2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

A Benson log raft is turned out, ready to be shipped down the Columbia River and out to sea

How Oregon built the city of San Diego:

It took about 100 of the oceangoing log rafts invented by Simon Benson of Portland; no one had ever been able to invent a seaworthy log raft before. Here's the story.


Legendary Coast Guard rescue-boat man Tom McAdams.

Newport's legendary cigar-chomping Coast Guard lifesaver:

In one famous incident, he saved four drowning people and earned a lifesaving medal — but the Coast Guard had wanted to reprimand him for risking their nicest boat to do it. Here's the story.


Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

port orford meteorite: a hoax? or is it still out there somewhere?

The man who found it was in financial trouble; did he really find an 11-ton, $300-million rock, or did he make it all up so he could stay employed? Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.


One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.


The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.


riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


The four-masted schooner North Bend, stranded on a sandy spit, 'sailed' through two and a half miles of sand and relaunched itself on the other side.

The stranded sailing ship that salvaged and re-launched itself.

The North Bend was the last tall ship ever built on the West Coast. When it ran aground on Peacock Spit, it just kept on sailing through the sand, crossing two miles of sandy beach to reach Baker Bay. It took over a year. Here's the story.


The Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra on its 'giant violin' float, after riding it through the town of Burns in the Fourth of July Parade, 1915.

america's first youth orchestra came out of tiny sagebrush town.

The Portland Youth Philharmonic says it was founded in Portland in 1924. Actually, it's older than that -- and much more rural. Here's the story.


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Shipwreck ended Astoria's 1840s bid to become the Nantucket of the West Coast

astoria could have become a mecca of whale hunting ...

... had it not been for the Columbia River Bar, which wrecked the only whaling ship that ever dared try to cross it with a full cargo hold. It was a total loss. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


US Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat takes on a heavy sea off Cape Disappointment.

tired of seeing mariners die, lighthouse keeper took action.

In 1865, Joel Munson watched 17 sailors drown on the Columbia Bar. But when their lifeboat washed up near his lighthouse, it gave him an idea — an idea that lives on today in the U.S. Coast Guard. Here's the story.


Delake Rod and Gun Club as it appeared in 1960.

mysterious mansion was haunted only by olympic medalist's dream.

OSU Wrestling legend Robin Reed, an Olympic gold medalist, was never pinned once in his entire career. But his plan for the Delake Rod and Gun Club ended in defeat. Here's the story.


U.S. Coast Guard cutter Algonquin.

bootleggers save sailors' lives, but get thrown in jail anyway.

In the early years of Prohibition, a Canadian rumrunner entered U.S. territorial waters to save the lives of nine castaways — and got caught and sent to jail anyway. Here's the story.


Bobbie the Wonder Dog

Bobbie the wonder dog's 2,400-mile odyssey.

Left behind in Illinois, the big collie dog walked home to Silverton, Oregon. It took him six months. Here's Bobbie's story.


A modern reproduction of a classic Concord Stagecoach.

a few legends of buried gold and treasure ...

Some of them might even be true. Here's a selection of them — as far as we know, the loot from any of them has never been found.


This crater marks ground zero in the Roseburg Blast. It's about 60 feet across.

a nuclear strike
in downtown roseburg?

No; it was "just" an exploding dynamite truck. But the mushroom cloud was big enough to fool a passing airline pilot. Here's the full story of the legendary "Roseburg Blast."


Part of the historic entry to Portland's Chinatown.

he dressed in rags like a beggar, so no one would know ...

To avoid getting robbed and murdered, Chinese couriers dressed as beggars while carrying thousands of dollars in gold from the fields. This is the story of one of these men, and the woman whose life he saved.


Steamer Admiral Evans, f.k.a. Buckman, which the two would-be pirates tried to hijack

THE dumbest would-be pirates in the history of the universe.

Their plan: Hijack a passenger steamer (that's it, in the thumbnail above), run it aground and sneak off into the bushes with 3 tons of gold. Do I need to mention that it didn't work out? Here's what happened.


z

THE SHIPWRECK VICTIMS WHO THOUGHT THEY WERE GONERS ... UNTIL A TRAIN SHOWED UP.

Usually when something steams out to sea to rescue shipwrecked sailors, it's not a railroad train. Here's the story of the one (and probably only) time it was.


z

Far-out guru "enlightens" Central Oregon.

What happens when a colony of acolytes of an East Indian guru move in, then try to take over Wasco County? Check out the four-part story of the rise and fall of Rajneeshpuram ...


z

this oregon youth went on to save half a billion lives...guess who?

A local Willamette Valley teen-ager named Bert Hoover, an orphan sent from Iowa to live with his uncle, went on to save millions of lives and become a singularly ill-starred U.S. president.


z

oregon's most spectacular shipwreck ever.

The steam schooner J. Marhoffer was almost brand-new when, burning fiercely from stem to stern, it piled onto the rocks near Depoe Bay. It's the remains of this fiery shipwreck that gave Boiler Bay its name ...


z

the gallant rescue of portland's floating brothel.

Maritime madam Nancy Boggs kept her bordello on a barge floating in the river, until a police raid cut it loose. But the captain and crew of a sternwheeler came to save the day. Here's the story.


z

take off to the province of oregon, eh?

Few people know how close Oregon came to officially becoming a British possession under the treaty that ended the War of 1812. Only the presence of a handful of scattered, starving survivors from Astor's fur enterprise prevented it. Here's how.


z

timberline lodge could have been a glass skyscraper

Calling the plan a "profit-making eyesore," a Forest Service manager nixed 1920s plan for a modern steel-and-glass structure with an aerial tramway. You can read about it right here.


z

pixieland: an edgy, vanished amusement park

Built in the late 1960s as a "fairy-tale history of Oregon," the amusement park lasted just a few years before slipping into receivership. Today, all that's left of this odd and uniquely Oregonian story is a dilapidated guardshack.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Postwar Portland turned away Nat “King” Cole, Billie Holiday

Crusty, spluttering city leaders, full of self-righteous outrage over mixed-race dancing that was going on at “The Dude Ranch,” found an excuse to order the West Coast's hottest jazz club shut down.

This building, which now houses The Leftbank Project, was - for a brief and shining moment after World War II - the hottest jazz club on the West Coast.
The Hazlewood Building, built in 1923, was the home of The Dude
Ranch for a year or two at the end of World War II. Today, it is home
to The Leftbank Project, which rents flexible workspace in the building
for entrepreneurs and creative professionals. (Photo: F.J.D. John)

In 1945, someone had to tell Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday that they couldn't come play in Portland after all.

It seems that, in an event that has to be one of the most shortsighted bits of municipal governance in Oregon history, the Portland city authorities had ordered the flagship nightclub of North Portland's wildly popular jazz scene, the Dude Ranch, shut down.

And that was the end of one of Portland's most popular jazz clubs, and one of the most fondly remembered.

Apparently there had been a shooting nearby, and city officials pretended they thought it was related. But it was widely known what the real problem was: White girls and black boys, and black girls and white boys, were dancing together there. And Portland, like the rest of the state, was still a highly racist place in 1945.

But that was changing fast. And it had a lot to do with places like The Dude Ranch.

Portland’s wartime jazz scene

The Dude Ranch, for a brief shining moment at the end of World War II, was the epicenter of a jazz scene that put the rest of the West Coast to shame.

“There never was and there never will be anything quite like The Dude Ranch,” Robert Dietsche wrote in his book, Jumptown. “It was the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater, Las Vegas and the Wild West rolled into one.”

Portland’s jazz scene, which is now a relatively forgotten story, got its start during World War II. After the war started, thousands of people from around the country were brought into North Portland to take jobs in the shipyards that were, at the time, pumping out Liberty ships by the hundreds. The wartime shipyard scene was one of those glorious moments in which people who formerly didn’t like each other are put together by forces beyond their control, united by a common goal, and more or less forced to work side by side on a winning team, until one day they realize  that they actually rather like one another after all.

When these shipyard comrades went out on a Friday or Saturday night to have a good time, they were not going to go someplace where some of them weren't welcome. At the time, discreet signs that read "White Trade Only" were a common sight in Portland. A mixed-race group of shipyard workers was no more likely to set foot in one of these places than the Rat Pack would have been. (Can you imagine Frank, Dean and Joey going into Waddle's Diner for pie and coffee and leaving Sammy waiting by the door like a dog? Unthinkable. It was the same way with groups of buddies from the shipyards. Their attitude was, "If one of us is unwelcome, kiss all of us goodbye.")

So they often ended up hanging out together in one of at least 10 clubs in the area of Williams Avenue and what’s now the Rose Quarter. These clubs were part of a thriving and booming music scene that had a particular appeal for African-American jazz legends — and in that scene, the Dude Ranch was first among equals.

A few years later, an integrated group of clean-cut entertainers at The Sands in Las Vegas would play off this scene, relaxing on stage like four old Army buddies yukking it up and having a few drinks together, regardless of skin tones. In the mid-1940s, the real thing was playing out, not only in North Portland and Vanport, but across the country.  

A neighborhood forms

Shipyard workers and returning soldiers may have played and socialized together regardless of race, but in the rest of Portland, attitudes were still far less cosmopolitan. Racism wasn't just a City Hall thing. It would take a humanitarian disaster in 1948 — the flooding of Vanport — to break down many of those walls; in 1945, most Portlanders still didn’t want black people moving into their neighborhoods.

So Portland’s new African-American residents mostly set up housekeeping in the Albina area, around Williams and Vancouver avenues, and in Vanport. After the war ended, hordes of returning servicemen, starved for entertainment, crowded into town, and these fellows found what they wanted on Williams Avenue. The population density was off the charts; finding a place to stay was nearly impossible. Movie theatres were turned into impromptu bunkhouses, people crashed on each other’s couches. The streets were full of people with money in their pockets and no place to go, and the nightclubs were packed, 24 hours a day.

Nat “King” Cole, Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong

The Dude Ranch, according to Prof. Michael McGregor of Portland State University, rose to prominence largely because its owners, Sherman Pickett and Pat Patterson — “Pic and Pat,” as they were called — “seemed capable of booking anybody.”

“But though Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum and the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio appeared in later days, no night ever equaled that night in December of 1945 when Norman Granz brought his touring jam session, ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic,’ to town,” McGregor writes. “ That night legendary saxophonist Coleman Hawkins led a group that included trombonist Roy Eldridge, bassist Al McKibbon and a 25-year-old pianist with ‘a lightning-like right hand’ who was soon to usher in the bebop age, Thelonious Monk.”

And then there were the impromptu appearances, including one evening when Louis Armstrong just happened to show up, on his way from somewhere else.

Inside the Dude Ranch, the cowboy theme was played to the hilt. The waitresses wore cowgirl outfits with fake six-shooters; there were murals showing cowboys riding and roping all over the walls. And the world-class jazz was only the beginning of what you might find there: burlesque “shake dancers,” ventriloquists, comics, jugglers, singers and tap dancers, according to Dietsche, were in the lineup as well.

Bulldozed for “Urban Renewal”

Like all such shining moments, it couldn’t last. It certainly didn’t help that Pic and Pat got put out of business. They soon opened up again at a different location, but it was never the same, and the local jazz scene was starting to cool down a bit by then anyway.

Today, it’s all gone — bulldozed and cleared to make room for Memorial Coliseum and the interstate freeway.  Gone, that is, except for one building — the one that used to house The Dude Ranch. It’s straight ahead of you as you drive across the Steel Bridge, a wedge-shaped building on the corner, just a few hundred yards north of Memorial Coliseum.

Standing there on the corner and looking back and forth between the funky, historic little brick building and the massive, impersonal Coliseum, it’s funny to think about how much the world has changed since 1946. Back then, when someone like Billie Holiday came to Portland, she booked a show in that historic little brick building on your left. If someone of that caliber came today, she’d be playing in the mammoth cement hall on your right.

I’m not sure I’d call that an improvement … would you?

(Sources: Dietsche, Robert. Jump Town: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz. Corvallis: OSU Press, 2005; McGregor, Michael. “When the Joint was Jumpin’,” The Oregon History Project, www.ohs.org; leftbankproject.com)