Portland Oregon history.

Friday, July 24, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties

The parades had ended, the bunting was removed, the guests had returned home. The white plaster city on the shore of Guild's Lake would be knocked down before it could rot. Portland's debut to a world audience, the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 that celebrated a new era of trade on the Pacific rim, was over.

Portland was an early adopter to hosting a global event, as much transformative as promotional, along the lines of a worlds fair or international competition.

Other western cities followed. Seattle took to the stage four years later with the Alaska Pacific Exposition and again with the World's Fair of 1962. San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Vancouver BC, late to the show, caught up with Expo 86 and next years 2010 Olympics.

Portland hosted the Oregon Centennial Exposition and International Trade Fair in 1959, but despite its name, it was regional in scope and looked to the past as much as the future. As far as hosting a large scale international event was concerned, Portland was done in 1905. It was not for lack of trying.

In 1962 Portland made a big play for the 1968 Olympic Games.

The effort was lead by the Portland Olympic Council, which included Portland Mayor Terry D. Schrunk, Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield and a roll call of local and state-wide business leaders such as Glen Jackson of Pacific Power & Light, Gerald Frank of Meier & Frank, Ralph J. Voss of the First National Bank of Oregon and M.J. Frey, publisher of the Oregonian. At the apogee of the New Frontier, of the four hundred plus statewide business and civic leaders listed on the published membership roll, only fifteen were women.

Portland Mayor Terry D. Schrunk.

The decision to invite the XIX Olympiad built upon the existing ambitious initiatives during the Terry Schrunk administration that included a new zoo, the recently constructed Memorial Coliseum, a rapidly expanding freeway system, the dawn of Portland's urban renewal program and a proposed forty-eight million dollar stadium at Delta Park.

The stadium, as advocated by Portland Metropolitan Future Incorporated, would put Portland in contention for major athletic events and professional sports.

"If Portland wants to be the great metropolis of the Northwest, serving the distributing, banking, cultural and entertainment needs of a vast four state area, it should act like one. And the best way to act like a metropolis, in a class with San Francisco and Los Angeles, is to provide a big league stadium for baseball, football and other outdoor spectaculars which will attract thousands of visitors on a year-round basis."
-Fred Meyer in the Oregon Journal, January 9 1962.

A new stadium was viewed as essential to attract major league sports, at the same time the city's minor league baseball team was experiencing difficulties in Multnomah Stadium (today, PGE Park).

"I believe we are going through a cycle. I think baseball will regain popularity... Give us a new $900,000 park, seating maybe 9,000. We'd do all right, just as Tacoma has done and the hockey team is doing in its new facility."
-Arch Kingsley, President of the Portland Beavers in the Oregon Journal, September 5 1962.

To supporters of the Portland Olympic Council, the games would bring much more than sports to the city, jump starting plans already in the works.

"The connection is obvious: the Olympic Games would leave Portland with a stadium, swimming pool and other facilities even more magnificent than those called for in the original proposal which Future Unlimited made last July. But beyond that, putting on the Olympic Games would move our area years ahead in its development of housing, highways and countless other things not directly connected with sports. Just as the Worlds Fair has done for Seattle, the Games would show the world that Portland is a fresh and vigorous Western city, with energy and brains in its people to match the beauty of its physical setting."
-The Oregonian, Portland-Olympic City, September 5 1962.

The Olympic bid was to be made to the site selection committee of the United States Olympic Committee, set to meet in Chicago on October 15 1962. The winning site would then be submitted to the International Olympic Committee set to meet in Nairobi Kenya the following year.

On September 20 1962, the Portland Olympic Council presented drawings of the proposed Olympic site created by the Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, to much public acclaim.

"Portland, like a Cinderella gingerly slipping a foot into the glass slipper, tried on the 1968 Olympic Games for size Thursday and the picture was stunning."

-The Oregonian, September 21 1962, which continued to gush:

"It was a picture that left Portland almost beyond recognition, a Brasilia in the Willamette Valley with parking for 40,000 cars and a rowing race course on the Willamette and the men who would bring this all about were there to proclaim: "It can be done."

The drawings were then reproduced and combined with promotional material to make a 11 x 14 soft cover book titled:

(Click on images to expand)

It opens with two letters: one from Governor Mark Hatfield to Mayor Terry Schrunk, and one from Mayor Terry Schrunk to the United States Olympic Committee, followed by a standard chamber of commerce style promotional piece on Portland's virtues, tweaked to project a certain diverse, internationalist je ne sais quoi.

"Portland is Oregon's largest city with a population of approximately 372,000 and a metropolitan area of more than 800,000. As a major port reaching out to Alaska, Hawaii, South America and the Far East, the City is inevitably cosmopolitan in its makeup. Indeed, more than one person out of every five is either foreign born or fluent in his mother tongue. There are of course many Canadians who have settled in this area. A great portion of those of foreign extraction are from the Nordic countries of Europe and the United Kingdom, from Russia, China and Japan."

It continued with perhaps a bit of unintended honesty:

"But most of us who live here are hardly aware of this cosmopolitan facet of our City's personality. We are far more conscious of her reputation as the City of Roses."

The book highlights the Rose City Olympic Center:

The proposed site covered Delta Park and the Oregon Centennial Exposition grounds.

The Olympic Stadia was an outgrowth of the Portland Metropolitan Future Unlimited stadium proposal. It was to have seating for 60,000 with 20,000 more temporary seats and standing from for 10,000 for a total capacity of 90,000.

The Natatorium features three Olympic swimming pools.

The Delta Park Arena and Exhibit Center: fifteen acres of covered exhibit and arena space, including room for administrative, reception and medical functions.

The Olympic Village.

Portland's proposal extended beyond the Rose City Olympic Center by tying it to facilities in the rest of the city via the rapidly expanding freeway system:

Postcard of the Hilton Hotel on Broadway, slated to be the headquarters hotel of the XIX Olympiad.

"Portland's $9 million Memorial Coliseum, opened in late 1960, is the newest and largest completely air conditioned arena-exposition building in the Northwest. By 1968 it would be only five minutes driving time from the proposed Rose City Olympic Center. The existing arena, with seating of 14,000 and integrated exhibit space, is to be supplemented by a new 3,000 seat convention hall. This show place, located within walking distance of downtown Portland is supported by 3,000 parking spaces." -Portland Invites the XIX Olympiad.

The Olympic Boating Center, to be located at Sellwood on the "placid waters of the Willamette."

The Rose City Olympic Center linked by freeways to downtown, the Memorial Coliseum and the Olympic Boating Center. Planned additions to the freeway network (dotted lines) include the Sellwood, Mt Hood, Multnomah and Laurelhurst Freeways as well as a major tunnel under the West Hills linking downtown to the Beaverton-Hillsdale highway near Dosch Road.

It was over as fast as it began. On October 16 1962 Detroit Michigan was selected as the American contender for the 1968 games.

"Announcement of the Detroit nomination leaked out of the morning committee room only after Bob Kain, the selection committee chairman had broken away to inform Howard Hobson of the Portland delegation that our city didn't win. A trace of tears broke from the eyes of the ex-coach of the University of Oregon Tall Firs as he fumbled for a moment in asking...Why?"

-The Oregonian, October 17 1962, which continued...

"The reason was obvious enough to those close to the strategy it takes to capture a U.S. Olympics nomination: Portland had not the time for the delicate, person to person political work needed to swing a national committee to this town in the West."

"We were treated like gentlemen. They gave us a good hearing. Now we have to lay our plans for coming back for the 1972 games. We have laid the ground for '72. Let us not spoil the work that has been put into that."
-Rudie Wilhelm Jr. president of the Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Terry D. Schrunk echoed the sentiment:

"Now we have a job to do. We have got to go back to Portland and build a complex that will be there when we make our bid four years from now for the 1972 games."

In Portland supporters resumed work on a stadium package that, if successful, would have the city in a better position the next time around.

Three months later, there was a dramatic reversal of fortune. A bitter argument between Los Angeles and Detroit over the selection committee's decision forced a re-appraisal of the results. All of the cities that submitted proposals were invited back, this time to the full board of directors. With only a month for preparation, Portland's bid was reactivated.

For the second effort, Portland was more focused on publicity and politics. Mayor Schrunk issued a public challenge to the mayors of Detroit and Los Angeles to a fifty mile walking race from Portland to Salem, with the U.S. Olympic Bid as the prize.

A robust Portland, represented by Mayor Schrunk, guides a winded Detroit and 98 pound weakling Los Angeles on a fifty mile hike in this March 1963 Oregonian cartoon.

On the Political front, Governor Hatfield approached retired General Douglas MacArthur to advocate for Portland, to counter the star power of national figures Governor Pat Brown of California and Governor George Romney of Michigan (Jerry and Mitt's fathers). The general was initially favorable, but nothing came of Hatfield's efforts.

Not quite faded away...

Even with their energy and enthusiasm, few thought Portland stood much of a chance, a fact reflected by the Oregonian which called for a new stadium regardless of "the smallest outside chance of being selected for the 1968 Olympics at the reopened selection presentations in New York."

That sentiment that was proven true. Detroit was once again selected. The final tally: Detroit, 32 votes, Los Angeles, 4 votes, Portland, 2 votes, San Francisco, 1 vote, Philadelphia, 1 vote.

The following year, the 1968 Olympics were awarded to Mexico City when the International Olympic Committee met in Nairobi Kenya.

Portland returned to the dream of a new stadium and the 1972 Olympics. In May 1964 the stadium, now covered and known as "the Delta Dome" went down to defeat in an election by 9,000 votes. A bid for the 1972 Olympics was mounted later in the year, but when a second stadium measure failed, Portland's Olympic dream was essentially over. With it vanished Portland's best chance to re-take the international stage.

A Landmark Post

When the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed their America's 11 most Endangered Places list two months ago, I wondered how a Portland list would look. I drew one up one and pictured a piece that highlighted eleven endangered Portland landmarks, each with a guest advocate to write a summary of their history and status. A sort of Portland preservation Super Friends.

In the two months that have passed, two landmarks at the top of my list have already been demolished: the Riverdale School, designed by A.E. Doyle and the Pagoda Restaurant in the Hollywood District.

Others remain in the news.

The University of Oregon's recent over-reach in wanting to place neon signs on the Old Town water tower upended Commissioner Randy Leonard's "compromise" on the Made in Oregon sign. It presents an opportunity to re-examine the proposed changes to the sign. The "compromise" involved the removal of the word University from U of O's proposed re-branding of the sign, leaving just the word Oregon. The signs current Made in Oregon logo is not "historic" per se, but it can't be denied that it is a landmark and local icon, even to the point of appearing on posters and books that promote Portland.

What is lost with the "compromise is a prominent visual element, the serif on the letter M in the word Made that adds to the sense of motion to the sign, a holdover from the original W of the White Satin and White Stag incarnations. The round O in Oregon has no such element (frankly, the U in University would). Whatever the case, community input has been lacking in what so far has been a power struggle between City Hall and the University of Oregon.

Memorial Coliseum's fate is still very much up in the air. A recent spate of letters to local media outlets appear designed to foster the impression there is massive sentiment in Portland to demolish the building (one letter writer in the Oregonian shilled that the only people who appreciated the building was a small group of elitist architects). The letters talk of putting Memorial Coliseum "back on the table" (read under the wrecking ball) as the possible solution to Portland's decades long effort to find a viable home for baseball.

What new use is possible for the Coliseum? How will it be paid for? It will require imagination. Here is some.

How about a Blazer game (or Blazer exposition game) in Memorial Coliseum with the current team in 1977 finery and appearances from the championship squad and local personalities from that era? The crowd would be encouraged to wear their uber-70s best. I for one would pay extra to see what I missed the first time. All proceeds would go to upkeep and upgrades to the building. One great night is not enough to solve the problem, but it could be part of the solution.

How many solar panels could the roof of Memorial Coliseum hold?

Portland prides itself on being Green and wants to market and brand itself as a Green city. A lot of places do, even Phoenix Arizona (check it out)

When it comes to re-use and preservation (the Greenest building is the one that is already built) Portland's record is not so impressive. Phoenix Arizona has a landmarks commission (like Portland has) and a Historic Preservation Office (not so Portland). It even uses preservation bonds to renovate buildings.

The Luhrs Tower in Phoenix Arizona, renovated by that city's preservation bonds.

If Memorial Coliseum is renovated for a sustainable use, Portland will have a major example of its Green commitment, a marketable story; otherwise, just talk.

Finally, speaking of imagination, after years of starving the Oregon Historical Society, the Oregon Legislature has approved to allocate part of the proceeds from re-issue of the classic New Frontier era "Pacific Wonderland" slogan
license plates (originals modeled here by by beloved 1962 Ford Falcon, my 1980s ride) to support the Oregon Historical Society.

I'm also proud to report that Powells Books , my employer, has an offer for people to donate the proceeds from selling their used books at Powells to the Oregon Historical Society as a fully tax deductible donation. Details here.

Postscript- if anyone sees a 1962 blue Ford Falcon license Oregon 3Y-2440, let me know. I know someone who would really like to buy it back.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


It's been too long between posts. A lot is going on and it's easier to look at microfilm when it is gray and wet outside, but to be honest, a long gap becomes self-perpetuating. The story I have been working on still needs more research. It will be finished, but it might be two more weeks. The gap grows larger, more intimidating by the minute. Better then to just jump back in.

Sometimes you have to leave home in order to see it better.
Friday I went to The Dalles.

On Third Street I came across an old billboard on the side of a building. Although half covered with ivy, it was clear that it referred to Portland's newspaper strike that began in 1959 against both the Oregonian and Oregon Journal and ended nearly five years later after the National Labor Relations Board ruled it illegal.

From what can be seen, it appears to say the Oregon Journal was being put together by strikebreakers. Perhaps it advertises a locally produced alternative or promotes The Reporter, the weekly newspaper that was put out by striking journalists in competition with the Oregonian and the Journal.

The end of the strike saw the demise of unions at Portland's two large daily papers. It was also the beginning of the end for the Oregon Journal whose circulation never regained pre-strike levels. Today the third longest strike in newspaper history is largely forgotten. To find a tangible remnant forty four years later in The Dalles is surprising, to say the least.

The Dalles was incorporated in 1857, just six years after Portland, but as it never reached the larger city's level of commercial activity, more remains from its early decades. One building in particular grabbed my attention:

Cut off from the rest of downtown by the Union Pacific tracks and from the Columbia River by I-84, the Waldron Drugstore, built in 1867, leads a precarious existence in no man's land.

After the Flood of 1880, First Street, which the building faced, was raised twelve feet, making the entrance below street level. Over time, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company's right of way built up, so that the first six or so feet of the buildings front is buried by 129 years of accumulated ballast. Historic importance aside (Walt Whitman once stayed there when it was a boarding house) with no easy road access its prospects appear dim.

Despite its forlorn condition there is evidence of care. Almost certainly someone restored the billboard advertising passage to Portland via the Regulator Line. It is a vestige of The Dalles, Portland and Astoria Navigation Company, "the Regulator Line" established in the early 1890s as an alternative to what had become a rail only monopoly along the upper Columbia River. When a canal was opened around the Upper Cascades in 1896, the lines steamboats were able to pass from The Dalles to Portland, uninterrupted by the need to portage around the rapids.

The steamboat "Regulator" of The Dalles, Portland and Astoria Navigation Company on the Columbia.

The Waldron Drugstore with the Gateway underpass in the distance.

The fact the nearby Gateway underpass mirrors the roof line on the Waldron Drugstore shows some appreciation for the venerable structure. The underpass, built in 2003, reconnects the downtown to the river by allowing passage beneath I-84 (think of Portland's old Harbor Drive writ huge).

As an example of the earliest cast-iron buildings that replaced its white-washed flat-fronted frontier downtown, Portland has nothing like the Waldron Drugstore, but it did once and could so again.

On Front, next to the ornate Fecheimer & White Building, is Portland's earliest commercial structure, the Hallock & McMillan Building. When it was built in 1857 James Buchanan was President, Oregon had yet to become a state and the Union was whole.

The Hallock & McMillan and Fechheimer & White buildings in 2008 and the early 1940s (from The Grand Era of Cast-Iron Architecture in Portland Oregon by William John Hawkins III).

The cast-iron facade on the Hallock & McMillan building, like that of the Waldron Drugstore was modest in scale but revolutionary in relation to its wooden pioneer neighbors. It was replaced in a 1940s re-model which might have saved the building from the decade and a half of demolitions in the area that followed.

An 1859 view of the Hallock & McMillan Building.

Its neighbor on the other side of the Fecheimer & White building was not so lucky. The Ladd Building of 1853 was the first cast-iron fronted building in Portland. It was demolished in 1940, as the momentum for Front Avenue "improvements" was gaining ground. Its iron work was very similar to what can be seen on the Waldron Drugstore today.

The Ladd Building of 1853 (and the edge of the Fecheimer & White Building).

The cast-iron of the Ladd Building, 1940, during demolition.

The half buried cast-iron of the Waldron Drugstore, The Dalles Oregon, July 3 2009.

In The Dalles, cast-iron buildings never approached the scope, scale and unity of what would later be built in Portland, but the material was utilized for the same reasons. Cast-iron was a fast way to build a substantial city on the frontier which lacked the large number of artisans needed to create the stonework the iron was sought to replicate. Strong, modular and manufactured in kit form, what is often looked at as old-fashioned was in fact modern.

The Hallock & MacMillan Buidling (1857), the Fecheimer & White Building (1885) and the site of the Ladd Building, (1853-1940, roughly between the streetlight and Fecheimer & White). July 4 2009.

The blank face of the Hallock & McMillan building and the lot adjoining the Fecheimer & White Building are opportunities should someone choose to revive a portion of Portland's early street-scape. Design guidelines proposed for the Skidmore Oldtown National Historic District could incentivise portions of the areas restoration through the re-introduction of stored cast-iron facades or fiberglass restoration.

In the meanwhile, a visit to The Dalles can be time well spent.

The Pagoda

The Hollywood neighborhood- almost a city within a city. The Hollywood Theatre, Poor Richard's and the Pagoda, Hollywood has a look and feel all of its own. With the recent demolition of the Pagoda Restaurant, it has less.

No one could call the Pagoda culturally significant or hugely historic, but that did not make it any less a landmark. When Key Bank purchased the site for a new bank branch, neighborhood groups and fans of mid-century Americana hoped that perhaps at least the pagoda element of the restaurant could be saved and incorporated into the new building. Key Bank's commitment to neighborhood sentiment was made clear last week when the Pagoda was knocked down. Portland is poorer for it.

What makes a landmark? History, aesthetic significance, local sentiment? On Sunday July 12 at 6:30am, early risers can tune into Outlook Portland on NW 32 when Rick Emerson hosts a discussion about Portland's architecture and landmarks with Brian Libby of Portland Architecture,
John Chilson of Lost Oregon and yours truly.

We tie together a number of recent issues such as Memorial Coliseum, the Made in Oregon sign, a neon rose on John Yeon's Portland Visitors Information Center, recent and pending demolitions and the encroachment of the generic. If it is too early for you, the show will also appear on NW 32s youtube channel within the month.

Next up, cue Dave Brubeck's Take Five for Portland's big dreams on the New Frontier...