Where We Live: Portland’s Expo Center at 100


The Expo Center opened in 1921

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The largest multi-purpose facility in Oregon, Portland’s Expo Center, just turned 100. Over the past century, the Expo Center has had many successes along with a dark period in its history.

From the Home and Garden Show to the Rose City Dog Show to Cirque du Soleil, Portland’s Expo Center off Marine Drive can host more than 100 events a year in its 370,000-square feet of exhibit space.

Expo Center Executive Director Matthew Rotchford, December 2021 (KOIN)

“I would say it’s really a gathering place for culture and commerce,” said Expo Center Executive Director Matthew Rotchford.

Built in 1921 for the Pacific International Livestock Association, the Expo Center had livestock exhibitions and serviced nearby meat packing plants through the 1950s. It hosted Portland’s Centennial Celebration in 1959 and became a sought-after regional exhibit hall in the 1970s.

Bill O’Loughlin’s family business, O’Loughlin Trade Shows has been producing events at the Expo Center — including the Sportsmen Show and the Boat Show — for decades.

“This is our 4th generation,” he told KOIN 6 News as he introduced his daughter Cheyenne and nephew AJ. “It’s just one of the best facilities. You won’t find anything else like this in the Northwest.”

The Expo Center was among the first facilities rebuilt after the Vanport Flood in 1948. It’s been expanded several times over the years.

It was also central to a dark period in Portland’s history after the Japanes attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Oregon’s Japanese-Americans were rounded up, detained at the Expo Center and sent to concentration camps in Idaho and California.

“We have to preserve and protect our American rights. It wasn’t foreign people that this happened to,” said Chisao Hata with the Japanese American Museum of Oregon. “It was American citizens.”

“We absolutely acknowledge that history,” Rotchford said.

Before COVID, Metro said the Expo Center had an economic impact of $50 million annually. Shows are returning now. Through the end of 2021, the Expo Center is a COVID vaccination and testing site.

The Expo Center is a unique place with a unique history and a part of Portland’s cultural heritage for 100 years.

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