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A Look at What Was in Slabtown

This Saturday, 9/20/14, is a big day. All are welcome to the 8th Annual Slabtown Festival, celebrating the history of this NW Portland neighborhood - and, whaddya know, it's also conveniently the same day as McMenamins Tavern & Pool's 30th Anniversary! So, like we said, this is a big day. And all big days deserve a parade, some beer and a healthy dose of history.

The parade, which kicks off the free, all-day, family-friendly event, will be led by the Transcendental Brass Band and will wind through the neighborhood to the festival site, across NW 23rd Ave. from the Tavern & Pool. There, afternoon offerings will include live music, comedy, puppet shows and raffles, as well as facepainting, balloon craziness, a bounce house, craft booths and a McMenamins Beer Garden. At T&P, there will be a series of programs highlighting neighborhood history. Then at 6 p.m and on into the evening, things will decidedly be more raucous and adult-friendly at the Tavern, with a great bands, an anniversary ale and food specials. The full schedule is available at the link.

Until then, we take a look back at four incredible months in both the neighborhood's as well as the world's history.

Slabtown has been a residential and industrial waterfront community, distinguished by a mixed ethnic component, since the 1850s. It encompasses the area roughly from NW 16th Ave. to Montgomery Park and from the Willamette River to NW Pettygrove.

The neighborhood gets its name from the enormous quantities of slab wood that were a popular form of heating fuel in the early 1900s, produced by the local lumber mills.

One of the many, many interesting aspects of this historic neighborhood is that in 1905, it hosted the World's Fair (a.k.a. the Lewis and Clark Exposition, a.k.a. the Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair), as seen in this vintage postcard.


This was a massive undertaking. Along with many nations and U.S. states, branches of the federal government, and private organizations, the Fair housed exhibits from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Smithsonian Institution and renowned artist Claude Monet. The point of the fair was to showcase progress -- people from all over the world visited to learn about scientific and technological advances. In Portland, guests took in moving picture shows, watched blimps float in the sky, rooted for the winner of the first transcontinental auto race, and took a gander at the power of electric lighting.

But once the fair was over in about four months, the picturesque lake seen in the postcard (formerly a swampy marsh) was filled in and all of those beautiful buildings, which had hosted over a million and a half visitors throughout the fair, were dismantled, razed or burned! After all, they were designed to be temporary.

Standing in the Slabtown neighborhood today, it's hard to imagine that an event of such renown and magnitude even happened, because there is very little left.

photoHowever, you may know that our own St. Johns Theater & Pub is a relic of the fair. Originally constructed as an exhibit hall for the National Cash Register Company, it was one of the most popular attractions, not because of the lectures given touting the progressive nature of the company, but because of the motion picture it screened at the end of its presentation. For many spectators, this was the first movie they'd ever seen! After the fair, the NCR pavilion was barged upriver to begin a new life in North Portland, first as a church, then an American Legion hall, and then of course, a pub and movie theater.

Below are a few more images of the buildings, lake and grounds of the 1905 World's Fair. Incredible to think that most of it is gone now.

Come to the Slabtown Community Festival and T&P's 30th Anniversary this Saturday to learn more about the neighborhood, and perhaps take a stroll around the streets to imagine the grandeur that existed, however fleetingly, 109 years ago.


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