PORTLAND — A pack of kids on scooters race along the tree-lined streets like it’s 1955. A boy whizzes by on a bike — wait, was that Henry Huggins? The sidewalks are sprinkled liberally with chalk art, rope swings and Little Free Libraries.
This is Beverly Cleary’s Grant Park, the real-life northeast Portland neighborhood where the beloved author grew up and which was used as the setting for her classic children’s books. Before Portland was known for hipsters and foodies (and anarchists), it was where the fun-loving, irrepressible Ramona Quimby lived.
Cleary died this past March, three weeks shy of her 105th birthday. In addition to being a celebrated children’s author, she was a Husky, class of ’39. Cleary graduated from the University of Washington’s School of Librarianship and worked as a children’s librarian in Yakima. It was in Yakima when a little boy asked her where to find books “about kids like us.”
She decided to write them herself. “Henry Huggins” was published in 1950, “Ramona’s World” in 1999, and in between, generations of readers grew up with the gang of kids on Klickitat Street.
I discovered the books all over again while rereading them with my kids, and the stories are every bit as fresh and funny as I’d remembered. (Though through a modern parenting lens, I had to pick my jaw off the floor when Ramona’s mom had her walk to school alone. In kindergarten.)
If you know what to look for, you’ll recognize lots of familiar places around Grant Park from the books. Cleary lived in Portland from ages 6 to 18, and she wrote out of her own childhood experiences.
This self-guided walking tour covers a 3-mile loop through the Grant Park and Hollywood neighborhoods. It’s easy and flat, except for a small hill to reach Klickitat Street, and entirely stroller friendly. Street parking in the neighborhood side streets is free and plentiful. Start at any of these landmarks. You could complete the loop in an hour, but why book it? We took the better part of the afternoon for our Ramona pilgrimage, wandering along the same sidewalks where a spunky girl once clanked along on her tin-can stilts.
This library, which opened in 2002, features a wall-sized stone map with landmarks from Cleary’s stories. Important for bathroom-forward readers: the library has the best public restrooms in the neighborhood. Grant Park also has public restrooms, though those are not nearly as nice.
4040 N.E. Tillamook St., Portland
This store is a former Fred Meyer; in her books, Cleary calls it Colossal Market. Henry’s mother buys clippers here to give him a haircut. The store is so big it covers the entire block and offers rooftop parking.
1814 N.E. 41st Ave., Portland
Take a minute to examine the carved details on the front of this opulent building. I spy with my little eye … mermaids, angels, babies and more. Henry Huggins and Otis Spofford (and Cleary) came to the Hollywood Theatre to catch a movie.
4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Portland
Fleur de Lis Bakery & Cafe
Treat yourself to a buttery croissant — you’ll need the fuel for that 3-mile walk. The bakery is located on the site of the former Rose City library that Cleary visited in her childhood. It was here where the librarian asked a 4-year-old Ramona what kind of work his father did. She replied, “He mows the lawn.” That Carnegie library was torn down and replaced with this building in 1959.
3930 N.E. Hancock St., Portland
Cleary’s childhood home, fourth to sixth grade
Cleary chose the name Klickitat Street for the Quimbys’ address because she liked the sound: “Klick-i-tat.” The actual location of the Quimbys’ fictional house is on Hancock Street. Cleary lived in this rental home from ages 9 to 12.
This house is chock full of fictional memories. Ramona, the pesky preschooler, taking one bite of each apple in the box. Ribsy the dog getting accidentally locked in the bathroom. For extra credit, bring applesauce and Fig Newtons (which are not filled with worms) to snack on.
3340 N.E. Hancock St., Portland
CVS parking lot
In first grade, Ramona tried out her new red boots in the construction site across the street from her school. Henry had to rescue her from the mud. In second grade, it was a weedy lot where she made herself a crown of burs while waiting for her father at the parent-teacher conference. That lot is now the parking lot of the CVS.
1821 N.E. 33rd Ave., Portland
Beverly Cleary School — Fernwood Campus
In her books, Clearly calls the school Glenwood School; Fernwood Grammar School (as it was called back then) is the real-life school where she attended first through eighth grade (except third grade). You can still see the entrance Cleary used, a beautiful arched entryway with green double doors on the south side of the building. The school is now named after its most famous alum. Look for the large book mosaic at the east entrance.
1915 N.E. 33rd Ave., Portland
Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park
Grant Park is big and clean and wonderful. After a long drive (I-5 backed up as usual), we spent a good chunk of the afternoon here getting the wiggles out.
Under the towering evergreens, there’s a trio of characters in bronze: Ramona, Henry Huggins and Ribsy. To my children’s delight, the sculptures turn into a spray park in the summer. Beverly Cleary and her husband, Clarence, attended the dedication of this sculpture garden in 1995. The sculptures were made by Portland artist Lee Hunt.
The sprawling red brick building is Grant High School, where Cleary graduated from in 1934. The real high school is named for President Ulysses S. Grant; in her books, the high school is named for President Zachary P. Taylor.
At the nearby playground, you’ll see a tall metal slide, like the one Beezus, Ramona’s older sister, and Henry rubbed with wax paper to make it go even faster. And the grassy lawn is where Henry hunted for worms to sell.
Northeast 33rd Avenue at Northeast Brazee Street, Portland
Cleary’s childhood home, seventh grade to high school graduation
This is the prettiest part of the walk, through an old, leafy Portland neighborhood lined with well-kept Craftsman bungalows. You’ll pass by Knott Street, where Henry goes to ask Mr. Capper for a paper route.
Cleary’s parents bought the house on Northeast 37th Avenue in 1927, and Cleary lived here from ages 12 to 18.
Notice the black-and-white house numbers; Portland’s hot mess of street numbers were sorted out in a huge renumbering project in 1931. These numbers were installed when Cleary was in high school.
Look closely at the curb in front of the house: there’s a metal ring embedded in the concrete. When Cleary lived here, deliveries were made by horse-drawn wagons, not Amazon Sprinter vans. The rings were for tying up horses.
2924 N.E. 37th Ave., Portland
Ramona, Beezus and Henry live on Klickitat Street. It’s the ultimate photo op for anyone who loves Beverly Cleary’s children’s books.
Northeast Klickitat Street, Portland