Fun Fact #46 Did a cat once own a building on NW 23rd?

Fun Fact #46 Did a cat once own a building on NW 23rd?

Did a cat once own a building on NW 23rd?

Esquire Theater c.1940 courtesy Mike Ryerson

No.  Nina Churchman Larowe did not leave her building to a cat that is an urban myth. She bequeathed the theater building on NW 23rd valued at $25,000 to the Oregon Human Society in 1922. She was childless. Because her husband died young; Larowe was forced to make a living as an actress in New York City before trying her luck on the west coast. She struggled in Portland until the city elite took a fancy to her and sent their children to Larowe’s dance school and hall on NW 23rd and Kearney, in Portland. She purchased the German Savings and Loan Society’s Hall for $6,000 after renting various locations for the dance school. She sold the building[1] but because of default in payments it reverted back to her by 1919. The Oregon Human Society maintained ownership of the building for many years, using the income to help many cats.

[1] AKA Nob Hill Theater, the Esquire Theater (1932), currently Salt & Straw & Bamboo Sushi

Interior of the Nina Larowe dance hall.   Courtesy Mike Ryerson
The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Multnomah, Oregon) · 16 Mar 1921, Wed · Page 2

Teaser from our E-mail blast 11/29/18:

Did she leave the former dance hall known as the Esquire Theater to her cat in 1922?

Mrs. Nina Churchman Larowe, was a prominent resident of Portland. She arrived in 1888 trying to support herself in the burgeoning city Portland teaching gymnastics than elocution, she became dramatic critic and society editor of The Oregonian, she was unceremoniously fired. On Northwest 23rd & Kearney she established the first dancing academy of the city, retaining- her pre-eminent position as the city’s first and most popular ballroom dancing Instructress for more than 14 years. Her father was an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln and she travelled for many months with Mark Twain through Europe and the Holy Land:

Nina Larowe (c.1860) Courtesy Mike Ryerson

I had come to Portland to live, to earn money. I found the city pretty small and pretty primitive In every way. The Esmond and the St. Charles, down on Front street, were the first clubs hotels. The Portland hotel had been begun but only “the foundation walls were built and there it stood like an old ruin. “There were no bridges, just antiquated ferryboats on a string and horse cars.

Pieces From The Cutting Room Floor:

Mrs. Nina Larowe owned a reputable dance studio on NW 23rd. The cultural shift from formal dancing to more free forms of dance led Larowe to convert the building in 1912 to the Nob Hill Theater showing silent film and staging local vaudeville act. The theater was reconfigures over concern over fire safety reopening as the Esquire Theater from 1938-1987. The building was converted to retail spaces in 1987 and most recently restored by owners C.E. John in 2011.

Larowe and other dance schools banned a number if popular dances as dangerous to morals over the years: “Texas Tommy”, “Grizzly Bear”, “Bunny Hug”, “Buzzard Lope” and the “Turkey Trot”. She described this “Turkey Trot” a dance invented in the Barbary Coast of San Francisco in 1909 as lacking grace. While dancing the Turkey Trot, dancers would sway to and fro, going in a straight line around the floor, while occasionally “Pumping or Flapping” of the arms was encouraged, thus giving the name of the Turkey Trot. Mrs. Larowe described “It’s like a turkey on a hot plate constantly lifting its feet so they won’t get burned. When danced in the extreme heads are held close together—too close together I should say.” Dancers across the US were fired from their jobs and some young women served jail time for dancing this trot. Dance halls claimed the moral high ground but the real threat was that these dances were popular and easy to master. Danceable by the average dancer the trot did not require professional lessons to learn.

Fun Fact #45 Tin Plate Laws: “Is there any hardship on anybody to merely acknowledge what he owns?”

Fun Fact #45 Tin Plate Laws: “Is there any hardship on anybody to merely acknowledge what he owns?”
The Oregon Daily Journal. January 6, 1918 p 9.

On October 3, 2018, our city council will vote on a proposed placard ordinance that if passed will require owners of unreinforced brick buildings to post a warning that their buildings are unsafe.  Has Portland ever required placards on buildings in the past?

Yes—over the years the City of Portland and the State of Oregon have required property owners of buildings in Portland to place various placards on their structures.

The earliest case of “scarlet letter” placarding in Portland that our history detective team uncovered is the 1913 Tin Plate Ordinance. Like the current earthquake safety proposal, the intention was to intimidate landlords. In 1912 the city was trying to clean up vice…it was very profitable for building owners to rent to a house out as a brothel. The intent of the ordinance drafters was to curb landlords’ rental practices, because they would not want to be associated with prostitution.

Starting in 1975, historic buildings in Portland participating in the state’s “Special Assessment of Historic Properties” property tax abatement program have been required to post a plaque. In the oldest such program in the country, to receive the property tax freeze “an approved plaque provided by the Oregon SHPO must be installed on the building.” This is similar but distinct from the bronze plaque that owners of properties listed in the National Register may purchase and place on their building.

In 2007 Portland’s fire marshal started posting red “U” signs on Portland buildings. They warn firefighters in the field that the building is unsafe and to ask dispatch about the special safety precautions before barging into the building.  The “U” stands for “unsafe” (not “unoccupied”—many buildings bearing the red “U” are not vacant).

The building owner always seems to have had a choice: to stop renting to prostitutes, to pay the full property tax, to bring the building up to fire code, or to bring the building up to seismic code.

“Is there any hardship on anybody to merely acknowledge what he owns?” October 29, 1912. Oregon Daily Journal, p 8.

Fun Fact #44 What is the wooden walkway and grate right at the beginning of the Lower Macleay Trail?

Fun Fact #44 What is the wooden walkway and grate right at the beginning of the Lower Macleay Trail?

What is the wooden walkway and grate right at the beginning of the Lower Macleay Trail?

Answer: Trash Filters

The urban stream known as Balch Creek goes underground in Lower Macleay Park, just before the Thurman Street Bridge.  The visible man-made barriers there are the wooden a wood trash filter or “trash rack” that prevents large logs and other debris from entering the combined storm sewer pipe taking the creek to the Willamette.  The “walk way” in question was designed to collect smaller objects from entering the pond created by the dam.  Archival construction images show the dam beneath the wooden grate system and the walkway (the “old maintenance bridge” has now decayed and often misidentified as a vestige of Lafe Pence’s 14-mile sluice system of 1906-07).

Balch Creek Diverted into Sewer

In 1921 City of Portland diverted the creek into a pipe (culvert).  The historic system was causing flooding so a dam and more vigorous 9,000 foot sewer system the Thirtieth Street Sewer (AKA Balch Creek Sewer) was proposed in 1930 and complete February of 1932 for a cost of $112,558.33.  The dam is hidden under the existing trash filter, constructed under the direction of the City of Portland’s the Public Works Administration the cost was passed onto rate payers in the region.  In addition to regular maintenance, major restoration efforts were conducted in 1945 and 1970.  Balch Creek runs 3.5 miles from its headwaters on the crest of the West Hills to the Willamette River.  A primary source of water for the City of Portland in the mid-nineteenth century, it was already contaminated by 1895.  Urban use and development from villains like Lafayette Pence (1857-1923) to residential development (1888-today) have degraded the watershed.  The creek, named for Danford Balch, who held the original donation land claim to the area, currently supports up to 4,000 isolated cutthroat trout.  Logs and wappato plants have been deliberately placed in the stream to enhance the habitat for the fish.

Fun Fact #43 What street in NW Portland should be renamed for John Callahan?

Fun Fact #43 What street in NW Portland should be renamed for John Callahan?
Many of the businesses Mike Ryerson identified in this map have closed, but Urban Outfitters is still there in the old Packard Building.

What street in NW Portland should be renamed for John Callahan?

There is no wrong answer to the Fun Fact #43 question as long as you listed an existing street in NW Portland! We propose that the block-long stretch of Westover Road between NW 23rd Place and NW 23rd Avenue be renamed “Callahan Street”. This would help maintain the alphabet experience along NW 23rd (Couch is the “C” street of the Alphabet District, renamed for Captain Couch in 1891, but it doesn’t intersect NW 23rd.)

John Callahan on the #53 (NW 23rd Line) bus. Courtesy The Neighbor (August 1984, p. 5); the photographer is presumed to be Janet Mandaville, who wrote “Under that blazing hair is a fertile and versatile mind, brewing ideas from the slightly off-color and iconic to the absurd and contradictory.”

Cartoon satirist John Callahan with his shocking red hair was the only contributor to the Willamette Week who was never edited. That does not mean that his cartoons (which first appeared in the PSU Vanguard) were not controversial—they challenged political correctness and forced viewers to re-evaluate their perception of the disabled community. Callahan, a cartoonist, artist, and musician who became a quadriplegic in an auto accident at 21, wanted people to stop walking on egg shells and start cracking eggs.

On July 19, 2018 join us at at The Legacy Good Samaritan Park (NW 21st & Lovejoy) for a free concert from 6pm-8pm.  The Callahan Garden is linked to the park, explore the neighborhood with us on a tour this summer.


Premiere of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. Gus Van Sant and Callahan family members at Cinema 21, June 12, 2018. Courtesy Norman Gholston.
) Callahan’s pen-and-ink drawing, loving placed by his friend, contemporary artist Martha Wurzelcher, in her garden across from Slabtown New Seasons in full public view.

Fun Fact #42 Rush Me out of the Ballpark

Fun Fact #42 Rush Me out of the Ballpark

How did they put out fires under the stands at Vaughn Street Ball Park?

The Wooden Vaughan Street Ballpark courtesy Mike Ryerson

Sand was used to put out fires at the old ballpark—sand shoveled on to a fire covers the burning materials and extinguishes the fire by cutting off the supply of oxygen.  With the news that the Portland Diamond Project was exploring two sites for a new major league stadium in Portland.  I was enchanted that one of the proposed sites is the Esco parking lot—the site of the Vaughn Street Ball Park that was the heart of Slabtown from 1901 to 1955.  Gone are the days when a home run is camouflaged behind plumes of smoke from the adjacent foundry and an outfielder prepared with a ball in his pocket can successfully fake that he has caught a fly ball!

The industrial smoke from steel manufacturing over the Vaughn Street Ballpark Courtesy Oregon Hist. Soc. Research Lib., OrHi54896
Benevento at Vaughn Street Courtesy Benevento’s Granddaughter

The attractive wooden stadium (above) was closed because it was a firetrap.  The fan seating eventually grew from 6,000 to 12,000, and fans even sat on the field for popular games.  Fans young and old knew that the beloved groundskeeper Rocky Benevento expected them to shovel sand from conveniently located barrels to “douse” fires started by a stray cigarette among the paper wrappings and peanut shells.  It is safe to say that not only will any proposed stadium lack a smoking section, but sports promoter Lynn Lashbrook has pitched rebuilding a wooden structure of high-tech cross laminated timbers that meets current fire and seismic codes (less we forget the World Series Earthquake of 1989).  The really fun question will be:  Can Portland economically support the Webfooters by filling the 32,000 seats for 83 home games?

Fun Fact #41 How did three US Olympic hopefuls rank on the largest-ever man-made night ski-jumping structure?

Fun Fact #41 How did three US Olympic hopefuls rank on the largest-ever man-made night ski-jumping structure?
Photographer: deLay Nighttime Ski Jumping Tryouts June 8, 1951

How did three US Olympic hopefuls rank on the largest-ever man-made night ski-jumping structure? (in Portland, Oregon, in 1951)

The 1951 Rose Festival was building up to the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympic Games by hosting an international ski jump competition: The Golden Rose. During the summer of 1951, a 155-foot-high structure designed by engineer Peter Hostmark rose in the Portland skyline above Multnomah Stadium (today’s Providence Park). The 15-story-high structure was covered with 200 tons of snow and was intended to promote winter sports at Mt. Hood. The newspapers called it the largest man-made hill built for night ski jumping.

Summer ski jump in Multnomah Stadium June 1951 City of Portland Archives and Records Center A2014-003.880


Among the 19-man field of A-class jumpers were three who qualified for the United States Olympics team. They hurtled down a 35-degree incline on a surface of finely ground ice to catapult high above the stadium roof in front of a crowd of 23,024 spectators. (The event proved so popular that the jump was rebuilt in 1953 to host the International Ski Jump Competition.)



The three qualifiers were:

Mr, Wegman 1960s Diet Rite ad Courtesy: Vintage Ads


Keith R. Wegeman (3rd)

12th place in Olso, placing best among Americans.  This native of Denver started skiing at age three.

(known as the “Jolly Green Giant”, later technical director at Squaw Valley in the 1960 Olympics and inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1989.  Link: Video of Top Seven Facts about Keith R. Wegeman.)

Image of Art Tokle Courtesy

Arthur E. (Art) Tokle (4th)

18th place in Oslo

(Norwegian-born American ski jumper who competed for the USA, inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame in 1970, and technical director for the US team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.)

Video of Art Tokle in Colorado “King of American Ski Birds”

Willis S. (Billy) Olsen (5th)

Willis S. Olson of Eau Clair, WI courtesy US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum


The young American came in 22nd place in Oslo, 43rd place in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956.  Known in ski jumping circles as Billy the Kid.

(inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1972)





Side Note:

Torbjørn Falkanger (2nd)

A young Norwegian who came in second to his fellow countryman Christian Mohn in Portland, Oregon ended up earning a silver medal in the 1952 Winter Olympics in ski jumping.


Fun Fact #40 The Proposal of Groundhog Day as a Public Holiday, and Other Oddities.

Fun Fact #40 The Proposal of Groundhog Day as a Public Holiday, and Other Oddities.

The proposal of Groundhog Day as a public holiday, and other oddities.

An art activity from the January 30, 1916 Funny Pages of the Oregonian.

The beloved groundhog — the original weather prophet — is not indigenous to Oregon. The February 2 issue of the 1897 Oregonian informed readers that they would just need “to rely on weather bureaus and almanacs for information about the coming spring.”

The state’s lack of groundhogs did not prevent a 1911 state lawmaker from declaring “the second day of February to be known as Groundhog Day and enjoin the public schools of the state to observe this day by suitable exercises.” He was displeased by a bill that made Columbus Day a public holiday and the introduction (by Rep. Fouts) of St. Patrick’s Day the same day. Sadly, Groundhog Day never became a legal holiday, despite the argument that it was far more American than Columbus Day or Seventeenth Day of Ireland.

The oddest story related to Groundhog Day was a bit of western justice served up by Judge Deich. Oregon went dry in 1916 (three years before national Prohibition). On January 19, 1922, Edward Hopkins was sentenced to county jail until Groundhog Day, if on that day he had recovered from hair tonic and moonshine enough to clearly make out his own shadow. Mr. Hopkins felt that, were he not able to sober up in two weeks, it was only fair that his stay in jail be extended until spring.

Fun Fact #39. Fun Fact: What sort of Escort Service did Mike Ryerson start in 1975?

Fun Fact #39.  Fun Fact: What sort of Escort Service did Mike Ryerson start in 1975?

The Portland Police Were Displeased with Mike Ryerson’s Escort Service.

Mike Ryerson selling his famous photograph “Expose Yourself to Art” at Portland Saturday Market.

This “escort service” was organized by Mike Ryerson when he was a display manager for Montgomery Ward department store.  Seven NW Portland women had reported being raped, and the serial rapist was attacking nurses and women employed in local bars.   

The anti-rape escort services with six volunteers operated only one night Saturday November 22, 1975, escorting 25 women home.  Upon returning home that night Mike was intimidated by police, who were more interested in catching the rapist than keeping women safe.

The interactions with Portland Police changed Mike Ryersons life corse. Mike Ryerson eventually settled with the city.

In addition to working at Montgomery Ward, Mike worked for the community paper, keeping it afloat with income from the “Expose Yourself to Art” poster.  The Neighbor motto: “Know Your Neighborhood, Know Your Neighbor” publication was coined for Mike Ryerson by Bud Clark in 1977.  The same year Mike settled his lawsuit against the City of Portland for intimidation mostly associated with Officer Larry Kanzler’s “vile, threatening, obscene, and abusive language”.   The police officer had been reprimanded by then-police-sergeant, Tom Potter.   The officer was one of six that showed up at Ryerson’s house in the wee hours of the morning, and searched Mike Ryerson’s truck.  Before leaving they told Ryerson to stop being a do-gooder.   The police also started appearing outside at bars and social events that Mike attended.

Bud Clark and Tom Potter went on to be mayors of Portland

In 1979 Larry Kanzel was one of three officers to start a Horse Patrol in Portland.  He later retired in 2008 after serving as the Police Chief of Milwaukie, 

Mike Ryerson died January 6th 2015. He was active in the local activist group Don’t Shoot PDX because of his experience in the 1970s.

Slabtown Tours Fun Fact #38

Slabtown Tours Fun Fact #38
Portland Ice Hippodrome c. 1914 Angelus Studio Courtesy University of Oregon. Libraries. Special Collections University Archives

What is left of Slabtown’s Olympic-Sized Ice Rink?

The Portland Ice Hippodrome opened on November 9, 1914 at 20th Avenue between Marshall and Northrup Streets. The structure covered two city blocks (175 x 360 feet) and offered seating for 5,000 and surface ice for 2,500 skaters (but you might want to bring your own skates). Twenty miles of pipe kept the ice surface frozen at 12 degrees above zero and two and a half inches thick, spanning 321 feet by 85 feet. It was the greatest and largest artificial ice rink in the world when it opened and the lead instructor was James Bourke, a champion figure skater known as the “Canadian Crack Shot”, once mentored by Norval Baptie.

Courtesy The Oregon Journal

From out of this arena that the “Portland Rosebuds” (officially the “Patricks”) came the first American hockey team engraved onto the first Stanley Cup—back in 1915–16 when safety equipment was minimal and they technically did not win the game. The original “Portland Buckaroos” played there 1928–1941.








Advertisement 1913 Oregon Daily Journal


The broken wall sections are all that remains. (Image TLM)

The remaining evidence of the massive ice skating arena is a former retaining wall (running in a jagged pattern along former party wall) painted blue just west of Marshall Manor. The cost to maintain the ice and cover the lease payments proved unsustainable for the owners. The ice rink (also known as Portland Ice Palace) reopened as Coliseum Ice in 1925, and was commonly referred to as the Marshall Street Ice Rink.


The city was never confident in the structure’s supporting system and forced it to close in the 1950s because of fire safety egress limitations.

Fun Fact #37 Bat Light

Fun Fact #37 Bat Light
Above is the Mackenzie house light. Where you see two light bulbs was once were gas jets flamed forth to light the entry.

The original cast for these bat lights is from the Mackenzie House. The Nathan Lob House (726 NW 22nd) is also has one that quite possibly is a replica. The original lamp at the Mackenzie House was a interior gas lamp. In Scottish folklore the bat is associated with witches, dark magic, sorcery and necromancy.   The bat in this piece of art is the messenger between witches and the devil. Satan is often depicted in art with bat-like wings where as angles have bird-like wings.

Hand caste replica sold online by Rejuvenation.


The snake, on the other hand, is a symbol of medicine. This single snake on a rod is not the common medical symbol–the caduceus, which features two, snakes a stick and wings. This is linked to the Greek God Hermes–the rod had been a gift from Apollo and the snakes were battling and the rod was used to separate them.   Doctors traveled and the walking stick was associated with itinerate medical men and Hermes the winged god was  their patron saint.

The Mackenzie House in Nob Hill

Dr. Mackenzie was a Scot and a prominent physician. The lamp in the entry of his house, (615 NW 20th /2023 NW Hoyt) with the snake over the bat, depicts the triumph of medicine over the occult.  A single snake on a rod it is the asklepian (the Rod of Asclepius son of Apollo). The snake that’s wrapped around the rod may symbolize rejuvenation and held by the deity of medicine and healing.

Update 9-7-18:

The house is currently on the market. This is an image from Dan Volkmeer’s Marketing Materials a well lit image of the famous bat light.