When I first moved to Portland, this street was called SW Stark. It was fun because it reminded us of Game of Thrones, but I didn’t give it too much thought. A few months later, I heard that the street name was being changed to SW Harvey Milk. It’s one of my favorite places in the city because I have good memories of walking here to pick up Biketown bikes, riding down this street, down the green bike lane, all the way to the waterfront. Here’s some history on it.
SW Harvey Milk Street runs East right through the middle of downtown Portland. It was named after Benjamin Stark. He was a Freemason and one of Portland’s early speculators and pioneers. Stark was born in New Orleans, but he was educated in Maine and Connecticut and became a sailor and merchant. In 1864, he purchased a large plot of land from Asa Lovejoy (more to come on this person), but he remained a sailor and only visited the Portland area occasionally.
The 13-block stretch between Naito Parkway and Burnside has been an important spot for Portland’s LGBTQ community for a long time. Local activists had been advocating a name change for many years, pointing out that Stark was an unrepentant racist and advocate of slavery.
Mayor Ted Wheeler supported the name change. He was quoted as saying, “It sends a signal that we are an open and welcoming and inclusive community.”
Some locals supported the name change, but suggested honoring an important person from Portland instead of someone who famously lived and worked in California. In the end, the argument that Harvey Milk was ideal to represent this part of the city, carried the day.
Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials anywhere in the United States. He was assassinated in 1978 after an impactful career of activism.
For now, both signs are in place for the street. I assume the Stark signs will eventually be removed. It’s a great street in pretty pretty Portland.
Portland is a travel destination. People come for the scenery, the smiles, the doughnuts, and the drag queens.
Northwest Third Avenue