An epitaph for Portland's Alpenrose Dairy
Two years ago, a bitter intra-family struggle broke out publicly and in the courts over the future of Alpenrose Dairy, a popular Southwest Portland business that had been a community fixture for 130 years.
It wasn't just a dairy. It was a Christmastime car-ride tradition for families, a haven for serious bicyclists, a regular haunt for ESPN camera crews and national Little League tournaments, and more. For generations of metro-area families, it was woven into the fabric of their lives.
Today, the Alpenrose Velodrome that was a prominent feature for the Portland biking community is barricaded and closed down, apparently for good.
The Little League ball fields and midget racing track used by many kids and families are silent, too.
Dairyville, the dairy's kid-friendly "town" used for clubs and community events, is fenced off to the public, the locks changed on its faux Western-style storefronts.
Part 2 — Generations of sports fans have flocked to Alpenrose.
The Portland Opera House — the 600-seat playhouse used by schools and seniors for years — is being dismantled.
The dairy facility that employs about 160 people is still operating, as tank trunks deliver raw milk to be processed, but the new owners are looking to relocate. Sticking to its controversy-averse public-relations strategy, Smith Brothers Farms refused to answer any of the Portland Tribune's questions about its plans.
But the company's general manager at Alpenrose last month told Hayhurst Neighborhood Association they plan to shut down in the next two to five years and build a new facility somewhere in the Metro area, a location allowing them to remain "Portland's hometown dairy.
"That could be Tualatin or Clackamas or something else," said the manager, Josh Reynolds.
A likely lost cause
Despite the imminent relocation of the dairy, the voices that two years ago were loudly calling for preservation of the property's public uses are now largely quiet, thanks to a cloak of confidentiality around settlement talks that sprang out of bitter litigation among the dairy family's heirs.
"We just can't give any substantive answers about the issues," said lawyer Jonathan Radmacher in an email. His clients had unsuccessfully sued to block the sale and argue they should get it instead, while publicly vowing to keep the dairy running and its facilites open to the public if they won.
The seemingly final chapter of the saga of Alpenrose Dairy — the 52-acre site west of Shattuck Road near the Beaverton border and just north of the Hillsdale/Multnomah Village area — is unfolding without the earlier controversy, and without much attention at all.
Cathy Workman, who organized a "Save Alpenrose Dairy" petition online that garnered more than 15,500 signatures, has largely given up.
"For the community, it's just heartbreaking," she said. "The connection we all had with the family, the land? It is, it's just heartbreaking."
The neighbors have, too, though some still wonder, "what if…."
"I often wondered why (the dairy owners) couldn't work out a deal with Metro, the city of Portland, or another agency to purchase the ball fields and velodrome," said neighbor Marita Ingalsbe.
Always part of Portland
Named for a Swiss flower, the dairy has its roots in 1891, when Florian Cadonau began delivering milk to downtown Portland. His son, Henry, opened Alpenrose in 1916 with his wife, Rosina.
Their kids, Carl and Anita, expanded the dairy, with Anita marrying into the Birkland family.
In the 1950s, according to family lore, Carl built the ball fields to keep his own kids out of Rosina's rose gardens. He built Dairyville, too, offering family activities and fun, including the opera house, model railroad clubs and other features. The midget race track and bike racing track, or velodrome, followed.
In February 2019, the story of Alpenrose Dairy shot into prominence when younger members of the family that founded the dairy and family entertainment complex filed a lawsuit to prevent an older generation of Cadonaus and Birklands from selling it.
Members of the biking community, fans of Little League Baseball and others rose up to protest the sale, and for a time things went quiet, as it appeared the deal was off.
But then the family did reach a deal, with Smith Brothers Farms, another family-owned dairy business from the state of Washington.
The younger Cadonaus filed another lawsuit to block the sale, saying the dairy and land should be sold to them. They lost and the sale went through, but the judge ordered the two sides to mediation.
At the time, Smith Brothers said it had a two-year lease on the facility and hoped to continue operating it.
The family continued to own the land, and co-owner Rod Birkland said the family members hoped to continue to allow community uses of the land, but that insurers were balking.
When the pandemic hit, that question became moot.
Mike Workman, Cathy's husband, used to volunteer all over the dairy — ""it was my sanctuary," he said. And was close to the three family members who sued to block the dairy's sale.
They don't return his calls now, and he hears two have moved. The third, Cary Cadonau, has been quiet since a highly publicized incident in January during which his close-up video recording of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler led Wheeler to pepper-spray him.
The actions of Cadonau, a Trump supporter and reportedly a mask skeptic, sparked speculation that he'd sought to expose Wheeler for not wearing a mask while dining outdoors.
Smith Brothers, which has been operating the facility under the Alpenrose name, has built a milk delivery network similar to the model the company successfully built in Seattle — essentially trying to carve out a niche as the Amazon of refrigerated milk products and produce.
In February, local cycling organizations announced that the velodrome, which had been guaranteed two years of operation, would have to close after all.
According to city planning manager Kim Tallant of the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the city has received no preliminary inquiries about redeveloping the land. That suggests the property is not yet close to being sold.
The current owners or a new one could apply to develop the land under its current zoning — the rules, established by a city, for the sort of new development that can be allowed in a given space.
Under current rules, the likely outcome would be less than 192 single-family homes, potentially arranged in townhouses or other alternative arrangements, Tallant said. Getting such a plan together could take a year.
Still, some people wonder if it's too late to preserve the property. Joe Field, a lawyer and prominent member of the bike racing community who co-organized more than 50 events at the velodrome, thinks the city and Multnomah County should join together and float a ballot measure to preserve the land as a park, allowing its community uses to continue.
"That would make me proud," he said.
But the county no longer operates parks, a spokeswoman noted.
Asked if he'd looked at the issue, a spokesman for Wheeler was non-committal:
"The Mayor's office will continue to track developments surrounding the site and remains interested in the future of the property," said James Middaugh. "At this time, the Mayor is focused on COVID recovery, homelessness, public safety and cleaning up the city."
Portland voters in 2019 approved a $475 million bond measure, the latest in a series floated by Metro, the regional planning agency, that were promoted as helping protect property from development.
Multnomah County assessors estimate the land occupied by the dairy is worth about $13 million.
A spokeswoman for Metro, Carrie Belding, told the Portland Tribune that the property falls within two of the 24 "target areas" for which $155 million has been set aside. Public meetings will help determine which properties get purchased.
The needs are greater than the funds available, Belding said, "so the public process to set goals and priorities will be incredibly important."
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