Fun Fact #10 Who was that big guy in the center?

Fun Fact #10 Who was that big guy in the center?
Who was that big guy in the center?
He towered above his Lincoln High teammates, and
he let them to a State Basketball Championship.

Slabtown had a hometown hero, because of his own struggles with class and the status quo in Portland. His “quest” and notoriety (transformation from freaky tall to starlight), which was followed by residents even after they were relocated, was to succeed at a sport—basketball—with which he had had no previous experience. Harvey Wade “Swede” Halbrook, who had an important career in the National Basketball Association in the 1950s. I met pro-baseball player Milo Meskel’s sister for the first time at the third Guild’s Lake Courts reunion in 2009.

Beverly Meskel: We all had fun down there. Everybody was friends—didn’t matter where you came from, you were all broke. We didn’t have anywhere to go…. We came from Minnesota where my dad made a dollar a day. If we didn’t live on a farm, we all would have starved to death…. Swede Halbrook, well, if you lived in Guild’s Lake [Courts], everyone knew Swede Halbrook.  Well, in the fifth grade I stood about this high [motioning short] and Swede stood about this high [motioning tall]. And my brother-in-law’s dad used to say you two should get married so your kids would be the right size. He was quite a guy. I think there were…four guys [brothers]—Joe, Dan, and Jim and him, I think.

Joe: They were all tall.

Beverly Meskel: They were all tall, but Swede also had a gland problem. We almost lost him in sixth grade; he was up at Oregon Health Science for a long time.

Joe: Halbrook was in my class at Chapman.

Beverly Meskel: Was he? So, like I said, he was not that well of a person. Plus he tried so much to have friends that he did not know who his friends were and who were the users. He got himself in quite a bit of trouble… He was a neat kid, really.

Swede Holbrook at Guilds Lake Courts Courtesy Guilds Lake History Project

Swede, pictured sitting down with his long legs and enormous shoes, became a man of mythical proportions, who, at 7’3”, was the tallest player ever to play for Oregon State College. He was even larger than life when he lived at Guild’s Lake Courts, but he never played basketball there because there was only one hoop in the entire development, and that was inside a mixed-use room in the Guild’s Lake School.