They came west during the California Gold Rush and moved north opening general stores throughout Oregon. German Jews were among Portland’s leading early entrepreneurs. They first lived near their downtown places of business. Many structures like the Fleischner Mayer building, Blumauer & Hoch and the Simon Façade still stand.
Soon the merchants moved to fashionable districts like Northwest Portland. Now local historian Mike Ryerson includes several of their splendid dwellings on his Historic Homes Tour. Mike’s grandfather came to Northwest Portland in 1896, and the family has been here since. Mike raised his own six children near the Northwest Kearney Street home where he grew up. Always fascinated with local history and photography, he wrote a question-and-answer column for the Northwest Examiner.
He first led his Northwest Homes Tour 33 years ago when he and former Mayor Bud Clark owned the neighborhood newspaper, which, he says, would not have survived without income from Clark’s famous “Expose Yourself to Art” poster. “That was Sig Sichel’s house,” he said during a recent walk as we passed the circa-1895, steep-roofed Turkish Import store at 725 NW 23rd Ave; The Orientale Motif Shop was located here until 2008. A state senator in 1905 and 1907, Sichel (1878-1917) also served as president of Congregation Beth Israel and grand deputy of the B’nai B’rith Lodge. He had left Germany in 1873 to join his uncle Solomon Hirsch in Portland before opening his own store in Goldendale, WA, and later owned a cigar shop on Southwest Third Avenue in Portland.
“The Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition (Portland, 1905) pushed the population growth in this neighborhood, which is why you have apartments in between the mansions,” Mike said. We stopped in front of the Northwest Irving Street complex where director Gus Van Sant filmed his 1989 movie “Drugstore Cowboy.” Familiar with virtually every building in the neighborhood, Mike pointed out the Victorian where Mayor Vera Katz once lived, the spot where Korsun’s Delicatessen located after the South Waterfront Urban Renewal Project forced their move to the northwest, and clothier Louis Rosenblatt’s home. “He had the finest menswear store in Portland,” Mike said. “The house became a residential hotel, and the front of the building was a restaurant.”
Joseph Simon’s house still stands at 2125 NW Everett St. Simon served as state senator from 1880 to 1891, Portland mayor from 1909 to 1911, and U.S senator from 1898 to 1903. He graciously provided free legal services to the First Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society, the National Council of Jewish Women and Congregation Beth Israel. “His father lived in the house next door,” Mike said. “Most people are unaware of the Simon House, because it’s called Oberdorfer in the Alphabet District listings.
August and Minnie Oberdorfer were Joseph’s sister and brother-in-law. Joseph was mayor when he lived here in 1910. The Portland City Directory lists him as “office holder, city.” The Northwest Homes Tour runs each Sunday at 2 pm until about 4 pm. Adults $20, seniors $18, youths (11-17) $18, children (5-10) $10, tots free. For more information about this and other walking tours, visit mikeshistorytours.com. Contact Mike Ryerson at email@example.com, 503-206-4676 (home) or 971-202-6269 (mobile).
Polina Olsen is a Portland freelance writer and author of several books including The Downtown Jews, A Walking Tour Through Portland’s Early Business District.