Portland Oregon history.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Guide

"Nah, I don't think I've anything worth telling. Nah, nah. I don't want to be bothered. Here's a little book... Nah, I won't let you see it -I wouldn't let my own mother see it. It's a guide to the old bawdy houses in Portland, back in '94. Here, I'll read you some of it, if you must have it."

-William (Billy) Mayer to Sarah B. Wrenn. March 23 1939.

Sarah Wrenn was having trouble establishing a rapport with the proprietor of the cigar stand in the lobby of the Davis building. When they me the day before, Billy Mayer claimed to have stories from Portland's early days, which he had already shared with a famous author. His manor and dapper clothes suggested he had been somewhat of a man about town in his day and he seemed enthusiastic to talk. She made an appointment to return the next day for an interview. Now, as they stood in the dim, mahogany lined lobby, the frequent interruptions by his customers (they all bought cigars, not cigarettes, she noted) seemed to make him clam up.

The Davis building, where Sarah Wrenn interviewed Billy Mayer on March 23 1939 was on the east side of Third Avenue, between Washington and Stark. It was built in 1886 as the Abington building and once had a central tower that made it the tallest building in Portland until 1889. The building was demolished in 1967 to make the surface parking lot that still occupies the site. -Photo courtesy of Doug Magedanz. (click on pictures to expand)

Sarah Wrenn's job with the Federal Writer's Project for the Oregon Folklore Studies program made her used to conducting interviews. She decided to pull back a bit and soft peddle the questions. After awhile he reluctantly produced a small book: The Guide, a description of amusement resorts of Portland, Oregon and vicinity.

Mayer explained as he flicked through the pages:

"There was a back on it that had advertised the old White House, out on the Willamette River, where the fine homes of Riverdale are now. There was a little race track out there -a quarter mile track I think it was -and all the bloods with fast horses used to drive out there on what was called the Macadam Road. It was the only road of that kind in the country. That's how the street leading out that way got its name. It had verandas out over the river...

Here's an advertisement of the old restaurants in town, and there's advertisements of the theaters and pool rooms too. Those old restaurants, with their private booths and dining rooms, could some tall tales. There was the Louvre, and up on West Park there was the Richards Restaurant. That was a big place, with side entrances where they served fine food and wines and liquors if every sort. There was a dining room, of course, but likely most of the paying business was in the private, small dining rooms leading off from the narrow corridors.

Mayor Harry Lane, afterwords U.S. Senator, was responsible for closing up the Richards place. He had it raided and closed. Seems some of his women relatives, or one of them at least, frequented it. There was quite a scandal at the time. Nah, I don't remember the details. Anyway, Lane closed up Richards, and shortly after all the other places with booths was closed up."

"Ah here, you might as well take the book and copy the stuff. I haven't got time to read it all..." -William (Billy) Mayer to Sarah B. Wrenn. March 23 1939.

Sarah Wrenn took the small book and hand copied the contents. The next day she submitted a typed transcript of the interview and the book's contents to the Federal Writers Project.

What follows is The Guide, as transcribed by Sarah Wrenn, with my annotations. It sheds some light on Portland's notorious "North End" with its human trafficking on an almost inconceivable scale, and a forgotten district of "amusement resorts" to the south of Burnside, whose madams were celebrated in poetic verse.


September 1894


A description of amusement resorts of Portland, Oregon and vicinity



This is a guide without avarice tainted
A "tip", as it were, before you're acquainted.
And now, my good friends, you've had my excuse;
I could have said more, but what is the use?

This thing I've "writ" and its dedicated
To strangers and those who're uninitiated



In Portland is a notorious locality, known by the name of the "White Chapel District." It is the home of the most abandoned members of the demimonde, and on a small scale resembles the famous section of London, after which it is named. Within its boundaries are several hundred women, most of whom live in small one story houses or cribs. The inmates of these cribs represent every nationality, with French predominating.

On Lower Second Street can be seen Japanese and African women.

The district lies north of Ankeny street, and owing to the surveillance of Portland's admirable police department, is perfectly safe for the stranger to visit, provided he does not got too familiar with the occupants of the "cribs."

The "North End", defined in an 1915 Oregonian article as "about 4th Street, 3rd Street and Burnside, Couch, Davis and Everett streets" was regularly described by drawing comparisons with like districts elsewhere: "White Chapel," "Barbary Coast," "the Bowery," "the Bad Lands" and "the Tenderloin" were all terms used by the press in reference to the area.

Newspaper accounts place its origin to around 1889, after the area had been abandoned as a residential district. Prior to that, from the time following the Great Fire of 1873, the "Tenderloin of Portland" was on the "north side of Yamhill street and the east side of Third and scattered about a general district converging on Third and Taylor" (Oregonian, December 15 1915). Political pressure from the First Methodist Church, that was surrounded by it, caused prostitution activities to move to the North End, in "frame shacks built specifically for that purpose."

The Guide then shifts to describe activities in another area, bounded roughly by Ankeny, Fifth, Morrison and Park; a residential neighborhood under pressure by the expansion of the downtown commercial district, where madams catered to a more genteel clientele.

Four brothels are visible in this picture, a portion of a panoramic photograph taken, circa 1893, from the tower of the Oregonian building at 6th and Alder. The original Trinity Church as well as the Cyclorama building (near the right corner) can also be seen.

"Here are the verses -Sam Simpson, the old poet of Oregon is said to have written them. I don't know. But they advertised the "madams." Yes, they were all called "madam" then. I don't know why they all have "Miss" in front of their names here." -William (Billy) Mayer to Sarah B. Wrenn, March 23 1939.



89 Fifth Street

In handsome parlors, skilled to please,
Fair Minnie waits in silken ease,
And at each guest's desire supplies
Dear pleasures, hid from prying eyes.
With such a haven ever nigh
Who could pass her parlors by?

The two story white frame house near center is at 89 5th street (old numbering system), the home of Minnie Reynold's establishment. Below: the site today, (near the doorway of the Oregon Trail building).

Minnie Reynolds appeared in Portland City directories as Miss Minnie Reynolds at the same address until 1902.


151 Seventh Street

Lets live while we live;
We'll be dead a long while,
And tho Fortune may frown,
Fair Miss Fanshaw will smile,
If a kiss will not sooth you,
She has pleasures that will;
The chalice of passion overflowingly fill,
And your troubles and cares,
You will lightly ignore

When love's rich libation
This Charmer will pour

"Madam Fanshaw and her girls were extremely polite, but you didn't sit around there a great while without spending substantial sums of money. It was no place for the loggers, the miners and the fishermen."
-Stewart Holbrook in the Oregonian, August 9 1936.

Lida Fanshaw operated her establishment, across 7th from the opulent Marquam Grand theater until around 1900. Donald R. Nelson's piece in the September 28 2001 Portland Tribune tells what is known of her story.

The Broadway building is on the site of Lida Fanshaw's establishment at 171 7th (Broadway).



94 Fifth Street Cor. Stark

Here is a mansion, of which is related
That on all this Coast it is not duplicated.
Its well-furnished parlors the fashionable seek,
For comfort is here, joined to the unique,
And the girls who respond to the visitors call,
Are the pride of Miss Mabel, and the pride of her hall.

94 5th Street (the Italianate house on the corner). The large commercial building at the end of the block is a harbinger of things to come, built on the site where the original Temple Beth Israel stood until 1888. Below; food carts on the site of Mabel Montague's house.


150 East Park, between Alder and Morrison

Here is a lady of such ways all admire
She no flattery from the best does require
Modest as a maiden, youthful,
Good-natured as she is truthful,
Della Buris has a name
All might enjoy, none can blame

"Della Buris' place was no joint. It was patronized largely by men who have since made their mark in the city's professional and business life."
-Stewart Holbrook in the Oregonian, August 2 1936.

Ankeny at Park during of June 1894, three and a half blocks north of the house of Della Buris and two months before the publication of The Guide.
-City of Portland Archives.

The site of 94 East Park.



95 Sixth Street, Cor. Stark

No man in this City who is known as a sport
But will tell you he's seen and enjoyed this resort

It's a house full of beauties, whose rooms dazzling bright
Shimmer and glimmer with mirth and delight

The roof of 95 6th street is visible at the left corner, partially obscured by the flat roofed building across Stark from it. The original Trinity Church, beloved by the Portland establishment, is a block south. Below: the site of 95 6th street today.


No. 90 Fifth Street

To reign is beauty's queenly right,
And he is but a shabby knight,
Who is not charmed, aye wholly won
by lovely Ida Aurlington,
Whose grace of manner and of form
Takes every manly heart by storm.

Ida Aurlington's house was directly across 5th from Minnie Reynolds, between the large commercial building and Mabel Montague's house on the corner. Below, the site today.


MADAM FLORA (likely Flora Hoyt)

130 Fifth Street

The gay rose gardens are (illegible)
But blooming Flora is still here
To make us quite forget the rose
Has sighed her gentle adios.

The peaked roof of Madam Flora's appears beside the flat roof on the right side of the picture. A block east, the low slung building with awnings is the Louvre Restaurant, between the elaborate
Washington Block and the four story Holton House building, where the Louvre eventually moved to. Below, the site of 130 5th.


If you're out for a lark, or that is your passion,
Just call on this house, so lately in fashion.
With its fairy like nymphs and Dora Lynn its queen,
Where privacy, rest, and all is serene.
There are a great many Doras, but I write this one down
As the best one that ever has lived in this town.


In his 1936 Oregonian series on Portland's moral crusades, Stewart Holbrook states the "parlor house" operators were raided by police in an 1895 campaign that resulted in no convictions, but the long term affect of which was to consolidate prostitution activities to the North End by 1906.

Sarah B. Wrenn first appeared in the 1905 city directory as a stenographer for the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company. She likely married a Bert Ramsey in 1910, a union that ended within two years. From 1912 on, she would appear sporadically in city directories, sometimes with long gaps in between. In 1939 she lived in the Elk's building on SW 15th.

Most of the work of the WPA Federal Writers Project in Oregon was published anonymously. The recently digitized American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1937 , that this piece draws upon shows Sarah Wrenn's keen eye for detail, both in the description of the interviewee and surroundings. She would use earlier interviews to build upon her questions. Two months after Billy Mayer mentioned the White House, she brought it up to another subject, who added that there was a second, less elaborate resort known as the Red House on the Macadam Road, and the road once had a toll gate.

In the early 1950s Sarah Wrenn worked for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. She last appears in the 1960 directory.

It is unlikely that a copy of The Guide exists outside of her transcription.

William (Billy) Mayer first appears in Portland directories in 1905 as a clerk at a boarding house (there are numerous prior entries but it is impossible to ascertain which one is him). In 1909 he ran a billiards hall at 390 East Morrison, that moved to 113 4th in 1911. It moved once again to 133 1/2 in the Couch building in 1917. He closed the pool hall in 1936 but continued to sell cigars in the Couch building's lobby. He moved to the Davis building in 1939. In 1944 he was managing the lunch counter at the Miami Club at 610 SW 4th. His last appearance in the city directories is in 1950, with his wife Ina, whom he married in 1918.

Stewart Holbrook (1893-1964). Billy Mayer claimed to have shared his stories with a "famous author." Stewart Holbrook, a raconteur who rigorously combed Portland's streets for anecdote, is a likely suspect. If so, Billy Mayer could have been a source for Holbrook in his Oregonian columns and works such as The Portland Story (1950).

Samuel L. Simpson (1845-1899). Did Oregon's first Poet Laureate, author of Beautiful Willamette, write the verses in The Guide as mentioned by Billy Mayer? In Oregon Literature (1899) John B. Horner refers to the troubled Simpson, born of a prominent family and beset by alcohol problems, as "the Edgar Allen Poe of Oregon." A denizen of journalism's Grub Street, familiar with all strata of Portland society, the verses in The Guide could have been just another job to make ends meet.

"The Louvre Nude" once hung in the Louvre Restaurant on 4th Street, an advertiser in The Guide. After the restaurant closed the painting disappeared. Years later it emerged from the closet of a prominent Portland woman whose husband had acquired it from Louvre owner Theodore Kruse, in payment for a cigar bill. Walter Holman, the owner of Jake's Famous Crawfish, bought it in the early 1960s. Initially covered by a red and white tablecloth, the painting was finally unveiled at Jake's on April 27 1962. It hangs above the bar there to this day.

Thanks to Doug Magedanz for the use of the picture of the Abington / Davis building and Mark Barthemer for tipping me off to the "Louvre Nude"!

Now on Facebook!

One of my frustrations (along with not having enough time in the day) is that there is no good way to mix updates, short pieces and arcane facts with the posts on this page. So now, Cafe Unknown has a facebook page where I can post finds, like this wonderful stereoview of the the Great Light Way that I purchased on ebay. I can also give a heads up when a new post is finished. Talk Portland History, badger me to get back to work if I take to long between posts, post early and post often... Enjoy!

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Portland had been incorporated for two years in 1853 when W.S. Ladd commissioned Absalom Hallock to design a brick building on Front street, between Washington and Stark. The use of brick added a sense of permanence to the cluster of white-washed wooden, frame and false-fronted buildings rising between the river and the towering fir trees. It was a vote of confidence for Portland's long term prospects.

Absalom Hallock arrived two years earlier. He went into business as an architect, the city's first, on July 21 1851. A year after the Ladd commission he began to incorporate cast-iron into the buildings he designed, which encouraged a modular construction of repetitive elements and tall entryways and windows to let in light. At the same time Hallock became the Portland representative of the Phoenix Iron Works of San Francisco.

His own building, in partnership with contractor William McMillan, was constructed on the northwest corner of Front and Oak in 1857.

The Hallock and McMillan building was typical of the eighteen brick structures built or retrofitted with cast-iron that Absalom Hallock designed in Portland prior to the Civil War. Its fabricated columns and arches allowed a light filled work space. (click on images to expand..)

Minor White photograph of the corner of Front and Oak, circa 1939, shortly before the remodel that would radically alter the Hallock and McMillan building. The neighboring Fechheimer building (1885, existent) is followed by the Snow building, likely designed by Hallock, torn down shortly after the photograph was taken. The last building on the block appears to be in the process of being demolished.

The Hallock and McMillan building is the oldest commercial structure in Portland. In its one hundred fifty four years, it has survived numerous floods and spared the reach of the Great Fire of 1872. The Harbor Drive freeway destroyed its grand descendants across Front Avenue and ramps off the Morrison Bridge, accompanied by surface parking lots, cut a wide swath through its neighbors to the south. Since the 1940s its historic significance has been obscured by a remodel that altered its east facade. This is about to change.

The Hallock and McMillan building has faced down floods, fire and freeway.

In December the Hallock and McMillan building was purchased by developer John Russell, with the goal of restoring it to its original appearance.

With his company, Russell Development, John Russell is known for major projects in Portland, such as Pacwest Center and the renovation of the 200 Market Building, bestowed America's first LEED award for sustainability in the Existing Multi-Tenant category. Less known is his work on a smaller scale; a decades long restoration of a quarter block bounded by Front (Naito Parkway), Oak and First. It can be seen as a template for the revival of the Skidmore / Old Town National Historic District, which, he states, could be made the best place in Portland to live and work. It is a sentiment born of direct personal experience.

The Delschneider building on Oak street (1859) is Portland's second oldest commercial structure. Its third floor was added in 1876. The Hallock and McMillan building neighbors it to the east.

The Delschneider building was "an empty pigeon roost" when John Russell purchased it in 1974. Inspired by the brick-built historic Beacon Hill neighborhood in Boston, where he lived while in grad school, he renovated the building for mixed use by adding an apartment space on the third floor. Upon completion, he and his family moved in. His children still count it as their favorite residence while growing up.

In 1980 he acquired the Fechheimer building (1885), an early preservation success in Portland that had been restored by Ralph Walstrom and Jeff Holbrook. At the same time he inquired into purchasing the Hallock and McMillan building, the start of what would play out to be a thirty year long series of conversations over dinner with its owner, Peter Corvallis.

The Freimann Building (Oak street facing segment) neighbors the Delshneider building to the west.

His next acquisition ushered a historic reconstruction that could have positive potential implications for redevelopment in Skidmore / Old Town, an area that has been blighted for decades by acres of surface parking lots.

First and Oak, prior to 2004. -Portland Maps.

The run down building, on the corner of First and Oak was purchased, in two segments in 1999 and 2004, to arrest the decay of property that neighbored the Delschneider building. Shortly thereafter, Portland historian Donald R. Nelson found a 19th century illustration of the corner. It was realized that, beneath layers of Roman brick and stucco, was entombed remnants of a 1880s building. Using the picture as a guide, Russell decided to return it to its original appearance.

In the course of restoration work, it became evident that little of the building's original material was in suitable condition to be reincorporated. This meant the project would go forward without incentives such as Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits from the National Park Service or the Oregon Special Assessment program from the State Historic Preservation Office, eligibility of which is set by rules drawn from a distinctly western view of preservation that places a high value on original fabric. An eastern view, born of the use of less permanent materials, might place less; where a temple built of wood or bamboo can be seen as five hundred years old, with most of its components dating back only a quarter century, yet suffer no loss of authenticity.

Genuine upper-strata Rocky Butte basalt.

New hand-made brick from South Carolina was used to duplicate the original. The damaged iron corner column, previously hidden, was removed, measured and reproduced. A lone surviving piece of stone work on the foundation level presented a singular problem. It came from the long defunct Rocky Butte quarry which provided rock for many local buildings such as the Hotel Portland. The basalt's light color placed it from the early years of the quarry's excavations; as depth increased the rock darkened. Incredibly, matching stone was found, available from the foundation of the Simon Benson house, made surplus after its move to Portland State University due to differences in site profile.

The building is a meticulous recreation of when Friemann's Restaurant and Cafe occupied the corner in 1889. It illustrates the potential of infill that is respectful to its surroundings, should the parking lots in the area be redeveloped.

The Hallock and McMillan restoration. -Emerick Architects.

As in the case of his earlier earlier restorations, painstaking attention to historic detail is being applied to the Hallock and McMillan building. The assembled team for the project: Emerick Architects and Bremik Construction, in consultation with Jessica Engeman of Venerable Development and architect and historian Bill Hawkins, author of The Grand Era of Cast-Iron Architecture in Portland Oregon, have as their goal to returning it to its original nineteenth century appearance. Like prior restorations throughout Skidmore / Old Town, the missing cast-iron pieces will be fabricated in fiberglass or aluminum. Work on the project began immediately upon Russell assuming possession.

The Feccheimer and Hallock & McMillan buildings.

John Russell's quartet of buildings, two of which were built before Oregon was a state, provide a tangible link to Portland's early past. Their incredible survival, against all odds, is rivaled only by the amount of care and effort spent on their restoration. With his patient pursuit of authenticity, he has shown how Skidmore / Old Town's potential can be drawn upon to revive an area that can indeed be made the best place in Portland to live and work. It a long term vision that would be familiar to W.S. Ladd and Absalom Hallock.

Sincere thanks to John Russell for sitting down with me. Peggy Moretti of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon and, as always, Bill Hawkins, a constant source of information and inspiration for this website.

The Hallock & McMillan and Fechheimer buildings. October 31 1953. Marion Dean Ross photograph. University of Oregon Libraries, digital collections.

The Delschneider building, before the purchase and renovation by John Russell that restored to it the missing cornice. Also visible is the rear segment of the building on First and Oak (Freimann building) prior to its being stuccoed (the First Avenue facing segment was covered up in Roman brick). -Marion Dean Ross photograph. University of Oregon Libraries, digital collections.

Portland's notable buildings, 1858, just five years after Absalom Hallock designed the first brick building in the city for W.S. Ladd. The Hallock & McMillan building is at the top, center.