Greater Portland includes a variety of neighborhoods that display characteristics reflecting small communities of their own. They seem more unified, bonded and often deeply rooted when it comes to the families that live in such proximity. They remain, however, part of the city of Portland.
Only Maywood Park, in the outer northeast area of greater Portland, is an incorporated city unto itself. It includes a city council, a mayor, a finance committee, various event chairs and committees, a city forester, and approximately 780 residents, not counting all the dogs, cats and bicycles—and at least one ferret.
Most residents have automobiles for use in the larger urban setting, but Maywood Park itself isn’t a high-traffic area, at least not where motor vehicles are concerned. An abundance of bicycles ply the city’s streets, especially on Maywood Place, the bicycle path that runs through the city on its southern border and alongside the I-205 corridor that came close to wiping out this charming community and inspired Maywood Park’s residents to vote on city designation 50 years ago. A wall above the I-205 freeway where it passes the southern end of Maywood Park, plus a greenbelt, provide further noise reduction for the community, but residents always know the freeway is close by.
Geographically, Maywood Park covers 0.17 square miles (or 0.44 kilometers) and forms a trapezoid with the freeway on the south, Northeast 92nd Avenue to the west, Northeast Prescott Street to the north, and Northeast 102nd Avenue to the east. It is six miles east of downtown Portland. Its mayor is Mark Hardie.
In 1926, Columbia Realty purchased a triangular plot of land, which became Maywood Park. Later, its ownership was transferred to Commonwealth, Inc. By 1943, 400 single-dwelling homes were located on the property, which was, at that time, just another east Portland neighborhood, though even then it had its own semi-rural charm, including a comforting canopy of old-growth trees.
The big struggle for the neighborhood’s residents came when serious discussion began about putting a north-south freeway right through the middle of the little community. Residents weren’t happy about this, and a group of neighbors got together to see what could be done: Ernie Burrows, Victor Cullens, Louis Giannini, Bert Joachims and W.E. Zeller would take the lead in resisting their little community’s destruction. Louis Giannini, who owned the grocery store (then named Giannini’s, now Hong Phat Market) was one resident whose house was torn down because of the freeway project.
What these men did in 1967 was motivate a vote of the neighborhood’s residents right out of Portland and into its own urban identity as the city of Maywood Park (Oregon does not have the legal designation of “town,” so municipality in Oregon is styled “city”). After the decision, Burrows, Cullens, Giannini, Joachims and Zeller were elected to the first city council. Following their elections, Zeller was selected as the city’s first mayor. He served in this position for 11 years. It might be added that many east Portland communities have moved to free themselves from the Portland behemoth, but only Maywood Park has succeeded in this bid for independence.
It did come at a cost: 82 homes were lost, and that freeway still runs just below the southern border of Maywood Park, but the tiny city within a city had its own identity then—and still does. Freeway development was a major statewide focus in the mid-1950s, and many neighborhoods were considered collateral damage during this eager rush toward what was considered progress.
The original land plot included a significant number of empty spaces, and as many houses were moved to these spaces as possible. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) had planned to raise a slope 30 feet above Maywood Park. Residents realized the big trucks that would be lumbering through the neighborhood were likely to destroy it. They were unwilling to lose their homes and their community.
Kate Zeller Lamb, daughter of the late mayor, provided information about ODOT’s intentions to site the Mt. Hood Freeway through Maywood Park and Rocky Butte. Freeway development removed Hill Military Academy and moved the Multnomah County Jail, which was then at Rocky Butte. However, except for the houses that couldn’t be saved, Maywood Park’s community refused to move, voting to create the small city instead.
Mrs. Lamb was born into the house in Maywood Park where she lives today and knows of several residents in or close to the community who were born and grew up nearby. Some moved away, as grown children will, but returned home, or at least close, as they married and became parents.
The woodsy, comfortable ambience drew them back, as did the atmosphere of neighborliness that meant safety and a sense of unity that has characterized Maywood Park for most of its existence. Neighbors watch out for one another and even open their yards to let owners search for their missing pets when dogs, cats, birds and, recently, a pet ferret get away from home. While the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department offers a vacation-watch service, neighbors are often just as dependable when it comes to keeping their eyes open in case of intruders.
The only development that could be considered commercial was the Maywood Park Campus of Mt. Hood Community College, formerly St. Rita Catholic Grade School. Some residents weren’t happy about that, at first, but it has settled into the neighborhood, and several meetings of Maywood Park committees are held in the small coffee shop, Mocha Mama’s.
One thing Maywood Park residents love to do is celebrate. They have artistic events, athletic events, Easter egg rolls and other get-togethers. The celebration of Maywood Park’s Golden Anniversary has begun with a Yard and Garden Tour featuring nine of the city’s home gardens. Most anniversary events are in July, with the wrap-up party Aug. 1 for National Night Out.
The Fourth of July will feature the annual parade, a community barbecue and other festivities. On July 15, there will be a picnic and street dance at the Maywood Commons. July 21–23 is the annual Garage Sale.
People of Maywood Park are excited about their 50th anniversary. Keeping a special identity is important to this small city that risked disappearing into the maw of a freeway giant. There is something precious about knowing your neighbors and standing together with them to protect the community you love.
Visit cityofmaywoodpark.com or call 503-255-9805 for more information on anniversary events. The city has an office inside Mt. Hood’s Maywood Park Campus at 10100 N.E. Prescott St.