Burger Barn restoration committee leader Teressa Raiford sent out this release recently:
CURB PDX Gray Building Rehabilitation
3962 NE Martin Luther King Blvd.
Portland, Oregon USA
October 29th 2014
In early, 2011 I met Cathy Galbraith, Director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation; I was attending their Black History Month event at the Foundation’s Architectural Heritage Center. At this initial meeting I was asked to make a request to my family, that the property at 3962 NE Martin Luther King be given a chance to be preserved, given its importance in Portland’s historic African American community. Galbraith was concerned that multiple demolitions over the past decades had left little memory of the African American character and history of North and Northeast Portland. Cathy’s charge had me question the inclusion of Black homeowners and business owners’ direct involvement in the trend of urban renewal that had long taken place in North and Northeast Portland. Clearly, there was little or no involvement with people of color regarding residential and community business development. While filtering up has physically rejuvenated the community, it had not included many African American and other long term property holders. The displacement of renters was casebook gentrification, because of historic long term disinvestment and exclusion; urban renewal is known to negatively impact the Black middle class, as blighted communities revitalize and transform without these stakeholders’ participation.
I also researched local archives and links provided by the Urban Studies department at Portland State University via Felicia Williams. These collections included extensive correspondence, letters, published articles and oral histories from long-time residents in the area. Most of these stories included systems and legislative actions that had prohibited foundational growth for African Americans and other minorities in the region.
Opportunities for development being presented to people and businesses moving into the Portland region does not show any specific indication that a serious effort was also being made to Black Portlanders. Who would African American property owners turn to for information if they wished to develop their own properties? Why does it seem that a specific demographic has not been included in the planning or resource allocation that would make it a feasible opportunity for everyone? In the years since my conversation with Cathy Galbraith and others, I’ve researched and attended a number of equity conversations around gentrification, and there is a renewed spark of interest in community outreach and education.
Fast forward to 2014… and the previously occupied space at 3962 MLK has recently closed its doors after decades of being run by local African Americans, nationally known for its soul food including my Grandparents’ restaurant “The Burger Barn”. The property owner, Andre Raiford was ready to redevelop the land in order to build a retail center or another development that would not include the Burger Barn building. I approached Andre, along with local Historian and Educator Dr. Tanya March, Ph.D., within days before the scheduled demolition. Afterwards we called an emergency meeting together with Cathy Galbraith and Kimberly Moreland at the AHC. Prior to the meeting I drafted a business vision (Soul Food Lots PDX) and a proposal for support. I asked for letters and statements from AHC and Kim’s organization (Oregon Black Pioneers) stating their support for rehab and continued use of the historic Burger Barn building.
We have maintained hope that this written support could help us obtain the partnerships and funding necessary to develop a business and use for the preservation-focused Burger Barn building. Since this partnership, we have received letters of support from The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, Oregon Black Pioneers, and King Neighborhood Association; additional support is coming from Livermore Architects and Engineering, Swinerton Construction, and an application has been submitted to Restore Oregon for inclusion in its “Most Endangered” listing.
Please share your thoughts, resources and intentions as they pertain to changing the trend of economic inequality, gentrification and racial discrimination in policy and legislation. I believe that this project is a step forward and I hope that this letter reaches people with a deep consciousness and a will to make a difference.