How to locate historic photos of Portland

A few years ago I made a blog post, The Neighborhood Then and Now comparing historic images of Portland street scenes with similar modern-day images.  In that post, I linked to my source, Efiles.  Efiles is a City of Portland website with a database of historic records — photos, documents, recordings, maps, and other things — and a search engine for retrieving these documents.  I remembered it being difficult to query, at best.  At the time I made that blog post, I found the magic incantations to locate photos, but those were quickly forgotten.

Today, at a committee meeting for the neighborhood association website, the subject of those historic photos came up.  I had the link, but even after 10-15 minutes of playing around with the query engine, I was unable to find pictures that I KNEW were there (because I had previously found and used them).

I am happy to say that I just now (re-)figured out how to locate pictures, so I am posting the procedure here — partly so I do not have to re-re-figure out how to do this again in the future and partly so that others may be able to do their own easy historic photo searches.

First, you go to the search form at  The most important thing about this form is to select a search type row of “Classification Word” and value of “Photographs”.  You’ll want to keep the default search type of “And” (not “Or”), then fill in whatever else you’d like.  For me, it was “Title Word”.

This will, hopefully, return a good number of results.  Most of them will be photos, but some will not.  Hopefully, a lot of them are already scanned and online, but there’s the possibility that a picture you are looking for can only be found in a dusty cardboard box in an office somewhere.  Use the legend at left o see what is in your results.  The light and dark gray “page” icon means that this archive item deals with a photograph.  If you also get the page-with-magnifying-glass, you’re in luck — the photo is online.  
The resulting download is a PDF file containing a TIFF image. It is left as an exercise to the reader as to how to convert this to something a little more usable. For me, that is opening it in Mac OS X’s Preview application, then saving it as something else.

Posted in: Pictures Portland

Published by

Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *