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 #20: Where was the first headshop on NW 23rd?

Fun Fact #20: Where was the first headshop on NW 23rd?

The first headshop on NW 23rd
was at 1007 NW 23rd Avenue.

Mike Ryerson gave this above image he has shot in the 1970s to US Bank management.
I can’t find the original in his files. The low quality above is a result of snapping a copy of an image behind glass from the wall of the US Bank Lobby on NW 23rd. Credit can go to both as the source.

In the 1970s Portland was a very tolerant city, teeming with hippies, and in 1973 Oregon was the first state in the country to decriminalize marijuana.  I have enjoyed reading Willamette Weeks’s coverage of oldest head shops, although its July 1st 2015 guide to vintage head shops only includes current operations.  The longest continuously operated head shop seems to be Pype’s Place, opened by Patty and Don Collins at 4760 N. Lombard in 1976.  On various occasions Mike Ryerson told me with pride that he had owned the first head shop on NW 23rd.  I never asked him the name of the shop.  There are no images in his photographic collection because it was only after he started volunteering/working at The Neighbor in late 1970s that he became a shutterbug.  

The Polk City Directories and one Oregonian article are my only sources.  In 1971 Mike Ryerson left his respectable job at Montgomery Ward and opened The Index and Shirt Bar at 1007 NW 23rd.  The shop was listed under his name in city directories in 1971, 1972, 1973.  (There is no listing for Mike in 1974 or 1975, but he reappears after his marriage to Shirley Mason on January 3, 1976 and in 1977 lists The Neighbor as his employer.) 

The Sunday Oregonian of June 13, 1971 (page 16) in an article by Fred Mass, “More Young Entrepreneurs…” reports:

“Mike Ryerson 31, married [Lee Dunaway] and father of four children, a lifelong Portland resident, owner of the Index at 1007 NW 23rd Ave., started with $12 and a rented storefront.  He says he has since built the mainstay of his business, stenciled T-shirts, ‘into accounts receivable of over 10 grand and a shop inventory of about $3,000.’  He also sells smoking accessories, costume jewelry, candles, and leather vests.” 

Mike told me that that the shop had no official hours and that it was a hangout for him and his friends.  I am sure that it amused him to no end that our walking tours account is at US Bank—its NW 23rd Avenue branch is the former location of his head shop.