Vanport Archaeological Memory Project (VAMP) receives support from Kinsman Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust, Oregon Heritage Commission, Nat. Historic Preservation Trust Fund
The only physical remains of Vanport are pieces of the concrete slab that was the foundation for a 750-seat movie theater (pictured above). In July 2020, the National Park Service announced formal recognition of the historic significance of Portland’s African American experience on the National Register of Historic Places. The Multiple Property Designation includes Vanport as a significant African American site; however, no archaeological study has ever been done of the site. As a result, significant gaps exist in the historical understanding of the everyday life of the prior inhabitants, both during the Vanport era and before, when Indigenous peoples farmed the land for sustenance harvest and trade using the plentiful natural resources of the Columbia River for hundreds of years.
The VAMP project will provide invaluable information about historically underrepresented communities and their experience and use of the Vanport site. Additionally, it will lay the groundwork for individual historical site designation for Vanport on the National Register of Historic Places. It will also coordinate with our work in creating an Augmented Reality app to provide an archaeological history of the buildings of Vanport. We are delighted to be working on this project with Kristen Minor (Chair, Historic Landmarks Commission), Dave Ellis (Willamette Cultural Resource Associates), and graduate students from the Portland State University School of Anthropology. We thank the Kinsman Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust, Oregon Heritage Commission, and Natural Historic Preservation Trust Fund for supporting the project.
Designs for Environmental History and Women in the Workforce signs completed; Portland artist sidony o’neal to design People of Vanport sign
The historic site of Vanport will soon feature some new educational signs! Thanks to support from the Oregon Cultural Trust, the City of Portland, the Multnomah County Drainage District, Ramsay Signs, and other groups, we have completed the designs for two new double-sided signs that will be placed at the historic Vanport theater foundation, near the Portland International Raceway in north Portland. And, we are in the planning phases of a new sign focused on the people of Vanport, which will be designed by Portland interdisciplinary artist sidony o’neal. We’re excited to be sharing more of Vanport’s history with community members both present and future!
Vanport Placemarking Project tables at 2021 Rose Cup Races and Beaches events
Vanport Placemarking Project co-hosted an informational booth with the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Multnomah County Drainage District, and Portland Bureau of Environmental Services at the 60th annual Rose Cup Races, July 9-11, 2021. At the booth, we distributed information about Vanport and shared a demo of our Augmented Reality app, which shows Vanport buildings overlaid on the present landscape of the Portland International Raceway. Friends of Portland International Raceway (PIR) also provided a full page about Vanport in their printed and online program. The event was attended by about 3,000 people.
We also conducted outreach this year at the Beaches Classic Car Cruise-In event, an event held during the summer months on the grounds of the Portland International Raceway. We were provided a booth to inform attendees about our project and Vanport, and met many people who have ties to Vanport history. About 1,000 people attended the event the day we were there.
New Story Collection – Life Along the Columbia: Stories from Behind the Levees
While it’s been more than 70 years since floodwaters surged over Vanport and inundated homes and businesses across the south shore of the Columbia, flood risk in north Portland is by no means a thing of the past. Today, development in north Portland—include on the former site of Vanport—is protected by a system of levees carefully designed and maintained by the Multnomah County Drainage District (MCDD).
These levees control water levels, channel flows through waterways like the Columbia Slough, and help keep events like the Flood of 1948 from recurring. But they also shape life for a diverse community of people who live, work, and recreate in the Columbia Slough floodplain. This fall, MCDD is coordinating with FEMA Region 10 to share some of these people’s stories in a collection called Life Along the Columbia: Stories from Behind the Levees (English) or Historias De La Vida A Lo Largo Del Río Columbia (Spanish). The collection was recorded during the Annual Columbia Slough Watershed Council’s Regatta in August 2019 and features 8 stories, told in a mix of English and Spanish. Check them out here!