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Portland, Oregon: Late-Thirties Rush Hour Street Scene

This busy street scene photo was taken in the late-thirties on SW 4th Avenue in Portland, Oregon during rush hour. The policeman in the light coat is directing traffic at the intersection of the Avenue with SW Yamhill Street. Fred Meyer’s Yamhill Auto Supply, a parts and supply store is located on the right-hand side of the cross street on the corner.

Based on the vehicles visible in the image, two of which have radiator winter fronts, this picture could have been taken as early as late in the fall of 1937 as there is a least one 1938 car on the Avenue; the earliest automobiles appear to be late-twenties models. A view of the scene today apparently indicates that none of the buildings have survived and have been replaced by modern structures.

Tell us what you find of interest in the photograph via Vintage Portland courtesy of the City of Portland Archives.


15 responses to “Portland, Oregon: Late-Thirties Rush Hour Street Scene

  1. The Capitol sign suspended over the street is something that I have never seen. Street signs, highway signs, yes, but never a theater sign, a private business. Maybe air rights over highways or streets will present a new income source for government.

  2. Driving toward the camera, driver taking a right turn [to the left side of the photograph], looks like a two-door 1938 OLDSMOBILE SIX with fog lights, an extra bumperette, and a driver’s spot-light..

    • Driving toward the camera, between the ’38 OLDSMOBILE and the police officer [with long white coat] directing traffic, is what looks like a 1933 CHEVROLET.

  3. We think traffic is bad today but look at it then, and in 1937 cars didn’t have turn signals and few people hand-signaled. The first US car with turn signals as I remember, was the 1939 Buick which had two lighted arrows in the middle of the Trunk, and none in front. The story of turn signal history and politics is worthy of a topic of its own.

  4. The oldie closest to us is a 1928 Chevrolet and coming towards us is a 1931 Chevrolet. The other one a bit further away, going away, is something bigger from one of the independents – maybe? Looks as if it might have that three unit tail light that Pierce Arrow used. Obviously has side mounted spares.

    I was thinking it was odd that there were no Ford Model As but that might be one parked about ten cars up on the right below the CAPITOL sign,

    • The Chevrolet with the front facing the camera is a 1929-1930 type. The headlights are on candlesticks, a feature deleted in 1931. I do not see a gas gauge on the tank of the rear of the near Chevrolet. A 1928-1929 would have this. I suggest it is a 1930 the year they added it to the instrument panel.

  5. So, the policeman is there doing what? This is a signaled intersection which should take care of the cars, but we have a lady in the middle still wanting to cross to the left and a gent just reaching the other side. Looking at the cars in the intersection, it would seem those two pedestrians are doing a bit of J-walking with no remonstrance from the cop. Also, this street is busy as hell, must have been a pretty prosperous time, even in Portland. Finally, is there a lot of double parking going on? The panel truck on the left looks like that is about what he intends to do, so are the cars in the right hand lane doing the same?

  6. By all means, look at this same block in the Google street image today. As we’ve seen so many times here, a once-bustling, active and apparently thriving downtown full of local businesses (and just look at all the people on the sidewalks!) becomes an empty street that, while admittedly now tree-lined and attractive, has a handful of pedestrians and pretty much no activity.

  7. That is a gutsy bicyclist heading away from the camera. I ride a bicycle every day, and I am reluctant to mix it up with cars.

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