By LESLEY MCLAM
Just across from Sauvie Island and nestled against both the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, lies historic St Johns. This area boasts a a commercial hub and many of the amenities of a small town. It also encompasses the St Johns and Cathedral Park neighborhoods.
The area gets its name from James John, a settler who began operating a ferry in that spot around 1852.
In 1902, the expansion of the railroad into St Johns revitalized the area and brought a variety of manufacturing companies to take up residence along the river. It also brought jobs, people and ideas into what became the northwest tip of Portland— something which continues to this day.
Many remaining industrial-related warehouses are located along N. Columbia Blvd, past Pier Park and the Smith & Bybee Wetlands. The BNSF railroad tracks are what define the southern border of St Johns, separating it from the rest of North Portland.
Much has changed since the original St. John’s post office opened in 1875, except for the beauty of the river and the entrepreneurial spirit which still imbues the neighborhood, evidenced in the array of local businesses.
The St Johns Neighborhood Association is a hub for volunteering in the neighborhood. They have regular trash cleanups, work with Habitat for Humanities, and help maintain the area’s urban forest. Visit their page for more information.
Marrow PDX is “a youth-centered community space, with a focus on education, the arts, and activism.” Neighbors can book a show, host a exhibition, volunteer at current events, or submit ideas for new classes / programming.
St Johns Community for Opportunity runs a wide variety of initiatives including a farmers market, clothes closet, small business support, community building, and work with the homeless. Learn more about volunteer opportunities here.
Our walk continues…
The iconic St. John’s Bridge stands tall at this southwestern edge of the neighborhood. It’s a massive 1,200-foot steel and suspension cabling bridge towering over a quiet and welcoming park below it, Cathedral City Park. This is only one of the several parks in the area, but it is the only one that touches the Willamette River.
A small parking lot for Cathedral City Park is located at the corner of North Crawford and North Pittsburg, although the park is easily accessible to bicyclists, pedestrians, and boaters.
The boat ramp, paved walkways and a dog area are some of the amenities the park has to offer. Along with an incredible view of, and access to, the Willamette River. The park has been known to host a variety of local events, concerts, and festivals, such as the annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival— which just occurred in July, and the recent Illamette Hip-Hip River Festival.
This is a great spot to launch a kayak or enjoy some afternoon sun on the expansive lawn which becomes somewhat shaded by the bridge in the afternoon.
Away from the river, and up the inclined street which is lined with single family homes that were built at least half a century ago, is the central business area in the neighborhood.
I recommend stopping at the top of the bridge and taking in the view, especially around sunset. A clear day’s view can gain you an easy sight of the distant-seeming bridges in downtown Portland.
Across the street from the bridge, with your back to the river, is the only Burgerville north of the Lloyd Center, just off to the left. Always a tasty choice for a burger made from locally sourced ingredients and a classic (or seasonal) milkshake.
This part of the neighborhood is where some of the most popular local hangout spots are located, clustering along N. Ivanhoe and N. Lombard streets, which run roughly parallel to one another. It is full of local shops, eateries, bars, a movie theater, religious centers, and even a yoga studio.
During the day it can get rather busy with pedestrians rushing through their errands and checking stops off of their to-do list with traffic going both directions. The bridge is also a main artery leading through North Portland and onto Highway 30. On Saturdays, a small Farmers Market can be found on Philadelphia Avenue, about one block from the St. Johns Theatre & Pub.
Just behind the Burgerville on Lombard, and next to the St. Johns Cinema is The Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ, which I feel is definitely worth trying. The atmosphere is clean and cool, with a vibe of freshness and savory smells in the air. A colorful mural is painted on the side of their building, bringing an artistic flair to that section of the street.
I invite you to step into the cozy atmosphere of Anna Bananas, nearby on Lombard, if you fancy a latte, smoothie, or simply to get some work done quietly on your laptop during the afternoon. This local establishment is a neighborhood favorite, serving breakfast and lunch in a cafe with a variety of small tables, comfy chairs and couches.
There’s shared parking lot back behind the blue and yellow patched together strip of buildings that houses Anna Bananas, just off Ivanhoe. The lot also gives quick access to the Blue Bird Tavern, a dentist’s office, The Wishing Well, and the Baha’i Center across the street.
If you begin heading East down Lombard, at the corner of N. Lombard and N. Richmond Avenue you will find The Fixin’ To. This local establishment offers a solid variety of beer and drinks, as well as a menu with a Southern theme. This is a popular daytime and late-night hangout to gather with friends and share the stories of the day. The outdoor covered patio and aesthetics with wood and metal give this street corner establishment a sense of rustic charm.
The Safeway is south only one block, which is also where the Eco-Laundry laundromat is located, just in case you need to wash your pic-nic blanket after an afternoon at Cathedral Park. The machines even accept debit / credit cards and can text you when your load is finished!
The St Johns Multnomah County Public Library branch is also just around the corner from this fairly dense corner. It is north on N. Charleston Avenue about one block. Community events postings can sometimes be found in the entryway to this small, but loved little library branch.
Continuing east down Lombard, towards Portland proper, there are a number of other eateries, bars, boutiques, the Three Tracks music store, Lombard House, Videorama, Big Kahuna Hawaiian BBQ & Catering, and a youth-community center called Marrow PDX.
The Perch Tavern, which does bingo every Tuesday night is a longtime staple on this side of the neighborhood.
However, one of my favorite stops on this side of St. Johns is an incredible food cart pod which houses The Beer Porch. This flavor-packed pod truly showcases the entrepreneurial spirit of St. Johns.
There are easily a dozen different flavors to be found among these food carts, including vegan and vegetarian choices, sushi, Mexican, Thai, and more. (Arlos Fish & Chips, St. Johns Wings, Falafel House, Kazumi).
This is a kid and pet-friendly pod— with ample seating and two porta potties with a handwashing station— but can get full very quickly in the evenings and weekends.
The St. Johns Beer Porch also has a covered area for slaking your thirst in the shade and showcases a series of musicians every Friday during the Summer.
The edge of St. John’s is just east of the intersection of N. Ida Avenue and North Lombard. This is where the Fred Meyer, Bikram Yoga St Johns, Dairy Queen, Marrow PDX, and Washman Car Wash / Chevron gas station are located.
Once you cross over the railroad tracks that are behind the Fred Meyer, you will have passed over the bordering edge of St. Johns.
The local shops along Lombard between N. Ida and the St. Johns Bridge are only a small portion of the St. John’s neighborhood. Much of this neighborhood is packed full of housing, parks, schools, community centers, churches and local businesses that all work serve to create the diverse people who make up the community of St. Johns.
Lesley McLam is completing her second degree at Portland Community College, studying journalism and communications. She’s the proud mama of a beautiful 14-year-old black cat, and a volunteer anchor, copywriter, reporter, and occasional producer at KBOO community radio who is just beginning to learn about the world of podcasting.