Notable Oregonians: Bill Naito - Businessman, Civic Leader
William "Bill" Naito was born to Hide and Fukiye Naito in Portland in 1925. His parents had emigrated from Japan in 1912 and owned a downtown Portland curio shop where Bill helped out during his youth. The family left the business and moved in with relatives in Salt Lake City to avoid being sent to an internment camp in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
After graduating from high school in Utah, Naito joined the Army in 1944, serving in the famed 442nd Infantry Regiment before duty as a Military Intelligence Service translator during the post-war occupation of Japan.
He received an honorable discharge in 1946 and returned to Portland, where he enrolled at Reed College, graduating with an economics degree three years later. Naito earned a master's degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1951. While there, he met and married his wife, Millicent.
In 1952, Naito returned to Portland to work with his father and brother, Sam, in the family's import business. In 1962, they bought and renovated a former hotel building in a rundown area of downtown that is now known as Old Town. The family called the new venture Import Plaza and its success led them to buy and renovate other vacant and neglected old buildings in downtown. They opened the Galleria shopping mall with dozens of shops and cafes in 1976 after renovating an 1910 six-story department store building. Over time, the family renovated more than 20 historic Portland buildings.
In addition to the family's business efforts to revitalize downtown Portland, Naito also worked on the civic front. He was a strong backer of a proposed light rail system (which became MAX when it opened in 1986) and other transportation improvements such as the transit mall, Portland Streetcar, Portland Vintage Trolley, and Fareless Square—all efforts to stem the tide of business to the suburbs by making visits to downtown safer, more attractive, and more efficient.
Naito worked on more than business and transportation. He also led an effort to plant more than 10,000 trees in the city. He donated space for the popular and eclectic arts and crafts fair known as Saturday Market. And, he fought for adequate funding for the Multnomah County Library.
While wealthy, Naito didn't flaunt it. He shared an open office space with his employees and drove old cars. A self-described "gregarious workaholic," Naito was a popular figure in Portland and his vision for a vital downtown continues to pay dividends. Among other honors, Front Avenue running along the eastern edge of downtown was renamed SW Naito Parkway in 1996.
Naito died on May 8, 1996.