Oct 23, 2017

Bricks to Clicks

Central Eastside Welcomes a New Generation of Makers

Portland’s Central Eastside encompasses a large swath of land, expanding north to I-84, east to Southeast 12th, south to Brooklyn and butting up to the Willamette River to the west. The well-known Produce Row District (home of Conveyor) has especially seen a rebirth of once-abandoned warehouses and crumbling brick structures transform into new life. Leading the charge are coffee roasters, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, delis, tech companies, creative agencies, makers and retailers.

In other words, Produce Row is back, its core and urban fabric intact, with a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.

Produce Heritage Looms Large

Some say Portland’s produce roots started here with Oregon’s bounty of grain, fruits and vegetables making their way to the district for sale to local markets and restaurants. The area was strategically located along the Willamette and near rail lines, providing producers — mostly Italian families — with easy access to the state and beyond. Soon, they established truck farms, wholesale companies and farm stands, where they sold their fresh, Oregon-grown produce to Portlanders — a legacy that still exists across Portland today.

The location, blessed with spacious, brick warehouses, many built in the late 1800s, also attracted other industries like brick makers, clothing makers and automotive manufacturers. Workers and customers came by horse, foot and streetcar, across the Morrison Bridge and bustling downtown Portland, and from the growing population from the eastside. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, horses and carriages ruled the day, but by the 1920s, with the advent of the automobile, streets were widened and commercial business (and auto garages) flourished. Then came I-5, built with its retaining wall in the 1960s, preventing flooding by the Willamette on a regular basis.

During the 20th century, the neighborhood buzzed. Businesses were built. Alliances forged. Then came the disrepair. The abandonment as the new freeway provided easy access to cheaper real estate in the suburbs. The grand, old brick buildings became empty relics. Yet still, the area silently endured.

A New Vision

New life slowly emerged in the 1970s. Produce Row Cafe was opened by Mike and Brian McMenamin (yes, those McMenamins), helping to set the course for Portland’s Beervana title and the birth of craft beer. And then? The area chugged along under the radar of city officials. In 1986, the Central Eastside was declared an urban renewal area, and that’s when the flood of new businesses started. It didn’t occur overnight, but the change even from a decade ago is stunning.

We’re proud to be a part of the Central Eastside and Produce Row. In fact, we have our own history. Our headquarters, the Eastbank Commerce Center, home of Clarklewis (one of the first artisanal restaurants to set up in the area), was originally built in 1923 as a furniture warehouse. Nowadays, the four-story historic warehouse houses an active mix of tech and creative services agencies, design shops, architects and small businesses. There’s a new energy and new ideas that are being created amongst the hallways on each floor.

Though the industrial manufacturers are long gone, the buildings remain, and new kinds of businesses are taking the helm to create, build and invent. Exposed cobblestones, brick warehouses, loading docks, river access — if you squint you can almost see what the early shopkeepers and makers saw. We’re inspired by its past and what lies ahead.

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