During WWII the Port of Portland built ships. The surge of shipyard workers was met by a surge of public housing. Built in 1942, Vanport grew up rapidly on the site of present day Delta Park and was the largest wartime housing project in the U.S. By 1944 the Vanport area was home to 40,000 people: making it Oregon’s second largest city at the time. As the war ended and many workers left the area, returning veterans and their families moved in.
On Memorial Day, Sunday, May 30, 1948, during the University of Portland commencement exercises, president Rev. Theodore Mehling, C.S.C. announced to those in attendance the emergency news that the Vanport dike had broken and Vanport City stood flooded. Fr. Mehling urged those concerned to leave immediately. At least two seniors and a number of guests at the ceremony lived in Vanport.
By evening, the whole of Vanport City was underwater and destroyed. Two residents, Emmett Barrett, (UP ’41), and his wife, were on campus that day to celebrate Eugene Barrett’s graduation (Emmett’s brother). When they returned to Vanport a month later, their apartment house was still standing but the inside was covered in mud.
Emmett earned his monogram playing football for UP from 1938-1940 (he had also distinguished himself by playing center for the NFL’s New York Giants for the 1942 season). All that he was able to salvage from the flood wreckage was his University of Portland letterman’s sweater (pictured) and letterman’s blanket. An insurance agent, hopefully Mr. Barrett’s losses beyond the monogram mementos were covered.
Portland Magazine, Spring 1988, p. 9-10
View of flood at Vanport with overturned cars. City of Portland (OR) Archives, A2001-083, 1948. Accessed April 27, 2020 from City of Portland Archives https://www.portlandoregon.gov/archives/article/24770
Flooded apartments during the Vanport flood. Camera Art Studio. Oregon Historical Society, Library. OrgLot131_014. Accessed April 27, 2020 from Oregon Historical Society, Library https://digitalcollections.ohs.org/flooded-apartments-during-the-vanport-flood-2 . In Copyright – Rights-holder(s) Unlocatable or Unidentifiable
UP Alma Mater (audio file)