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New building on PSU campus honors Vanport residents lost, displaced in 1948 flood

The Vanport Building is 175,000 square feet and seven stories tall. It took two years to complete and opened for students in the fall semester.

PORTLAND, Ore. — There's a new building on the Portland State University (PSU) campus that honors the people who were displaced and died in the Vanport flood in May 1948.

Edward Washington works with the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion at PSU, he's also a Vanport survivor. He said he remembers the day the city flooded like it was yesterday.

Washington said he was about 12 or 13 and living with his family on the day it flooded.

"It was totally destroyed," Washington said. "In all about one hour or less, completely destroyed. People had to be relocated."

Credit: Bryant Clerkley

Washington's family eventually settled in Northeast Portland. He said he's lucky his family made it out alive. There's a mural inside the building that represents the diversity of Vanport and the residents who came from different cultures and backgrounds. 

Credit: Bryant Clerkley

Vanport was also significant for Black Oregonians, who were unable to buy homes outside of Vanport.

"Perhaps the most significant thing about Vanport is that it was really a totally integrated city although people were living in various sections," Washington said. 

The official government death toll of the flood of 1948 was 15, but many residents believe the number was much higher.

The Vanport Building is 175,000 square feet and seven stories tall. It took about two years to complete. It's not just home to PSU, but OHSU, PCC and Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability as well. 

"It's significant to the history of this state and significant to the city," Washington said.

PSU started in Vanport, it was originally called the Vanport Extension Center, before moving Downtown after the flood.