N.W. 23rd explosion leaves mark on Lincoln

The roof of the bagel store was thrown across the street by the blast.

Though it would seem that the effects of an explosion contained to a street corner nearly a mile from the school would be minimal, it has impacted the Lincoln community in ways large and small.

The explosion occurred as many Lincoln students took the PSAT. Some sophomores, taking the test at the Tiffany Center, said they were interrupted by loud sirens as fire crews responded.

“I felt like I was on a roll, then [the trucks] came by and I totally lost my train of thought, so I was sitting there for two minutes and didn’t know what to write,” sophomore Grace Zilbert said.

Two Portland Police Officers were injured in the explosion, along with three firefighters and three civilians. The explosion, which took place on Oct. 19 around 9:30 a.m., destroyed Portland Bagelworks at Northwest 23rd Avenue and Gilsan Street and severely damaged several neighboring businesses.

Lincoln School Resource Officer Thomas Stoffel says he is good friends with the officers injured in the blast. One of them, Officer Christopher Kulp, is a School Resource Officer at David Douglas High School.

Stoffel responded to the blast and helped set up the perimeter, evacuate Metropolitan Learning Center and direct in emergency vehicles. He called the scene “chaotic.”

The event was a reminder of the dangers emergency responders face every day.

“We are constantly going to calls where it works out, but it teaches us to always be ready for the worst case,” Stoffel said. There will be some training opportunities, as with most major incidents, he added.

Several students have personal connections to the explosion site.

When junior Rose Saltveit finished the PSAT, her “phone was full of vague texts saying [her] house was full of smoke and [her] dog was ok,” she said. She thought her house, three houses down from Bagelworks on Glisan, was on fire.

Fortunately, since buildings along Northwest 23rd received the brunt of the blast, the only damage to Saltveit’s house was “two broken windows, and the house shifted so the front door won’t open sometimes.” She could not return home that night, as the remains were still smoldering, and her power and gas were shut down for several days.

In the days following the explosion, she and her family had several concerns, including smoke, asbestos and the structural integrity of her home. “We were worried that our house had shifted of its foundation and would have to be condemned.”

In addition, the destruction of the buildings left an impact on her. “I walked by them on my way to school two hours before the explosion, and everything seemed normal, and suddenly they were gone,” she said.

Senior Kelsey Dunn was sitting in History of the Americas class when she heard there had been an explosion at 23rd and Glisan, and her thoughts immediately went to her favorite bagel store. “When I saw it was Bagelworks, I thought ‘How could this possibly have happened?’”

However, she said the event reminded her of good memories at the store, but she is afraid they will not rebuild it. The only other bagel store on 23rd is Spielman’s Bagels, on Lovejoy, which she said has no where near the selection of Bagelworks. “I don’t know where I’ll go for bagels. No other place compares.”  

Dunn also said it raised safety concerns for her, as it occurred in a place she frequented, and she has friends living close to the blast. “It was scary seeing the pictures,” she said.

Sophomore Julian Stark remembers going to the store all the time as a young child, when it was Noah’s Bagels. He stopped going there when it changed owners, so he says the loss of bagel availability doesn’t affect him, but the bigger impact was on the fun experiences he remembers having there. “The building is imprinted as a childhood memory for me, and now it’s gone.”

Kate Lambert, junior, lives just a few blocks from the explosion site and she said it affected her in several ways. Her home had no power until 2 a.m. that day, and her bus, Line 15, which is heavily ridden by Lincoln students, could not take its usual route until Oct 23.

She said the bus was meant to make stops at the same cross streets along N.W. 21st Avenue, but drivers did not always make those stops.

The event also made her think about changes on 23rd, a touristy shopping district in between tree-lined residential streets. Even in just the two years she has lived near 23rd, Lambert has seen what many locals have been complaining about: the increasing corporatization of 23rd, with large chains pushing out small, local businesses.

Construction work for a new Restoration Hardware, a national hardware store, caused the break in the gas line.

“It’s kind of metaphorical, we lost two more local businesses for a major corporation, not economically pushed out like usual, but physically,” Lambert said.

She hopes that the bagel store is not replaced by another large corporation.

In addition, the explosion made her more wary of the intense construction boom throughout the neighborhood. “I hope they’ll be more careful now.”

“It’s lucky, it easily could have had mass casualties,” she said. “It gives you the sense of anything can happen– you don’t think of that usually.”

Kayla Rae contributed reporting to this story.

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