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In name game, PDC wields license to bill

Southwest Macadam Avenue was named in 1862 after a paving system developed by John McAdam, an 18th-century Scottish engineer.

It's uniquely Portland. Oregon historian Richard Engeman believes that Macadam is one of the few streets in the country that bears the name.

City leaders, however, seem to think it lacks punch. That's why, now that the north end of Macadam is part of a hotter-than-hot development and urban renewal district, they've renamed it South Waterfront. OK, it is south of the city. And it's the Willamette River waterfront.

Yet the change takes away the history, the name that is a part of Portland's past.

'It's just one more obfuscation by the developer to avoid dealing with the neighborhood association,' said Jim Davis, land use chairman for the Corbett/Terwilliger/Lair Hill Neighborhood Association, which includes Macadam Avenue. 'They want to try to become their own neighborhood.'

Like Goose Hollow, for instance, a name that conjures up the close-knit neighborhood of tiny streets, taverns, shops and apartments set at the foot of the West Hills.

The Pearl District, though a new moniker, fits the once gritty industrial Northwest Portland area that's now dotted with steel and glass lofts.

There are various stories about its origin; the most likely credit goes to a gallery owner who 15 years ago called the area between Southwest Park and 14th avenues 'a pearl of a neighborhood.'

For Portland, that makes it 'sort of' a historical name, said Engeman, public historian for the Oregon Historical Society.

Names like Goose Hollow 'just grow up and become institutionalized,' he said. 'There were obviously some geese there at one point.'

Unfortunately, a new crop of city districts is losing that unique sense of place.

The Portland Art Museum-Portland State University neighborhood has been tagged with the bland West End name.

Greg Goodman and Michael Powell, both members of the West End Planning Committee, said they jokingly suggested that the neighborhood be called 'Chicken Ridge' because it was tucked into the edge of Goose Hollow.

The area near the North Park Blocks has earned the nickname the North End, which is what Old Town/Chinatown was historically called in the late 1800s and early 1900s to describe the area north of Burnside Street.

Part of the blame for the name game goes to the Portland Development Commission, which must come up with labels for each new urban renewal district. And they usually lack spice: Airport Way, Central Eastside, Downtown Waterfront and River District. Not all are ho-hum. Lents Town Center retained its historical nature.

'PDC chooses a name that is closely associated with the geographic history of the area; sometimes that can be a district like the Central Eastside Urban Renewal Area, or sometimes that can be a defining feature such as Interstate Avenue,' said PDC spokeswoman Julie Rawls.

City officials often go with directional terms to avoid names that are controversial or a fight over the name selection process, Engeman said.

'When you look, urban renewal districts are scraped clear to remove anything familiar,' he said. 'North Macadam used to be known for the Alaskan Junk Company, which was located there, but isn't such a great neighborhood name. When you wipe off historical designation, obviously you remove them and you cut links to the past.'