Old Town Chinatown is Portland’s oldest neighborhood, serving as the heart of the city for more than a century. Skidmore Fountain, Portland’s oldest public art work, was constructed in honor of prominent Portland businessman Stephen G. Skidmore; it was constructed entirely from donations and Skidmore’s will to provide drinking water in Old Town. Since 1974, the fountain has served as the nexus of Old Town Chinatown’s Saturday Market, where various merchants gather to display their wares to the public.
The Shanghai Tunnels are another historical attraction in Old Town Chinatown. They are a system of underground tunnels merchants used to avoid impeding the foot and tram traffic in the area, connecting several basements in Old Town Chinatown. Their name comes from the legend that merchants would encounter thieves who would drug, rob and sell the merchants into slavery in Portland’s shipyards; this is what it was to “shanghai” a merchant. Despite the gloomy nature of these legends, the tunnels remain a popular Old Town Chinatown tourist attraction and can be visited by the public.
Old Town Chinatown comprises the blocks between Third Avenue and Harbor Drive, with Northwest Everett and Southwest Oak streets serving as Old Town’s northern and southern boundaries, respectively. It is home to many popular nightclubs, bars, restaurants and residential buildings; the Chinatown moniker derives from the concentration of Chinese restaurants north of Burnside Street. The Old Town Chinatown neighborhood is centrally located and walking district from most of Downtown.
Public transit is also prevalent in the area. Several bus lines pass through the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood, and the MAX Green and Yellow lines run along its western border. The Blue and Red lines pass through Old Town Chinatown and Skidmore Fountain before crossing the Willamette River; these lines provide rail transit to each of Portland’s four quadrants and beyond, including to Portland International Airport and Clackamas Town Center while reaching as far east as Gresham and west as Hillsboro. Union Station is located at the northern end of Old Town Chinatown, and it provides interstate travel via Amtrak.
The Old Town Chinatown area has undergone much urban renewal in recent years, meaning it has become a safer area for pedestrians and visiting drivers. By day, thousands of people shuffle through the area for lunch and shopping; by night, the area is populated with a vibrant party scene—even during rainy seasons, many people can be seen on the streets of Old Town Chinatown as they move toward restaurants and clubs.
The beautiful Lan Su Chinese Garden (originally the Portland Classical Chinese Garden) opened in Old Town Chinatown during 2000 and it covers an entire city block. Imported materials were used by 65 artisans from Suzhou, China, to construct this lush attraction featuring exotic flora and fauna indigenous to China that is locally grown. Festivals take place during warmer seasons near the garden that feature live music, dancing and artistic displays.
Old Town Chinatown is home to a vast diversity and its restaurants, cafes, shops and art galleries reflect the dozens of cultures that coexist in the neighborhood. Multifamily housing is the primary residential mode of Old Town Chinatown, including apartments, condominiums and efficiency studios. The area is bustling with excitement and culture that rarely sleeps, and it is a great neighborhood for anyone who wishes to live in the thick of Portland’s urban jungle.