Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
2012 articles 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 ...

The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. 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.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. 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.


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).


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.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Courthouse square once was the site of palatial “Hotel Portland”

The grand monument to the Gilded Age was a municipal architectural treasure and hosted U.S. presidents, but was razed in the 1950s to make way for a parking garage; all that remains is a wrought-iron rail.

A hand-tinted postcard of the Hotel Portland in the early 1910s. The
wrought-iron railing across the courtyard is all that remains.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, take a minute to look at the wrought-iron fence and archway at its south end. Looks a little out of place, doesn’t it?

That ironwork is all that’s left of what was probably the grandest hotel in Oregon history.

The Hotel Portland started as a railroad baron’s scheme in the mid-1880s, and was opened in 1890 — a riotously colorful yet stolidly tasteful stone palace of hospitality, at the dawn of some of the most colorful and memorable decades of the city’s history.

And then, in the early 1950s, the hotel — aging, but by no means gone to seed — was gone, pounded into powder and rubble to make way for, of all things, a parking lot.

A grand hotel for a Gilded Age

A scene from a postcard postmarked 1909, showing the Portland Hotel
as seen from the lawn of the Pioneer Courthouse, with streetcars and
pedestrians.

The Portland Hotel got its start in 1882, in anticipation of the coming of the transcontinental railroad to Portland the following year. Railroad mogul Henry Villard wanted a nice hotel at the Portland end of the line. So he bought the property to do so — a city block, across from the courthouse on Sixth Street, in the center of town.

With uncharacteristic overeagerness, though, he failed to read the fine print. He soon learned that his new property contained a deed restriction: The hotel he planned to build there would have to be made of brick or stone.

This was not what Villard had in mind. But at the time he was feeling flush with cash, so he got started on it.

Another early-1901s view of the Portland Hotel -- this one perhaps a bit
too aggressively hand-tinted.

But business in the 1880s was a fickle goddess, and in the winter of 1883 she turned on Villard. Construction on his grand hotel stopped. Then, early the next year, chastened and broke, Villard slunk out of town.

Villard’s Ruins

The weed-infested foundation and roofless stone walls of the colossal hotel lay there for several years after that. The place soon acquired a sinister reputation as a dangerous place, the kind of reputation an outlaw gang’s hideout picks up. It was, as the Morning Oregonian seemed never to tire of pointing out, an eyesore.

But there it sat. The problem was, having been half built as a stone structure, it would have to be either completed as one or demolished and built afresh with cheaper wood. None of the other Portland bigwigs were inclined to spend the money required to do either one of those things.

Finally, a newcomer to town named George Markle realized that completing that hotel was his ticket to the inner circle of the Portland Establishment, and took the project on. He went into action, soliciting subscriptions from the cream of Portland’s social crop to add to his own investment, and work got started once again.

While clearing the brush to restart construction, crews found out the evil reputation of “Villard’s Ruins” was well deserved. The bodies of a drifter and a prostitute — the victims of two apparently unrelated murders — were concealed in the weeds there.

Grand opening

An advertisement from the 1919 Automobile Blue Book, offering
European tourists first-class accommodations during their hoped-
for visits to see the Columbia River Gorge.

By spring of 1890, the new hotel was complete. It had cost more than $1 million to build — the equivalent of $25 million today. It also may have been the first hotel on the West Coast with electric lights; Markle’s father was an associate of Thomas Edison, and Portland had power coming up from Oregon City, so the builders were able to wire the place.

That May it had its debut with a massive high-society party that raged on into the small hours of the morn. And for decades after that, it stood as a sort of monument to the sophistication and refinement of Portland’s social elite. This elite was starting to get a little sensitive about the rough-hewn frontier reputation of their city, which was still commonly slurred with the disparaging nickname “Stumptown” by those who wished to insult it. In the Portland Hotel, they sought to build a facility just as refined and sophisticated and elegant as anything in St. Louis, or Chicago, or even New York.

And they got it.

Throughout the 1890s this hotel set the high-water mark for West Coast high-class hospitality with gorgeous rooms and spectacular food and drink. The hotel bar’s signature cocktail, the “Peach Blow,” was served to everyone from shanghaiing victims all the way up to Presidents of the United States; although it’s not known if any of the 11 Presidents who stayed in the hotel over the years actually ever tried a Peach Blow, it’s likely at least one of them did.

An image from a postcard postmarked 1910 shows Edwardian-era
ladies strolling along Sixth Street next to the Portland Hotel; the
building with the red-and-white window awnings is the hotel. This
image was probably made at least a decade or so before its
postmark date, around the turn of the century. The clock tower in
the background is the Oregonian building.

Legendary Oregonian editor Harvey Scott, who had contributed to the fund-raising effort and was a stockholder there, walked the few blocks from the Oregonian’s offices to the hotel for lunch each day. The Arlington Club was close at hand as well — as was Madame Fanshaw’s establishment, the praises of which Stewart Holbrook sings as the “ne plus ultra of Portland parlor houses.” (“Parlor house,” of course, is used here as a euphemism for “upscale bordello.”)

The fall

A chill must have gone through the staff at the storied old hotel in 1944, when it was learned that Julius Meier and Aaron Frank — owners of the neighboring Meier & Frank Department Store — had bought the place. By now automobiles were common in Portland, and it didn’t take a champion chess player to figure out what the department store’s next move was going to be.

They made that move in 1951. The last day of operations was August 15, and two weeks later all the hotel’s fixtures and dishes and furnishings were auctioned off — including furnishings and sets of china used to serve Presidents of the United States.

Then the wrecking balls were deployed, and the rubble cleared away, and a double-decker parking lot arose where once the finest hotel on the West Coast had stood.

Pioneer Courthouse Square

The parking lot lasted only a few dozen years. By the early 1980s it was gone, and Meier & Frank had sold the land to the city — which now wanted to make it into public space.

In planning what became the square, the city launched a nationwide design competition, and more than 150 submissions came in. There followed a short squabble over the vision for the place — soon-to-be Mayor Frank Ivancie and some other downtown businessmen wanted to build it as an enclosed atrium with an admission charge, to keep transients out, which would have meant tossing all the design submissions into the bin and starting over.

Ivancie’s faction backed down, though, in the face of near-universal resistance, and construction began on the site. It was completed in 1984.

The traces that remain

There are a few bits of the Portland Hotel still at the square today. Of course, there is the ironwork along the south side, looking very Edwardian and out of place surrounded by the square’s more modern features.

But if you took up a few of the bricks that make up the floor of the square, you’d likely find a giant block or two of cut stone — cut 125 years ago to make the foundation of what may have been the finest and most luxurious hotel in Oregon history.

(Sources: MacColl, E. Kimbark. Merchants, Money and Power. Portland: Georgian Press, 1988; Pintarich, Dick. Great and Minor Moments in Oregon History. Portland: New Oregon, 2003)