Alberta Street in the 50’s and 60’s was a vibrant community of local shops, jazz clubs and restaurants. Kids would find a refuge from their parents in The Alameda Theater Movie House. And the Alberta Streetcar line, which opened in 1905, had just been converted to a bus line in 1948.
Roslyn Hill grew up in the this supportive, energetic community and had moved away as an adult. In the 1990’s, she returned to find most of the buildings boarded up, with metal bar windows and graffiti. The neighborhood had lost its spirit. The gangs had moved in and had made walking down the street dangerous.
Roslyn Hill was dismayed to see that despite downtown’s renovations, the Alberta district remained derelict. In an effort to create change, she bought a property on NE Alberta and 14th and turned it into Roslyn’s Garden Coffee House. Through her development background, she knew that if a street looked like there was crime, crime would come, but the same goes for making a street look nicer. If you take off the bars and put in more windows the street becomes inviting. She encouraged her neighbors to do just that. The neighborhood became more appealing and safe and the locals started to take back the streets by patronizing the shops and restaurants.
Roslyn Hill, named “The Queen of Alberta,” bought up several blocks of properties on Alberta street and encouraged the new business owners to put in more glass windows and support artists in the neighborhood by opening up galleries and restaurants.
Artists are more than happy to move to dangerous neighborhoods if they’re cheap enough and Alberta in the 90’s was just that. NE Alberta and 15th was said to be the deadliest intersection in Portland. By welcoming artists into the neighborhood, the feel of the neighborhood started to change.
A co-op opened on the corner of NE Alberta and 15th in 1997, solidifying the change to the neighborhood. For better or for worse, the gentrification had begun. The first Last Thursday Arts Walk on Alberta street was also held in 1997. Although it’s morphed in something else entirely, it marked a change in the neighborhood.
In 2000, the City of Portland adopted a Streetscape Project with some funding going to Alberta street. Community members wanted to see building murals, public art and beautification projects. Today, the murals are representative of the current businesses and the history of the neighborhood.
“A Voice to Be Thankful For” Artists: Eatcho, and Jeremy Nichols, 2014, (28th & Alberta)
Depicting Women of the Civil Rights movement: Coretta Scott King, Ruby Bridges, Ruby Dee, Angela Davis, and Maya Angelou.
Check out our Alberta Arts District Food Tour to learn more about the art and taste some off the amazing food Alberta street has to offer.
Article by Alexis Moore Eytinge