Monday, January 29, 2024

Fred Meyer's 'Mistake' Earning Acclaim


Alderway Building

The economy was booming in 1927 when a Portland entrepreneur with a background in selling groceries undertook his real desire at the time: property development.

 Fred G. Meyer assumed the 99-year lease on the Pantages Theater at the corner of SW Broadway and Alder Street.  He used the steel structure of the former 1400-seat vaudeville theater to build a four story building with ground floor retail – still a somewhat novel idea for SW Broadway as Portland’s retail core was shifting westward from Third and Fourth Avenues.

 Today the Alderway Building is Portland’s latest nomination to be considered for the National Register of Historic Places.  Completed in 1928, its upper stories with large Chicago-style windows, metal spandrels and brick pilasters are substanti8ally unchanged.  The nomination form finds the building notable for its architecture and for its history in the evolution of downtown retailing.

 Alas, the timing wasn’t good for Fred Meyer.  The building had been completed for hardy one year when the Great Depression heavily crippled the national economy for more than a decade.  One of the Alderway’s successful ground floor tenants, however, was Fred Meyer Toiletries and Remedies, an early venture into self-service sales of nostrums and cosmetics. 


(National Register Nomination Form)

Meyer eventually convinced druggists to join his stores as prescription-selling pharmacies, which became a key ingredient in Meyer’s slowly evolving concept of one-stop shopping.  His tenure at the Alderway Building also included a dry-cleaning and laundry outlet, from which he began selling men’s underwear – and got him interest in the apparel business.

Meyer was asked once when he first thought of the one-stop shopping concept.  His answer: Never – he was taking advantage of opportunities as he came across them.

With his growing success as a regional merchandising giant, Meyer seldom mentioned his failures.  His mindset was always looking ahead.  At some point in the Depression, he gave up control of the Alderway lease and once said he lost $50,000 – likely his largest business “mistake” in his long career.  The episode terminated his interest in property development for its own sake.  All his “development” thereafter was building Fred Meyer stores.

 Architects for the Alderway Building were Claussen & Claussen, two brothers who operated successfully in Portland for many years.  During the Depression the Claussens renovated a few buildings that Meyer purchased and converted to Fred Meyer stores before his big Post World War II boom. 

------Fred Leeson

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Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Recognizing Portland's LGBTQ+ History


Former Majestic, Now Crystal, Hotel (National Register form)

In its quest to recognize Portland’s historical diversity, the city is proposing to add to the National Register of Historic Places two sites frequently used by the city’s LGBTQ+ residents in an era between 1948 and 1985.

One is the former Majestic Hotel – now known as the Crystal Hotel at 1217 SW Harvey Milk St. -- which from 1969 to 1985 offered baths, hotel rooms, a bar and restaurant aimed at serving LGBTQ+ customers.  The area came to be known informally known as Portland’s gay triangle.  One of its enterprises was the Club Portland bathing site that operated from 1969 to 1985, and is believed to be the city’s first LGBTQ+-associated business.

Today, the Crystal Hotel, which was renovated in 2009, is part of the McMenamin entertainment and lodging chain.  The building itself was added to the National Register in 2009 as a contributing member to downtown Portland’s commercial growth.  The LGBTQ+ history would be an addendum to the earlier listing.

“The building, more than any other in Portland, provided an affirming focus on an LGBTQ+ population, hosting a unique combination of uses supporting and protecting the queer community,” the nomination states.  The hotel and baths were vital places where socio-medical workers strived to provide information about HIV and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Brandon Spencer-Hartle, the city's historic resources manager, said the federal government is encouraging local jurisdictions to make their historic landmark designations more inclusive concerning human diversity.


Normandale Field, 1948 (National Register form)

The second site proposed for the national listing is the Erv Lind Field in Northeast Portland’s Normandale Park.  Built in 1948 a national American Softball Association women’s championship tournament, it was first called Normandale Field.  The name was changed in 1965 in honor of Portland businessman whose Erv Lind Florists team was a frequent national competitor in women’s fast-pitch softball competition.

Erv Lind died in 1964 and his team imploded.  At their peak in the early 1960s, the Florists drew several thousand paying customers to their games in Normandale Park. The field continues in active softball use, despite the decline of women’s softball as a semi-professional sport.  

Competitive team sports opportunities were rare for young women in the 1950s and 60s.  While some players were lesbians or bisexual, they were instructed to appear neat, tidy and well behaved.

“Players, whether they were lesbian, bisexual, or straight, grew up together and stood outside of the societal norms together for this period of time, because they were athletes. The 1950s caricature of the mannish lesbian athlete affected all of the players, reminding them to publicly maintain a heterosexual, feminine identity,” the nomination states.

Regardless of their sexuality, the teammates developed comradery and lasting friendships.  The softball field became a welcome place to socialize and enjoy sport.  National interest in the sport declined after the middle 1960s.

 Detailed histories of both these sites were researched and written by Kristen Minor, a former member of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.  With approval from the commission, the nominations will be forwarded to the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation on Feb. 16.  If approved by the state committee, the nominations will be sent to the Interior Department for final consideration.

-------Fred Leeson

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Saturday, January 13, 2024

Update on the David Campbell Memorial


The good news is that temporary chain-link fencing has reduced vandalism, graffiti and trash inflicted on the David Campbell Memorial that has stood at SW Alder and 18th Ave. since 1928.

The better news is that sometime in the future, the fencing will disappear and a new Portland Firefighter’s Memorial Plaza will adjoin the Campbell monument that honors the city’s fire chief who lost his life fighting a major Southeast waterfront fire in 1911.

Ironically, most Portlanders know nothing about Campbell or efforts to honor 76 Portland firefighters killed over the years while trying to save Portland residents and property.  Plans developed by the David Campbell Memorial Association seek to do a better job honoring all fallen firefighters while bringing more attention to David Campbell. 

There is no deadline for completing the plaza.  Don Porth, a retired firefighter and president of the memorial association, hopes to raise roughly another $1 million to pay for the improvements.

Rendering of proposed plaza (David Campbell Memorial Association)

“We are not doing anything difficult,” he says of the plan.  “It will reflect the character of Portland firefighters – hard-working, determined, reliable – not fancy.”  He added, “Our goal is to provide better explanations and to make it more inviting.”

So far, Portland firefighters have raised $131,000 for the project, and the Portland City Council has added $350,000.  Porth, who has been working steadily on plans for over two years, hopes to raise additional funds from businesses and neighborhood groups in the area and from interested citizens.  Potential donors can find how to contribute at

The historic memorial and its bronze urns (now removed for restoration) were designed by Paul Cret, a University of Pennsylvania professor who was a leading Beaux-Arts designer of the era.  Porth said retired Portland architect William J. Hawkins III, who is deeply devoted to protecting Portland’s public artworks, helped design the new plaza to be finished as soon as funds are available.

Porth said he also hopes to develop sufficient money to provide an endowment for future maintenance. 

 Legally, the irregular triangle on which the memorial sits is part of a right-of-way owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.  Porth said a stewardship agreement has been reached with the city that allows the Portland Fire Bureau and the Portland Firefighters’ Association more control over the memorial’s maintenance. 

Chances are, almost every Portland citizens recognizes this memorial, but few know what it is about.  The improvements will be a welcome change.  

-----Fred Leeson

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