The Minnesota Hotel: History Uncovered

By chance while doing research on another property, I stumbled upon an article providing some interested history about the Minnesota Hotel — a property we renovated and manage at 322 NW 5th Ave.  Dating to 1910, the article describes the leasing of the Minnesota Hotel building by the M. Hachiya Company:

As a possible nucleus of a good-sized Japanese business colony, the M Hachiya Company general importers, has leased for 10 years the three-story 100×100 brick building at the southeast corner of Fifth and Flanders streets.  The company is to pay a graduated rental, starting at $700 a month and increasing for five years until $1000 is reached, which will be the rental for the last five years of the term.  Parish & Watkins negotiated the lease.

Today the building is leased to SERA Architects, with a number of small businesses on the third floor.  The article goes on to paint a picture of what the building was like in 1910:

On the upper two floors of the building is the Minnesota Hotel.  The Hachiya Company bought the lease from the management and will conduct a hotel of its own in these rooms.  On the corner of the first floor was a saloon.  The Japanese decided they needed the room, so they bought this lease also, and in this room and the next on Fifth street they will have a large dry goods store.

All together there are four store rooms on Fifth street and two on Flanders.  The Japanese will occupy all of these either conducting a business themselves or renting the rooms to their fellow countrymen.  There are in the realm of possibility both a restaurant and a poolroom.

K. Inaba, the manager, is authority for the statement of the company’s plans.  The rooms on Flanders Street may be used for shipping, he said, although the large basement under the whole building may be used for this purpose.

The company has a branch in Osaka, Japan, and also another local store at Fourth and Burnside streets.  When the plans for the Fifth and Flanders building are all worked out, it will have the largest Japanese establishment in Portland and one of the largest in the whole country.

Indeed, this building was at the heart of Portland’s Japantown when the Oregonian ran this article.  Beginning in the 1890s, many Japanese immigrants arrived in Oregon to work on the railroads, lumber mills, farms, and fish canneries. Portland was the hub for these “Issei” to find work in the city or surrounding areas, and the neighborhood of north of W. Burnside Street near the Willamette River was soon known as Japantown or Nihonmachi.

Portland’s Japantown grew to become a thriving heart of the Japanese community. By 1940, there were over 100 businesses located within a six or eight block area.  It was a busy place where the Japanese would come to buy traditional foods, receive medical care, find legal assistance, and do their banking.  However, in the spring of 1942, Japantown disappeared when all persons of Japanese ancestry were placed in internment camps.

As a contributing building in the Chinatown/New Japantown National Register District, the Minnesota Hotel building helps tell an important part of Portland’s history, early development, and the diverse groups of people who shaped the city.