Rowing has a long history in Portland, and competitive rowing was a popular local spectator sport in the 19th century. For several decades beginning in the 1930’s there were no active rowing clubs in Portland, and Willamette River was deemed by many as too dirty for water sports.
Station L Rowing Club was founded in 1972 by a group who found a great setting for rowing on the newly cleaned up Willamette, but very few active rowers. At the club’s 2008 gala and auction, a plaque was unveiled honoring the twenty-eight founding members of Station L Rowing Club.
The original boathouse was built on a used wood chip barge donated by Shaver Transportation. In early 1973, it was moored adjacent to Portland General Electric’s Station L generating plant, the current home of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry [OMSI]. The moorage site is now occupied by the submarine USS Blueback.
In 1975, the boathouse structure and its contents burned in a fire. The boathouse was rebuilt and additional boats obtained. Into the 1980’s the boathouse operated as a cooperative between Lewis and Clark College, Reed College and Station L Rowing Club. Station L emphasized teaching rowing to the public and hundreds of Portlanders learned to row at the club.
OMSI’s acquisition of the PGE site in 1986 necessitated a move for Station L. Now estranged from the colleges, Station L moved the barge/boathouse to a moorage site near the Fremont Bridge at the beginning of 1987. New equipment was added and the club grew quickly. Competitive Station L crews became a regular sight at Northwest regattas.
Lewis and Clark College Crew returned to the boathouse as a partner of Station L Rowing Club in 1989 in a deal brokered by then LC head coach Charlie Brown. A pump failure led to a temporary sinking of the barge soon after, which was raised using high capacity pumps. Under the leadership of Station L President Ian Townshend, the club began a search for a permanent home, as the Fremont location lacked permits and safe access.
A home was found just three hundred meters upstream, and Station L moved its barge again in 1994 to the Westar Electric site. Club membership grew to over one hundred, class offerings proliferated and the boathouse reached capacity with five 8+’s, six 4+’s and numerous small boats.
In February 1996, a significant flood on the Willamette threatened Station L. The boathouse was saved by members who stayed aboard the barge nearly twenty-four hours a day for three days. However the flood left silt which settled in the moorage area around the barge. Extreme low water in October 1997 caused the barge to tip and fill with water, ending its twenty-four year history as the base for Station L’s operations.
Club boats were split between boathouses at Riverplace Marina and Oaks Park starting in 1998. In December 2004, Station L moved to the new Portland Boathouse on the east bank of the Willamette River near the Hawthorne Bridge. The new boathouse is only about five hundred meters north of the original 1973 Station L site.
In the thirteen years since our move to Portland Boathouse, Station L has solidified its place as the largest masters rowing club in Oregon. Our professional coaching staff has grown to a team of ten experienced and dedicated individuals. Our members attend many regional and national races every year and we have the most active Learn to Row program in Oregon.
Station L founded Row for the Cure in 1994 and in 2013 celebrated the 20th edition of this fundraising regatta. With our neighbors Rose City Rowing Club, we co-host the Portland Fall Classic. Since 2007, the PFC has attracted thousands of the best junior, college and masters rowers in the Northwest to Portland on the last Sunday in October.
In 2015 we welcomed the members of Portland Women’s Rowing, as our two clubs joined forces with the continuing goal of providing a wide range of rowing opportunities for our members.
Looking beyond 2018, we are working with many other organizations on the Portland River Center, a future home for a variety of river-based activities and educational programs.