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Community Luminary

Paul Knauls celebrates 50 years of Portland memories

Donovan M. Smith | 7/10/2013, 10:32 a.m.
The unofficial "Mayor of North and Northeast Portland" celebrates half-a-century of continued success in The Rose City.
Paul Knauls, an 82-year-old luminary known for his promotion of Portland’s African-American community, is celebrating 50 years of operating a business in the city. He and his now-retired wife Geneva, operated Geneva’s Shear Perfection on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard together. He remains a fixture at not only the shop but the community at large. Photo by Mark Washington

As the older crowd began leaving, a new generation of young people began flocking to his clubs, and they lost the vibe they once had.

For 19 years, Knauls was a major force in the nightclub business, a considerable feat in itself but especially telling considering the political and social climate of the city.

After the Columbia River Flood at Vanport in 1949, many African-Americans were uprooted from the housing constructed for the Kaiser shipbuilding days of World War II, and were forced into inner north and northeast neighborhoods by racist zoning laws.

The African-American population hovered around 1 percent during the time in which the Knauls’ operated their nightclubs, but were subject to much of, if not all the same prejudices that were happening across country.

His venues offered a sense of relief to many in the community during a particularly turbulent time.

A number of years later, Knauls and his wife, who is also a seasoned barber and hair stylist, took another round at operating a business. They bought a building in 1991 on the newly renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and started Geneva’s Shear Perfection and Beauty.

To this day the shop, located on 5601 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd., remains a magnet for people, some get their hair and nails done, others just come in to chat with other patrons and celebrities who still make it a point to come visit.

Besides his business successes, Knauls has served on various boards and coalitions and generally been recognized as one of the most prominent figures in Portland’s history.

His honorary title of “Mayor of North and Northeast Portland” was coined African-American Chamber of Commerce president Roy Jay, but soon spread among the public and has remained with him since.

Knauls doesn’t take the crowning too seriously though, “You know a lot of guys give themselves names, some guys named Chicken Wing, Boo-Boo, I don’t take it seriously, it’s nice to be called, but I know I’m Paul Knauls,” he said with a reassured confidence.