A Walk On the Weird Side: Lair Hill Neighborhood

Welcome to the latest edition of A Walk On the Weird Side – An Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Fabric of Portland. – By Anna Alexander

This month’s A Walk on the Weird Side is a request from a WPU reader named Carl. It makes me happy he reached out and suggested it because that means people other than my mom are reading this column. Not that my mom reading this is a bad thing, but she is required. Hi MOM!!!

The Lair Hill Neighborhood is part of a network of neighborhoods making up the South Waterfront area. Many of the places we’re going to visit today aren’t weird per se but ARE interesting and offer glimpses into Portland’s history. Hop into the Barbie SUV because we’re going to have to drive up some hills to get there. You will also need good walking shoes because this neighborhood is a thigh-buster.

The first item of interest isn’t exactly in Lair Hill but is in the South Waterfront area and holds a special place in my heart. Years ago, I worked near Macadam Ave and would walk the trails near Willamette Park during my lunch hour. Stationed along the trail is a bronze beaver. The locals have deemed it the patron saint of the neighborhood and decorate it with flowers and seasonally appropriate hats and accessories. Take a picture of the beaver and leave an offering and let’s hop back into the Barbie SUV because we’re respectfully driving by a building with deep historical Portland roots. 

You’ve probably passed by Congregation Ahavath Achim many times and wondered what this building is. This congregation of Sephardic Jews has been in continuous operation for over 100 years and was founded by Turkish and Greek immigrants who moved to Portland. The synagogue was forced to move location on the early 1900s and was almost demolished a few years ago to make way for a parking lot. Luckily the developer was smart and realized parking could be found elsewhere. It’s always been one of my favorite buildings.

Now that we’ve visited beavers and synagogues, it’s time to explore the heart of Lair Hill. Luckily, we can park in one spot and walk around to see the sights. We’ll start at Lair Hill Park. This park was once a haven for hippies and is home to one of seven Carnegie-funded libraries in Portland. In the southwest corner of the park is a sculpture of metal boulders representing a former rock grotto where the locals would gather and play chess.

Across the street from the park is a historic building called The Neighborhood House. It is now home to the Cedarwood Waldorf Schooland was built in 1910 by the National Council of Jewish Women. It began as a sewing school and grew into a community center, Hebrew School, and hosted classes for immigrants. 

Take a deep breath and inhale all that history and let’s walk down the hill to the Corkish Apartments. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this was one of the first apartment buildings built in the area. It’s a beautiful building and you practically feel the history oozing out of it. Hint: I think it’s haunted.

The best part of this neighborhood is just wandering around looking at the beautiful Queen Anne style homes. I have always said that when I win the Powerball, I’m going to live in a house with a turret and this neighborhood checks that box. I will have grand parties and invite all of you over for cake and tea. I encourage you to wander around like my husband and I did and take in the majesty of the homes. 

While you are wandering, go to the corner of SW 1st and Whitaker Street and check out the decorative telephone pole decorated with anchovy tins, stuffies, and pop can tabs. There’s also some interesting subversive artwork on the other poles that is sure to make it into your Instagram feed.

This concludes our tour of Lair Hill. Once again, I’d like to thank Carl for the suggestion. If you have a suggestion for another neighborhood, please drop me a line . Otherwise, I’m going to ironically wade through the sea of hipsters in the Boise-Elliot Neighborhood to try find some history and of course, something weird. 

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