Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon
“The Heart of Portland”
An aged community seen through architecture, heard through stories and embraced by many. In this neighborhood you will find Portland’s Saturday Market, imported teas, historical buildings, underground tunnels and secret rooms, rich culture and history paired with modern and innovative people. And a good sandwich.
Located west of the Willamette River, Old Town Chinatown is bordered by the Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods on the other side of the river, the Pearl district to the west and downtown towards the south. There is not only a lot going on in this neighborhood, but there is tons of activity happening in all of the surrounding neighborhoods that are easy to get to, thanks to Portland’s easy and convenient transportation system.
Within the neighborhood run the Portland streetcar, the MAX light rail and the train at Union Station. It’s easy to get anywhere by bike, as Portland is so friendly to their bikers, whether going SW or SE. The many bridges of Portland make it possible to get just about anywhere in a short period of time.
I started off the day in Floyd’s Coffee Shop, right off the MAX line in Old Town. The cobbled streets led me from the swift MAX to this coffee shop in a historically rich area. The shop, of course, sells Stumptown Coffee and is a regular meeting place for coworkers, locals and students. The brick walls and comfy seating set the mood, with an old phone booth towards the entrance of the shop, a long line of regulars patiently waiting in line, and a sole disco ball spinning on the ceiling to add an extra bit of flair. I talked to Fern who works at Floyd’s, and she has been working there as long as the shop has been open for about one and a half years. Fern said that most of the people who come into the shop on a daily basis are from local businesses and offices, as there are a lot of office spaces in the area. But on the weekends she sees more families come out, who live in the area and want some local coffee at a local coffee shop. Fern likes all of the historical buildings around the neighborhood, and she thinks it is what makes the area unique from other Portland neighborhoods. It’s definitely true that the architecture is another aspect of this neighborhood that makes it so different.
Homes and Real Estate
The cast iron architecture is vast in this neighborhood, as it holds one of the largest collections of the ornate architecture on its buildings. There are many high rise lofts and apartment options to choose from in this neighborhood, all situated in historic buildings.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
Located on NW 3rd and Everett, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is considered the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China. I was surprised to find this calming atmosphere in the midst of downtown Portland being so close. But walking into the garden is like walking into another world with its silence and wonderful aromas of Chinese tradition filling the air. There are many aspects to the Chinese Garden such as the Courtyard of Tranquility, the Terrace, Hall of Brocade Clouds, the Scholar’s Study within the Tower of Cosmic Reflections (the tea house operated by Tao of Tea). The Garden holds cultural celebrations annually, concerts and art exhibits, drop-in programs such as Tai Chi, Mahjong, music and Calligraphy, the garden’s staff arranges and organizes weddings and hosts children’s activities. I was able to sit in the Scholar’s Study and drink Lotus Ancien tea, and Mao Do (edamame), while overlooking the garden and its featured 400 plant species. I talked to a Loretta in the garden, and she said she has been coming to the garden since it first opened in 2000. She majored in horticulture in college, so she loves seeing the flowers in bloom, and appreciates that there is always something new to look at all year around in the gardens with different flowers coming into bloom at different times of the year. The people that were in the garden were mostly tourists, but there were a few locals who were seeking out refuge in the garden’s peaceful atmosphere. Such as the student who was studying in the Scholar’s Study. I love that you can be downtown one minute and in a Chinese paradise the next. Portland knows how to balance its excitement and its tranquility.
Museums, Art Galleries and More
Japanese American Historical Plaza
Oregon Jewish Museum
Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center
There are a great deal of art galleries in the neighborhood, such as the Eyeful, Fontanelle and Compound Galleries.
First Thursdays showcase local artists, bringing the neighborhood out to enjoy and appreciate their work.
First Sundays are for families, providing them with a self-guided tour through the historic neighborhood with fun activities for the family all along the way.
Portland Saturday Market is located in Old Town, featuring a ton of vendors who sell handmade goods and provide excellent services from March through December. Walk around on a Saturday or Sunday, get a henna tattoo, eat some delicious food, listen to some good music, experience the Portland culture where it all started.
Shanghai Tunnels are the mysterious tunnels beneath Portland that trace back to the 1800′s where there were illegal practices being performed. There are tours through these underground tunnels that explain all of the mysteries of what went on below the surface.
Voo Doo Doughnuts is open 24 hours a day and features doughnuts such as the Bacon Maple Bar and the McMinnville Creme. There is usually a long line, and they take cash only so be prepared. They also do weddings! What more could you want in a doughnut shop?
I ate lunch at Theo’s, which serves breakfast, lunch & dinner, and late night food. I had a delicious turkey cranberry sandwich on seven-grain bread, and talked to Jeff who owns the restaurant. Jeff talked a little bit about Theo’s and the people of Old Town Chinatown in a short video interview.
Chapman Elementary School
West Sylvan Middle School
Lincoln High School
A Beautiful Boundary
To the east boundary of Old Town Chinatown is the Willamette River and Tom McCall Waterfront Park which features a path to many Portland runners, bikers, walkers and dogs. The neighborhood is a perfect location, as it is a short walk to downtown, a short bike ride to SE Portland, and right next door to the Pearl District. Old Town Chinatown is definitely a unique neighborhood to explore, work and live in.