The Vancouver Williams Neighborhood
Building on its reputation for bicycles, beers and brunch, the Williams District has evolved into a dynamic, must-see destination for locals and visitors alike. With its broad array of eateries, breweries, characters, shops and services, the district is a veritable composite of all the best Portland has to offer.
In the 1940s and ’50s, Williams Avenue was teeming with jazz clubs and speakeasies. Neighborhood lore maintains that monumental collaborations between the likes of Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Thelonious Monk – and Duke Ellington’s 54th birthday party – occurred in these establishments. Patrons would hop between joints like the Dude Ranch, McClendon’s Rhythm Room and The Chicken Coop to hear jam sessions that lasted into the early morning hours.
Our neighborhood has also housed some of Portland’s hardest workers. Over the years, countless commercial warehouses have populated these streets, filled with people who create and repair everything from plastics to lawnmowers. These skilled laborers inadvertently developed one of Portland’s first DIY communities, and established a culture that’s still alive and well in our neighborhood.
These days, the Williams District has what Sunset Magazine calls “a low-key urban vibe, courtesy of yoga studios and green indie shops and cafes.” It’s not unusual to see a stray chicken walking down Williams, having escaped from its urban coop. Or a dad pulling his kids down the street in a vintage Radio Flyer wagon. Or a group of bicyclists dressed in outrageous costumes for a good cause.
One thing’s for certain: the Williams District has a personality all its own. Visit our ever-evolving community and experience it for yourself!
To learn more about North Williams’ jazz history, read Michael McGregor’s piece from the Oregon History Project or “History of Jazz in Portland” on the PDX Jazz website. You can also view an OPB interview with Portland jazz greats, Sweet Baby James Benton, Cleve Williams, Bobbie Bradford and Mel Brown.