Where History Is Home
improved • benevolent • protective
“It is one of the most significant African American historic buildings in the Pacific Northwest,” said Cathy Galbraith, Director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, an architectural preservation advocacy group in Portland.
Designed by the Portland architectural firm of DeYoung and Roald, the structure was completed in 1926 as a project of the Portland YWCA. The building replaced a temporary structure that since 1921 had housed the YWCA’s first effort to reach out to Portland’s small African American community. During the 1920s, “membership reflected segregated housing in the city, with separate clubs for African-American, Japanese, Chinese, and native/foreign-born white girls.” People referred to it as the “Williams Avenue branch” or the “Colored YWCA.”
Facilities included a gymnasium, auditorium, stage, lounge, and locker rooms for both boys and girls. Activities for both sexes were programmed in coordination with African American church congregations in the neighborhood.
In 1942, the YWCA allowed the building to be used by the United Service Organizations (USO) as a music and recreation site for minority soldiers in Portland. It was returned to YWCA use in 1947. Following the Vanport flood in 1948, which wiped out housing for many African Americans who come to Portland during the war, the building served as a Red Cross emergency center and clearinghouse where relatives separated by the flood could be reunited with their families.