Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sabin History - Part I: Origins

by Bill Youngren

Sabin as a neighborhood came about in 1968 and evolved into one of the most economically and ethnically diverse areas in Portland. The neighborhood moniker arose from the area grade school, which was dubbed Sabin Elementary in 1920. F.L. Sabin was a school board member in the early 1920’s.  I have been unable to find out much about him.

Sabin has a rich but checkered history. At the end of the 19th  century a group of investors bought a large land claim from John Irving’s widow. Captain Irving was a steam boat captain that held a large land claim on the east side of Portland.  Captain Irving died in 1872 and  had moved to Victoria, BC years earlier to lay claim there. His widow returned to Portland and lived the rest of her life here. This group of Investors had familiar  names like Thompson, Failing and others. They developed the Irvington area first as it was already platted and cleared. Sales were slow at first, and lots were expensive for the time.  When the streetcars arrived at the turn of the 20th century, interest in the area finally blossomed but the areas above Fremont remained farmland and a horse racetrack into the teens and early 20’s. After a fire destroyed the Irvington dairy in 1912 at the corner of 15th and Fremont, Dixon Place was formed east of 14th ave and Lincoln Park was formed west of 14th.  Dixon was Mrs. Irving’s maiden name.  The homes in the Dixon Place development were similar to housing stock in the Irvington area, but Lincoln Park was not as exclusive  and the housing stock could vary greatly in size and quality.
The principal developments that comprise Sabin are Irvington East, Irvington West, North Irvington and Irvington Heights, Dixon Place and Alameda Park, Lincoln Park (roughly 7th to 14th, Fremont to Prescott), and the area north of Prescott, which was not a designated development.  

The Irvington, Dixon Place and Alameda Park parcels were covenant neighborhoods and had racial and economic restrictions which remained legal into the late 1960s and which were still sometimes, though less so, adhered to into the 1990’s.

The area north of Prescott had fewer restrictions.  Though a more diverse citizenry could reside in these areas, all were of European origin. These people were of Slavic, German or Jewish descent. In the convenant areas, the vast majority were of Northern European ancestry.  African Americans  and Asians would have been unwelcome in either area and did not arrive in the neighborhood until after the 1948 Vanport floods and the bulldozing of South Albina for the Memorial Coliseum project in the 1960’s.  They were allowed only in covertly designated areas that were above Fremont or west of 15th Ave.   Housing was priced higher in the all-white zones, and mortgages and insurance would not be granted to African Americans who tried to move out of the these designated or what are known as “redlined” zones.  Historians and social scientists have documented that these egregious and illegal practices occurred into the 1990’s.  A map of African American population concentrations and migrations concurs to this day with the redlined zones. 

Sabin, though, as a neighborhood can take pride in our present.  We are still a diverse neighborhood with a strong central school. We have an history of citizen activism which has helped us weather upturns and downturns and often rapid transformations. When Sabin was combined into a neighborhood in the late 1960’s the area the area had, for at least a decade, become more economically and ethnically diverse than any time in the history of the area.  Due to the aging of the original residents and the common and pernicious phenomenon called white flight  (Caucasian people selling and moving away as African American residents appeared),  the Sabin area began to suffer from city government neglect, financial disinvestment and blight as property values plummeted and poorer residents replaced middle class ones.  

Sabin’s boundaries were created to encompass parts of the wealthy and all-white areas of Alameda Park and East Irvington with the poorer parts of Lincoln Park and upper Dixon Place. They created a neighborhood with a school that could draw from diverse racial and economic backgrounds and thus be more fully integrated and stronger for it. Though in the last twenty years middle class and Caucasian residents have returned to this beautiful, historic and convenient neighborhood, we remain a diverse and vital neighborhood.

Next: History Part II: Housing Issues of the Last Two Decades


Anonymous said...

Mr. Youngman -I was sorry to see such a limited summary of Sabin's history in the Sabin newsletter. While I understand it was just an excerpt, why did you focus so heavily on the exclusionary covenants?
Sabin has a very rich history as a settlement of Volga Germans concentrated in an area generally bounded by NE Alberta on the North, NE 15th on the East, NE Russell on the South, and NE Mississippi and NE Albina on the West. This area was known as "Rooshian Town" or "Little Russia" by the locals There is a great website http://www.volgagermans.net/portland/index.html You can see pictures of the churches and businesses built by these immigrants, some that still stand. Many worked in the Albina RR Yard and lived in boarding houses on Russell and upper Mississippi that still exist. They moved to Sabin when they could afford to build their own home (many of them are our current residences)and this was their general area of residence until well into the 1930's.
Please revise your "Origins" to reflect this well-documented part of Sabin's history. Thank you. Jane

Kim said...

Our neighborhood has such a fascinating history! I was wondering if there has every been a community-wide request for photographs of Sabin or stories about the neighborhood that could then be published in book form (via one of the online publishing sites like blurb.com). Either way, I'm looking forward to reading subsequent articles about Sabin's history (as well as reader comments!). :)

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