The Pearl District of Portland has roots dating back to the 19th century. It was originally called the Northwest Industrial Triangle and used mainly as a railroad yard, as well as for industrial and warehousing purposes. Portland’s microbrew industry is well-established in the Pearl District, with various brewpubs and brewing facilities still in the area. Weinhard Brewing, for example, existed in the area from 1864 until 1999, upon Miller Brewing’s purchase of the brand.
The Pearl District has served as a nexus of commercial and citizen travel for decades. The US Post Office’s primary processing center for Oregon was built in 1964 near the Pearl District’s Union Station; it has served as a key mail hub since its opening for residents throughout the Pacific Northwest. Union Station, established in 1896, provides Greyhound bus service, an Amtrak stop, and TriMet bus and MAX rail service throughout the Portland metropolitan area.
Since the 1990s, urban renewal has shifted the area from an industrial zone into a neighborhood populated with loft apartments, artists, small businesses and shops, and various public transit lines. The name “Pearl District” was coined by Thomas Augustine, a Portland art gallery owner. Augustine likened the unique shops and galleries of the neighborhood, situated between the warehouses of old, to pearls in an oyster. Throughout the past two decades, the Pearl District has fostered development of myriad art galleries, festivals and exhibitions; in recent years, an increasing number of high-end restaurants and national boutiques have opened their doors to the public, and several condominium and apartment buildings have been erected to attract residents to the Pearl District.
The Pearl District spans more than 100 city blocks, between West Burnside Street and the Willamette River to its north with Northwest Broadway and Interstate 405 serving as the eastern and western borders, respectively. The lush Park Blocks run through the Pearl District and provide a natural pavilion for festivals, most notably the annual Art in the Pearl, currently in its 14th year and which goes on during Labor Day Weekend. Fine arts and crafts from around the Pacific Northwest are displayed for the public, similar to Portland’s Saturday Market in Old Town Chinatown, and scheduled and improvised exhibitions take place throughout the weekend.
There are also various wine bars, microbrew public houses and posh clubs with innovative drink selections in the Pearl District. The amount and variety of social milieus is matched only by the Pearl District’s music venue offering; a multitude of jazz, punk rock, classical music and hip-hop clubs thrive in the Pearl District among the many performances scheduled each night of the week.
Public transit in the Pearl District includes throughways for many of TriMet’s bus lines, as well as the MAX Yellow and Green lines that stop several times throughout the Pearl while traversing northbound to cross the Willamette River into east Portland and southbound to Portland State University. The Portland Streetcar snakes through several Pearl District streets to provide fareless, sheltered travel for shoppers and diners in the area year round. Various cab companies also cruise the area, and a handful of party bus services frequent the Pearl District to provide security and community for groups of friends gallivanting in the Pearl.
Powell’s City of Books is a primary attraction to the Pearl District; taking up an entire city block and standing five stories tall, Powell’s is the premier bookstore in Portland. The Art Institute is also in the Pearl District, providing students with facilities right atop the main artery of artistic creativity and opportunity in the region. There are also several gyms and yoga studios for the active Pearl District resident too busy to escape into the wilderness of Hillside or one of Portland’s many parks for their exercise.
The Pearl District represents Portland’s commitment to art and innovation, and the increasing attention from newcomers continue to expand the Pearl District’s horizons, with many international food and cultural offerings to complement Portland’s own unique culture. The Pearl District is a fine example of cohabitation between free-spirited artists and success-driven entrepreneurs, and it makes a fine neighborhood for those seeking to live in one of Portland’s most modern areas.