In honor of the Chinese New Year, Portland Family is heading to Portland’s Old Town Chinatown neighborhood this month. Like the name suggests, Old Town Chinatown was originally two neighborhoods, the Skidmore District and Japantown New Chinatown District —both on the registry of historic places.
Now known as Old Town Chinatown, the neighborhood is bordered by the Pearl District, downtown and the Willamette River. Over the past twenty years the neighborhood has been rejuvenated with a crop of boutiques, restaurants and cultural centers, like the Lan Su Chinese Gardens, Portland’s famed Saturday Market and the new historic medallion walk on 3rd and 4th avenues.
The Skidmore Historic District was the original center of downtown Portland. Today it features many historical buildings as well as Ankeny Square and the Skidmore Fountain. Built in 1888 and claimed to be the oldest piece of public art in the city, the fountain was named after Stephen Skidmore (and partially funded by his estate), a city councilman and druggist. Originally, the fountain was intended as a watering hole with different pools designated for people, dogs and horses. For two decades tin community drinking cups were attached to rings near the lower pools.
What used to be a bustling Chinatown, second in population only to San Francisco’s in 1900, is now more of a cultural center, since it is estimated that today the SE 82nd area is home to more Chinese residents and businesses than Chinatown. In 1986 a 38-foot gate was raised to mark the entrance to historic Chinatown at NW 4th Avenue and W Burnside — at the time it was the largest of its kind. Chinatown includes important cultural centers like the Lan Su Chinese Gardens, an entire block of Suzhou-style gardens; the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a Japanese American History Museum; and the Shanghai Tunnels, or Portland Underground, a series of underground tunnels that channel through the historic Old Town Chinatown neighborhoods to the Willamette River waterfront, once a bustling West Coast port.
With so much to do and see, plan to spend a day (or two), exploring this eclectic historic neighborhood.
- Ring in the year of the Golden Dragon at Lan Su Chinese Gardens. From January 23rd through February 6th, celebrate the year of the Golden Dragon with a variety of family activities, including lion and dragon dances each weekend day, martial arts demonstrations, live music and dance performances from local dance troupes. On February 5th and 6th, buy tickets in advance for the breathtaking lantern viewing and dragon procession. For a complete list of activities, visit http://www.lansugarden.org.
- Take the family urban hiking on First Sundays. Explore Old Town Chinatown on foot, or via pedicab, on a self-guided tour. Follow the bronze medallions embedded in 3rd and 4th avenues to learn about the history of the people and the places of Old Town Chinatown. See http://www.oldtownchinatown.net for a printable map of the tour and a complete list of activities offered on First Sundays.
- Grab some coin and head to Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade. This arcade boasts over 90 of the classic arcade favorites in a vintage style gameroom. Additionally, Ground Kontrol also has the largest public pinball gameroom in the Pacific Northwest. Visit groundkontrol.com for more information and list of arcade games. Note: 21 and over after 5 pm.
- Indulge in a maple bacon bar at VooDoo Doughnut. After an afternoon of urban hiking, dragon dancing and arcade games, refuel with a sweet confection. Voodoo Doughnut is a special place and if you live in Portland and like doughnuts, but haven’t been there, then you need to go and indulge yourself — and your children. Note: cash only.
- Go underground. Portland Walking Tours will take you on a two-hour trek — with flashlights — through Portland’s underbelly. Learn about Portland’s sinister past when it was a bustling port city. Contact Portland Walking Tours at portlandwalkingtours.com for times and ticket information. This activity may not be suitable for young children and toddlers.