For longtime Portlanders, few urban transformations have been more incredible than that of the Pearl District. This area, roughly bounded by NW Broadway, NW 14th Avenue, Burnside Street, and Marshall Street, was until very recently a wasteland of moldering warehouses, abandoned rail yards, and moribund light industry.
In a short 20 years the area has been utterly transformed into one of Portland ’s most exclusive residential neighborhoods, with newly paved streets (until the gentrification, this antique area still boasted some paving-stone streets) lined with upscale furniture and home decor boutiques, fine restaurants, and art galleries.
Even though the boundaries of the Pearl District are ever-expanding to the north, a good place to begin your exploration is along NW 10th Avenue. At the corner of West Burnside Street and 10th Avenue is the mother ship of Powell’s Books , one of the nation’s largest bookstores. Continuing north on 11th Avenue, you pass the castellated Gerding Theater, a former armory and home to Portland Center Stage. If you’re looking to decorate your home, the myriad furniture and decor stores along NW Glisan Street between 10th and 14th Avenues ought to provide inspiration.
If you’re wondering why Portland has so many art galleries, perhaps a stop at Pacific Northwest College of Art (1241 NW Johnson St., 503/226-4391, www.pnca.edu ) will explain. Since 1909 this art school, recently relocated to the Pearl District, has provided a hands-on education for multiple generations of artists, many of whom remain in Portland to create art. The lobby of this converted warehouse contains two art galleries, and student art is usually on display in the central atrium.
Further north, bounded by NW 10th and 11th Avenues and Johnson and Kearney Streets, is Jamison Square, a public park with a fountain that’s a favorite destination for the neighborhood’s children to get wet and cool down. The park is named for a well-loved local art dealer, and it contains some striking public sculpture.
From downtown, the Pearl District is easily reached on the Portland Streetcar, which travels along NW 10th and 11th Avenues.