Pedestrians wait for the Montavilla streetcar on a sidewalk at the northwest corner of SE Stark Street and SE 80th Avenue sometime between 1910 and 1915.

Photo courtesy of Heyward Stewart

A portion of Montavilla’s history lies, literally, beneath our feet. The sidewalks of Montavilla record a part of the story of this Portland suburb’s gradual transformation from a cluster of subdivisions into a modern urban neighborhood.

From farmland to subdivisions, 1889 – 1892

Mount Tabor Villa Addition was the first subdivision in what is now Montavilla to be platted. Lots went up for sale in 1889. By 1892, a few more subdivisions had been added, creating a little community that soon began calling itself Montavilla, a contraction of the first subdivision’s name. For more on how Montavilla got its name, see my previous Montavilla Memories story

In these early years, the budding Montavilla community was smaller than today. The earliest subdivisions lay more or less between the current north-south boundaries of the Montavilla neighborhood but they did not go beyond today’s 82nd Avenue. Within these boundaries there were still pockets of unplatted land; it took a couple of decades to fill in the area we know as the Montavilla neighborhood today.

By 1892, most of the 150 or so families lived near Base Line Road (SE Stark Street), according to the Oregonian of January 30, 1892.

Newspaper reports indicate that the new community’s first priorities were a town hall, a local water supply, and a neighborhood school. By 1892, all of these goals had been accomplished by this energetic little community.

Sidewalks may not be nearly as glamorous as public buildings or as essential as water, but they must have also been an early priority in Montavilla. After all, dirt, or even graveled, streets offered pedestrians little protection from mud, dust, and vehicular traffic. 

Just imagine Montavilla ladies trying to keep their long dresses clean. Sidewalks offered a solution.

In the 1890s women’s dresses were expected to cover their ankles.

Source: Godey’s Magazine, May 1894

Montavilla’s earliest sidewalks

After the economic Panic of 1893, the Montavilla population was growing faster and the community needed what most American cities had by the late 19th Century: sidewalks.

This is a reasonable inference, but there’s concrete evidence for when Montavilla’s first sidewalks were built. However, a proposal for a sidewalk from the Montavilla streetcar line on Villa Avenue (NE Glisan Street) to Base Line Road (SE Stark Street) shows that sidewalks were, at least, on some people’s minds.


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This is the earliest mention of a Montavilla sidewalk I uncovered in my research. I found no follow-up article confirming it was built.

Source: “Mount Tabor Villa Notes,” Oregonian, December 3, 1895.

However, some sidewalks were definitely built in those early years. In 1902, Montavilla’s mail carrier, John Jensma(1866 – 1940), complained that Montavilla needed more sidewalks. When he did his rounds in wet weather, he couldn’t keep mud out of his boots.


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“Carrier Wants Sidewalks,” Oregon Journal, December 11, 1902

The earliest sidewalks in Montavilla, as in Portland, were probably constructed of wood, which abounded in the Portland area. Making these was fairly simple: just nail planks to sleeper boards that lift the sidewalks above the street.

This detail of a 1913 photo of businesses on the south side of SE Stark Street shows how the use of wood sidewalks persisted. As we’ll see, Montavilla already had some concrete sidewalks by this time.

Photo courtesy of Lew Scholl

Planked sidewalks existed in Montavilla well into the 20th Century. Even after Montavilla was annexed to Portland, the city engineer specified wooden sidewalks for Hibbard Street (80th Avenue) rather than concrete which was becoming more common in Portland proper.

Some Hibbard Street property owners were relieved that wood, rather than the more expensive concrete, would be used. It meant a lower assessment. Others would have preferred the more durable concrete.

Still, the two new plank sidewalks were an improvement over the single gravel pathway they replaced. Besides improving the Hibbard thoroughfare between Montavilla’s two main commercial streets— SE Stark and NE Glisan— they were a boon to passengers getting on and off the streetcar that had been began running along Hibbard since 1900.

Concrete sidewalks and how to read them

In 1915, the City replaced the Hibbard Street planked sidewalks with concrete ones. But these were not the earliest concrete sidewalks in Montavilla. They go back to at least 1907.

If you walk down the sidewalks on either side of 80th Avenue between Glisan and Stark Streets, you can see sections of concrete sidewalk stamped “City of Portland / 1915,” indicating they were installed by City employees in that year.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

As concrete became less expensive and more available, it gradually replaced wood, gravel, etc. as the best material for sidewalks. While it was more expensive, it was more durable than wood, which had a tendency to rot.

The first evidence of concrete sidewalks in Montavilla I’ve found dates from 1907. In that year, an article in a local newspaper, The Beaver State Herald, and a contractor’s sidewalk stamp show that concrete sidewalks were being constructed along Misner Street (now 78th Avenue).


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New concrete sidewalks on Misner Street.

Source: Beaver State Herald., October 18, 1907

Sidewalk imprint on NE 78th Avenue south of NE Glisan Street identifying construction by contractors Vinton and Vanzandt on November 3, 1907. Sidewalk contractors created these by pressing single brass letters and number or other tools into setting concrete. 

Photo by Thomas Tilton

When part of the above-mentioned sidewalk by Vinton and Vanzandt was replaced, the new contractor impressed the earlier date and contractor, as required by the City of Portland.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

New contractors also sometimes imprint the original sidewalk date and the date of its replacement. This example is on the southwest corner of NE 80th Avenue and NE Everett Street.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

Sometimes street names were misspelled by the original builders. New sidewalks, retain misspelled names, as part of the sidewalk’s history.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

A couple of Montavilla contractors got into the sidewalk building bonanza: the Herman brothers— Eldon (1883 – 1943), Vernal (1887 – 1955), and Lloyd (1888 – 1971)— and George Kyle Howitt (1876 – 1945).

This sidewalk on the west side of NE 79th Avenue, just south of NE Everett Street, was constructed by the Herman Brothers in 1910.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

Stamp of contractor G. K. Howitt 1911 at the corner of SE Alder Street and SE 71st Avenue on Mount Tabor.

Photo by Patricia Sanders

Concrete sidewalks at corners are rounded to allow more space for vehicles to turn. This one at NE 78th Avenue and NE Everett Street by the Pacific Coast Construction Company has the old metal curb guards which protected the curbs from vehicle wheels.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

Many sidewalks and curbs have been retrofitted with ramps to conform to American Disability Act requirements for wheelchair access. Newer retrofits have detectable yellow warning mats that signal the lower end of the ramp.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

The type of sidewalk seen here is typical of many in Montavilla. Here, tree roots have lifted part of a single cast section, giving a glimpse of how it was constructed. Each section was scored while still damp, into four three-foot sections. This particular sidewalk is only 1” thick, but other Montavilla sidewalks are thicker.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

Another thing to look for as you explore Montavilla’s sidewalks are benchmarks like this one at the corner of NE 78th Avenue and NE Glisan Street. Portlandmaps has a feature allowing you to locate the ones nearest you.

Photo by Thomas Tilton

Over the years, more and more concrete sidewalks were constructed in Montavilla until the vast majority— but not all— streets have them, as the 2009 map detail below shows. 

This detail of a 2009 map of the Portland sidewalk system shows the location of Montavilla sidewalks. Areas annexed late to Portland from Multnomah County, located east of 82nd Avenue (center vertical line) and I-205 (thick line on the right) have several streets without sidewalks. Some of the large open areas on the map are parks or schools.

Source: City of Portland

I hope this brief introduction to the history of Montavilla’s sidewalks encourages you to experience your treks around the neighborhood in a different way.

There are many more examples for you to find. If you find something you find interesting, please share it in the comment section.



Beck, Dana, “History: Stories told by the sidewalks and streets of Southeast,” The Bee, July 31, 2021 

“A Brief Historic Context for Oregon Sidewalks”

Nicholas Blomley, Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public flow, 2010 (Multnomah County Library online ebook)

Christopher A. Gossett, Portland’s Historic Sidewalk Signatures, Portland, Sagittarius Press, 1982. Illustrations of rubbings of sidewalk stamps from around Portland with a one-page introduction.

Harris Environmental Group, “Inventory of Historic Sidewalk Feature, Newberg, Oregon” (draft), 2020

Richard White blog, “Portland: The Sidewalk Stamp Capital of North America?,” May 9, 2020


Historical story ideas? Questions about Montavilla’s past? Also share a love for neighborhood history? 

Comment on the article at the link in the heading. Or you can reach out to Pat Sanders at

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