Posted By Kate Washington on January 9, 2013
David August has been a Pearl District resident since 1997. He had a dental practice in York, PA for 30 years until he and his wife retired here. They fell in love with Portland on a 1994 summer vacation to Oregon. Back in Pennsylvania they made an 18 month plan to retire to Portland. They returned to check it out in the January 1996 rains, which didn’t faze them.
“It was dumb luck that we landed in the Pearl,” said August one recent lunchtime. He had been at a conference in Seattle and his son came up from San Francisco to meet him in Portland. From an apartment magazine they picked out the Honeyman Hardware Lofts (NW 9th Ave. and Hoyt, above Caffe Allora).
“I liked the feel of the area, it was more industrial. There were autoshops, bearing shops, some art galleries – at night it was pretty quiet.”
At heart he and his wife were always city people: New York, Boston, Philadelphia. At the time there were only 400 people living in the Pearl (compared to circa 6,000 today.) Lovejoy Street was still a viaduct from 15th Avenue to the Broadway Bridge.
They now live in the North Park Lofts at NW Everett and 8th Ave. August spends his time at the gym, playing golf and hanging out with Pearl District friends, as well as with his grown children and grandchildren. When they moved to Portland they knew noone here.
“I liked that when you walked through the neighborhood you always met someone you knew. There were limited services, but the interaction among people was very good.”
We are seated inside Starbucks at NW 11th and Lovejoy. The sidewalks are lined with realtors, dentist and optometrist offices, banks and boutiques. They are busy with families and tourists buzzing to and fro.
“My wife and I joke that there’s the Pearl, where we live, and then Suburban Pearl, which is everything north of Lovejoy. That’s not a value judgment,” he says with an “It-is-what-it-is” shrug.
The evolution of the Pearl was planned, and he had a front row seat. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association was recognized in 1992. There were around 16 people in it when August got involved, including developers such as Homer Williams, John Carroll and Al Solheim.
“We could meet for free in a room on the west side of NW11th between Hoyt and Irving. There was no heat and there was a bulb you turned on with a pull chain. There was a great sense that everyone was willing to pitch in. We all knew the Pearl was going to turn out to be a great place.”
The three main committees were Livability, Communications and Planning, Transportation and Design Review.
August eventually became President of the PDNA. The group accepted that, as blocks were in-filled with ten- and twenty-story buildings, some people would lose their views but it was part and parcel of preserving farmland outside the Urban Growth Boundary.
“There was no Streetcar then. We had some good special projects: Wally and Judy Gibson ran the Pearl Party, which was our biggest fundraiser, and Dan Dehen helped with the tree planting program.”
They persuaded local business owners to pay for the planting of hundreds of new trees, especially from Hoyt to Couch and between 9th and 13th Avenues.
“There are still big fights between the ‘tree hawks’ and property owners who decide to give a tree a haircut without a permit,” he said with a laugh.
Through the Pearl Development Plan they pushed for affordable housing.
August considers the Pearl about 70 per cent developed.
“The remaining 30 per cent will probably look more like what’s around here,” he says, looking north to the Fremont Bridge. “There’s not much tearing down left. It’ll be new building.”
When he tells friends from out of town about where he and his wife retired to, he tells them, “It exceeded expectations. We picked the right city and the right neighborhood. I’m always glad to come home.”
Look for an interview with another long-term Pearl resident in next month’s newsletter.
Edited January 14, 2013 with David August’s corrections