Part-vaudeville, part Burning Man, part bike repair shop, part hostel, and all-freak show, the Alberta Clown House has been an icon of North and Northeast Portland for years. But at the end of August, the assorted clowns and tall-bike riders will be packing up and moving on, victims of soaring property values.
A year ago, the owner of the property—at NE 25th and Alberta—raised the rent by $300 to $1,500 per month. The boss of the Clown House troupe, who goes by the name of Dingo Dizmal, says they spent their savings on the rent increase in order to stay another year. Now, though, they've decided it's time to move to a cheaper neighborhood.
"The people in this neighborhood have been really sweet," Dizmal says. "The neighborhood business association raised $575 for 'Alberta Clown House' T-shirts for us, but then we found out that more than half of that money came from businesses who just wanted to see us go."
And that's been the great contradiction of the Clown House as the surrounding neighborhood has transformed. They've been a staple of Alberta's Last Thursdays, and have arguably added to the events' crowds, but they've also come under fire for the drunken parties that inevitably end up there. A year and a half ago, the house was the target of complaints about "dead" bikes littering the yard.
But despite the debauchery that follows the clowns, and despite a handful of neighborhood complaints, the house's owner, Will Hardy—pastor of the Highland Christian Center on NE Glisan—says he's accommodated them because they represent Portland's "multifaceted diversity."
"They've been hard on the house, but that comes with the business," Hardy says. "Still, it's been a workable arrangement. They've really given Alberta Street an image."
Dizmal admits it might be difficult to find a new accommodating.
"It's hard to tell people what we want," he says. "We're a clown tribe; we're kind of loud; hot girls follow us wherever we go; we like to blow things up, and fix bikes in the yard. We're like Jesus, but without the good intentions."