lot of homes.
One of the big landmarks along this stretch is the Avalon Theatre. It looks like it’s been around for a long time. It’s an art deco front and is still operating. According to the Wikipedia entry, the Avalon is believed to Oregon’s oldest movie theatre and the first with multiple screens.
In front of a few of the coffee shops, there was something I had never seen before – on-street bicycle parking. Portland is famous for being America’s most bicycle-friendly city and I can see why. There was no shortage of bikes locked up in the bike parking and there were plenty of car parking spots around too.
There is a real mix of older brick buildings along this street. In Vancouver, we don’t see much brick. It’s not the material of choice here. It almost has an East Coast feel with the brick. It must have been the material of choice at the time this neighbourhood was built.
As with any city, there is a mix of old with new. Directly across from the Avalon Theater is a very West Coast modern 4-storey apartment building. It stands in direct contrast to the art deco theater across the street and the brick face of the Historic Belmont Firehouse. This kind of juxtaposition of buildings is what makes urban exploration fun. Unfortunately, the fourth corner is a very uninteresting sound and lighting shop with a parking lot right on the corner.
Another reason we came down to Belmont Street was to see Pine State Biscuits. It was recommended by one of my wife’s friends from Seattle. She said I should definitely take her to Pine State. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of having breakfast (because it’s free at the hotel) and didn’t have space for these famous biscuits. All we did is walk past it. Next time, I will have to show my wife this video to get her all fired up to go.