Blog Post

Carole Smith-Larson, Pearl District Pioneer

Posted By Kate Washington on April 30, 2013

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  • Pearl News

You’ve probably seen an elegant lady of a certain age walking around the Pearl, especially around NW 9th avenue and Flanders. That’s Carole Smith Larson, one of the original Pearl settlers. In the early 1990s this former real estate agent married a man she had known for 36 years, Dr Wilbur Larson and together developed the space they live in over PDX Contemporary Art. She supports all the arts and theatre organizations in town.


“In the 1980s I was living in Northwest Portland on Northrup Ave. I kept bugging Al Solheim about Irving Street Lofts, which he developed, because I wanted to move there. And I did in 1989. It was totally unfinished when we walked through it, but when he got a partial certificate of occupancy I moved in. Around that time we were neighbors with Larry and Denise Grimes, who were all living at Irving Street Lofts.


Right after that my current place came on the market and I bought it. The banks back then were totally unprepared for mixed use, so we eventually got a loan from a bank in Salem. Then we had to go through a lot of steps for earthquake mitigation. Finally we got permits to build and develop it, but everything took a long time.


We loved the Pearl back then. The only thing in the neighborhood was Irving Street Lofts and the building where Liz Leach’s gallery is now, which was owned by Ed Caduro, a very well-known collector of contemporary art. It was all art from New York, no northwest. We were neighbors, but he was very reclusive.


I have always wanted to live downtown, I have always wanted since I was a kid to live in a loft, I’d seen them in books. Here was the opportunity. I don’t drive, I only walk.


We didn’t go anywhere around here until a coffee shop on Glisan Street opened, Giant Steps. It was run by Kurt, it was the hangout. As Irving Street Lofts filled up, I told Al we needed a neighborhood association, so we would have some say as it developed.


We wanted to be recognized in the office of Neighborhood Associations, and to be able to deal with development as it happened. There was already a master plan for the rail yards [which were cleared to make the area around Lovejoy onramp.]


So we had a meeting, which included a lot of people from Old Town. We had to have a boundary, a name, officers, etc, we did all of that. There was a man many years ago in a local building with an art gallery in it, Tom Augustine, and he had said this area was so attractive because the buildings were like oysters. They were like rock on the outside but they were pearls inside. We had to vote on a name and it got named the Pearl, that one clearly won. After we established our boundary Old Town decided to do the same.


They want an eight story, businessman’s hotel to replace the building opposite the new market, Local Choice, which really disheartens me.


To go have dinner we’d go into Northwest. For supermarkets, there was Food Front and a store where Trader Joe’s is. Giant Steps was the greatest thing, it was the neighborhood community center.


Today I think the Pearl is wonderful. It took a long time to get some of the services, like dry cleaners and grocery store, but there’s more density, and that’s what we in the association wanted. ”


-Joseph Gallivan


Author: Kate Washington

Kate is the PDNA's Communication Committee chair leader.

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