Where We Live: The Golden West Hotel’s Black history

Hidden History

The Golden West Hotel was a cornerstone in Portland's Black community from 1906 to 1931

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of the most important landmarks in Portland’s Black history was the Golden West Hotel. In the early 1900s, it was the center of Black life in Portland.

At Northwest Broadway and Everett, there is a residential treatment facility run by Central City Concern. But between 1906 and 1931, it was the Golden West Hotel.

An undated photo of the Golden West Hotel. (Courtesy Oregon Historical Society)

“It was the second largest Black hotel in the United States,” said Michael “Chappie” Grice of the World Arts Foundation. “Second only to the Hotel Theresa in New York.”

It was also the only hotel in Portland where a Black man could get a room.

“It reflects on the city’s racist history, as being the most racist city this side of the Mason-Dixon line, they used to say,” said Will Bennett of the Friends of the Golden West.

The seeds for the Golden West were planted nearby at Union Station.

“The railroads brought African-American railroad workers here and they had no place to stay, so the market was created,” said Grice.

African-American entrepreneur and Tennessee native William D. Allen established the Golden West Hotel in 1906, catering to Black railway porters, cooks, waiters, and travelers.

An undated photo of the inside of the Golden West Hotel. (Courtesy Oregon Historical Society)

“And, of course, it grew to being more than just a hotel,” said Grice. “It had a barber shop, a restaurant, had a complete tonsorial parlor.”

With 100 rooms, entertainment, an athletic club, ice cream parlor—even a gambling house—the five-story hotel became central to Black life in Portland. It sat between African-American churches and homes, and anchored a small, but growing Black middle class.

“This was a business district—Black businesses all up and down Broadway,” said Bennett.

Ironically, segregation allowed the Golden West to flourish.

Ad for the Golden West Hotel Barber Shop. Undated. (Courtesy Oregon Historical Society)

“But I see it as—it gave our community something to be proud of,” said Bennett.

The Great Depression closed the Golden West in 1931, 25 years after it opened. But, Friends of Golden West are preserving its legacy.

“I think our youngsters need to know that, in spite of difficulty, people can achieve and they can achieve great things,” said Grice.

Today, the Golden West building’s residential treatment facility also houses the Imani Center, which caters to African-Americans with mental health or addiction problems. Central City Concern has also installed historical panels on street level that detail the history of the Golden West Hotel.

February is Black History Month.

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