Portland's Sellwood neighborhood features a historic amusement park.
If Antiques Roadshow were a place rather than a TV program, it would be Sellwood—a neighborhood in southeast Portland where some two dozen antique stores stretch for several blocks along the main drag, 13th Avenue. A short distance away, the antiquing gauntlet revs up again at the area's other business district, Westmoreland. There, three big antique malls—each packed with dozens of knickknack-crammed booths—cluster near the corner of Bybee Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue.
But far more is happening in Sellwood than shopping. In this neighborhood of century-old homes and stores, you can go for a spin on the carousel at a historic amusement park, take a cooking class from a celebrity chef, and hike through a wildlife refuge.
Nonetheless, it's the antiquing that Sellwood is best known for—and rightly so. Collectors flock here to peruse the staggering assortment of merchandise crowding every display case and shopwindow. At Farmhouse Antiques, I pawed through 100-year-old quilts and boxes of vintage postcards showing scenes ranging from Crater Lake to Malta. At Sellwood Antique Mall, I had my pick of bobblehead Beatles and Bakelite bracelets. And at the Raven, I found gifts for the survivalist who has everything—including a late-19th-century British army officer's uniform like the one Michael Caine wore in Zulu.
Sellwood also spills over with an eclectic mix of small boutiques and specialty stores. Satin and Old Lace sells newly assembled Victorian lamp shades—plus everything you'd need to craft your own. The Columbia Sportswear Factory Outlet has wall-to-wall hiking shorts, fish-motif Hawaiian shirts, and other gear selling for 30 percent or more off the regular price. The Jealous Gardener stocks whimsical birdhouses built from salvaged materials.
Many folks get so caught up in the shopping that they pass right by Sellwood's other treasures. Cut off geographically from the rest of the city by the Willamette River to the west and McLoughlin Boulevard to the east, the teardrop-shaped Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood—as it is officially termed—differs radically in personality from Portland's trendier parts. Starting out as a separate municipality in the late 1800s, Sellwood has never lost its small-town identity. It's the sort of place where you could go days without seeing a nose ring, and where Lawrence Welk could still draw a crowd.
While other districts vie with one another to be the biggest and trendiest, Sellwood remains small and quirky. Sundaes in the Park, an annual ice cream social held in Sellwood Park, still ranks as one of the neighborhood's grandest civic events. Philadelphia's—a local eatery specializing in Philly cheese steaks—holds the title of Oregon's smallest licensed microbrewery, with about a dozen custom beers on tap. Gallery 7126, a combination art gallery and espresso bar, operates out of a still-active Moorish-style Masonic lodge. More Moor lies just up the street at the vintage Moreland Theatre, a first-run movie house that still sports its original 1920s-era Arabian Nights decor. And on Sunday nights, customers at the Ugly Mug Coffeehouse can simultaneously hear live music, sip an espresso, and get a back massage from an onsite masseuse.
Devoid of big hotels, high-rises, and nightclubs, Sellwood might seem like the last place gourmands from more upscale parts of town would swarm to, but the district is home to a surprisingly rich assortment of cutting-edge eateries. At Tartine, the affordable Francophile menu ranges from namesake tartines to duck à l'orange at dinner. At Papa Haydn, the offerings include wild mushroom lasagna, salmon pasta, and a dessert case thick with pies and multilayered cakes.
For a meal that's literally in a class by itself, stop by Caprial & John's Kitchen. Best known for their PBS cooking show and popular bistro, chefs Caprial and John Pence operate a cooking school that offers classes on everything from crepe making to cake decorating.
The area abounds with traditional diners as well—starting with Kay's, a smoky bar and grill with video poker machines and dark Naugahyde booths straight out of a Quentin Tarantino film. The menu features such down-home favorites as meat loaf and deep-dish apple pie. Bertie Lou's serves up omelettes and waffles in a Norman Rockwell-style café not much bigger than the average living room.
Work off your meal with a stroll or bike ride on the Springwater Corridor, a three-mile-long paved path that follows the Willamette River.
Between the path and the river, Oaks Park—one of the nation's oldest operating amusement parks—boasts the largest roller rink on the West Coast, with live pipe-organ music played on an enormous Wurlitzer. The park's midway bustles with toss-the-dart arcade games, concession stands, and thrill rides of every vintage—from a 1921 carousel to the spanking-new Scream 'N Eagle, a towering, talon-shaped contraption.
North of the amusement park, wild rides give way to wild animals at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. This 163-acre pocket of woods, open fields, and wetlands attracts some 125 types of birds, including blue herons, red-tailed hawks, and eight species of warblers.
The two-mile-long hiking trail that slices through this sanctuary feels so removed from urban clamor—and antique stores—that it's really hard to believe this can still be Sellwood.
Planning Your Trip
All phone numbers are area code 503 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Portland map. For more information, contact the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, (877) 678-5263, www.travelportland.com.
Things to see and do
Caprial & John's Kitchen, 1608 SE Bybee Blvd. Cooking lessons with hosts of the PBS show Cooking with Caprial & John. 233-4382, www.caprialandjohnskitchen.com.
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge Haven for bird-watchers. Portland Parks & Recreation, 823-2223, www.portlandparks.org.
Oaks Park Borders the east bank of the Willamette River, just north of the Sellwood Bridge. 233-5777, www.oakspark.com.
Springwater Corridor Three-mile-long multiuse path linking Sellwood to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and the Eastbank Esplanade. Portland Parks & Recreation, 823-2223, www.portlandparks.org.
13th Avenue Dozens of antique stores, shops, and restaurants stretching from Marion St. to Malden St.
Westmoreland District Three big antique malls plus boutiques, coffee shops, and the vintage Moreland Theatre near the intersection of Bybee Blvd. and Milwaukie Ave.
Bertie Lou's Cafe, 8051 SE 17th St. 239-1177.
Caprial's Bistro, 7015 SE Milwaukie Ave. Popular local eatery with an ever-changing menu. 236-6457, www.caprial.com.
Gino's Restaurant & Bar, 8051 SE 13th Ave. Traditional Italian dishes and the lengthiest Italian wine list in Portland. 233-4613.
Kay's, 6093 SE Milwaukie Ave. 232-4447.
Papa Haydn, 5829 SE Milwaukie Ave. 232-9440, papahaydn2.citysearch.com.
Philadelphia's Steaks & Hoagies, 6410 SE Milwaukie Ave. 239-8544.
Tartine, 1621 SE Bybee Blvd. 239-5796.
Ugly Mug Coffeehouse, 8017 SE 13th Ave. 230-2010.
Sellwood has no hotels or bed-and-breakfasts. The neighborhood is roughly 20 minutes by public transit from downtown Portland.
Photography by Susan E. Seubert
This article was first published in July 2003. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.