The neighborhood plan was first developed by William Sargent Ladd in 1891 after a trip to Washington DC. He was inspired by the street pattern of DC, of which itself is something of a homage to Paris. His plan was to build one of the first “suburbs” of downtown Portland, once there were bridges to cross the river. Other developers scoffed at Ladd's plan to defy the square-grid orthodoxy of Portland, because he wasn't squeezing the maximum number of home lots out of the available space, opting for grace instead of lucre.
Mr. Ladd never lived to see his vision become real, as he died in 1893. A recession forestalled development of “Ladd's Addition”. The neighborhood was mostly developed between 1905 and 1930. The parks in the neighborhood (a landscaped circle in the center and four ordinal diamonds) was developed by Portland's first park director, Emanul Mische, in 1909. Parking strips were lined with Norway Maples and American Elms. Today, Ladd's Additions roughly 3,500 American Elms are one of the largest surviving groves of this tree in the country. Many are 109 year old survivors of this original planting. They are inoculated against Dutch Elm Blight by a neighborhood volunteer group.
Just like today, real estate in the early 1900’s had its ups and downs. The neighborhood's first homes are grand homes in the “Craftsman” style. I was told, but cannot confirm that the name is from the plans bought from the Sears catalog! The style features many variations on roofline, beams, brackets, and ornamentation on a basic square, two story with attic and basement design. These were the original high-class dwellings for doctors and lawyers choosing to settle all of 1.5 miles from the center of downtown Portland in the suburbs! The design for these first homes also includes service allies behind the homes. The overall design closely resembles may of the more contemporary designs for more sociable neighborhoods. With the alleys, there's no cars or garages blocking the front of the homes- they're in back! Large front porches encourage relaxing and public and talking with neighbors. How did they travel? Some may have had cars, but you will still find rings in the sidewalk for the tethering of horses.
When times got tougher, just like today, the developers built smaller. Thus you will find a mix of large family homes, little “granny cottages” and duplexes and four-plexes in Ladd. The neighborhood is a declared historic area, but not all homes are historic, original dwellings, just most of ‘em.
For me, the street pattern is an ironic piece of heritage. In my youth, my father would come home from DC to our house in the suburbs late, saying he “got stuck in no left turn land again”. I in turn, in 1988, got lost driving the moving truck! But its easy to get in and out if you simply access the nearest entrance to your goal. Ours is the corner of Market, Mulberry, and 12 th.
The Neighborhood. Ladd's Addition is sandwiched between the lively Hawthorne and Division street commercial and entertainment areas, five blocks in either direction. There's a small first-run movie theater ten blocks away, and a New Seasons grocery slightly further. Fred walks or bikes the 1.8 miles to his work on the far side of downtown, but it's easy to catch a bus; a route runs two blocks from our house (the 10 on Ladd) and two more blocks away on Hawthorne is the frequent-service 14). The 14 will take you downtown or also “up the hill” to the shops, bars, restaurants, and other services of upper Hawthorne. Closer at hand you have Castagna for first rate high-end dining, Jarra's the friendliest Ethiopian restaurant I've ever been too, decent Thai and Lebanese food, a more than decent wine bar (Bar Auvignon- warning, music's a little loud), Second Story for excellent small plates and wine in a homey environment, and one of our favorites, Vie de Boheme. VdB is a winery and entertainment venue serving small plates, wine of their own and others making, beer, and an eclectic program of music. There are salsa nights (with free lessons early), rock 'a'billy, sometimes world class jazz, you name it. I'm not that crazy about their own wine, but they carry great options from elsewhere. The owner is a big, sweet, effusive grizzled bear of a Frenchman who will hug you on your second visit!
In the opposite direction, “up” Hawthorne, you'll find, a half mile away, Artichoke Music, Portland's folk music center. Their singer/songwriter showcases can be amazing, watching a half dozen people put their heart, and songs, out at the tender mercy of strangers. It's a kind crowd, but they have reason to be. The music ranges from excellent to “he's really got something, now he's got to figure out what it is”.
For a fun night, Duff's Garage, about six blocks away, has first rate rock 'a' billy and rock 'n' roll.
Another favorite is Palio, the coffee shop in the middle of Ladd's, on the East side of the Circle (take a left on Mulberry out our door, another left on Harrison, one block to the circle. Travel left or right, and you'll get there. Circles are good for that! Nothing is spectacular, but all the details, the interior design, the music, the help, all create a calm, soothing mood. It's a favorite of “Reedies”, students from nearby Reed College, who go there to study. It's also a place where Miles, Fred's son, grew up chatting with the waiters, developing too good a tasted for coffee and pastries, learning how to act cool in Junior High by being part of a scene. It's a welcoming place for all kinds of people.
Portland is like a college town that never grew up. Per capita, we have more movie theaters, brew pubs, bicycle shops and just about any kind of entertainment place than most other cities. And the quality tends to be good- for the food, the beer and the theater. It's not New York with everyone trying to prove they're the best. It's more a place for people with original ideas to work them out in a supportive setting with talented peers who help push each other forward. So you may not find the “world's greatest what everyone else is doing”. Rather, you'll find something new! And make friends in the process.