Alberta: Renewal is Art

The Alberta Arts District is renewal defined.

Its history is anything but linear, having been nearly destroyed only to be rebuilt into a pocket of bustling Portland life, an icon of co-existing microcultures.

Alberta Street got its Anglo name from the British royalty in rule throughout the 1890s – Princess Alberta – and is tucked into the Humboldt and King neighborhoods in Northeast Portland.

As newcomers to the union ventured west and into Oregon, the Germans and Russians who permeated the surrounding streets brought new streetcar construction with them, laying the path for Alberta’s evolution into a living creative mash-up.

The coolest bunny around overlooks the patio of Solae’s Lounge – one of Portland’s classic music clubs.

The streetcar became the artery bringing Alberta to life. Local businesses poured in, from markets to salons, even a theater and a library. Alberta was a line with no lines; people of all colors and backgrounds called the street home, mingling and doing business together.

Transportation, both a blessing and a curse, was also the culprit in Alberta’s temporary decline. The sounds of cars replaced footsteps and major freeways opened adjacent to the epicenter of Alberta, swallowing up most traffic, leaving the once-lively street more desolate. Businesses closed and families moved out.

Decades of residential and economical decline followed. The country’s disease of racial discrimination spread to Alberta, as businesses were looted and violence increased.

That all changed in the 1990s. Two organizations – the N/NE Economic Development Task Force and the Sabin Community Development Corporation (CDC) – built the groundwork that would push into motion one of the most vibrant neighborhood comebacks in Portland’s history. Then, one Roslyn Hill opened up the first new business on the street in years – a cafe enveloped by gardens – and the proverbial mural painting was on.

Committees formed. The city made Alberta a target area for revitalization. Citizens joined forces to clean the street and attract business. Artists began moving into the boarded-up buildings, and in 1997, art studios and businesses showcasing art opened their doors on the first Thursday evening of the month, turning the usually car-filled street into a giant colorful sidewalk (this would later become the popular Last Thursday event).

Fast forward to today. Alberta Street is the artistic jewel of Portland, a delicate mixture of old and new architecture and business, with small and large art and music establishments peppered throughout. As you walk, you’ll see full-on punk rock bars across the street from sleek, modern ice cream parlors. Cozy hipster cafes are just a few doors down from some of the best, most down to earth Mexican (La Sirenita) and Middle-Eastern (DarSalam) restaurants in Portland.

And while you’re here, grab a latte or a slice of rhubarb pie (or better, get both) at Random Order Coffeehouse and Bakery – just look for the red ostrich logo. As you stroll the street, (abstract and a hodgepodge of trends and cultures), stop into Collage to satisfy all your journal and craft needs.

Go immerse yourself in local jazz music at the infamous Solae’s Lounge, and after gawking at the incredibly detailed and beautiful murals adorning the walls of brick buildings on virtually every block, grab some tacos and a brew at Cruzroom. Want to cook a meal at home after your journey? Grab all the fresh ingredients you need at the Alberta Co-op.

Want to do it all by bike? Find your two-wheeled ride at Community Cycling Center, a nonprofit ensuring people of all backgrounds, colors and ages have access to safe bicycling, hands-on bicycle maintenance and riding education. Prefer to rent a bike? Nike’s Biketown bike share system has a bright orange station at the corner of Alberta and Vancouver Avenue.

About Last Thursday: it’s free and held year-round, but the summer is when things really heat up. From June to August, Alberta is closed to all vehicle traffic from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and artists, musicians, performers – anyone really – replace the metal on four wheels. From 15th Avenue to 30th Avenue, businesses of all types welcome you with local art as the sun sets.

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