The Montavilla Streetcar Line

By PATRICIA SANDERS

Do you remember riding the old Portland trolleys? This electrified streetcar network once provided an easy way to get from home to work, to school, to shopping, to amusement parks, etc., and so made it possible to live further away from the city center. It is a major reason the Montavilla neighborhood developed so rapidly, especially in the early 20th Century, the heyday of Portland’s trolleys.

The Montavilla streetcar line opened as the Fairview branch of the City & Suburban Railway on July 26, 1892.  That day, The Morning Oregonian reported, C&S stockholders would ride the new four-mile line and then it would be available to the public. The route then went from SE Grand on SE Ankeny Street, turning north at SE 28th Avenue, and continuing east on NE Glisan Street to end at NE 82nd Avenue. The fare then was 5 cents for those who had contributed to the rail’s construction, 10 cents for everyone else.

Men posing with streetcar 595, Montavilla Line; City of Portland Archives A2011-007.25

The Fairview branch was soon renamed the “Montavilla” line, a contraction of the name of the housing tract at the line’s terminus, Mount Tabor Villa Addition. Service to Mount Tabor Villa and other nearby additions increased in 1900 when a single-rail spur was added on 80th Avenue between Glisan and Stark Streets, running along the eastern boundary of Mount Tabor Villa.

Real estate developers, of course, understood how streetcars could attract home-buyers to land several miles from downtown. In fact, H. C. Campbell, the man who put Mount Tabor Villa on the market in 1889, was also the general manager of the C&S Railway. (Incidentally, I learned just last week from the City of Portland Environmental Services that the old tracks are still beneath the asphalt on 80th Avenue. If you look closely you can trace their location in the street’s slight depression.)

The Montavilla line was also a boon to local entrepreneurs. The 80th Avenue (then Hibbard Street) spur ended at Montavilla’s main commercial street next to where Dickson’s Drug Store (now the Country Cat Dinner House) opened in 1910.

Further north on 80th businesses also popped up, taking advantage of this convenient transit. An example is the Gable Funeral Parlor built in 1927 at 80th and NE Everett Street (now the Rose City Nazarene Church), which The Montavilla Times of May 5, 1927 described as centrally located on streetcar service.

Businesses also opened along the Glisan section of the Montavilla line. Some of these old buildings are still in use today, such as the East Glisan Pizza building, which opened as a butcher shop in 1911. Located where the trolley turned south onto 80th, it was Samson the Grocer in the 1920s.

In 1911 the double-tracks on Glisan were extended to NE 90th Avenue, meeting up with the Montavilla Station, a terminal on the Mt Hood and Troutdale electric interurban lines. This gave Montavilla passengers and business owners an even wider range of travel and shipment options and allowed new tracts to be developed beyond NE 82nd Avenue.

The convenience and joys of riding the trolley, however, also came with risks. Accidents, although rare, did happen.

Take the one that occurred on a snowy Monday morning in 1905. The evening of the accident, February 6, The Oregon Daily Journal described it in vivid detail. Sixty-six passengers had boarded Montavilla car No. 107 on their way to work. Some were alarmed when the car headed down the steep decline on Glisan, a few blocks from SE 28th Avenue, at an unusually high speed. One passenger recalled later that Motorman H. W. Johnson said he was 12 minutes behind schedule and needed to make up time. Around 7:30 am, as the car started to make the sharp 28th Avenue turn, it suddenly leapt into the air and landed on its side, throwing passengers together in a tangled heap.

The Oregon Daily reporter gave all the gory details, but I’ll spare you those and simply say that 31 passengers were badly injured and one young man was killed. Fortunately, cries for help and the loud sounds of the crashing streetcar quickly brought neighbors to assist. Rescue workers and railway officials quickly arrived, the wrecked car was taken away by 10 am, and service soon resumed.

The Montavilla line continued in service until 1948.

If you have memories of riding the streetcar lines that served Montavilla, please feel free to share them below. You can also send information about Montavilla history to pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here


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