People's Building

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People's Building

151-155 Brackett Street

Before the building at 155 Brackett received this name, it housed a school and several businesses. It served as a primary school from 1852 until 1916 with Emily J. Gray as its first principal. While a student at a school on this location 1836, Ellen Harmon (later White, 1827-1915), the co-founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, was struck in the head by a large stone and lay unconscious for three weeks. Several years later she began to have visions that led to the founding of the church. She married James Springer White in Portland in 1846, and together they spread the Adventist word and published a paper and several books.

Among the businesses that occupied the building after it closed as a school was the Fred Thompson Art Company. Nellie Walker (1872-1973), an artist, was paid between $15 and $40 a week to tint photographs with watercolors. During the Depression, 75 women produced clothing here for needy people while developing employable skills through the WPA Sewing Project. Other dressmaking companies followed until 1967, when the building was scheduled to be demolished. It was first saved by a group of young people called Youth in Action and became a community center and alternative school. After an unsettled period, the building was again restored as a community center housing several groups, including Portland West Neighborhood Planning Council.

The building is now owned by Youth in Action, which has its offices there, and has as a tenant the Shoestring Theater. Run by longtime director Nance Parker, it offers workshops in the art of puppetry, theater arts, stiltdancing for all ages and interest groups, ranging from intensive one-day courses to extended residences. Shoestring's puppets figure prominently in the annual Old Port Festival and other area parades and events.

Shoestring Theater