How to find my father's old house?
May 25, 2016 11:45 AM   Subscribe

My father lived in Portland, OR in the early 70's. He wants to see if he can find the house he lived in here, if it still exists. He doesn't remember much about what streets he was on but he remembers that it was located by a dollar theater and a big park. He says the house was sort of like a town house, but they were for sailors when they'd dock and stay for a short period of time. He thought maybe if we could find a list of dollar theaters he could find it, but I imagine that's impossible. How would we find this house? Is it even possible?
posted by gucci mane to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Libraries often have old copies of the yellow pages. If the Portland library has a copy from that time period, it might lead to something. I would imagine, since Portland was a smaller city than it is today, and there weren't giant multiplexes like there are today, that it might be easier than you think.

Does he have any photos of the building or the neighborhood? That could help.

You might also try reaching out to a local historical society. This seems like the kind of neighborhood someone would remember.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:51 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd start with big parks, especially if he can remember how big or any amenities that were in the park. It shouldn't be that hard to find out which parks existed in Portland in the early 70s, and which had fountains or playgrounds or whatever. Triangulating big parks answering to a certain description and townhouse or row house neighborhoods should narrow it down a lot.

Dollar theaters come and go, and while I don't know Portland that well, that's the type of commercial architecture that gets demolished to make room for something else all the time.

Did he go to school at the time? Does he remember the name of it? Any other life details from that time which would give you a clue, like "my dad took the bus to work" or "we used to eat at this one Chinese restaurant every Sunday"? (I'm assuming he must have been a child if his *only* memories of the area are a park, a dollar theater, and living in a townhouse.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 AM on May 25, 2016

Here are some city directories from the 50s through early 60s. If he can find the park or theater, it shouldn't be too hard to figure it out from there using Google maps.
posted by jabes at 11:55 AM on May 25, 2016

Cinema Treasures has a list of theaters in Portland, open, closed or demolished. The list is crowd-sourced and not necessarily complete, but it may help you narrow down the possible locations.
posted by plastic_animals at 11:58 AM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Actually, thinking about the phone book thing a little more... If you can find an old copy of the white pages, you might be able to find his family's actual listing, which would give the address (assuming they didn't have an unlisted number).
posted by kevinbelt at 11:58 AM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

You may be able to find a newspaper from the time period at the library and look for theater listings.
posted by tman99 at 12:06 PM on May 25, 2016

Internet detectives are awesome, but you never know what little detail is gonna let those dominoes fall. Does he remember any other details? Even if you could get a better idea what quadrant, that'd narrow it down drastically. Does he have any photos of the place from around that time? Even from the park, or anywhere else in the neighborhood might have some clues.

Most of the larger parks haven't changed that much in their run; that might be an easier track to take. Any features or actual size My first guess would've been Tabor or Laurelhurst, but the sailors staying nearby might suggest somewhere in N/NE? Closer to the shipyards?

You'd also be surprised at how much awesome shit they know over at OHS. Might be worth a quick phone call, and they could help you narrow it down.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:09 PM on May 25, 2016

What about doing a Google or Zillow Street view of local parks? You can literally go up and down streets on Zillow Street view.
posted by Elsie at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2016

I have access to If you give me just a last name I can see if I find anything.
posted by ReluctantViking at 12:32 PM on May 25, 2016

I was thinking it was in N/NE, because he use to play at The White Eagle with a band called "Brahms Sugar", but he really cannot remember many details, which is proving this very difficult. He just remembers that he lived in these very small town houses that were like 100 sq. ft., and that the sailors would bunk there when they were in town, and that about 3 blocks from his place was a gigantic park where people would run their dogs, and that there was a dollar theater there. The white pages idea is really great. Would going to the Central Library be my best bet to find those?
posted by gucci mane at 12:37 PM on May 25, 2016

Call the main library switchboard ahead of time and ask which branch(es) would have copies. The Central Library is probably your best bet, but at least some branches might have them, and that could save you a trip.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:46 PM on May 25, 2016

I registered an account just to answer this question. Lived in Portland my whole life, but much after the 70's. Maybe you can read off some of these park names to your dad and he might recognize them? Many of the parks are over/approaching 100 years old. These old theaters have changed hands over the years and might have been called something else back then.

First thought was Laurelhurst Park and the Avalon Theater.
2nd - Mt Tabor and the Academy Theater.
3rd - Pier Park and St. John's theater
4th - Westmoreland Park and the Moreland Theater
5th - Rocky Butte and Roseway theater (kind of a stretch).

Hope that helps! Also, there has been a lot of change (demolition) of our housing stock in the last 10 years. I'd wager that there is a fair chance that a the type of housing your father is describing no longer stands.
posted by TomFoolery at 12:47 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

TomFoolery, I totally forgot about the Avalon, and he seems to think that that may be it. When I showed it to him on Google Maps he said it's the most probable place, so I'll drive him over there right now and find out!
posted by gucci mane at 12:55 PM on May 25, 2016

Another dollar theater/park combo might be the Laurelhurst Theater and the big field behind Da Vinci Middle School (which was Monroe High School in the early '70s) – not quite a public park, but popular for people to run their dogs around in to this day.
posted by lisa g at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a bit of a stretch again, but Grant Park / Hollywood Theater could also be a combo.

Good luck. If you're heading over to the Belmont area to see the Avalon, stop by the Horsebrass for lunch or a pint. Dads love that place.
posted by TomFoolery at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2016

I have a bunch of old photos of Portland movie theaters up at

Maybe one would look familiar?
posted by blueberry at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My first thought was NE 30th and Irving. My SIL lived in a single-story row-house at the edge of the park. It's near Laurelhurst Theater. One-bedroom apartment dating from probably the 1930s.
posted by amanda at 2:12 PM on May 25, 2016

The park that amanda is referring to is Oregon Park – and that is about six blocks from the Laurelhurst Theater.

Another possibility, further south, is the Aladdin Theater and Brooklyn Park. (The Aladdin is currently a music venue but was a movie theater in the '70s.)
posted by lisa g at 2:26 PM on May 25, 2016

Cinemagic on Hawthorne is pretty close to Col. Summers park too.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:59 PM on May 25, 2016

I have another suggestion that's worth trying: go to Central Library and talk to a reference librarian (in the main room to your left). They're much better staffed than OHS for this kind of question.

But my real suggestion is to browse old Oregonians (via database at any Multnomah County Library or online with your library card) for movie listings from that time period.

You could search rental listings, too. This could be great fun! Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:17 PM on May 25, 2016

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