The Oregon City Municipal Elevator has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, which is maintained by the National Park Service. Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation recommended nominating the elevator for the honor in October 2013. The elevator is the twenty-ninth historic property in Oregon City to be listed on the National Register.
In the early years after Oregon City’s founding, most of the city was located along the banks of the Willamette River. As the city grew, residents came to occupy areas on an upper level along a bluff. Steps were built to connect the two areas, but the climb was long and difficult.
A wood and steel elevator powered by water entered into service in 1915. The elevator made the 89-foot trip in three to five minutes. When riders arrived at the top, they had to cross a 35-foot catwalk that connected the two sides of the city above a chasm.
By 1924, electricity had replaced hydraulic power, which shortened the ride to 30 seconds. The elevator became more dependable and was used more frequently. However, by the 1950s the elevator began experiencing problems, and residents decided to replace it.
A new concrete and steel elevator was dedicated in 1955 that could climb from the lower to the upper part of the city in just 15 seconds. It stands 130 feet tall and rises from a tunnel in the city’s historic downtown area to connect to the upper level to the east.
The elevator was designed to have a futuristic, minimalist appearance. A viewing platform at the top offers sweeping views of the city and the Willamette River. A unique series of prints on the walls offers changing images of the historic downtown area through the years.
The Oregon City elevator is integrated with the McLoughlin Promenade and the Grand Staircase that connects the bluff to the downtown. Both of these landmarks are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Oregon City Municipal Elevator is one of only four municipal elevators in the world. Elevator Street is the only “vertical street” in North America.