Confectionaries, soda fountains, and sweet treats of days gone by
On January 1st, 1916, the Legislative Assembly of Oregon implemented a statewide prohibition on the selling and serving of all alcoholic beverages, and Oregon officially became a dry state. Saloons, beer joints, and drinking clubs had to start serving non-alcoholic beverages – or close down altogether.
With little in the way to offer as a substitute for beer, wine, and liquor, some taverns offered soft drinks; others just gave up and shut their doors. And a few bartenders decided to sell alcoholic drinks secretly to clientele they could trust to keep quiet about it.
It was a time when sodas and flavored drinks became popular, and soda fountains became a part of American history. These emporiums began showing up in family neighborhoods, in pharmacies around town, and as lunch venues in big department stores in the centers of big cites.
As sales began to decline in local pharmacies, druggists looked for new products or inventive ways to attract new customers. Waiting for prescriptions was time consuming, and anyway, proprietors wanted their pharmacy to be more than just a place to pick up cold medicines on dreary winter days. They began stocking their floors with consumer products, such as greeting cards, magazines, and even the latest sheet music from the hit charts.
The Sellwood Pharmacy welcomed visitors to drop in to see and hear that most perfect of all musical instruments, the Cheney Phonograph. But what patrons really wanted was to taste the tantalizing new drinks known as "flavored carbonated sodas". These fizzy beverages were a mixture of soda water and flavored syrups, combined with a touch of phosphoric acid to give customers a little bit of a kick.
Mixing sodas gave druggists, who were already proficient at mixing liquid medications in clients' prescriptions, a chance to concoct their own beverages for customers of all ages to enjoy. You could say that druggists became medicinal bartenders. The varieties of flavors to mix were endless, and some pharmacists even went so far as to tout these soda drinks as remedies for queasy stomachs, pounding headaches, or just something to pick up a customer's spirits.
As the fascination with these drinks grew, druggists knew they would have to make a hard decision: To keep up with the competitive market, they would have to make a major investment, and install a decorative lunch counter. And, probably, also update store fixtures, to attract customers passing by the store.
The more eye-catching and appealing they made their interiors, the more customers would come. Marbled counter tops, bright-colored swivel chairs, and matching booths became the standard decor of many fountains. Polished goose-neck fountain dispensers and large decorative mirrors behind the counter completed the look that many patrons still fondly remember – of what soda fountains used to look like.
Patrons enjoyed ordering the soda of their choice, or choosing from the list of suggested flavors offered by the establishment from a sign on the wall. No two drinks were the same, since they were hand-mixed, and consumers began visiting other drug stores to taste what appealing new non-alcoholic drinks they might have to offer.
The most popular flavors were cherry, lemon, lime, strawberry, and orange – but other ingredients like ice cream, chocolate, and egg creams could be added, to spice up the drink. Special blends had special names, such as the "Black Cow" (root beer, chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, plus a cherry on top); or the "Lime Rickey" (lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura Bitters, and club soda). Some soda fountains even offered a "celery carbonated soda", which was advertised as a health drink for those who wanted to avoid sugar. (It is not among the drinks fondly remembered.) A trip to the soda counter became like a visit to a tavern, except without the alcohol.
Over in the Brooklyn neighborhood, pharmacist Paul Brinkman, who then was co-owner of the Brooklyn Pharmacy, was of the first merchants to have a lunch counter and soda fountain installed in his establishment – which was located in those days at the corner of Powell Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue (where the Arco Station is now). His partner, Michael Dardis (just now retiring as the owner of the business, as reported last month in THE BEE), remarked that the soda fountain took up three times the space that the pharmacy once had commanded with its shelves of medicine bottles and remedies.
Multnomah County operated an auto inspection station across the street from the Brooklyn Pharmacy, and anyone who owned a car had to bring the vehicle in there for a yearly inspection. "We had to make sure that the pharmacy was open by 6 a.m., as employees from the auto inspection station came in for their daily coffee and breakfast," Dardis remembers. The customers who were having their cars inspected stopped in at the pharmacy for lunch and a cool soda, too.
Soda shop owners tried to locate their stores near places where young people gathered to socialize – usually near a movie theater, a ball park, or a school. "Dell and Dollie's Soda Shop" was situated just north of Sellwood School (today, Sellwood Middle School). When classes ended for the day, students made sure they'd saved a penny or two for an after-school treat. During the summertime and weekends, when school was out, sales slumped, which forcing the owners to move the store to the busy commercial district on 13th Avenue in Sellwood.
Kay Blackmore (Bechtold), who grew up on the south side of Sellwood, recalls what became "Dell and Dollie's Restaurant" as a favorite meeting-place for herself and her high school friends during the 1950's. When the new Sellwood Theater (today the Columbia Sportswear Outlet Store) began showing first-run films near the corner of Tacoma Street and 13th , the owners of Dell and Dollie's, Walter and Opal Steele, relocated a third time – to be the soda fountain to serve all the hungry movie enthusiasts before and after the shows.
Westmoreland had its own share of soda fountains. When the Westmoreland Theater opened in 1925, someone needed to feed the hundreds of moviegoers, and Harper's Restaurant was right next door. As proclaimed in THE BEE back then, residents of the neighborhood were welcome to come in and dine at one of the finest art tile counters, and taste one of the many famous sodas made with one of the newest mechanical refrigerated fountains around. Quite exciting, for a dining place that had only just recently opened. Light lunches, ice cream, and "high grade candies" were also available for diners.
Concerned that they would lose loyal clientele to Harpers, The Westmoreland Pharmacy and the Monarch Pharmacy installed soda fountains in their respective businesses nearby at the corner of Bybee and Milwaukie. While Harper's drew the movie crowd, the dual pharmacies were hoping to get the attention of the afternoon lunch crowd. They specifically targeted ladies' social organizations, midday shoppers in the area, and Reed College students needing a break from demanding studies. Besides the sodas, candies, and ice cream at the Westmoreland Pharmacy, you could buy tickets for the streetcar, mail packages, and buy stamps.
Confectionaries, candy stores, and sweet shops have been around Portland since as early as the 1880's, and were just as popular as soda fountains at their peak. Candy makers and their delightful treats could be found in 'most every neighborhood, especially where children might gather. Those who've lived in Inner Southeast for years might still remember Barto's Confectionary on 17th Avenue in Sellwood, or Creston's Confectionary at 47th and Powell. There were also the Lupton Candy Company on Woodstock Boulevard near 40th, and Marie Denboer's Candy Store on Milwaukie Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood.
In the early years, candy stores in Sellwood included the J.W. Maulding Confectionary on Umatilla Street, and Julius Hoard – who probably just sold sweet treats from his house on Tacoma Street. Julius was also a janitor at the Sellwood School in 1905, where he no doubt found a welcoming throng of young candy lovers to support his business.
Sellwood elite businessman William Strahlman was known for his opening of the Isis Movie Theater at the corner of Spokane and 13th. The two-story Stralhman building (which is now a parking lot) was a center of action – with a dance hall, and lively parties and sorority meetings in the hall upstairs. Few people remember that another one of his ventures was a confectionary between the Star and Isis movie houses, but that's part of Southeast history also.
Confectionaries and sweet shops offered a new treat for consumers not available in groceries or bakeries: These new shops were usually found along busy commercial districts, and sold candies, soft drinks, as well as high-quality cigars for men. Small pieces of hard candy, later called penny candy, were appealing to children and the working class, who had little money available to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Archie Woolworth's Confectionary was a popular spot for Sellwood students who bypassed Dell and Dollie's soda shop. Inside the store was a wooden glass display case with thousands of sparkling and colorful unwrapped pieces of candy. For a penny, youngsters could point to the small morsels they wanted, which were placed in a brown paper bag for them by the proprietor, to take home or enjoy on their walk around the neighborhood.
Woolworth's was located along 13th Avenue, just across from the fire station on Tenino Street (today's SMILE Station). The Sellwood Post Office was right next door in 1910, so customers picking up their mail might have been enticed into the shop by the smell of fresh candies being made. Too, idle firefighters might meander over for a sweet bite between calls, as might the barbers and other merchants along the busy strip.
"My mother knew more kids at my school than I did," grins Westmoreland resident Marv Price; his mother ran the confectionary store next to Vestal School, near 82nd Avenue. Mrs. Price had "the patience of a saint", he recalls, waiting on youngsters who had only a few pennies in their pocket, and who took an eternity to choose the best buy for their money.
While widely-distributed wrapped candy bars like Almond Joy, Mounds, or Snickers might cost a nickel in those days, it was the candy drops, rock candy, and unwrapped sugar pieces in the glass display case that were the bargain. You might even get two pieces for a penny – which would last any young boy or girl for a couple of hours at least.
For Sellwood resident Kay Blackmore, it was the fake waxed lips, wax moustaches filled with colorful juices, and candy cigarettes, that made children feel like grownups during their childhood. Kay's favorite dessert was ice cream, bought at Patti's Ice Cream shop along 17th Avenue. The cost for a single scoop was a shiny dime – fifteen cents for a double. Her sister Darlene worked behind the candy display, and customers could take home quarts and pints of Rogers Ice Cream, distributed from the old Mt. Hood Brewery Cold Storage unit in Sellwood.
To make their products more appealing to the public, the Fleer Company included a baseball card, if you bought a pack of their chewing gum. Fleer's Bazooka Gum was first marketed after the Second World War with a small cartoon included with the stick of gum for youngsters to enjoy while they chewed away. Clove gum and Chiclets could be purchased for just a few cents, while Wrigley Chewing Gum was considered to be of finer quality.
During his early childhood, Westmorelander Marv Price tells us he favored Dubble Bubble gum, because of his ease in blowing some of the largest bubbles in the neighborhood. During intermissions at local movie theaters, young boys would gather at the front of the movie screen, and a contest was held for who could blow the biggest bubble. And all this time, their parents had thought they paid their dime just to see the main feature and cartoon!
After a full day of exhausting swimming in the historic Sellwood Pool in the summertime, every boy and girl made sure they had enough loose change to buy a candy bar or a bottle of grape or orange Nehi Soda at the snack stores at either end of Miller Street and S.E. 7th. The Soder Brothers Grocery Confectionery, and the Pleasant Corner Confectionary, were advertised as sweet-treat stops for youngsters to spend their money – although both shops could be more accurately considered to be early "convenience stores", like today's 7-Eleven or Plaid Pantry.
Hard to believe perhaps, but The Leipzig – now a Tavern, at S.E. 13th and Spokane Street – was originally a confectionery. Pete and Helen Leipzig started the candy shop in 1923 in Sellwood's theater row, along Spokane Street. As the times changed, so did "The Leipzig". During the depression years it became a lunch stop for workers at the Eastside Lumber Mill down the street by the river. Later, after Oregon's Prohibition ended, it was renamed the Leipzig Tavern, where locals stopped in for a beer, and to find out which sportsmen caught the biggest fish along the Willamette in the yearly fishing contest.Drugstore soda fountains lost their appeal to the public when the automobile became more affordable, and teenagers became more interested in owning a car, cruising the streets, and meeting new friends. Drive-In restaurants like the Speck, Tik-Tok, and Waddle – with their bright neon lights, and pretty girls dressed as car hops – were exciting to visit; certainly more so than lonely lunch counters run by older adults.
The Drive-Ins had more space where large groups of teenagers from other parts of the city could socialize and mingle, and they didn't have to worry about bumping into their parents or younger siblings. Brand-named soft drinks like Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper, R.C. Cola, and Pepsi finally replaced lemon and lime sodas mixed by a soda jerk at the lunch counters. It also became the cool thing to do, to hang out at the local Drive-In.
By the '60s and '70s, soda fountains were things of the past, replaced by names familiar today: McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Herfy's, Whiz Burger, Arctic Circle, and Polar King, offering menus that were cheap and fast – so appealing to teenagers, busy housewives, and the rest of the working class in Portland.
Confectionaries were pushed to the wayside when name-brand candy bars became dominant. Brand-name candy makers were distributing chocolate bars with attractive wrappers, promoted by commercials on television, and ads in magazines and newspapers. You could buy a Nestle's Crunch Bar, Payday, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, or Mars' Three Musketeers at the local grocery store, and bypass the penny candy at the sweet shop down the block. Even movie theaters had their own brands of candy and popcorn and soft drinks in the lobby, so families needn't be spending time at a sit-down counter down the street from the theater.
Long before the start of the Twenty First Century the last remaining soda fountain – the Westmoreland Pharmacy – had closed for good; and those gooey, chewy small pieces of candy at Rodgers Five and Dime Store, just across the street, were no longer available either, for school-age children. The last of Westmoreland and Sellwood's lunch counters and candy stores are now just faded memories – good times of the past.