The Checkered Past of One of Portland’s Up and Coming Neighborhoods: Foster-Powell
To look at the Foster-Powell neighborhood of Southeast Portland today, with its revitalized storefronts, food cart pods, booming small businesses, and international flavor, you might be forgiven for thinking things have always been this way in the neighborhood that locals call “FoPo.”
But that simply isn’t the case. In fact, the Foster-Powell neighborhood has been through many changes in its century of history. Here are just a few of the highlights.
The Founding of the Kern Park Streetcar Subdivision
The Foster-Powell neighborhood can trace its origins back to the early part of the twentieth century, when it began life as a new subdivision on the Kern Park streetcar line. In those days, streetcars criss-crossed the young city of Portland, some of them carrying passengers to the heights of Mt. Tabor, the dormant volcano near the newly created neighborhood.
Neighborhood boundaries were drawn up as construction began on the newly created subdivision, bordered by Powell Boulevard, or U.S. Highway 26 (aka the Mount Hood Freeway) on the North, and Foster Road on the South. Due to the fact that Foster splits off of Powell at Fiftieth Avenue and makes its way all the way through Lents to the town of Damascus, the neighborhood has a somewhat unique triangle shape, in a city of square and rectangular grids. The eastern boundary of the neighborhood is Eighty-Second Avenue.
Early Commercial and Residential Growth in FoPo
Back when the Foster-Powell neighborhood was defined, Foster Road was a dirt track mainly used by farmers to bring their goods from Lents and beyond into the inner city for sale. But by early in the twentieth century, Foster was the widest paved street in the city, and had the widest sidewalks of anywhere in town.
Developers had patterned the street’s seventeen-foot wide sidewalks after the sidewalks of Paris, and in the early decades and the years after World War II, the area resembled a boomtown.
Decline in the 1970s
It’s a familiar story to anyone who’s been in Portland long enough to remember. The boom years following the Second World War quickly turned to troubled times during the 1970s.
Converting the regional economy from one based primarily on resource extraction to a service-based one had some accompanying growing pains. The 1970s saw many of the affluent families that had called the neighborhood home setting off for the greener pastures of the rapidly developing suburbs to the east, while stores closed along Powell, Foster, and Eighty-Second Avenue.
The Recent Boom
After nearly two decades of economic decline, Foster Powell began to turn around in the nineteen-nineties. Attracted by low prices and relative proximity to the city, young families and recent immigrants to the U.S. came to the neighborhood and began the economic revitalization that has turned into an actual boom in the last couple of decades.
Some of the highlights of the neighborhood, in both the retail and the commercial areas of development, include:
· Foster Burger: perhaps the best BBQ-style burger in the entire city, and a family friendly atmosphere, too
· Foster Row: a recently renovated space along Foster where creative professionals from designers to furniture makers and letter press printers take up their craft alongside each other
· Henry Higgins Boiled Bagels: If Hanz Gruber says they’re the best bagels in the U.S., then you better believe it.
· N.W.I.P.A.: A specialty bottle shop whose main focus is in presenting the very best IPAs that the Pacific Northwest has to offer
· Bar Carlo: You really haven’t had a breakfast in Portland until you’ve had breakfast at Bar Carlo. And that’s really saying something.
· An Xuyen Bakery: Not only the best bánh mì, but also the friendliest service and the cheapest prices. Check out the sweets and baked goods, too. You will not be disappointed.
· Good Neighbor European Deli Market: 70 varieties of meat, and products from all over the world with labels so hard to read that you may not even be able to tell what you’re buying. Sounds like a great adventure to us!
· Slingshot Lounge: Pool tables, pinball machines, softball teams in full luxurious post-game recline. Great burgers and tons of beers on tap, with plenty of room to host a pretty big birthday party, this bar is a neighborhood winner.
· Tango Berretin: Interested in learning the tango? Well what do you know! You can learn the tango, Argentine-style, right here in PDX, and you don’t even have to leave the Foster-Powell neighborhood! Unbelievable!
The Present Incarnation of Foster-Powell
Today, Foster-Powell is one of the most dynamic and diverse neighborhoods in all of Portland. With a new generation of entrepreneurs developing the storefronts along Foster and Powell, the neighborhood’s walk score has shot up to an impressive 79, and some improvements have been made to make it more bike-able as well.
Housing prices are still reasonable in the neighborhood, and the schools have been steadily improving, as well. And so once again, Foster-Powell is regaining pieces of its former glory – and doing it at an amazing pace.