Jazz from the Past

Historic neighborhood flickers between the bricks

Blended into the façade of Innovative Housing’s newest housing complex are literal lenses to Portland’s African American history. Between the bricks at The Magnolia, 3250 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., are four iPod Touch units that run continuous loops of historical photos mixed with recent footage.

Deemed the “Jumptown Video Wall” the name comes in tribute to trumpeter and swing-band leader Harry James’ song “Jump Town.”


"Jump Town" by Harry James

The initiator and installer of this wall, Pamela Chipman says she looked to pay tribute to the Eliot neighborhood’s “golden years” which she refers to as 1941-1957 when jazz and a vibrant black community was nearly inescapable.

“I wanted to pay tribute to what was lost from this neighborhood. All the music, the jazz,” she says.

Innovative Housing contacted Chipman before construction of the affordable housing complex when the non-profit organization was planning an art installation as part of The Magnolia’s design. A northeast resident since her arrival in town some 20 years ago, the freelance artist jumped at the opportunity to tell some of the neighborhood’s history.

The never-ending slideshow displays black-and-white photographs from the 1940’s and 50’s, mixed with 15-minute videos she captured from the neighborhood’s present-day environment of people biking, driving, playing tennis, playing saxophone — fittingly, and other everyday scenes from the ever-changing community.

Completed on a contract of less than $10,000, Chipman says she particularly wanted to highlight the black life that existed and continues to exist in the area, something she says “embodies the soul of northeast Portland”

As the once-booming neighborhood hub of African-American business and culture continues to see rapid changes, highlighted by a bundle of new construction projects, Chipman hopes she can help bring similar art ventures to the neighborhood that acknowledge its history.

Photos from the project can be found by clicking here.

--Donovan M. Smith