‘Mayor of NE Portland’ Honored With Affordable Housing Building

Paul Knauls and his granddaughter stand outside the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building. (Photo courtesy of Paul Knauls)

Saundra Sorenson
Published: 28 March 2024
Published at: https://www.theskanner.com/news/northwest/35730-mayor-of-ne-portland-honored-with-affordable-housing-building

This summer, a stately building on lower Alberta will open its doors to new residents looking for affordable, supportive housing.

The 31 studio and one-bedroom units are open to households earning up to 60% of the area median income, with preference given to veterans.

Fittingly, the new development is named after Air Force veteran and unofficial “mayor of Northeast Portland” Paul Knauls and his late wife, Geneva.

“I think it’s just a beautiful building,” Knauls, 93, said.

“I actually took my granddaughter, she was here from Washington D.C., and I took her by to see it and she was just ecstatic – her grandma’s name and her grandfather’s name on the building!”

Paul Knauls stands in front of the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building during a February dedication ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Paul Knauls)

The Knauls were not unfamiliar with namesake buildings, having operated Geneva’s Shear Perfection salon, where Geneva worked for 36 years. The neighborhood institution stayed open even after her death in 2014, and was closed during the pandemic. There was also Geneva’s Restaurant and Lounge on North Williams Avenue and the popular night spot The Cotton Club on North Vancouver Avenue.

But this time, Knauls was approached by leaders at Self Enhancement Inc., which launched Alberta Alive to strengthen Portland’s historically Black communities displaced by gentrification and transit projects. The organization’s mission statement, in part, is to restore to Black residents a sense of belonging. Their three new buildings – the Knauls at 780 NE Alberta St., the Dr. Darrell Millner Building (5050 N Interstate Ave.) and the Ronnie Herndon Building (510 NE Alberta St.) are all income-restricted and named for living legends in the Black community.

Knauls requested that his late wife’s name be included on the building.

Paul Knauls in front of the image and story that will greet residents of the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building.

Asked what Geneva would have thought of the tribute, Knauls said, ““She would’ve cared less! Geneva was just so cool. She probably would’ve said, ‘I don’t want my name up there,’ or she’d probably just tell me, ‘Whatever you want to do, Paul.’”

Now, a photo of Geneva and her husband greet all who enter the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building. They also appear in a mural that will soon be hung on the outside of the building. And despite Geneva’s modesty, Knauls suspects she drew the larger crowd at a recent dedication ceremony.

“They only invited 35 people, but about 160 people showed up because they knew that they had to be there to see Geneva’s name on the building,” he said.

They will be in good company on the mural alongside head of the National Association for Black Veterans Gwendolyn Worthy, the Rev. W.G. Hardy of Highland Church, former state Sen. Avel Gordly, former Superintendent of Portland Public Schools Matthew Prophet and former Portland City Commissioner Charles Jordan.