The First Presbyterian Church founded the Marshall Street Community Center in 1926. In 1930 it was renamed Friendly House and moved to its current main location at NW 26th and Savier in Portland, OR. Its first director was Amelia Anderson. While originally dedicated to a spiritual mission, social concerns arising with the Great Depression quickly became a focus. (You can read a transcribed version of Amelia Anderson’s handwritten account of the beginnings of Friendly House here.)

1930s: “Miss Anderson recalled a night in the 1930’s when she was awakened by a commotion outside the manse and found a man at the door who called out that the Eastern Western Lumber Company mill at Linnton was shut down that night. ‘Lots of family men will be out of work. They’d like you to come down and talk to them,’ he added. She did, and from then on there was a steady increase in activities oriented to helping the needy of the northwest neighborhood of Portland.” [– source: Friendly House History, 1926 – 1986]


1940s: In the 1940’s “industries in the neighborhood were quickly expanded to take care of war orders…and Guilds Lake became a city of 10,000 persons. This influx of people pressed upon Friendly House and the Chapman School was running double sessions. Children were everywhere.” [– source: Friendly House History, 1926 – 1986]. During the war Friendly House operated a federally funded day nursery. After school, children used the gym and attended activities, including religious classes, ballet dancing and crafts. Annual membership dues were 25¢ for grade school pupils, 50¢ for high school students, and $1.00 for adults. Friendly House operated a babysitting clearinghouse and harvested crops. Lewis & Clark college students were volunteers. Friendly House joined the Council of Social Agencies, later the Tri-County Community Council.


1950s: In the 1950’s Friendly House became involved in local housing issues. A Best Years Club was formed, later called the Fireside Club, for persons over 60. In 1954 Friendly House became a member of the “United Fund” (now known as the United Way) with a first year allocation of $9,478. Chapel services were discontinued as Friendly House moved more squarely into the secular settlement house tradition. Concerns at this time included fluoridation of the water supply, traffic safety, industrialization in the neighborhood, and high school drop-outs. A Youth Employment Service was started.


1960s: 1961 saw the incorporation of Friendly House as a non-profit agency. The 1960’s were a period of great concern for social issues, and Friendly House was very much in the forefront. Friendly House participated in the war on poverty, educating people about Medicare and helping them to enroll. Eleven thousand seniors were contacted. There was a large focus on issues of the elderly at this time, leading Friendly House to establish the Northwest Pilot Project.

In cooperation with neighborhood churches, a storefront was opened to begin a program for delinquent and pre-delinquent youth. The United Good Neighbor Association asked Friendly House to take over the management of the Linnton Community Center. Friendly House took part in what would become contentious discussions about where to site the I-405 Freeway.

1970s: In the 1970’s neighborhood organizations began to spring up; Friendly House was active in starting the Northwest District Association, working with the Office of Neighborhood Associations and the Multnomah Quadrant Boards. Northwest Pilot Project spun off as its own non-profit organization, and Friendly House developed a new service to the elderly from its site at NW 20th and Everett. ESCO began a partnership with Friendly House that lasts to this very day. ESCO’s Involvement Corps helped low-income families at Christmas time, did repair jobs at Friendly House, and initiated an annual Harvest Dinner for seniors. The Neighborhood Revitalization Project was started with federal funds to help the mentally ill. This program’s efforts included a Neighborhood Credit Union, a neighborhood library and a lending bank.


1980s: 1981 marked 50 years of Friendly House’s service. In 1983 Friendly House held its first auction. This was also the first year for Friendly Chaps, school-age childcare for Chapman elementary school students. A video series, ‘Nuts to You,’ was written, directed, and produced by persons with mental illness who were members of Friendly House’s Club 53. The ESCO Involvement Corps was recognized by the Mayor of Portland for its extensive volunteer work with Friendly House. The following year the West Branch of the County’s Aging Services Division started sharing space with Friendly House’s Senior Services program. Linnton Community Center became an independent organization. Friendly House founded ‘Youth on the Move,’ a program to help high school dropouts get their GEDs. During the 1980s Friendly House also received a county contract to provide housing and intensive services to homeless families.


1990s The key event that marked the 1990’s was the construction of the Friendly House Community Center at NW 26th and Thurman. In the early 1990’s the Board of Friendly House revisited its vision and mission, and undertook a major fund-raising campaign to build a new Community Center. The Board envisioned building a ‘living room for Northwest Portland,’ a place where neighbors could meet, gather, play, study, and work. The Friendly House Community Center was opened to the public on January 22, 1994.

2000s: Friendly House programs continue to shift and change to meet the needs of the community. Friendly House Preschool, once a cooperative preschool attracting mostly families with stay-at-home parents who could contribute time to running the school, now has options for very low-income families to attend for free through the State of Oregon Pre-Kindergarten program and the City of Portland’s Children’s Investment Fund. Transportation, meals, home visits and parent education are central to the new Friendly House Preschool. In 2005, the Friendly House Board moved to adopt the Elder Resource Alliance (now known as Gay & Grey), a program for gay and lesbian elders, into the Friendly House Senior Program.

In the first decade of the 21st century Friendly House faced challenging financial times, but through the work of its staff and board continued to provide vital services and programs to members of the community. The Community Services Program moved to its new, accessible home on our Savier Street Campus. United Way funding was greatly reduced in 2006, and a year later we cut the Youth Activity Program and spun off our food box program to Northwest Portland Ministries. In January, 2008, thanks to the efforts of Con-way Corporation and others, we were able to payoff the mortgage on our building at 26th and Thurman. Toward the end of the decade Friendly House adopted Project Return from Chapman Elementary School, allowing us to integrate children from homeless families into our After School Program.
2010s: Friendly House programs were reorganized into three major areas –Community Recreation & Education, Children’s Programs and Community Services. In 2015 the board and staff adopted a new vision statement: Friendly House, a 21st century settlement house, engages people to create a compassionate, equitable and inclusive society.

Roster of Friendly House Executive Directors:

1926: Amelia Anderson
1940: Rev. William Gearhart
1944: Faye Steinmetz
1955: Carl Shaw
1963: Marion Hughes
1965: Rev. Edd Crawford
1975: Bob Denton
1983: Jessilyn White
1986: Mary McWillis-Brentano
2000: Peter Freedman
2005: Vaune Albanese

Receive Our Newsletter:
Subscribe to our Newsletter