When four corners are really five

Woodburn book cover

Portland’s Woodlawn neighborhood has transformed from a small autonomous city at the end of the streetcar line to a large, firmly middle-class district of mostly midsized post–World War II homes and a few notable Victorian gingerbread-trimmed houses— former farmhouses that once sat on muddy streets. — Anjala Ehelebe

By Andrea Cano

It’s been about 15 years ago since I stumbled upon this neighborhood with my friend, Susan, who was guiding me with her real estate acumen to my first home ever.  I ended up buying a four-bedroom, two-bath on Winona Street, catty corner from Woodlawn Park.

[OK, I had to stop here and look up the origins of catty or kitty corner.  According to the on-line Grammarist – Middle English catre-corner, literally meaning four-cornered … meaning positioned diagonally across a four-way intersection. Sounds French to me. I’ll come back to this later in this story.]

My neighbor, Ms. Ruby, who survived the Vanport flood, lived in the big multilevel yellow house on the corner.  She greeted me my first week with a plate of freshly baked cookies. I would meet her just a few months before her husband passed away, leaving her the widowed matriarch of a large African-American family. Over the years, she would show me pictures of her now grown children and grandchildren, the trips to Hawaii, graduations, and marriages.  She would tell me about the neighborhood ‘comings and goings’, and would let me know when my tuxedo cat, Sebastian Banderas, had spent a long afternoon lingering on her porch.

[Oh, Sebastian, whom I was lucky to have as a kitty in 2001 and lost in 2009. We were so close that my landline message said:  Ha llamado a la casa de Andrea Cano y Sebastian Banderas… Mercy, folks not in the know would ask if he was related to Antonio. After a while, Sebastian even started to get junk mail in his name.]

I met other neighbors at the meetings of the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association (WNA), one of the city’s 90-plus such groupings coordinated by the Office of Neighborhood Involvement at City Hall.  Some were the longest-living residents, others were families with new babies, or single young adults still in college. But we were all guided with a similar mission for Woodlawn Neighborhood — a community where we lived peacefully and securely, our local businesses flourished, and a lovely park was maintained to enjoy year-round.

WNA had committees and work groups that reported at each meeting – from the Foot Patrols to the Land Use proposals. Even the local Portland Police precinct sent a representative to offer crime and safety updates.  We were intent on developing Woodlawn, accessed by two major bus lines (8 and 75) and the main street of Dekum — not as a “destination” such as the Pearl or Alberta Street, but a truly livable place.  We didn’t want high rises or multifamily dwellings. We just needed a good, local coffee shop, maybe a small grocery store, and a restaurant or two.

I would imagine that people new to the neighborhood would get a little confused once they drove off Dekum, especially going south. The crisscrossing of angled streets. Streets that led to dead ends. The two-story house on a little triangle patch of land on Bellevue near 13th.  But that’s part of the charm of a neighborhood that began as its own city sometime ago.

As I mentioned earlier, the catre-corner on 9th and Winona where I lived not only offered a view of the park, but also the occasional near misses, or near accidents, of automobiles and pedestrians on the multiple intersections within yards of each other.

The speeding cars. The no-stopping cars. The screeching brakes. The frequent gathering of neighbors to see what had happened or nearly happened. Ms. Ruby and I were concerned.  It was enough to prompt a call to the city’s transportation and safety department. That must have been around 2004 or 2005.

While I had not documented each incident, I explained to the city staffer the risks and dangers to moms with their babies in strollers, the couples walking their dogs, the senior adults stepping off curbs to gingerly cross the streets.  I encouraged the staffer not to take my word, but to come out and test and evaluate the catre-corner. She said they would.

We’re not sure how the assessment was done, outside of the cables laid on the streets, but within a month or so, there were four stops signs in place!  Ms. Ruby and I were delighted how quickly “City Hall” responded.

Woodlawn stop signs

Woodlawn’s quirky angled streets remind residents of a time when the streetcar depot was a major feature of the city. — Anjala Ehelebe

Ms. Ruby is gone now. Her daughter, Denise, and husband, Fred, now host the family gatherings with lots of youth and children filling the front yard as aunties and uncles enjoy the shaded porch of that big yellow house. The stop signs are still there; however; Fred says he still hears a few brakes screeching and see lots of people rolling through the stops signs.  Hmmm, maybe some intersection cameras now?

My son, Michael, and his wife, Chida, now live in my Winona house and I am a few blocks away. We remain hopeful that the Woodlawn neighborhood will continue to be a peaceful and secure place to live –  where we can continue to stop in for a slice at Good Neighbor Pizza, coffee and a scone at the Woodlawn bakery, Mexican food at Tamale Boy, a delicious dessert at Bassotto Gelato, a carton of milk at the P&Q Market, garden starters and chicks at the Dekum garden shop, meditate on the full moon at the Zen Buddhist Temple, and support non-profit organizations at the Public House.

As importantly, to be able to leave our cars behind and safely walk the tree-shaded streets with family, friends and pets, greet our new neighbors, and enjoy the wonderful, evolving community of which we are a part.



Andrea Cano

At a time when most people are retiring, Andrea Cano continues to serve the community as a clinical chaplain for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital,  manager or facilitator for special projects under the auspices of Oregon Solutions, Oregon Humanities, and LACE (Latina Associates for Collaborative Endeavors) while “creatively embracing my crone y doña status, and greying in place.”

Editor’s note: Andrea is yet another multi-talented person I’ve met through my work. A former journalist herself, Andrea headed the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs for several years; has a long track record of community service; and a passion for growing and cooking food.  Read her 2011 post: “What spreads, spreads…”

Tomorrow: Brian McCay, All you need is

6 thoughts on “When four corners are really five

  1. Your neighborhood sounds lovely and it’s even more wonderful that you have generational continuity with your son living in your former home – so rare these days. I wish I had a Zen temple close by where I could meditate on a full moon 🙂
    And thanks for introducing me to a new term – katty corner – makes sense from the French word quatre.

  2. You learn something new every day. I didn’t know much about that section of Portland, but it sounds like a very nice neighborhood. And “catre” corner. Yes, from the picture it’s quite the hazard. Even with stop signs it looks like trouble. So sorry you lost Sebastian. It’s so hard to find a tuxedo that fits.

  3. You have such a subtle way of bringing humor into your writing, Andrea. I love that about reading your words. Thanks for sharing your neighborhood with us, and, as always, your kind heart. That, along with your humor, is always visible.

  4. Andrea you have such a lovely way with words, both written and spoken. I am so happy that you ended up here and it worked out so well for you. Nice to hear about Michael. Love you!

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