Portland Oregon history.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Night in Portland

1913.  Portland glowed with incandescent warmth, a flickering metropolis whose illumination bespoke progress and modernity.  Gas and oil lights had been gone for a quarter century.  In residential neighborhoods, globes from electric arc lights hung from wires over streets.  Downtown, the light bulb reigned supreme.

Tasteful and tawdry vied in uneasy coexistence.  The same electricity that powered new streetlights was quickly applied to advertising.  Huge lit hands, index fingers extended, directed shoppers inside stores.  Glowing teeth proclaimed dentists, giant trunks luggage.  Theater signs blazed, suspended above intersections.  Outsized lions, geese and shoes mixed with signs announcing restaurants, hotels, billiard parlors, vaudeville, cigars and Pabst.  The outlines of tall buildings were strung in lights, while from rooftops illumination reached new heights.

Not everyone approved.

"...If the sign has a shape or form distasteful to the average citizen, or even to the sensitive eye of a broad-minded artist, it constitutes a blot on the horizon and thereby checks the efforts of those working for the city beautiful."

-H.E. Plummer, Portland's inspector of buildings in American City magazine.

To its boosters though, Portland's bright lights confirmed its status as a premier city of the west, a member of the winner's circle that included San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Denver and the upstart Seattle.

What follows is a tour of Portland in 1913, from Night in Portland, a booklet published by the Newcomb Publishing Company of New York.  The technique used to create it utilized photographs taken in the daylight, retouched to portray an idealized night, a common practice with postcards of the era.

Night in Portland is hard to find.  In years of collecting and research, I have come across mention of only one copy, which I purchased on ebay, from a seller in England.

(Click on images to expand)

Alder and Third, looking west on Alder.  The large building on the corner is the former Masonic Temple.  When built in 1871 it towered above the wood framed houses that surrounded it.  In 1913 it was home to the J.K. Gill Company, sellers of books, stationary and postcards.  It was demolished in 1928.  The Hamilton and Dekum buildings, right, still stand.

Fourth and Stark, looking north, on Fourth.  The Railway Exchange building is to the right.  Huber's restaurant had moved into it three years before.  Across Stark is the Chamber of Commerce building, its huge mass expanded by the floors added after a 1906 fire, at considerable expense to its looks.  It was torn down in 1934.  The parking lot that replaced is there to this day.  The outline of the new Multnomah Hotel (today the Embassy Suites) is lit in the distance. 

 Fifth and Morrison, south on Fifth.  The Corbett building (center), and its neighbor, the Goodnough building, were torn down in 1988 to build Pioneer Place mall.

Fifth and Washington, looking west on Washington. The Holtz department store was opened the previous year by Aaron Holtz, a former Meier and Frank executive.  It lasted less than three years, closing September 1914.  The building, on  "Holtz Corner", still exists.

Although City Park had been changed to Washington Park in 1909, its older name is used in Night in Portland.

Sixth and Alder, looking south on Sixth.  Meier and Frank's terracotta clad retail palace had yet to expand to fill the entire block.  Tonseth Flowers (right) was on the first floor of the Oregonian Building (demolished 1950).

Broadway, south from Morrison.  Broadway was renamed from Seventh Street that year.  The Portland Hotel's less photographed west side and the brand new Oregon Journal Building (Jackson Tower) are to the left.  In the distance an electric theater sign hangs above Broadway.

Tenth and Alder, looking south towards Morrison.  The Olds Wortman and King department store (1910) was the first in the northwest to take up a whole block.  Later known as the Galleria, today it is home of City Target.

Washington, east from Tenth.  The houses in the foreground were soon be replaced by the Pittock Block.  The large structure behind them is the Columbia Building (1905).  It would be demolished in 1972 for O'Bryant Square.  To the immediate right is the Selling-Hirsch building.  The Portland Equal Suffrage League occupied a space inside.  It was torn down in 1971 for a surface parking lot that is today ringed by food carts.

Mt St Helens to the north.

The next year was 1914. Portland was to get  brighter still.  For a little while.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Vexed Question

Portland or Boston?

The coin toss; Portland's Plymouth Rock story.  Everyone knows it, or at least the gist.  But is it true?  Where did it come from?  Has it changed over time? 

The story, in its modern form:

"The two founders of Portland, Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine and Asa Lovejoy from Boston Massachusetts, both wanted to name the fledgling site- then known as The Clearing, after their respective home towns.

The coin toss was decided in 1845 with two out of three tosses which Pettygrove won.  The toss occurred in the parlor of the Ermatinger House in Oregon City.  This house, the oldest in Clackamas County is now a museum.  Portland was incorporated in 1849.

The coin, minted in 1835, is now on display in the Oregon Historical Society Museum."

-Wikipedia, as of October 8 2013.

The Portland Penny at the Oregon Historical Society.

"It sounds like a fairy tale, but the men who did the flipping lived to tell the story many times."
-David W. Hazen, The Morning Oregonian, Romantic Portland Streets column, May 31 1934.

The oldest written version I have come across is from 1863, eighteen years after the event:

"A plat was accordingly made; and the next thought that engaged the minds of the proprietors was that of choosing a suitable name for the newly born city of the west.  Mr. Lovejoy suggested that the place be called Boston, in honor of the capital of his native State, in hopes that at some future time it might rival in commerce and importance the modern Athens.  Mr. Pettygrove contended that Portland was more appropriate, inasmuch as it was the head of steamboat navigation and the port where would land all the freight intended for the valley of the Willamette, and the southern portion of the Territory.  In order to decide this "vexed question," it was proposed by Mr. Pettygrove to toss a copper cent, which he had brought with him as a souvenir of his eastern home; this being agreed to by Mr. Lovejoy, the cent was produced, and Mr. Pettygrove proving the winner, PORTLAND was adopted as the cognomen of the embryo city."
-S.J. McCormick, The 1863 Portland City Directory.

McCormick's version of the story, with its awkward melding of port and land, might have been passed down to the present as the standard, had there not been another telling recorded in 1878, thirty three years after the toss.  What it lacked in timeliness, it made up for with provenance:

"The naming of it lay between us.  We snapped up a copper, and he named it Portland.  I should have named it Boston, because I came from there.  He named it Portland because that was in his state.  But Portland is a very good name.  From that it went on, -and did not amount to much for some time."
-Asa Lovejoy, June 18 1878, interviewed by Hubert Howe Bancroft at the Lovejoy farm house, one and a half miles north of Oregon City.

Transcript of Hubert Howe Bancroft's interview of Asa Lovejoy.

Two years later, Francis Pettygrove chimed in with his version of events:

"Pettygrove told with great glee the chance that resulted in the naming of the new town.  As a native of Maine he naturally thought of complementing the metropolis of that state by giving it a namesake, while similar motives prompted Lovejoy to call the town Boston.  The controversy was finally settled by tossing the single American coin in their possession, an old red cent.  It was agreed that the one who threw the most heads in three flips should name the town.  Lovejoy threw first and the result was tails 2, heads one.  Pettygrove tossed the coin, It first o'me (misprint) heads and then again heads-and so we live in Portland instead of Boston."
-The Morning Oregonian, June 28 1880, interviewing Francis Pettygrove at the 8th annual meeting of the Pioneer Association in Portland.

 Pettygrove's detailed description of the coin flip protocol, with a total of five flips, is noticeably different than the vast majority of the present day tellings.

A decade later, Harvey Scott, in his History of Portland Oregon, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers (1890) wrote his account:

"In due time arose the necessity of naming the place.  The christening was done in quite an informal and characteristic method.  Lovejoy and his wife, Pettygrove and his wife, and a Mr. Wilson being in a dinner party in their residence in Oregon City, a little banter began to flow back and forth about the prospects of the city a dozen miles below.  It was soon inquired by what appellation it should be known the world over.  Lovejoy, being from Massachusetts, wished to name it Boston.  Pettygrove, of Maine, favored Portland.  It was jestingly agreed to decide the controversy by tossing a penny.  Pettygrove happening to have a copper -a memento of old times "Down East" -gave the skillful flip which secured his pet name for the city of one log cabin.  At the first throw he was successful, and to please his antagonist a trial of three throws was made, Pettygrove securing two."

Written eight years after Lovejoy's death and just three years after Pettygrove's, Scott's additional details:  the location (Lovejoy's house, Oregon City) and the presence of Mrs. Lovejoy, Mrs. Pettygrove and Mr. Wilson, have a likelihood of having their basis in fist hand accounts, as the two principals had decades of conversations to establish a narrative.  Scott's two out of three flip variant however differs from Pettygrove's own telling. 

The Portland Penny Diner's sign at SW Broadway and Stark.

The two out of three toss version was reinforced by Pettygrove's own son, Francis W. Pettygrove of Port Townsend Washington, while displaying the Portland Penny at the Portland Hotel:

"This copper one cent piece was tossed in the air more than 50 years ago to decide whether this city should be named "Portland" or "Boston".  It was in the pioneer days of '42 or '43 that my father, F.W. Pettygrove, and Mr. A. L. Lovejoy, a pioneer lawyer, had met for the purpose of choosing a name for the city of Portland, then a mere trading station.  Lawyer Lovejoy came from Boston, and desired to have the young settlement named for his birthplace.  Father was a native of Portland, Me., and took pardonable pride in choosing the name of that city.  They disputed the matter at some length, when Mr. Lovejoy suggested that they might toss a copper for choice, the winner to choose the name.  Father took this copper out of his pocket and flipped it the air.  As it fell to the ground Lovejoy exclaimed 'heads' and it turned 'tails' up.

Father had won.  but Lovejoy insited it should be two best out of three calls.  Father consented, and the next toss Lovejoy won.  At the third toss father called the turn properly and won.  He thereupon christened the settlement Portland, and the name has clung to it ever sense.  Father always sacredly guarded the copper cent, and it has not been out of the family during all those intervening years, and as long as I live, it never will be."
-Francis W. Pettygrove, from the Morning Oregonian, September 12 1894.

Besides emphasizing the sporting magnanimity of the Pettygroves, his version added the dramatic detail of the penny falling to the ground.  In contrast with McCormick's 1863 account, it is Lovejoy, not Pettygrove who suggested the toss.  Pettygrove's prior residence also shifted from the State of Maine to Portland Maine (he was actually from Calais Maine).  

A Picture of Portland Rough Beginnings of a City, (The Morning Oregonian, December 4 1900) presented a unified theory that straddled the early port + land and Portland Maine version of Pettygrove's inspiration, mated with two out of three flips:

"A curious and interesting story told is the naming of the future metropolis.  Lovejoy and his wife, Pettygrove and his wife and a Mr. Wilson were gathered at dinner in Oregon City and engaged in some good humored discussion as to the prospects of the place a dozen miles away.  It developed that no name had ever been given, or at least none final had been decided upon.  The preference of Lovejoy was Boston, as he was from Massachusetts.  Pettygrove wanted Portland, being from Maine.  He contended that his name was more appropriate, inasmuch as the site was at the head of steam navigation, and it was the "port" where would "land" all the freight intended for the Valley of the Willamette and the southern portion of the territory.  It was finally decided to settle the controversy by tossing a penny.  Pettygrove won the first throw, but to insure the completeness of his victory he agreed to a trail of three throws, and he won two.  Thus his favored name was definitely agreed upon."

A synthesis of numerous versions, the article offered a viable explanation of the port + land story from 1863; as a part of Pettygrove's argument, rather than his inspiration for choosing the name. 

 By the turn of the century, most, but not all, of the details to be repeated many times in future accounts were firmly established.

The Ermatinger House (1845) in Oregon City status as the location of the coin flip is a relatively recent addition, making its first appearance in the Oregonian on April 22 1986:  "The house is believed by some to be the location of the famous coin toss between Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove that determined the name of the city.  A spokeswoman for the Oregon Historical Society, however, said the coin toss did take place in Oregon City, but it happened in Lovejoy's house.  She did not know the location of Lovejoy's house."  

Lovejoy's house as the site of the toss first appears in Scott's 1890 account.  If it is the same residence where Lovejoy was interviewed by Bancroft in 1878, it was located one and a half miles north of Oregon City.

The lobby of the Hamilton Building, SW 3rd Ave, between Alder and Washington.

"It is certainly time that the community awoke to the real value of its historic and picturesque background and ceased the provincial practice of tossing pennies to see which petty politician should have landmarks named for him."
-James Tremont Wyatt, advocating for the picturesque and a proposal to rename Portland.  The Morning Oregonian, December 11 1934.

Sentiment for a third option, neither Portland nor Boston, has had adherents over the years,  with Multnomah, likely derived from the Chinook word Nematlnomaq (down river, from the falls), a preferred alternativeNoting that there were at least eighteen other Portlands in the United States, the Oregonian opined on September 30 1972, that the name deserved consideration in a (ill-fated) plan to consolidate Portland and Multnomah County.

"It is clear these two men, for all their pioneering ability, had little feeling in their souls for the poetry of names.  They had it in their power to make the future metropolis a musical Willamette or a distinctive Multnomah.  But Portland it became, in 1845, and four years later an all-wise Post Office approved the choice with a big red round postmark.
-Stewart Holbrook in The Far Corner (1950).

On July 26 1966, the Portland Penny was used to determine which of two parks, in what later would be called the Portland Open Space Sequence, would be called Lovejoy and which Pettygrove.  Mayor Terry Schrunk flipped (once) the coin, it was called by Thomas Vaughan of the Oregon Historical Society and Ira Keller of the Portland Development Commission.  Vaughan won, and chose the north park for Pettygrove and the south for Lovejoy.

The story is ubiquitous in retelling.  It has been reenacted over the years by Portland mayors, commissioners and school children.  The coin toss is a required stopover in any general Portland history.  Boston Massachusetts, in hope of a mulligan, has been the site of at least two re-flips.  The space the Oregonian has devoted to it can be measured, not in column inches, but in yards.  Surprisingly, it has not been portrayed in The Simpsons.

 In one hundred sixty eight years it has acquired countless variants, including a Colliers Weekly article from 1917, in which Asa Lovejoy kicks the penny into the river in a fit of frustration.  Examination of early written sources leave little doubt the toss has basis in fact, but for every lost detail, there has been ample legend offered as replacement.

Final score:
Lovejoy- tales, tales, heads.
Pettyrove- heads, heads.

Decision: Pettygrove.

Portland OGN, October 8 2013.

Ada Louise Huxtable's visit to Portland

In 1970 New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable visited Portland.  What did she think?  My piece in Portland Architecture.

Friday, November 09, 2012

City of Bubblers

Streetcars on the Bridge Transfer line in front of the Oriental Theatre on SE Grand, near Morrison.
-From the Streetcars Build a City exhibit at the Architectural Heritage Center.

A view, taken prior to 1947, near the present day SE Grand and Morrison stop on the newly opened Portland Streetcar Central Loop.  To the far left is the edge of the twelve story high Weatherly Building, which still stands.  A Benson Bubbler is in the foreground.  Like the Oriental Theatre, it has long since vanished.  The picture establishes that Portland's iconic four-bowled fountains once ranged on east-side streets.

 The photograph raises questions:  If there was one Benson Bubbler on an east-side corner, were there others?  Where were the original twenty fountains, donated by Simon Benson in 1912 located?  How many still exist?  What does their movement tell about Portland's history?

 The search for answers lead to forty nine Benson Bubblers, and to the story of a forgotten preservation battle.

A Benson Bubbler in the April 1916 issue of American City.

 The story of Simon Benson's gift to provide workers with an alternative to saloons ranks high, along with the coin flip to name the city, in Portland's collective myth; a perfect counterpoint to Henry Wienhard's offer to pipe beer through the Skidmore fountain on opening day. 

The fountains were immediately embraced by Portlanders, who wryly referred to having a "Benson Highball" or a "Benson Cocktail".  Be it their implied communal invitation, the healthful quality of Bull Run water, the philanthropy of Simon Benson or the design work of A.E. Doyle, the Benson Bubblers then, as now, symbolized Portland's better self.


"Race Prejudices Disappear When Thirsty Folk Bend to Fountain"
-The Sunday Oregonian, July 27 1913.

"...the "color line," however well defined it may be at other places, recedes to the vanishing point on a hot afternoon at the at the corner of Sixth and Alder, Fifth and Washington or any of the other 20 odd corners in the city where, night and day, the Benson fountains bubble their little song of welcome and generosity." 
-The Sunday Oregonian, July 27 1913. 

 The original locations of the first 20 Benson Bubblers can serve as way markers to the Portland of 1912.  The fountain at SW 4th and Stark enhances a parking lot that was once the site of the opulent Chamber of Commerce building (1892-1934).

Benson's twenty bubblers of 1912 were placed at the following street corners: (italics indicate locations where the fountains have since been removed). 

First & Madison
First & Washington
Third & Burnside
Third & Morrison
Third & Washington (Dekum Building) 
Fourth & Stark (Chamber of Commerce) 
Fifth & Morrison (Pioneer Courthouse)
Fifth & Washington (location of the 1st Benson Bubbler) 
Sixth & Alder (NW corner, the Oregonian Building)
Sixth & Irving (Union Station)
Tenth & Washington
Broadway & Glisan  (west end of the Broadway Bridge)
Broadway & Oak (Benson Hotel)
Broadway and Washington (Morgan Building)
Broadway & Yamhill (sw corner near the Portland Hotel)
Burnside & Grand 
Ford (Vista) & Washington (Burnside)
Front & Morrison
Grand & Hawthorne
Grand & Washington

Note: Broadway was changed from Seventh on the west side in 1913. 

 "For many years the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Washington street right there by one of the Simon Benson drinking fountains- was the general headquarters for Portland's old time chimney sweeps.  You've seen them there, no doubt, with their tall hats, or with hats in which tall cards had been stuck."
-Stewart Holbrook, in his column Down Portland By-Paths, The Oregonian, March 29 1934, about an old and dying practice.

In the century to follow Benson's donation, the fountains faced neglect, defacement, perils from disinvestment and displacement by off-ramps.  At one point they were viewed by the City Council as a public health risk.  Today, there numbers are more than double that of 1912, a turnabout brought on by the efforts of Francis J. Murnane.

By the 1950s the fountain at Third and Washington had lost two arms.  At least four received this treatment, a practice began in the 1920s to save water. 

"... The city of Portland however has treated the fountains rather shabbily.  Many of the fountains are mutilated.  Some of them have been removed in callous disregard of the donor."
-Francis J. Murnane, in the Oregonian, January 2 1952.

Francis J. Murnane, a Portland longshoreman, later president of ILWU Local #8, noted the sorry condition of the bubblers in a letter to the Oregonian in January 1952.  Over the next six years his concern evolved into a personal crusade aimed at the City Council to protect the fountains, whose numbers had dropped to sixteen.

"It is my belief that the Benson fountains belong to all the city and should be restored to their beauty and usefulness.  This is particularly important in order to favorably impress the millions of visitors expected during Oregon's Centennial and Trade Fair.  Further, the inexcusable indifference in the care and maintenance of the fountains may deter others from donating gifts to the City of Portland." 
-Francis J. Murnane, in a letter to the City Council, dated July 24 1958. 

In his campaign, he created five hand-typed brochures, pasted with photographs of each of the existent fountains, which he presented to the members of the council. Despite the fact his preservation advocacy would gain him admittance into Commissioner William Bowes "letters from crazies" correspondence file, his efforts met with success.

"The work of renovation and restoration of existing fountains is proceeding under direction of the Bureau of Water Works, and a contract, authorized by Ordinance Number 109030, passed by the Council November 12 1958, has been entered into with James L. Hanson for the reproduction of four Benson fountains which were missing from the original number.

Therefore, your Commissioners recommend that Mr. Murnane be advised accordingly and commended for his interest in calling the matter to the attention of the City; and that the calendar be placed on file."
-Nathan A. Boody, Commissioner of Public Utilities, in a letter to the City Council, December 11 1958. 

The sixteen bubblers were repaired and the arms that were restored to the four fountains that had them removed.  Locations were found for those displaced by the new Morrison Bridge.  Four exact replicas were cast to replace the missing fountains.  The first replica was installed, at the suggestion fo Francis J. Murnane, at the base of the South Park blocks, with a plaque memorializing Simon Benson.

 Francis J. Murnane (left) at the dedication of the Simon Benson plaque near SW Park and Salmon.  
-The Oregonian, June 23 1959. 

 A refugee from the 1960s.  According the the Oregonian, the fountain at Broadway and Columbia (in front of the Oregonian's building) was placed there in December 1967, after being displaced by Urban Renewal.  However, no Benson Bubblers were located within the boundaries of the South Auditorium Urban Renewal district, or its expansion.  It is possible though that the fountain came from First and Madison.

In the decades to follow, more fountains were locally produced, some by Benson High School.  By 1982 their total had grown to 37.  Today their number stands officially at 52.

In general the their placement shifted to the west, perhaps in deference to the Simon Benson heirs wishes, stated in the 1970s, that they be restricted to certain downtown boundaries.  In 1912 there were four fountains along Fifth and Sixth.  At present there are twenty-five, partially the result of a bubbler binge in 1976 that added fifteen to the bus mall, then under construction.  There are none on Naito Parkway / Front Avenue (or for that matter in Waterfront Park).  The only two on the east side of the river are at honorific locations:  Benson High School and the Vera Katz East Bank Esplanade.

Some locations added after 1958 no longer have Benson Bubblers.  Chapman Square, NE 41st and Sandy, Naito (Front) & Yamhill all at present have single bowled fountains.  A forlorn cement filled circle marks the spot where a Benson once stood in O'Bryant Park.


Close examination of the bubblers reveals different varietals.  The original 1912 era fountains are marked as Presented by S. Benson 1912 and by having a two piece top (or a screw hole indicating a missing cap).  The fact that there are currently 18 fountains with a 1912 inscription strongly hints that the four 1958 replacement replicas were also thus adorned.  On later fountains the inscriptions differ, many newer ones have none.  The 1976 vintage bubblers revived two piece tops. 

Of the remaining 16 original fountains, half have been moved over time, likely switched out for maintenance.  Those that appear to be in their original locations are:

SW Third & Burnside
SW Third & Washington
SW Fourth & Stark
NW Sixth and Irving
SW Tenth & Washington
NW Broadway & Glisan (missing inscription plate)
SW Broadway & Washington 
SW Broadway & Yamhill (SW corner) 

"Oh My God!  I love these things!"
-Teenage girl to her friend, approaching the bubbler at NW Second and Davis, a sunny Saturday afternoon, October 6 2012.  

Today, their status as an local icon is secure.  The Benson Bubblers dispense Portland's civic sacrament from 6 am to 11 pm, every day of the year.  That they do is in no small part because the efforts of a Portland longshoreman in the 1950s.  Had Francis J. Murnane not advocated for them, it is possible someone else would have, but in a decade where the past had little value, his contribution can not be taken for granted.

 In 1965, two Benson Bubblers were cast, one of which was given to Portland's sister city, Sapporo Japan.
-Photo courtesy of Christopher Lewis Cotrell. 

Not a Benson, but a Robinson:  In 1921, Nellie Robinson bequeathed $2,000 to the City of Portland for water fountains.  Two four bowled fountains, similar but distinct from Benson's, were placed in front of the Civic Auditorium.  Today they are perhaps the only remnant of the vanished streetscape in the South Auditorium Urban Renewal District.  A three-bowled "Nellie" was also placed at Front and Vine, where it remains, albeit on a map much changed.

North Portland is the only one of the "five quadrants" never to have had a Benson Bubbler.  Or is it?  A news item titled "Exclusive Dog Arrested" in the Oregonian on December 14, 1912, tells of a large Newfoundland dog impounded for drinking from a Benson Bubbler at Mississippi and Russell.  If the story is correct, Albina had a Benson, just as the former East Portland had three.  Its removal would likely have occurred long before Murnane's 1958 list.


In 1979 Francis J. Murnane (1914-1968) was honored by the naming  pedestrian wharf at the foot Ankeny Street in Waterfront Park for him.  A plaque mentioned the roll of the waterfront in Portland's development and his terms as the president of ILWU Local #8.  It continued:

"His concern encompassed the city, its fountains, parks, statues and history.  He was known by the City fathers of his time as the "cultural and historical conscience of Portland."

The plaque disappeared and was forgotten by the city and his union.  The wharf was closed and recently removed.  A small, garbage strewn platform beneath the seawall is all that remains of it.

If Portland is serious about the riches of the city, perhaps this can be rectified by a new plaque at the base of the South Park Blocks, next to the one placed, at his suggestion, to honor Simon Benson.

 A toast, a Benson Highball, to Francis J. Murnane.

 Thanks to Brian Johnson and Mary Hansen at the City of Portland Archives and Records Center.  Terry Black at the Portland Water Bureau.  Val Ballestrom at the Architectural Heritage Center, Doug Bloem, Christopher Lewis Cotrell and Tanya Lynn March.

This tracking of the history, habitats and migratory habits of the Benson Bubblers was drawn from the following: a brochure by the Water Bureau on their downtown locations.  A more extensive (but out of date) list generously provided by the Water Bureau,  Francis J. Murnane's 1958 list from the City of Portland's Archives and Research Center, accounts from the Historic Oregonian database from the Multnomah County Library, and the direct observation of 49 fountains.  If anyone would like a copy of my minutia filled, highly specific working list, email or contact me via the Cafe Unknown Facebook page. 




Saturday, June 30, 2012

Oh Gilded Palace of Sin

The Glisan / Holladay house on the south west corner of Third and Stark.

"After buying a large home from Doctor Rodney Glisan, "he remodeled it and immediately installed a harem of high class prostitutes."
-Wikipedia, on Ben Holladay  


 (click on pictures to expand)

 The statement plays into the well established narrative of Ben Holladay's sojourn in Portland, and notions of a raucous frontier of painted ladies and soiled doves.  Often repeated, the anecdote has acquired the authority of settled fact.

 A close examination of the story however reveals a different picture; a cautionary tale of how myths perpetuate and history is made.

"He was a man of splendid physique, fine address, and knew well how to manage the average human nature.  He was energetic, untiring, unconscionable, unscrupulous, and wholly destitute of fixed principles of honesty, morality and common decency." 
 -Joseph Gaston in Portland Oregon, Its History and Builders (1911).

 Much of what has been passed down about Holladay's time in Oregon has come from the works of historian Joseph Gaston, whose poisoned penned invective was anything but impartial.  The root of his animosity dates to the situation in Portland in April 1868, when two railroad companies, each with the name Oregon Central, began building to reach California and the lucrative Federal land grants to be awarded to the first company to complete twenty miles of track.

 Joseph Gaston was president of the Oregon Central (West Side).  He was backed by wealthy Portland interests that included John C. Ainsworth of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company and banker William S. Ladd.  Their chosen route to the Golden State was via Hillsboro and Corvallis. 

 With an eye for the grand sweep of history, Gaston envisioned his railroad leading to the rise of a Portland, that: "...holding the keys and being the gateway and handmaid to commerce between the Atlantic and the Indies, shall rival Venice in its adornment and Constantinople in its wealth."

 The Oregon Central (East Side) had dubious origins in San Francisco.  It started building in East Portland and was backed largely by down state and Salem interests who stood to gain a railroad by its route. 

The Salem group had the easier to build alignment.  They hired Chinese labor (who knew something about building railroads) "rows upon rows of them" (the actual number at the time of the quote was around forty).  The Portland (or what Gaston would call, the Gaston) group had the route more likely to be profitable upon completion of its first twenty miles.  They avoided hiring Chinese workers, a fact they stated with pride.  

Finances and geography considered, the two camps were evenly matched - until the arrival of Ben Holladay in August 1868.

Portland at the start of the 1870s.  Note the railroad on the east side of the river.

 Holladay had made fortunes in the stagecoach, steamboat and steamship businesses and was looking to make another with railroads.  He acquired the east-side company and reorganized it as the Oregon & California Railroad.  A master of Gilded Age lobbying, he dispatched one of his steamboats to Salem for use as a veritable pleasure barge to influence the Oregon legislature.  Money, alcohol and favors were liberally applied to the task at hand.  He then rammed through the construction of the railroad to win the offered Federal land grants: today's O&C timber lands.
 Out played, out spent and out built, the Portland group decided to reach accommodation with Holladay, to wait, as W.S. Ladd put it, until he hung himself financially.  In an exchange of letters between John C. Ainsworth and Ben Holladay, Joseph Gaston's dream was sold out from under him.

 Joseph Gaston, 1838-1913.

 Holladay eventually "hung himself financially" in the financial panic of 1873.  Thirty eight years later Gaston would write: 

"But it is all past into history.  All the actors in the drama are dead but one.  All the members of all the old companies are dead but this one.  And while he was robbed of his rights and his property by a corrupted legislature, and corrupt judges, he still remains to enjoy in comfort a pleasant home that looks down on the city he has helped build, with all the necessary comforts in life; and what is better than all else, the respect of his friends and neighbors -and lives to write this history of those who wantonly robbed him, and gained nothing in the end by their wrong doing." 
-Joseph Gaston, Portland Oregon, Its History and Builders (1911).


 While Wikipedia quotes Gaston's assessment of Holladay, the anecdote about a brothel at his house at Third and Stark was taken, nearly verbatim, from E. Kimbark MacColl's labyrinthine history of Portland plutocracy, The Shaping of a City, Business and Politics in Portland Oregon1885-1915

 "When he bought one of Portland's largest homes from the city's most prominent physician, Dr. Rodney Glisan, he remodeled it and immediately installed a harem of high class prostitutes."
 The source MacColl referred to the diaries of Judge Matthew P. Deady, later published as Pharisee Among Philistines (1975).


The entry MacColl specifically cited was from March 8 1872, where Deady described a confrontation between James A Nesmith and Ben Holladay, related to him by Nesmith.


 James Nesmith (1820-1885) pioneer, congressman, and raconteur.  He was the originator and thus far, only source of the story that Portland co-founder William Overton was later hanged in Texas.

 The incident took place the previous fall at Nesmith's house:

"He said that H (Holladay) was bantering him about running for Congress and advising him to keep out of politics and threatened to put a man on his track who knew all about him if he did.  Nes asked who it was and H finally said it was O'Meara.  Nes replied that if any man set his dog on him, he would not stop to kick the dog, but would go after his master, and if you -H set your dog on me I'll get up on the stump and tell the people of Oregon, that Ben H keeps two whores in Portland, O'Meara and the other one and I'll tell the name of the other one -meaning of course Miss E.C." 

"O'Meara" was James O'Meara, editor of Ben Holladay's Portland paper, the Daily Bulletin. He had been on good terms with Matthew Deady before falling out with him over the Wallamet / Willamette controversy.  If O'Meara was one half of whom MacColl would refer to as "a harem of high class prostitutes" who then was "Miss E.C."?

Esther Lydia Campbell, later Holladay (1849-1889)
-Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, OrHi #12167.

 Esther Campbell was the daughter of pioneers, Hamilton Campbell and Harriet Biddle, who arrived in Oregon in 1840 on the ship Lausanne to join Jason Lee's mission.  They had six daughters and two sons.

 Hamilton Campbell was an artisan who was to engrave the dies used to coin the territory's first currency, the locally minted so-called "beaver money."  He became a daguerreotypist and established a photography business in Corvallis, and later, San Francisco.  He went to Mexico in 1862 to become the Superintendent of Mines in Guaymas, where he was murdered the following year.
 According to the Portland City Directory of 1868, the year Holladay arrived in Portland, Harriet Biddle Campell lived on Washington Street between Third and 4th, likely with her family which included her nineteen year old daughter Esther.

 By the time of Deady's diary entries (1872) Esther was the constant companion of Ben Holladay.   The specifics are lost but the equation is familiar to any reader of Edith Wharton or Henry James:  a unhappily married tycoon, an absent wife, a prominent family in hard times, a beautiful daughter, a scandal.

 Ben Holladay departs Portland for San Francisco on his steamship, the Oriflamme, in a notice from the Morning Oregonian, January 20 1872.  Miss Campbell is further down the list.  Two months later, the Morning Oregonian of March 7 1872  announced his return from San Francisco on the Oriflamme.  A Miss E. Campbell appeared on that list.  

"...The Oriflamme came back in yesterday afternoon, bringing Holladay and Household back to Portland."  - entry from Matthew Deady's diary, March 7 1872. 

Hints of the scandal can be found in numerous places in Deady's diary.  Buttressing his his brothel theory, MacColl (Shaping of a City pp 41) mentioned an entry from June 6 1873:
"Reed called and said the had a story at Baker City that young Ben (Holladay) went below (to San Francisco) at met his mother about to come up to Oregon, and he told her not to go, she was too old to go into a whore house." 

"Young Ben" Holladay was the son of Ben Holladay and his first wife Ann, who was visiting San Francisco from her home in upstate New York.  MacColl summarized the entry as to mean that "Holladay was running a whore house in his own home."
   A more likely interpretation is that the anecdote reflects the rocky relationship between Holladay and his alcohol-troubled son, and the son's feeling about his fathers relationship with another woman.

 Deady was an occasional guest at Holladay's where he was to enjoy dinners and "some white wine said to have cost in New York $63 a dozen."  It is hard to imagine the upright judge would be seen entering a house he actually suspected of being a brothel.  More probable was Deady's interest in how Holladay's domestic scandal was played out publicly.


 Esther Campbell Holladay and daughter, Linda Holladay.
  -Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society, OrHi #100106.

 Ann Holladay died September 18 1873, three months after her visit to San Francisco, at the same time Ben Holladay's fortune was collapsing in a financial panic.  A year later, Ben Holladay and Esther Campbell married.  They had two children together, a son, Ben Campbell Holladay, and a daughter, Linda.  They lived at the house on Third and Stark as Holladay tried unsuccessfully to return to riches.  He died in 1887, Esther died two years later.  They are buried together in Portland's Mt. Calvary cemetery.


 -The Sunday Oregonian, November 20 1921. 

An article in the Sunday Oregonian, written forty-three years after Ben Holladay's death, brings the house at Third and Stark and its surroundings into sharper focus.  It celebrates the eightieth year of Maria Evangeline Campbell Smith, one of Esther's older sisters.  In it she describes her long time home on lot #2 of block #47, on Third Street between Stark and Washington, and her years spent as the organist at the church that neighbored her house to the south.  

 Third and Stark (the present site of Huber's).
 The article, combined with city directories and other sources provides a view of the house at Third and Stark, not as a high class brothel, but as part of what was practically a Holladay-Campbell compound.  

Directly behind Holladay's house, out of view in the picture, lived his ne'er-do-well brother Joseph.  The house to left of Holladay's belonged to Maria Campbell Smith and her husband, prominent druggist Samuel Smith. Partially visible is the Presbyterian Church where she was the organist.

 To the rear the church, or directly across the street from it on Washington, lived Harriet Biddle Campbell, Maria and Esther's mother, likely with their youngest sister, Harriet, who would eventually marry R.H. Towler, Ben Holladay's personal secretary. 

To the photographer's back was the Catholic Cathedral (today, the Bishop's House is a remnant) on the north east corner of Third and Stark, to which Holladay, a Catholic, donated a stained glass window in his and Esther's name.

Even by the fast and loose standards of his peers, Holladay's methods and life style stood out.  His brazenness was unforgivable, once his fortunes turned.  He was not to receive
from the Oregonian the relatively free pass granted to the later financial over-extensions of Henry Villard or George B. Markle.  

Joseph Gaston's views, dominant now into the age of Wikipedia, provided the fertile ground for Kimbark MacColl's erroneous  interpretation of, if not scandal, then the wrong scandal.  A closer look at history, and the circumstances of its writing, asks for a more nuanced approach. 

..more to follow in The Fall of the House of Holladay.