University Park Neighborhood Profile: Community, university share an 'A' in history
from The Oregonian - Sunday, September 26, 2004

When Mark Kirchmeier and Jane Hagan moved to North Hurst Avenue 11 years ago, they noticed that the short street -- which runs from scenic Willamette Boulevard to the stately oaks of Columbia Park -- had a sense of home about it.

"After we got to know some of our neighbors, we found four people on the block who had grown up in the neighborhood and bought the houses they'd grown up in from their parents," said Kirchmeier, a developer of affordable housing projects.

That feeling of comfort and heritage is common in University Park, a narrow arc of a neighborhood wrapped around the University of Portland on the North Portland peninsula. Points along Willamette Boulevard provide views of the urban skyline and Forest Park.

"University Park has always been a very desirable location," said Doug Hartman, a Realtor with Farrell & Associates. "It's very visible. It's hard not to notice how solid University Park is. The mature trees, the older Victorians and Craftsmen homes -- the only downside is that the prices keep going up."

Realtor Paul Maresh remembers University Park from his days as a cab driver.

"Driving a cab, you got to know all the neighborhoods pretty well," said Maresh, of Benson Realty. "University Park always stood out."

Oriented on a southwest axis, homes in the neighborhood were platted in the 1890s and receive more sunshine than those situated in the city's traditional eastside grid.

Street names -- Harvard, Yale, Syracuse, Bowdoin, Amherst -- originated with the neighborhood's early developers, who planned to build the community around a Methodist university on what was then known as Waud's Bluff. The plan -- and the Methodist university -- ran into financial problems in 1893, but the street names endured.

By 1901 a Catholic university had settled on the bluff, and today the University of Portland continues to be a mainstay of the neighborhood. Its 500 employees and 3,300 students are a source of economic vitality, and the university is a center for cultural and sporting events, often offering neighborhood discounts for tickets.

A university representative holds a spot on the University Park Neighborhood Association, and the university has made grants totaling $491,000 over the last six years to help 49 of the its employees purchase homes in the area. (See related story, Page H2.)

Although it is squeezed between the bluff above the Willamette River and busy Lombard Street, University Park is rich in green spaces. Neighborhood parks, such as Portsmouth and McKenna parks, offer shade and places for children to play.

Just outside the neighborhood boundary to the northwest sits Columbia Park, a European-style greenspace designed by Frederick Olmstead of Central Park fame. Pastimes in the park range from the enclosed Columbia Pool to enjoy Shakespeare in the Park productions.

Schools -- Astor Elementary School and Holy Cross -- are a point of neighborhood pride.

The Interstate light-rail line, about two miles east of University Park, serves the area, and the Adidas corporation has expanded on North Interstate Avenue, bringing with it employees who need housing.

"Once folks from a place like Adidas find a neighborhood, it doesn't take long," said Kirchmeier of the shoe and apparel designer. About 1,000 employees work at Adidas's North American headquarters, about two miles east of University Park. "Peers come over for a barbecue at someone's house, and they see it's a great place."

The Lombard business strip is a pleasant mix of old and new. The Java Bean, 4823 N. Lombard St., is rapidly becoming the place to stop for a latte, pastry and a chat. Weir's Cyclery has been peddling the best in two-wheeled transportation for more than 20 years. And holding down the corner of Lombard and Portsmouth Avenue is the Twilight Room, which has served burgers, seafood and good brews for more than 50 years -- 43 of them under the steady hand of Doug Penner.

"There really hasn't been much change here," Penner said of the neighborhood. "The university is getting a little bigger and the traffic a little more congested, but it is still a very quiet place."

One thing that has changed, however, is the price of a home. Dick Merck, who founded Merck Properties in 1966, was recently doing some cleaning and found a newspaper ad from the early days of his brokerage.

"It had a one-bedroom for $8,000," he said. "That really took me back."

Today, University Park has a wide range of properties. Merck said $100,000 fixers are rare, but they do still exist. At the other end of the spectrum, one property recently sold for $450,000.

A check of listings in early September found a range of prices and styles:

Realtors Rose Anderson and Catherine Reynolds of Coldwell Banker Barbara Sue Seal list a 1908 Farmhouse for $189,950. A sale is pending.

Penelope Tolva, an independent Realtor, has a listing for a four-bedroom Tudor built in 1928 for $239,900.

A large Craftsman-style home with more than 3,000 square feet is listed by Kent Sisk of Prudential Northwest Properties for $314,900. The 1892 home has five bedrooms, and an open house will be held 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

There are newer homes in the neighborhood, too. In 1998, an architect built his dream house in University Park. Although it's contemporary in design, the house fits the neighborhood and features a gourmet kitchen and an interior courtyard. It's listed with Robert Andersen of Prudential Northwest Properties for $399,999; an open house is set for Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.

"Overall, the housing stock is very good," said Maresh. "Most of the houses are 50 years old or more, and a lot have unusual interiors, essentially two layers of lathe and plaster."

Said Judy Chambers, a resident for 39 years and current president of the University Park Neighborhood Association, "If we didn't like it, we wouldn't have stayed so long."

The steadiness of University Park does mean fewer properties going on the market.

"Sometimes, it is hard for Realtors to find comparable sales for market evaluations," Hartman said. "At any given time, there are only a handful of listings."