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It's time to honor city's maritime history

My View: There is wide support for a waterfront display


Portland’s maritime history needs to be more respected. Presently, this history is mostly in the minds of senior citizens and tucked away in files.

The maritime history of the Willamette River begins with the Native Americans who were the area’s first ship builders. Later, as the Willamette Valley developed, the river was a major route for travel and transportation.

During World War II, about 100,000 people moved to Portland to build warships. Portland was changed forever.

How many people, especially younger ones, know about the City of Vanport (population 40,000), Oregon’s second-most populated city during the early 1940s? This city housed many ship-building workers. About 16,000 were African-American, and about one-third of the workers were women. Vanport was eliminated by a flood on May 30, 1948.

Ask most Portlanders what Kaiser Permanente is and they will say a medical complex. But, they likely will not know that Kaiser evolved from the cradle of the ship-building industry during WWll.

Present-day maritime activities come largely from the Working Waterfront Coalition, consisting of more than 20 maritime companies. These companies are responsible for hiring 53,000 people.

Portland is an active river city. We see all sorts of boats on it, including tugs, barges, dragon boats, kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, fishing boats, the Portland Spirit, etc. The Willamette River is where the action is in Portland.

A small group of citizens are advocating a grassroots effort for an outdoor maritime display to celebrate, respect and restore Portland’s maritime history.

The proposed site would be on the west bank of the Willamette River between roughly the Ross Island and Marquam bridges. As people bike and walk along this future greenway maritime display, items would be there to see and educate. Hopefully, along with large items like ship anchors, Liberty Ship bows and propellers, historic maritime photos would be on display.

Enhancing Portland’s maritime history is popular. More than 20 local organizations have pledged their support, and we are starting an individual support list. On it, so far, are former Mayor Vera Katz, local historian Chet Orloff, and Powell’s bookstore owner Michael Powell.

Want to help? Do you have any old maritime items to

donate?

As a mayoral candidate, Charlie Hales was asked “Can a good idea come from the bottom up and succeed in Portland?” He answered “yes.” He liked the outdoor maritime display idea.

Well, Mayor Hales, there definitely is support. Where do we go from here?

Dr. Roger L. Gertenrich, the former mayor of Salem, is a retired dentist from Southwest Portland.