History: Inner Southeast Portland in the 1910s, remembered
If you've followed my articles in THE BEE over the years, you might remember getting a taste of what the Sellwood and Westmoreland neighborhoods used to be like during key points in their growth into the place we live today.
In the June 2016 issue, we explored what Sellwood and Inner Southeast were like 116 years ago; and in the March 2017 issue we told the tale of Sellwood in the "Roaring '20s". In March of 2018 we visited Westmoreland, Sellwood, and elsewhere in Inner Southeast during the Great Depression; and in November of that year we continued that story through World War II.
Now it's time to take a look back at Inner Southeast from 1910 to 1919. And, Sellwood started out like Gangbusters at the start of the New Year 1910. When summer arrived, the opening of the Sellwood Pool was announced; Portland's first branch of the YMCA was being completed at 15th and Spokane Street; and the Sellwood Commercial Club celebrated the completion of its headquarters on the north side of Umatilla Street at 13th Avenue. A new development just east of the railroad tracks, to be called Eastmoreland, was accepting new home buyers. The Sellwood [streetcar] Car Barns were finally completed; and two new movie theaters – the Star Theater, and the Isis – began showing black and white films along "movie row" on Spokane Street.
On June 12th, 1914, the Sellwood General Hospital Training School for Nurses graduated five women, and the ceremony was held at St. John's Episcopal Church, with music directed by Dr. John J. Sellwood. The good doctor established the Sellwood Hospital in 1909 – a two-story structure that could accommodate up to 30 patients, and it was acknowledged as the only hospital on the east side of Portland.
Memorial Day that year was special for students at Sellwood School. Members of the Blackmar Circle, a fraternal organization, marched with the children to the Milwaukie Pioneer Cemetery just south of Sellwood on S.E. 17th to place flowers on the grave markers of Civil War Veterans, in appreciation of their service to the country. Later, with the help of the ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, bouquets of orchids were also cast upon the Willamette River to honor those who served in the Naval Service
Since Sellwood's own library lacked sufficient funds to hire additional staff or order new books, the men of the Sellwood Commercial Club lobbied city officials and Multnomah County Library supervisors to support free library services in the community. The response was the opening the first Branch Library in the Multnomah County Library system on the Southeast corner of Tacoma and 13th Avenue. In the following years, county branch library services were transferred to a new building on Nehalem and 15th Avenue to serve not only Sellwood residents, but also those in the new, expanding neighborhood of Westmoreland to the north.
Westmoreland was a real estate agent's dream – because young families and residents in Sellwood, wishing to upgrade to a new and more modern house, moved north en masse to Westmoreland as if gold had been discovered there. Within a single two-week period over 200 lots were sold, and contractors, electricians and plumbers were hard-pressed to keep up with the demand. New homeowners were excited to live in a new electrically-wired house, with such modern conveniences as running water, indoor bathrooms, and state-of-the-art kitchens, and the opportunity to live within walking distance of the streetcar line that ran down Milwaukie Avenue.
The only thing Westmoreland yet lacked were dry goods stores, a bakery, a meat market, a corner grocery, and fine restaurants – but hold your horses: A new retail office building was being constructed at the corner of Bybee and Milwaukie, where the streetcar made its westward turn. Sellwood physician Dr. E. A. Reed helped finance the venture, as Julian Chybke opened the doors to the Westmoreland Pharmacy. Soon afterward, the Bybee Grocery opened its doors to offer groceries and a meat section for residents.
As Westmoreland was becoming a sought-after neighborhood, the Sellwood Fire Department itself began a new phase, replacing all of its horses with gas-powered fire trucks and vehicles. The City of Portland spent over $171,000 of taxpayer money to invest in autos and trucks for city duties, but most of that money was earmarked for the fire department. Households no longer were to be startled by the sound of galloping horses drawing fire wagons past their homes – attracting hordes of neighbors, screaming children, and barking dogs in the process.
The bucolic mooing of cows in the swampy fields near Crystal Springs Creek – in what is now Westmoreland Park – was also now becoming a thing of the past, replaced with the roar of biplanes taking off and landing. The Westmoreland airport, if you could actually call it that, was forty acres of grazing land used as an amateur airfield for untrained pilots. It was maintained by the pilots and mechanics who stored their "aero planes" in small metal huts near Nehalem and 22nd Street.
It was the new era of air flight, and by 1919 patriotic folks renamed the Westmoreland take-off and landing field Broomfield, in honor of Reed student Hugh Broomfield who lost his life when the plane he was piloting over Meuse-Argonne in France, in World War I, was shot down.
Planes taking off had to contend with gopher holes, and windy conditions could make landing approaches hazardous; but pilots later discovered the need to dodge errant golf balls as well, when the Eastmoreland Golf Course opened in 1918.Sellwood and Westmoreland were becoming a paradise for the wealthy, with state-of-the-art homes, an airport, paved roads for motorcars, and the option of owning a boating slip along Sellwood's waterfront, and of golfing on the Eastmoreland fairways.
The pricey and private Waverley Golf Course in Clackamas County, at the end of the streetcar line at Ochoco Street just south of Sellwood, was also available for membership, where a new and elegant clubhouse had just been built with a view of the Willamette River.
Waverley became a footnote in aviation history in 1912, when Walter Edwards made the first interstate mail flight in the United States. Edwards had been hired by the F.A. Bennett Auto Company to fly 5,000 pieces of first-class mail from the Waverley Golf Links north over the Columbia River to the Aviation Camp in Vancouver, Washington, at what is now Pearson Airpark.
A few vacant lots were also being offered at the south end of Sellwood, just north of Waverley, at the end of the streetcar line at Golf Junction. This exclusive new development was to be called Garthwick. And if that wasn't enough excitement, east of the Portland area, beyond Gresham, the Columbia River Highway was officially declared completed and open, and the State of Oregon reported that over 26,000 gas-powered vehicles were already registered for driving. Registration fees were to offset the costs of the ongoing road maintenance required.
Religion was an important part of the sociability and tradition of Sellwood. While still striving to keep up with the other districts around Southeast Portland, the community supported nine churches in 1914.
One of those places of worship was St. Agatha's Catholic Church, and it was about to add a school: In the fall of 1910, three women were concerned about the three-mile hike that all Sellwood Catholic children had to make to attend Sacred Heart School in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Their request for a new school to be built in Sellwood was approved, and a two-story brick chapel and schoolhouse was dedicated on November 30th, 1911, at 15th and S.E. Miller Street. St. Agatha's School was open for students in the fall of 1912, and 33 pupils were taught by the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel.
An early commercial moving service for newcomers to the neighborhood was the Sellwood Transfer Company, which eventually built a new warehouse at 11th and S.E. Umatilla, and advertised its Grand Opening with a Grand Barn Dance in THE BEE.
The Sellwood Transfer Company, which had mainly focused on moving heavy household furniture – such as safes and awkwardly-shaped pianos – now advertised that autos were for hire at their barn on Umatilla Street! Unfortunately, at that time, most people couldn't afford to rent or own an auto, nor in fact was hardly anyone local knowledgeable about how to drive around Portland's unpaved roads.
Speaking of rough roads, Sellwood businessmen were lobbying Portland City Hall with a request that all roads leading into Sellwood be paved; and that cement sidewalks be created for the safety of schoolchildren; and that a new sanitary sewer system be set up for all households to avoid sewage being diverted to the Willamette River. (Completing that last goal had to wait until the 1950's.)
By 1912, the commercial district of 13th Avenue had indeed been paved, assuring that the ladies dressed in long flowing gowns and wearing gloves, for weekend trips on the streetcar from Sellwood to Downtown Portland, would not arrive there in dusty garments.
By 1913, Sellwood's lobbying had also secured funds from residents to have Sellwood and Umatilla Avenues paved by the Linden and Kibbe Construction Company (see if you can find their name stamped into the corners of those blocks). The community was certainly becoming a progressive neighborhood, as street signs were being painted and installed around the neighborhood, as reported in THE BEE.
In 1907 the first Portland Rose Festival took place, three years after the founding of Oaks Amusement Park and two years after the first BEE was published – and since electricity was still a novelty, then, illuminated floats constructed on top of flat streetcars were attracting thousands to the Rose Festival Parade in downtown Portland. Outlying districts were encouraged to showcase their own spirit by entering a Rose Festival float. The parade took place in the last week in June, initially. City leaders offered a $100.00 cash prize to the neighborhood who constructed the winning float.
By 1912 a "Sellwood Rose Committee" had been established to collect roses from residents and to encourage industrious young people to help decorate the local horse and wagon to be used as a float on parade day. Sellwood was awarded one of those cash prizes; and again, in 1923, when the city presented a brass Benson Bubbler water fountain to be installed on the streets of the community.
When the City of Portland ceremoniously opened the "Public Market at Yamhill" downtown between S.W. 3rd and 5th Avenues, to great fanfare in 1913, the residents of Southeast Portland were also elated, because most of the vegetables and fresh fruits they were buying on the east side of the river came from those downtown market stands on Yamhill Street.
There may still be a few residents who recall with nostalgia the shouts of food vendors, and the plodding sounds of horses and produce wagons on Milwaukie Avenue – sounds that were soon to be replaced by the sound of truck engines, and the cheery honk of automobile horns.
Personal vacuum cleaners were still in the future, so housewives of the time relied on carpet cleaning services. In Sellwood, the Palmer Vacuum Carpet Cleaning Company, and the Electric Vacuum Cleaning Company at 13th and Marion Street, were providing such services for households. For those residents who couldn't afford to have a professional cleaning in the summer, the man of the house or a husky boy was called upon to drag the heavy living room carpets outside, where the rest of the family vigorously beat the dust from the floor coverings with metal rackets.
When Mary Phelps Jacob patented the first brassiere in 1915, it was quickly a fast seller in women's fashions. It marked the beginning of a time when ladies no longer had to toil endless hours behind a sewing machine making their own dresses and undergarments, or else (if she could afford it) hire a private seamstress. They could buy what they needed locally. They also increasingly no longer had to journey downtown to see and buy the latest fashions, because many of the new Inner Southeast haberdasheries and ladies' dry good shops were offering the same locally.
Two such merchants along 13th Avenue, in the second decade of the Twentieth Century, were the Elite Dressing Parlors, and Florence Harmon's The Millinery Store near Spokane Street. Mrs. Leo Stanwood had a unique shop that offered both Hairdressing and Dressmaking – that was unusual, because women still mainly cut their own hair at home. Only robust young girls or those with a broadminded attitude cared to visit a barbershop for the latest styles in haircuts.
Barbershops were still mostly a man's domain, and if a woman ventured to enter such an establishment in need of a haircut for a special event, she had to endure all the neighborhood chitchat and questionable jokes exchanged among men while there. Men's barbershops were plentiful throughout the city; the Sellwood Barber Shop advertised the availability of a new Hair Tonic called "Quino", alleged to cure dandruff and prevent the falling out of hair, for 10 cents at the shop, or 50 cents a bottle.
The "Home Telephone and Telegraph Company" proudly proclaimed that they had installed over 2,460 phones in Portland, activating them at a rate of 200 per month – or so said the Oregonian, in their January 11th, 1911, issue. By the end of that same year, there were over 12,250 telephones in service for the 212,290 residents across the City of Portland.
When World War I was raging overseas in Europe in 1914, the United States announced an intention to stay neutral. The U.S., a nation of immigrants, some of whom had come to America to avoid being drafted into the military, didn't want to be drawn into the "Great War". But when we did eventually declare war on Germany, three years later on April 6, 1917, many young men from around the country enthusiastically signed up for military service.
Over 100 men and boys from Sellwood and Westmoreland, along with 70 students from Reed College, were shipped off to go to war. For the rest of the war, the newspapers locally were filled with stories of battles, life in France and Italy, and sad news when one of the local boys had been killed, never to make it back to the neighborhood.
Inner Southeast joined the rest of the country in rejoicing when the Armistice was signed, ending the Great War on November 11, 1918. Unfortunately, in the same year of 1918, the Spanish Influenza brought havoc to the world – an estimated 50 million people died from the most lethal form yet of this common but still-sometimes-deadly disease. Citizens in the United States picked up the malady from our soldiers returning from battle overseas in Europe. Cities large and small were susceptible to the epidemic, and Portland was no exception. A very detailed report on the effects of the deadly Influenza in Portland at this time can be found online, in the "Influenza Encyclopedia". Here's a brief synopsis of the epidemic in Portland, drawn from that source . . .
In October of 1918 a solder on his way to a training camp in Leon Springs, Texas, contracted the Influenza and started a crazy chain of events. The Oregon Board of Health, in a panic, ordered all schools, churches, theaters, and dance halls closed, and required police officers to discourage any social gatherings within the Portland city limits. After nearly five weeks of this, the clergy declared "enough", and pressured Mayor George Baker to allow their faithful back into Sunday Services.
In a comedy of errors, the Mayor and state health officials demanded that all windows be removed from streetcars – In the dead of winter! – to help ventilate the epidemic away. By November, Mayor Baker removed the order to close all churches and places where crowds could congregate. But within a week or two, city hospitals began filling with people with colds, and what they thought might possibly be the dreaded flu.
A quarantine order was issued by the city, and the police department was given the task of placing red and white placards on affected houses notifying visitors to stay away. These also stated that the household was filled with sick people, even though only one person might be feeling under the weather. By January, additional restrictions mandated that anyone entering public businesses – like barbershops, pool halls, and taverns, or riding streetcars or taxis – must wear a fabric mask on their face. Those who refused could be fined $500 and receive 60 days in jail. Police officers, city street workers, and council members paraded down the business districts to support the requirement by wearing white surgical masks – thus frightening women, children, and many dogs.
Once the lethal Influenza began to subside around the world, life returned to normal, and those living in Inner Southeast could turn to happier days after the end of World War I.
Just as today a century later, the Christmas season at the end of the second decade of the Twentieth Century fast was approaching; and, in anticipation of ringing in the New Year, many in Southeast were reflecting on good times past. With the family gathered around the dinner table, those who resided in Sellwood and Westmoreland, and throughout Inner Southeast, celebrated the last days of the year 1919.
Since there wasn't any television back then, and since radio was more of a novelty than a mass medium yet, people weren't gathered to enjoy broadcast Holiday shows or endless football games. Instead, many invited neighbors or guests over to the house, to stand around a grand piano and sing popular Christmas songs. Recreational card games often continued well into the midnight hours, with coffee, tea, wassail (spiced ale), and sweet treats served.
Christmas plays and music recitals were widespread, offered almost every other night after Thanksgiving. Groups of family members or friends went Christmas caroling door to door, as a fun way to get into the spirit of Christmastime. Everyone then had grown up learning Holiday songs that originated in England and parts of Europe, such as "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "We Three Kings of Orient Are", and "Jingle Bells".
And at the end of the year, exactly one hundred years ago, residents undoubtedly picked up a Christmas Tree to decorate, often on a trip to the forest with a hand axe. The German custom of adorning the festive tree with live candles had already become passé, but on Christmas Eve many people had a wonderful time putting sweets and toys upon the tree, and adding tinsel and bright colorful ornaments to its branches.
While Christmas cards could be purchased for a few pennies at any pharmacy or market on 13th Avenue or along Milwaukie Avenue a century ago, grandparents still enjoyed receiving homemade cards of unusual shapes – with glued-on ribbons, foil, and scraps of paper tissue – that were hand delivered by their makers.
So now let me hope that everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday, and is moved to celebrate . . . like it's 1919!
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