What’s In a (Street) Name?

By Rolf Glerum

I have often walked down this street before;
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before.
All at once am I several stories high.
Knowing I’m on the street where you live.

My Fair Lady fans will recognize these familiar lyrics . . . but do you ever wonder where these streets got their names? The answer in the South Waterfront District is a lesson in Oregon history, because, according to the well-known Portland historian and author, Eugene Snyder, “Ten streets near the west end of the Ross Island Bridge honor early Oregon governors.”

Of the seven streets in proximity to Mirabella, six are named after Oregon governors . . . and the remaining one is a bit of a mystery..

We begin our stroll at the “action corner” of the street that carries Mirabella’s address, SW Bond Ave.Musty city records list this street in the “South Portland” plat around 1883, and the only person named Bond in the city at that time was William Bond, an owner of a match company. So like it or not, we’ll have to go with that, tenuous as it may seem. Sorry.

SW Curry St., on the other hand, is a different story. George Law Curry came to the Oregon Territory from Pennsylvania in 1846. He worked for the territorial legislature for several years and in 1854 was appointed Governor by President Franklin Pierce. He served in that position until Oregon statehood in 1857. (Here’s a memory-tip for Oregon newbies: Oregon’s birthday is Feb. 14, better remembered as Valentine’s Day.)

This brings us to another nearby street, SW Whitaker St.Despite the spelling corruption, the State of Oregon’s first Governor following statehood was John Whiteaker, who served until 1862. A Southern Democrat whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, Whiteaker held pro-slavery views and was often attacked as a traitor as the country descended into Civil War.

Strolling to the south side of Mirabella, we come upon what must be one of the shortest streets in Portland (2 blocks), SW Pennoyer St.Sylvester Pennoyer was a cantankerous sonofagun, who served as Governor from 1887 to 1895. While in office, Pennoyer declared without authority that the Oregon Supreme Court lacked the power to invalidate legislative acts on constitutional grounds. Throughout his term, he had an antagonistic relationship with The Oregonian, whose editor, Harvey Scott, referred to him as “His Eccentricity.”

SW Gaines St.carries the name of John P. Gaines (a long-lost cousin, Michael and Barbara?), Governor of the Oregon Territory from 1850 to 1853. Gaines, a member of the Whig Party from Boone County, Kentucky, wasa supporterof President Zachary Taylor, who appoint ted himto the positionas his alternate choice. Interestingly, the President’s first choice, Illinois Congressman Abe Lincoln, declined the offer:

A close-by streetcar stop familiar to us all is SW Gibbs St.Addison Cranwick Gibbs (no wonder he went by “A.C.”) was the second Governor of the State of Oregon, serving from 1862 to 1866. In 1864, near the end of the Civil War, responding to orders from the U.S. Congress, Gibbs raised an infantry regiment despite opposition from many Oregonians.

Finally, there is the longest and most-traveled street in the bunch, SW Moody Ave. Zenas Ferry Moody first served in 1880in the state legislature as Speaker of the House. He was then elected as the seventh Governor of Oregon and served from 1882 to 1887.

So that completes our little tour, and it begs the question: Why is our neighborhood called the South Waterfront District? Why not Governors’ Grove? Or how about Gubernatorial Gulch?

Hmmm. I think we’ll stick with South Waterfront after all.


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Heartfelt thanks to Doug Decker, Alameda Neighborhood historian, for his invaluable assistance in the

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