Ladd Circle Park, which doubles as a large traffic circle at the intersection of SE 16th Avenue and SE Harrison Street in the center of the Ladd’s Addition residential district. Ladd Circle is one of five rose gardens in Ladd’s Addition.

Photo credit: Lani Vandehey

The unique neighborhood of Ladd’s Addition has captivated the curiosity of many a Portland pedestrian since it was founded in 1891. Shortly after East Portland merged with the City of Portland, former mayor of Portland William Sargeant Ladd subdivided his 126 acre farm, creating what is now Portland’s oldest planned residential development. Inspired by neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., Ladd commissioned Portland’s first Director of Parks, Emanuel Mische, to draft a plan that would transform his land into a sophisticated housing district with rose gardens as the centerpieces to bring together the wagon wheel shaped grid. Although Ladd did not live to see the completion of the first house in 1903, his vision for the area is visible even today.

Ladd’s Addition is a popular spot for sightseeing walks any time of the day. Filled mostly with houses, the neighborhood boasts perfectly trimmed yards, clean houses whose styles blend perfectly, and an appetizing blend of trees arching over the wide back streets and narrow alleyways. “When I was little, my dad and I would go and walk around… It’s like my childhood,” recalls Hayden Staudenmaier (11). Coupled with the five carefully upkept rose test gardens, the scenery creates a soothing aura of peace, consistency, and control that sets even the most rambunctious traveler at ease.

While wandering through the elegant streets of Ladd’s Addition, information about the neighborhood’s history can be found in the form of signs that are posted around the area. Much of the founding story is regarded as common knowledge among residents. William Sargeant Ladd migrated to Portland from his home state of Vermont in 1851, and quickly accrued popularity as a liquor seller. In 1854 he was elected mayor. When planning Ladd’s Addition, Ladd named nearly all of the streets after plants, such as Lavender Street. He broke this pattern by naming one street after himself, and one after his wife, whose given last name was Elliot. William Ladd was known in his time as one of the wealthiest men in Portland, and a pattern of residents who are in quite comfortable financial situations emerged. Most of the neighborhood’s population was made up of Italian immigrants who came to Portland to work on the railroads and later moved to Ladd’s Addition and built houses. Asians were not permitted to live there unless they were working as servants to someone of more “desirable” descent. When it was first developed, Ladd’s Addition was one of the only areas in Portland with paved roads and alleys.

In present day, most of the people living in Ladd’s Addition are homeowners. Many people inherited houses from their parents. The cost of living for renters in this tight-knit neighborhood has increased enough to drive away many residents. Artists like Paul Schaefer (manager of Palio’s Dessert and Espresso) are drawn to Ladd’s Addition because they see it as a hub for art and creative expression. However, an artist’s income is often inadequate to pay rent for a home in the widely desired maze of diagonally arranged streets and countless alleys with private access to garages and backyards. Schaefer enjoys being integrated within the community, but can no longer afford to live amidst it.

Over the years not much has changed about Ladd’s Addition. The formation of the blocks remains unchanged, as do the trees and gardens throughout the district. Although a wide range of architectural styles are represented in the southeast Portland neighborhood, they all originate from a very similar time period. Anyone seeking to build new structures today must meet all the requirements set by the National Register of Historic Places in order to ensure that the modern building will match the styles of those near it and create a seamless blend in the landscape. Ladd’s Addition is recognized as a National Historic Place, and its residents work tirelessly to see that it remains intact.

Despite the fact that Ladd’s Addition is overseen by the Hosford Abernethy Neighborhood Association, there are additional organizations in place to serve Ladd’s addition alone. Friends of Ladd’s Addition Gardens (FLAG) coordinates many neighborhood-wide events, including an annual craft fair and community picnics and holiday parties. They also use an elaborate system of volunteers to carefully tend to the rose gardens. There are five gardens in total, Ladd Circle in the center, and a diamond shaped garden on each of the neighborhood’s four edges. Each diamond garden is named after the corresponding cardinal direction, and all four can be seen from the middle of Ladd Circle. The volunteers rotate from garden to garden each week throughout the summer, and post updated shift schedules on their website.

The people of Ladd’s Addition take pride in the history of their community and land. Near the Ladd Circle Park sign there is a plaque summarizing the story of William Sargent Ladd and the founding of Ladd’s Addition. Ladd Circle is a circular park located at the center of the neighborhood. Many community events take place in the central field. The park additionally serves as a traffic circle around which there are a few businesses. Palio’s Dessert and Espresso sits across from Ladd Circle, and is well known as the neighborhood coffee shop. “A lot of community groups meet here for coffee,” explains Schaefer, who enjoys being involved in neighborhood events on a peripheral level rather than directly. Even with the high standards and cultivated culture, Schaefer says, “I never try to deter somebody from moving here…I like it.” Sampling a vegan dessert bar or espresso drink from Palio’s is the perfect appetizer for a step back in time on a serene stroll to experience the historic world of Ladd’s Addition for yourself.

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