Stumptown Stumper

by: DENISE FARWELL, A house on Southwest Nebraska Street has a zero as the first number in its address; some argue that a minus sign might be more appropriate.

Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer that helps you boost your Rose City IQ.

Q:Why do many of the city's postal addresses, especially in Southwest Portland, include a zero in front of them? Why not just use the three digits?

A: The answer to this confusing phenomenon is really quite simple, according to several longtime residents.

Stephen Leflar, who wrote a history of the area once called South Portland, explains that the first street in the city was Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway), which ran along the Willamette River.

As the city extended to the south, Front Avenue extended in a straight line but the river took a bend toward the east, leaving the new developments on the east of Front Avenue without available addresses.

So they invented a system of mirrored addresses that used zero as a first digit to accommodate the new buildings; for example, there is a 017 to the east of Front Avenue and a 17 a block away to the west.

'Everybody calls it the Bermuda Triangle,' Leflar says.

Glenn Bridger, president of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., adds: 'In some sense, a 'minus' sign would be more appropriate than the 'zero,' but it most likely would be totally disregarded and therefore useless.'

Bridger says this seemingly obsolete zero often trips up visitors, who discover its importance after arriving at the wrong house or business. The zero also is critical to getting mail delivered correctly, according to Frank Earle, a customer relations coordinator at the U.S. Postal Service.

'Yes, it is a requirement for the customer, in order to properly address the package or letter, to start with that zero digit,' he says, noting that the same goes for ZIP codes that start with zero.

If the zero is left off, the letter or package would be misdelivered and returned to the sender. But it wouldn't get lost, Earle says. That's the postal service's promise.

Portland isn't alone in using this addressing system; other cities employ it as well, Earle says. Most people just get used to it, or suffer the consequences.

'It doesn't come up too often,' he says, 'because most people know it looks weird but (they think), 'I'd better put it there because it's there for a reason.' '

Next week's Stumper: Which one of the most commonly used household tools was invented by a Portland businessman in the 1930s?

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