It was 1905 when “Empire Builder” James J. Hill informed Portland’s business elite of the arrival of his Portland & Seattle Railway, promising faster access to eastern markets. The news began a battle of wills between Hill and his rival Edward Harriman, who controlled the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads.
In a rather clandestine move, Hill purchased the land between N.W. 10th and 12th , and Hoyt St. and Front Ave., so as not to signal his intentions to Harriman. Upset by Hill’s grab for prime land near Union Station, the Harriman-controlled Northern Pacific Terminal Company, which owned the Station, refused to allow P&S passenger trains access.
Hill responded by converting his railyard freight house at Hoyt St. and 11th into a passenger depot. Known as North Bank Station, it handled passenger trains to Chicago and the east, Seattle, Astoria and Southern Oregon until World War I.
Hill envisioned a seamless service of trains and ocean liners between Portland and San Francisco. He built two luxury ocean liners, which sailed from the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria. From 1915 until the end of World War I, well-dressed travelers boarded the Steamer Express train at North Bank Station for a scenic ride to where his ships sailed for San Francisco.
When passenger service stopped, freight trains and service locomotives continued operating until the merger of the SP&S into the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1970. Over the next two decades the railyard declined, until 1994 when HOYT purchased the 34-acre area.