Portland is comprised of ninety-five neighborhoods. With so many neighborhoods covering such a relatively small space, the fact that these neighborhoods can still pack so much diversity and charm is pretty remarkable. One often overlooked, but exceedingly interesting neighborhood is Old Town Chinatown in Northwest Portland, on the outskirts of Downtown.
Primarily a commercial area, Old Town Chinatown is bordered by the Willamette River on the east, which separates it from the Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods as well as the Lloyd District, home of the Lloyd Center (the biggest mall in Oregon). The neighborhood itself includes two districts listed with the National Register of Historic Places: the Portland Skidmore/Old Town Historic District and the Portland New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District.
As the name would suggest, Old Town Chinatown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Portland, Oregon and, with its convenient location (Naito Parkway and Burnside Street run through it. It is also home to Union Station and numerous MAX and Tri Met stops.) Old Town remains an important and treasured figure in Portland today. Attractions within Old Town include the Shanghai Tunnels, the Saturday Market and Ankeny Plaza, which contains Portland’s oldest public work, the Skidmore Fountain (Once filled with beer by local brewer, Henry Weinhard). Historic and popular businesses such as Voodoo Donuts, the Oyster Bar, Kell’s Irish Pub, Ash Street Saloon, innumerable food carts, and formerly the Satyricon nightclub (where Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met), the X-Ray Cafe and the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, call this area home.
Chinatown also includes the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Port of Portland.
Aesthetically, the buildings are comprised mainly of brick and many feature ornate engravings. The famous Welcome to Oregon Stag sign and two giant dragons along Burnside guarding the entrance into Chinatown stand out as the most notable architectural features in the area. The Lan Su Chinese Garden, a gigantic park designed by 65 artisans covering an entire city block, also resides here along with recent improvements of the streetscapes in 3rd and 4th avenues.
While smaller than other West Coast Chinatowns, Old Town China Town in Portland still has over two dozen Chinese owned businesses including several restaurants and gift shops and a holistic medicine shop. Old Town China Town also displays signs in both Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and English.
This urban neighborhood, sandwiched between some of the more travelled neighborhoods in Portland, is a gem in and of itself. While not a well-known residential area, it is home to many businesses and landmarks which make this neighborhood worth a visit. Spend some time exploring Old Town Chinatown in Portland, Oregon. You’ll be glad that you did!