Black-owned salon and barber shop celebrates National Register designation and its place in Portland history

Dean's Beauty Salon and Barbershop

Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean founded Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barbershop in 1954 at 215 N.E. Hancock St. March 23, 2021 Beth Nakamura/Staff


The small building in a section of Northeast Portland isn’t grand, so many people fail to appreciate the significance of Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop. That’s no longer the case. Earlier this year the building at 215 N.E. Hancock St. was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

To celebrate the honor, the shop’s owner, Kimberly Brown, is hosting a community block party in front of the salon starting at noon Saturday. The event will also pay tribute to her grandparents, Ben and Mary Rose Dean, who founded the salon.

“My grandparents died long ago,” said Brown, who is also a salon stylist. “They’d be shocked, excited and proud of all that’s happened.”

Brown said her grandparents came to Portland from Alabama in the 1940s during the Great Migration, when 6 million Black people moved from the South to cities across the United States.

“They got there in 1944,” she said. “They were looking for a place they could build something for the future.”

Brown heard stories from her grandparents and her mother, who also worked in the salon, and said their goal was an “almost insurmountable task” as Portland was then overtly segregated.

Her parents saved to buy a house in the 200 block of Hancock Street and opened a beauty salon in the basement. She said her grandmother had a hair styling license from Alabama. Her grandfather went to a Portland barber school to earn his license.

The couple wanted to expand and had their eyes on a nearby vacant lot they hoped to buy and construct a building for their salon. Banks made it nearly impossible for Black people to borrow money. Her grandparents got what Brown called an “unconventional loan,” bought the lot and built the salon, which opened in 1956.

“The rest,” she said, “is history.”

In the foreground, portraits of a Black man and woman hang side by side. In the background, three people are shown seated inside the shop

A pair of portraits hang in the entry way of the salon in 2015, showing the founders Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean.The Oregonian/ files

A close-up of hands holding old family photos showing the barbershop through the years

Dean's Beauty Salon and Barber Shop was started in 1954 by Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean and has been passed through the family. Kim Brown, the Dean's granddaughter is now the third generation to operate the salon.The Oregonian/Oregonlive files

Personal history is one thing.

Getting that history on the National Register of Historic Places was made possible thanks to Kimberly Moreland, a salon customer who moved to Portland from Cleveland.

“Cleveland had such a strong Black culture and community,” said Moreland. “There were so few Blacks in Portland. I joined a Black church and that became my community.”

She and her husband bought a home in Northeast Portland where they raised their four children. In 2016 she found Dean’s and became a customer.

“When I walked into the salon it reminded me of the salon I was raised in,” said Moreland. “It was a very precious moment from my childhood. Dean’s felt like home. It was nostalgic. The family photos on the wall, the wonderful conversations.”

Over time, Moreland learned about the history of Dean’s and the couple who started it. She listened to the stories with the ear of a historian.

A former city planner, Moreland is the author of “Image of America: History of African Americans in Portland”; president of Oregon Black Pioneers, the state’s only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans; and the founder of Moreland Resource Consulting, which focuses on Oregon’s Black heritage.

She eventually asked Kimberly Brown if she’d be interested in trying to get the salon added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“She loved the idea,” said Moreland. “But it’s a very technical and expensive process.”

Moreland said the city paid the fee for the project. She worked with the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, and Architectural Resources Group, which has a Portland office, to work on the pitch.

“It was a group effort,” she said. “The building had to be researched, the historical significance shown and the narrative about why it matters. It took nine months to get it done, and it was approved in early 2022.”

Moreland said Brown was thrilled when she gave her the good news.

Moreland said getting Dean’s on the historic register is vital.

“The gentrification and displacement of the Black community in North and Northeast Portland is significant,” said Moreland. “Black history is being erased. Having a physical landmark in the community is important.”

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church and the Golden Hotel were also added to the register this year. In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, from Oregon’s 3rd District, called all three Portland buildings landmarks that “demonstrate the resilience of Portland’s Black community.”

Moreland, who attends Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, said the congregation is “thrilled” by the national designation. She said it’s meaningful that all three sites were singled out. She said the salon and barbershop building is is not “an architectural gem.”

“But that’s not the point,” she said. “Now, this building cannot be torn down. It will forever be a physical reminder of the community that, in many ways, has been destroyed.”

And, in that way, she said, history will live on.

-- Tom Hallman Jr;; 503-221-8224; @thallmanjr