Question: What bands might you have seen at NW 21st and Irving in the 1970s?
Answer: Just to name a few: Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, The Dils, The Wipers, Rubbers, Smegma, Stiphnoyds, Inputs, Cleavers… Numerous punk rock/new wave bands played at The Earth Tavern at 632 NW 21st. The club offered all ages shows and some of the live recordings have made it in onto Youtube. This fun fact was a spin off from a real estate agent continuing education class I led last month. Once we returned to the Coldwell Banker Bain office at 636 NW 21st I was asked about the history of their office building. I’m sure none of these punk flyers are going up on the walls at the office. Below I also imported in a flyer from a Food Front Fundraiser that included poets in-between sets, the local resident and author of Geek Love Katherine Dunn was on the list.
Question: Why do some curbs in Portland have metal curb guards?
There are existing historic street pavements in Northwest Portland that were installed prior to the annexation of East Portland, Albina & St. Johns. Many sidewalk curbs in the Alphabet Historic District had a simple “N” the mason’s kit was not missing the letter “W”. The wrote iron or meta edge iron curb is not unique to Portland. And were often installed along dirt roads. In the United States the metal on curb corners was used to prevent damage from the steel wheels of wagons just after the turn of the 19th century.
Pedestrian Facilities and ADA Compliance has over time slowly replaced a curiosity enjoyed along our tour routes. The arrival of tactile paving and curb cuts is laudable we only ask that you appreciate those that remain from our days when horses were the main source of transportation. Lucky the horse rings are protected under current codes. Our tours guests and guides appreciate that in 1903 the city phased out wooden sidewalks; the wooden sidewalks must have been quite slippery.
COVID-19 has stopped our tours for now. My family and I created a fun Curb Guard Scavenger Hunt. Link
Answer the first park in St. Johns was Cedar Park. You still will get full points if you answered Pier Park which is the oldest remaining park in St. Johns and the first public park in St. Johns. After the timeline there is additional information on Cedar Park.
St. Johns Parks Timeline
c.1899 Cedar Park 3 acres – 10 acres Location: North Fessenden Pier. Named for the plentiful cedar trees in the park offered for sale $10,000 in 1907 trees cleared in 1909.
1920 Pier Park 87 acres 10325 N. Lombard Street. Named for Stanhope S. Pier in 1921, who served as a Portland city commissioner in the late 1920s and as acting mayor in 1931.
1932 Chimney Park 16.76 acres Location: 9360 N Columbia Blvd. Named the city incinerator chimney that was once at the site.
1941 St. Johns Par 5.77 acres Location: 8427 N. Central St. Named for pioneer James John who settled in the area in 1846.
1968 Cathedral Park dedicated opening in 1980 23.31 acres Location: N Edison Street and Pittsburg Ave. Named for the gothic arches under the St. Johns bridge.
1971 George Park 2.03 acres Location: N. Burr Ave. & Fessenden St. Named for US Congressman Melvin Clark George.
2015 “White Oaks” Location: N. Crawford St. & N. Polk 2.92 acres Former property of Simon Benson’s child, unnamed parked but there are two heritage white oak trees on the property.
More History of Cedar Park
The first park in St. Johns was Cedar Park; a private park owned by City and Suburban Railway Co. Lines Steam streetcars operated by City and Suburban Railway Co. Lines reached St. Johns in 1889. By 1900 the company’s trains arrived at St. Johns every 20 minutes. Cedar Park was owned by City and Suburban Railway Co. and leased out to various managers over a few years. There was a station a Cedar Park/Cedar Grove servicing the popular picnic amusement park with 500 electrified lights, a merry-go-round, little miniature railway (moved to Mt. Tabor). The first electrified trains reached the park in 1903.
Are the concrete rectangular pads on the NE corner of NW 28th and Thurman the footings of the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition water towers?
The past is in itself unobservable. After leading walking tours past the empty lot across from Cracker Jacks on the NE corner of the intersection of NW 28th and Thurman for years, we were motivated to attempt to corroborate the water tower narrative because we thought that the site was finally going to be developed because of arrival of a construction fence. As historians we have to use indicators (in this case a cluster of concrete pads) and postulate a causal relation between the observable facts. Typically, on tours the pads are not that exciting so they never made it onto the tour as a stopping point.
Using the lens of the archeologist we explored the theory that the multiple concrete pads were the remainders of the footings of massive water towers. Neighbors, using the image of the 1905 exposition’s fairgrounds as shown in contemporary guidebooks, had asserted that this was the site of the water towers, so it seemed reasonable. However, the layout of the fair was on a different axis than the street grid iron, which can throw us off.
But when we opened up the June 1905 Sanborn map to the page for the site, we could see that in 1905 our location contained the western end of the Museum of Art (“Fine Art Building”), not the water towers, which were farther north, in the middle of what is now the intersection of NW 28th and Upshur. It is possible the concrete pads are related to that building—more research and measuring is needed. Unfortunately the artistic rendering map of the 1905 “Lewis and Clark Centennial and American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair” has created a false narrative. We reached out to the long time owners of the property based on a neighbor recalling witnessing the arrival of the pads 30 years ago. They kindly responded “they were footings for a mixed use building (commercial and residential) that we were going to build in the mid 1990s…there is no interesting historical story behind the vacant lot.” There may be no remains from the 1905 Fair but there is an interesting historical story.
Answer: William Theodore Walton III, No. 32 Portland Trail Blazer
Bill Walton was known for his genius on the basketball court; he stood out with his Hippie hairstyle, vegetarianism and radical politics. Four decades before Ariana Grande’s ponytail was making headlines, this basketball player’s spectacular ponytail was in the news. NBA’s hippie superstar and 1974 first draft pick, 1978 Most Valuable Player, had an unique look on the court.
Before moving to Portland’s Nob Hill, the San Diego native was college player of the year playing at U.C.L.A., 1970 -1974 where he led the Bruins to 88 consecutive wins and two national championships. In 1977 Trailblazer Bill Walton was the Grand Marshall of the event “Splash,” a neighborhood fair and parade. The parade went from Couch Park to Wallace Park. His basketball career ended in 1986 after a foot operation. His connection with the Patty Hearst kidnappers, radical activists Jack and Micki Scott, is still being explored. Bill Walton is the most decorated player in the Blazer franchise history.
Barber Ed Delia was 72-years-old when he became nationally known for cutting off Bill Walton’s famous ponytail. (Walton lived a couple of houses off of 23rd on Kearney Street.) Edward E. Delia, owner of Ed’s Barber Shop on NW 23rd near Lovejoy was a native of Chicago, Ill. He cut Bill Walton’s hair just before the Trail Blazer championship game series in 1977.
Hazel Hall began writing at age 9- three years later she contracted scarlet fever. Scarlet fever is treatable today with antibiotics and many of us have had strep throat with a high fever; there was no treatment offered in 1898 and she was left paralyzed. She spent most of her life inside a small home in Portland’s Nob Hill, wheelchair bound, sewing for a living and writing poetry for her soul. On Mother’s Day in 1995, a small park was opened to the public, it replaced a few parking spots next to the home where Hazel Hall died in 1924. The park north of 106 NW 22nd Place was funded by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission the outstanding feature of the park is the granite markers engraved with her poems.
The first use of incubators in the Pacific Northwest was as
a carnival attraction on “The Trail” arcade at the 1905 Lewis & Clark
Centennial Exhibition and Oriental Fair. Admission was 25 cents for what proved one of
the most popular exhibits at the Fair—premature babies benefiting from the
Ticket sales covered the daily cost of $15 per child—the
parents were not charged for the care. Visitors
to the exhibit viewed the babies and medical team through plate glass as the
preemies were skillfully treated. Half a
dozen skilled nurses and two doctors cared for the babies, who averaged 2.5
pounds. New arrivals were bathed in
water and mustard and dosed with two drops of brandy. Milk was provided by wet nurses.
“Ten ingeniously constructed incubators hold the world’s
little weaklings”, according to notices in local papers, which called the
incubators “Rest and Assurance for the Tired Mothers”.
The Morning Register
of May 28, 1905—the month before the Fair opened—contained a glowing article
about the “artificial mothers”. “They
are such delicate, frail tiny cherubs that they are not yet ready to begin their
struggle for existence…the Infant Incubator forms one of the most interesting
and thoroughly scientific features at the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition.
Infant incubator exhibits operated for at least four decades and reunions of the children helped to market the lifesaving efforts and carnival attractions of Dr. Martin A. Couney, who created and ran incubator-baby exhibits on Coney Island from 1903 to the early 1940s. Although he died in relative obscurity, he was one of the great champions of this lifesaving technology and is credited with saving the lives of thousands of the country’s premature babies. The children were returned to their natural parents when they were healthy enough to live outside the miracle machines.
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 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.
 AKA Nob Hill Theater, the Esquire Theater (1932), currently Salt & Straw & Bamboo Sushi
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:
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.
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.
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 AKA Balch Creek Covert) 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 wapato plants have been deliberately placed in the stream to enhance the habitat for the fish.