Historic Lents, Oregon

The town of Lents was platted in 1892

The official town of Lent, Oregon was platted and registered with the county recorder on August 17, 1892 by George P. Lent, an attorney at law and the eldest son of Oliver P. and Martha A. Lent. The town came to be known as Lents (with the added “s”) by people commonly referring to it as “going to Lent’s”. There was a sense of independent spirit and pride of community among the people and the burgeoning town would soon provide all the amenities the residents dreamed of.

Lents Main St looking north from Woodstock – 1890

At this time the sole retailer was the I.F. Coffman General Store (northeast corner of present day 92nd and Foster Rd) which hosted the post office. A mail route had been established and a carrier delivered letters and newspapers to about 250 homes daily covering about 14 square miles.

The schoolhouse was a 2 story building that had about 50 students and doubled as a church on Sundays. Main St (92nd Ave) hadn’t been cut through to the north of Foster Rd yet, and the school sat directly in the middle of what would become main street headed north. A cemetery had been established at present day 82nd and Holgate, today called Multnomah Park Cemetery. Only two months prior, the interurban railway out of Portland had been extended from Hawthorne Blvd to Lents and began operation with a grand opening ceremony at the new terminus station at (present day) SE 102nd Ave and Foster Rd.

By 1905…

By 1905, the Lents business district had expanded exponentially to include grocery, bakery, furniture, clothing, and hardware shops, real estate offices, a drug store, barber, and even a roller rink, and was the central market for farmers in the surrounding areas. There were no taverns or liquor stores as the town was united in a no-alcohol sales policy. The local newspaper, The Oregon Grape printed its 1st edition, and there was a public library and reading room which was operated by subscriptions and donations. The interurban railway out of Sellwood now met with the Mt. Scott line from Lents Junction and extended all the way out to Cazadero Dam near Estacada.

Main St Lents Looking South from Foster (postcard) – 1907

A few years earlier in 1902, a fire swept through town and destroyed the schoolhouse which had already exceeded capacity, so by the following year, a new 10 room school house had been erected at the southeast corner of (present day) 92nd and Harold St.

Lents School #4, 1903-1910 (postcard)

By 1912….

The population continued to increase and by 1912 had reached about 10,000. The Beaver State Herald, which relocated to Lents 1911 (previously published as a Montavilla/Gresham paper), reported that Lents was “…the largest unincorporated town or suburb in the United States”.

Lents offered a good supply of water, electric light and power, and a local telephone system. The Mt Scott interurban, a 2-car train, stopped in town every 12 minutes to take people into Portland. The volunteer fire department had purchased a hand pulled chemical engine with money from a series of fundraisers. A wireless telegraphy station had been installed ½ mile from the town center that was capable of receiving messages from San Francisco.

Lents Main St looking north from the water tower (postcard) – 1908

There were churches of nearly every denomination, several business, fraternal, athletic, and orchestral organizations, and a town band. The Post Office had relocated from the general store to its first dedicated building which had electric lights and steam heat and with the distinction of being the only structure in town with a cement floor. 

The student population had again outgrown the school and now a newly constructed 22-room Lents School was built at the same location as the previous building. It cost $100,000 and was considered one of the largest and best schools in Oregon. A group of mothers had formed a club to initiate the establishment of a park, which, through the work of volunteers, would eventually become the first section of Lents Park.

Lent schoolhouse #5 – southeast corner 92nd Av and Harold St – c. 1912

The thriving business district had grown to include a restaurant, cafe, confectionery, ice cream shop, two banks, two theaters, a jeweler, a tailor, shoe repair, multiple pharmacies, medical doctors, grocers, meat markets, hardware stores, and welding and sheet metal fabrication shops. Many of the previous wooden buildings were being replaced by masonry buildings.  There were at least half a dozen Lents postcards for sale in the markets showing photos of a prosperous town center.

Lents Main St looking south from Foster Rd (postcard) – 1910

Annexation into Portland

Up until this time, Lents had been maintained entirely through the hard work and tenacity of the townspeople. But with a population exceeding 10,000 and without an official governing body, many felt that annexation into Portland was what was needed to get necessary improvements such as paved roads and sidewalks, better street lights, fire and police protection, and a public park. So after a petition was circulated the town voted, by a narrow margin, for annexation on November 5, 1912, and was officially annexed on July 1, 1913. 

Lents 4th of July Parade – 92nd Ave south of Woodstock looking north – 1913

In the decades that followed, though infrastructure and utility improvements were slow to materialize, Lents would continue to thrive and grow and there was still a strong sense of solidarity. In June of 1914, Lents Park was officially opened as a Portland park. The Mothers Club who had been working on the establishment of the park had asked the county to donate the property to Portland and make it part of the city park system. The Mult. Co. Commissioners agreed that as long as the land was used for a public park, they would deed it to Portland. Also in June, the Lents Masonic Lodge was granted its charter and were stationed in the I.O.O.F. Hall. The following year, with increasing patronage, a new library building opened at 5827 SE 91st Ave.

Lents I.O.O.F. Hall – southeast corner 92nd and Raymond St – 1922

In 1919, the volunteer fire department, being displaced from their headquarters due to the sale of the building, approached the city for a new structure to store their engine and gear. The city commissioners agreed to fund the building if the Lents firemen would provide the lot and so the new building was built at 9223 58th Ave (present day Ramona st). Auto mechanic Axel Kildahl who owned and ran Lents Garage opened a showroom to sell Dort automobiles from Flint, Michigan. That same year, 92nd Ave was paved with asphalt and a year later the wooden sidewalks, which by this time were in poor repair, were finally upgraded to cement.

Lents Garage – 8901 SE Foster Rd – c. 1920

The city had yet to provide police protection so in 1922 Lents residents decided to hire an officer to police the area. In 1924, the Southeast Portland Lumber Company (which changed its name to Dwyer Lumber Company in 1947) was built on the site of the former Johnson sawmill on Johnson Creek at 100th Ave. It became a major employer in the region. In 1928 Lents finally got an official Fire Station at 5707 92nd Ave (present location) and professional staff.

Al Manache Groceries – 5838 SE 92nd Ave Lents – 1930

In 1931 Safeway opened a new store at the southeast corner of 92nd Ave and Foster Rd, and remained until 1941 when it moved a couple of blocks to the west to the corner of 90th Ave and Foster Rd. Also of note in 1941, Woody Guthrie and his family lived temporarily in an apartment in Lents (in the building that at one time housed the original Lents Library and Reading Room) while he wrote The Columbia River Songs by commission for the US Department of the Interior. 

92nd Ave Lents looking south to Foster Rd – Safeway on left – c. 1940

A Goodwill Industries store arrived in 1943 at 9130 SE Woodstock Blvd and in 1947 the Powell’s Boys Club, later known as Lents Boys and Girls Club and currently known as Wattles Boys & Girls Club, opened its doors at 9330 SE Harold St.

The Mayor of Portland is from Lents

In 1941, Lents resident and son of Lents Pharmacy owner, Fred Peterson became a commissioner for the City of Portland and served three terms until 1953 at which time he was elected as Mayor of Portland serving until 1956. During his tenure in city office, the city added an additional 32 acres to Lents Park by purchasing over a dozen of the surrounding neighborhood blocks from private property owners. In 1953, a central plan was prepared, proposing locations for a baseball stadium, athletic playing fields, tennis courts, community structures, pathways, and parking areas. Construction on the stadium began in 1956. 

Mayor Fred Peterson with Ed Sullivan
Oliver P. Lent School – 5105 SE 97th Ave – 1950

Also during Peterson’s time in office, a new Oliver P. Lent School building was opened in 1950 at 5105 SE 97th Ave and two years later Clinton Kelly Elementary school was opened at 9030 SE Cooper St. Later, in 1960 John Marshall High School opened off 92nd Ave south of Powell Blvd.

Through the 50s and 60s, the Lents district would continue to offer the locals much of their daily needs but the vitality had greatly declined with the sharp increase in commercial competition from 82nd Ave.

Lents Post Office and Staff – 5923 92nd Ave – 1957

Starting in the early 1970s and for the following four decades, the most prominent business in the Lents town center was the New Copper Penny which, expanding during the ‘70s and ‘80s, came to include a variety of establishments occupying the entire 92nd block between Foster Rd and Woodstock Blvd. Owned and established by Greek immigrant Theodosios “Saki” Tzantarmas, the block included a restaurant, night club, betting facility, and banquet hall. The giant neon sign depicting a penny with the profile of Abraham Lincoln was an iconic image known city-wide and by anyone passing by on the I-205 freeway.