St. Johns Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon
Just keep going north and you will eventually find it. St. Johns is a secret gem of Portland’s, with Portlanders of a different breed. The locals congregate to cafes such as Anna Bananas and the James John Cafe, where locals drink Stumptown Coffee from love themed mugs and drink water from carafes, er, old whiskey bottles, and sit amongst the country-themed decor of the cafe (such as rabbit and deer heads on plaques). St. Johns is a community for artists, for Portlanders who have discovered how to live on a cheap budget, and for those who love living in a place full of history, with stories that are always to be told by men such as Wayne, who’s been in St. Johns since 1946 and gives one heck of a haircut at his barber shop.
St. Johns is located in north Portland, and on the surrounding border of the neighborhood are Cathedral Park, University Park, Portsmouth and Kenton neighborhoods. The location is not typically one that is appealing to Portlanders, because it is about a twenty minute drive from downtown. But locals here don’t seem to mind. They are content with their farmer’s market, slice of Portland in the form of a Stumptown Coffee Roaster and their bridge. You’ve got to see the St. Johns Bridge.
The “Mona Lisa of infrastructure”
This is the title given to the St. Johns Bridge by Jim, who has lived in St. Johns since January. He said the “art deco cement fixtures” are just amazing, and the bridge makes the neighborhood unique. The bridge was completed in 1931, and runs directly
over Cathedral Park. The name of the park is fitting, as the cathedral styled arcs fly overhead and sturdily hold up the bridge. Sitting below the bridge in the park, I could feel the ground slightly rumble below me as heavy cargo trucks drive over the underpass. The park was lined with empty paths and benches, weaving in and out of the park’s well kept landscape. Cathedral Park holds an annual jazz festival, usually the third weekend in July. The festival is a free 3-day event, and features jazz and blues musicians that are locally and nationally recognized. The Cathedral Park Jazz Festival gives St. Johns a lot of exposure to the media and people that come from all over the northwest, attracting crowds of up to 5,000 per day during the weekend.
Other parks in St. Johns
Though Cathedral Park is technically part of the Cathedral Park neighborhood, the close proximity and title of the bridge allow St. Johns rights to mention the park. But other parks in the area include Kelley Point Park, Pier Park and Chimney City Park. Emily and Tim live in north Portland, but like to come to St. Johns for the cafes and the parks. The parks are a huge attraction for their children. They have lived in Portland for only a few weeks, moving from the midwest, and love it so far and say that the people are incredibly warm and encouraging. What attracted them to Portland was the food. I laughed, but was not surprised. Portland food is good.
Schools in St. Johns
Students in the neighborhood go to James John Elementary, George Middle School and Roosevelt High School. Across the street from James John Elementary is a branch of the Multnomah County Library, in a beautiful building that opened in 1913 and is of Southern colonial design. It is a truly beautiful building, and historic as with many other buildings in the area.
Homes and Real Estate
St. Johns features homes of old Portland architecture such as craftsman bungalows and cape cod style houses. An interesting feature to the neighborhood is that in one yard there will be a beautiful English garden and well kept home, and in the next lot may be close to the opposite. There are some areas that are considered “sketchy,” while others are completely kept up. In terms of safety, as I was talking to a local named Jim, who from a man’s perspective never felt harmed by his surroundings. And if there was something out of sorts, “it has always been easy to avoid.”
Near the main strip of what is known as downtown St. Johns along N Lombard is the Writers’ Dojo and it provides a space for Portland writers to work, and immerses writers into a community that respects inspiration and creativity. I got a quick tour of the three story building that members use to write, brainstorm and collaboratively work with other writers. The mastermind behind the Writers’ Dojo, who goes by the name of Jeffrey Selin, understands the need for external solitude and comfort in a writer’s workspace, and that is exactly what he has provided in this house located in the St. Johns neighborhood.
James John Cafe
The cafe’s style was inspired by the head of a deer that the owner, Suzanne, bought three and a half years ago when she first opened up the cafe. And after that, the rest of the decor just fell into place. There is an old-country vibe within the cafe, as Johnny Cash plays behind conversations and bundles of grain sit in vases along the bar. The staff and coffee are great, and Suzanne talks a little bit about the people that come into the cafe and what she likes about St. Johns in a short video interview.
Proper Eats Market and Cafe
The cafe brings a one of a kind dining experience to Portland through its vegetarian and vegan options. They believe in
supporting local farmers, and eating fresh, homegrown food. The cafe has a great atmosphere that is a popular spot for people in the community on late nights and during the day. Though the neighborhood is a 20 minute drive to downtown, it is in no way lacking the Portland vibe, especially when going into Proper Eats.
St. Johns Vibe
The St. Johns vibe is one which families can enjoy together, and individuals as well, while seeking peace in the parks, drinking coffee at a coffee shop along Lombard, or at home in peace. The residential neighborhood with a stretch of businesses and commercial activity provide locals the things they need, without depriving them of other exciting areas of Portland. St. Johns is hardly talked about because of its location and its ability to somehow hide beneath the bridge and the north Portland label. But what locals have, they enjoy. They take advantage of the resources they have in St. Johns, and that is why there is a local feel to the area that brings a familiarity and cohesion to the neighborhood.