Washington Remembers Vanport City
by Summer 2000
PSU Capstones Class
Washington. Courtesy of
Portland Metro Council
War II left varied impressions on the residents
of Vanport -- a city constructed for the sole purpose
of housing war industry workers and immigrants.
Ed Washington, whose family moved to the Pacific
Northwest from Alabama in 1944, has vivid memories
of Vanport City. The following quotes are reflections
of his childhood experiences in Vanport, the city
that washed away on Memorial Day,
Photo courtesy of the Army Corps
It was a wonderful place
to grow up as a kid. The memories of growing up and living there
have never left me. I have friends and we will converse about
growing up in Vanport. It was sort of a magic place for kids.
It was just different. I think part of the fact that we were
all thrown together there during this tumultuous time during
the Second World War where life was really being lived to its
-- a new and foreign concept for many migrants -- presented
a challenge to Vanport residents.
I mean you have to realize
that Vanport was a place where people from all over
the country were thrown into this huge housing project.
Many of those people had never been around Blacks. Many
of those people had never been around other Whites,
other than just like them.
layout created a sense of uniformity.
Vanport, as a seven-year-old
kid was a very exciting place. For me, leaving the South,
we had a house. We lived in a house. We never lived
in an apartment. We never lived in a project. So, in
a project, when you're thrown into a large project with
about 30,000 other people . . . I mean you know it's
a city. It's a self-contained, prefabricated city. It
had stores, you know . . . shopping centers, icehouses,
because we didn't have refrigerators. School nurseries.
Everything. Everything in Vanport was numbered. Icehouses
#1-50. Schools, 1, 2, and 3; shopping center 1, 2, and
3; recreation center 1, 2, 3, and 4. So, everything
now a Portland Metro City Councilman, experienced his
first entrepreneurial endeavors in Vanport City.
I mean, as far
as if you had a wagon, you could go to the store and haul
peoples' groceries home for them. Or you could go to the
icehouse, and people would ask you to go and get ice for
them . . . you know, because everybody had iceboxes. So,
you could make a lot of money as a kid in Vanport. there
was a lot of money being made during the war. A lot of
that was passed on down to us. You didn't get rich but
you made . . . if you went and got somebody a twenty-five
pound block of ice, they gave you a quarter. A quarter
would go along ways in those days. So, it was a very exciting
city . . . it was a very thriving city. In addition to
the fact that you had 3 or 4 recreation centers, every
major neighborhood had a rcreation center. Every major
area had schools and it was just . . . it was a federal
school system. It was just an amazing place to grow up
as a kid.
city of Vanport, although originally considered
a temporary entity, came to its end much sooner
than expected. The Vanport Flood on May 30, 1948
destroyed the entire city. Tens of thousands of
families were left to start their lives from scratch.
The Vanport Flood affected
us substantially. It sort of totally destroyed our
lives. Everything we had we lost; pictures, Bibles,
all of our clothes and utensils. Everything that
meant you had to start from zero. There was no housing
so we had to live in churches. .
Houses careened off of their foundations
the 1948 Flood, and were swept into the Columbia.
When the waters receded, only debris remained.
Courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers