Modern Family

Urban living in a small loft for two adults, two kids, and a dog: It’s a perfect fit for the Dolan family.

Many people laud the Pearl District’s walkability, but six years ago, Brynne Dolan and her husband, Bill, put the neighborhood’s foot-friendly reputation truly to the test.

The couple was running an errand at the post office when Brynne, then pregnant with their daughter Claude, went into labor.  Since this was her first pregnancy, she wasn’t sure if she was experiencing a false alarm. “We said, let’s just think about this for a minute,” recalls Brynne. “We ended up going to Barista for a cup of coffee, and after a little while, I was like, ‘Yeah, we have to get to the hospital.’” It wasn’t far to Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center, “so we just walked there,” she says. “We walked right into the maternity ward.”

When she gave birth to their son Knox two years later, they again walked to the hospital—although this time, the stroll started inside Trader Joe’s.

The Dolan’s family adventure continues to unfold in and around the Pearl District. The couple purchased their loft in 2009, four years after relocating to Portland from their native Tucson, Arizona. “Our first neighborhood in Portland was Southeast, but we kept finding ourselves in the Pearl every weekend for the restaurants, parks, and shops,” recalls Bill, now 39. “We decided, you know what, let’s see what it’s like to live here.” Bill, Brynne, and their black lab Andi moved into an 800-square-foot unit in the Avenue Lofts. From the start, they had a hard time picturing themselves ever leaving the neighborhood.

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As their family has grown, the Dolans say the Pearl continues to suit them perfectly. Bill works nearby at Guild Mortgage Company, so his commute is a pleasant 5-minute walk. “Whether a commute is an hour, 30 minutes, or even 15 minutes by car, that’s time that adds up over the week,” he says. “By living here and saving that time, that’s a special lunch I’m able to share with my daughter each week, that’s maximizing the time we spend together as a family.”

Brynne, 36, doesn’t commute at the moment—she’s a social worker and currently a stay-at-home mom. But taking time out for herself is easier without drive time—she can leave for a yoga class just eight minutes before it starts and arrive in plenty of time for the beginning om.

To be sure, their quarters are cozy: the children share a bunk bed in the loft’s single bedroom, and Bill and Brynne sleep in a pull-down Murphy bed in the living room. The situation presents challenges but also offers benefits. “It fosters a simple lifestyle,” says Bill. “We don’t have room for lots of plastic toys, so they don’t have a lot of toys—they have a few really great toys.”

“There’s a common misunderstanding that when you’re living in an urban environment you don’t have … a sense of community. but our parks are such great gathering spaces.”

They also make good use of the world outside their four walls, says Brynne. “There’s a common misunderstanding that when you’re living in an urban environment you don’t have neighbors or a sense of community,” she says, “but our parks are such great gathering spaces for spontaneous meet-ups with friends. We call up a few people and say, ‘Hey, we’re heading to The Fields right now,’ and before you know it, there are two other families, 10 kids, and we’re having a potluck-style picnic,” says Brynne. The parks have also fostered an appreciation of nature for their kids, she adds. For example, Knox, age 4, loves ladybugs and bugs in general. He finds Jamison Park an ideal venue for pursuing his interest.

The Pearl also provides opportunities to teach the children about community activism, says Bill, who serves on the board of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, which stages the biannual cleanup event called Polish the Pearl. “It’s great because we’ve been able to have our daughter participate—she hands out coffee and lunch tickets to volunteers,” he says.

The coffee tickets are of particular note to 6-year-old Claude, because she’s an avid aficionado of hot chocolate. She regularly saves her allowance to purchase a mug, explains Bill—she has a true appreciation for the value of the ticket she’s handing out to volunteers. Claude has several neighborhood favorites for spending her cocoa budget, including Nossa Familia and Daily Cafe, but her favorite spot for hot chocolate? It’s Barista, where her parents sipped a thoughtful cup of coffee moments before she entered the world. Make no mistake: the Dolans are a true family of the Pearl District. – Alison Stein | Photos by Ashley Anderson

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