MHCC Instructor Compiles Book
on Portland’s Pearl District

Posted September 6, 2012  

If there were a trivia game about Portland’s Pearl District, Mt. Hood Community College’s (MHCC) Chris Gorsek would win, hands down.

The longtime geography and criminal justice instructor published a book on the subject this summer, “Portland’s Pearl District.” The book, distributed through Arcadia Publishing, details the astounding change in the Northwest Portland area from the mid-1800s through present day.

Gorsek, who has a Ph.D in Urban Studies, drew his inspiration for the volume from his childhood.

“Trains have always been an interest of mine, as has Union Station,” he says. By the time he entered college this interest had grown into a passion for landscape and its history.

Presented as a collection of photographs and captions, Gorsek’s book showcases the drastic shift from the domestic to the industrial in the Northwest at the turn of the century. The dramatic social and cultural change can also be seen in the black and white photographs. Most of the pictures came from the City of Portland Archives but Gorsek took others over his lifetime of living in Portland.

How the Area Gets its Name

“The Pearl is unique in that the area has undergone such a drastic shift in landscape in such a short period of time,” says Gorsek. In fact the area is named for this change, as the small art galleries, apartments and unique restaurants act as a pearl among the decayed urban parts of Portland, the oysters.

When Americans of European ancestry settled in Portland, simple homes were built and streets were constructed. As the population increased, so did the community, bringing more expansive streets, bridges and the picturesque Union Station, built in 1896.

By the middle of the 20th century, buildings in the Pearl were practically sprouting from the ground and urban areas were flourishing. Another change came after World War II ended, resulting in the area mainly being used for rail and industrial activities, then that too died down as the use of rail became less common.

It was only in the late 1980s that the Pearl became what we see today. Old warehouses have been refurbished into lofts and redevelopment has turned into what Gorsek calls a “tremendous renaissance.” Now the blocks between the Willamette River and NW 23rd street have been called the most successful urban development neighborhoods in the Pacific Northwest.

“Growing up looking at these monuments and places in Portland, then being able to write about them, it was fun,” Gorsek says of his experience. “It was like a dream come true.”

Gorsek often takes his students enrolled in Introduction to Cultural Geography on a walking tour of many sites mentioned in the book. For more information, or to register for classes, please visit

By Teresa Lane  

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 Last Modified: 10/8/2012 03:01:04 PM