1900 to today: The saga of Sellwood-Moreland's Caldwell family
Westmoreland in the 1950s and 1960s found young people spending their Saturday afternoons at the Moreland Theater, while mom and dad played cards with their next-door neighbors, and when teenagers went dancing in sock hops at the local high school. And everyone went to church on Sunday.
For a ten-year-old girl like Marcia Singer, that was a time to appreciate the burst of colorful flowers and wonderful smells that came from Crantford's Flower Shop on the corner of S.E. Milwaukie Avenue and Bybee Boulevard…a time to ride bikes with neighborhood girlfriends to summer concerts at Sellwood Park…and to rise early in the morning for ballet and tap dance classes at the Sellwood Community Center at Spokane and S.E. 15th.
Raised in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood, Marcia and her older sister lived in a small bungalow on Clatsop Street with their parents, Elizabeth and Jack Singer. In the years that followed, the Singer family moved to a larger house on Lambert Street, and then finally settled in a house her father built on Martins Street at 13th Avenue, behind Llewellyn Elementary School.
Childhood days were filled with the laughter of girls at choir practice in Moreland Presbyterian Church, riding a bike to Llewellyn School, and enjoying the wonderful treats and smells at the Bohemian Bakery inside Kienow's Grocery Store – a store which today has been rebuilt and renamed the QFC Market.
In the days leading up to each Easter Sunday, Marcia marveled at huge Easter Egg displays in the glass front window of Jen's Flower Shop. Customers passing by the store could peer in from the street into what looked like the open end of a giant Easter Egg. Inside was an image close to what one might encounter in "Alice in Wonderland": The egg was filled with a menagerie of birds flying in the air, bunnies on swings, and grassy fields filled with miniature eggs painted in every color of the rainbow.
Milwaukie Avenue was a favorite weekend hangout for young people in the 1950s and 1960s. Kirby's Toy and Hobby shop offered a variety of gadgets, board games, sporting goods, plastic model cars, and penny candy.
When the Duncan Yoyo guy was slated to give demonstrations, boys and girls – and Marcia, too – walked down from Llewellyn School to gather outside at Kirby's to watch his many tricks, as he showed new owners how to string, wind, and "throw" their yoyo. Whether the Duncan guy was there giving demonstrations or not, Saturday afternoon was a time for kids to show their yoyo skills, with such techyniques as "Walking the Dog", "The Elevator", and "Rock the Baby".
With a quarter or two in hand, Marcia confessed it took her hours to decide which of the many candies to choose from in the glass display case. But after finally making her choice, and with a paper bag full of goodies, she went off to her next escapade for the day.
Other activities on the weekends for Marcia included seeing a movie at the Moreland Theater or drinking green river sodas at the polished chrome counter at the Westmoreland Pharmacy across from Crantford's on the corner of Milwaukie and Bybee Boulevard. Marcia recalls that she and her girlfriends practically lived at the Moreland Theater, occasionally going south to Tacoma Street for a Sellwood Theater showing of the latest adventure movie. (The Sellwood Theater is now a Columbia Sportswear outlet store.)
Marcia laughed as she recalled that, "Sometimes me and my girlfriends got kicked out of the theater for throwing candy at the back of some cute boy sitting in front of us. But we always found a way to get back in."
As she grew, she was also learning from nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles about the rich family history of the Caldwell clan – on her mother's side of the family. And what follows is some of that rich history. . .
James and Mary Elizabeth CaldwellMarcia's great grandfather James Warren Caldwell arrived from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and together with his wife Mary Elizabeth, the couple settled in Sellwood in the early 1900s. That was back when steamboats and ferries still landed at the foot of Umatilla Street, and merchants and storefronts lined each side of that street eastward up through town. It was there that the Caldwells operated a market at 11th and S.E. Umatilla. But, within the next few years, J.W. moved the family into another grocery store that fronted on 13th Avenue, at Lexington. Additional living quarters were available for the family in the rear of that store, and upstairs there were two small bedrooms with windows overlooking the street.
Thirteenth Avenue in Sellwood, in the first decade of the 20th Century, was still an unimproved dirt road, and customers venturing out to the Caldwell store had to navigate muddy streets on rainy days – although a wooden boardwalk in the front of the market did help protect the shoppers from any mud splattered by a passing streetcar. The Caldwell Grocery would go on to serve the residents of Sellwood for the next 35 years.
The Caldwell family raised three children – Edna, Clinton James, and Leigh. One- and two-story family homes popped up in the empty lots along the street, and tiny barbershops, additional markets, pharmacies, tailor shops, and bakeries were gradually appearing in the remaining vacant spaces on 13th Avenue.
The result was an impressive commercial district which stretched from S.E. Harney Street north to Malden, offering all the products and services needed by the large families moving into the area; J.W. and Mary enjoyed getting acquainted with new friends as people moved to Sellwood.
At one time, a policeman patrolled the streets there on foot, stopping in to say hello to local vendors, scolding rambunctious boys caught skipping classes at Sellwood School, and perhaps buying a warm loaf of daily-baked-bread at Caldwell's for his dinner. Caldwell's was one of the first stores on its block to offer national brands of bread in packaged loaves – brands such as Sunrise, Royal, Log Cabin, and TipTop – as well as freshly baked Graham or Rye, with or without caraway seeds, after 4:30 in the late afternoon. An advertisement in THE BEE at the time boasted to the people of Inner Southeast Portland that various breads would be available on the shelves of Caldwell's, saving housewives the time that home-baking took from their busy lives.
At that time, fully a century ago, fewer than one in ten homes owned an electric refrigerator; most residents still used an "ice box" to preserve perishable food. Ten- and twenty-pound blocks of ice could be purchased from the old Mt. Hood Brewery plant on Marion Street, from which a husky man driving a horse-drawn wagon would arrive at client homes and – using large tongs – lift a frosty block of ice into its slot in the family's wooden ice box.Housewives walked to their closest market – such as Caldwell's – two or three times a week to buy what they needed for their cooking; and if some ingredients were missing for the evening meal, a family's children were sent at the last minute to dash down to pick up the additional items.
In 1905, the World's Fair was held in Portland, and Sellwood Park was among possible sites considered for the Lewis and Clark Exposition – a site supported by J.W. Caldwell, and other well-respected businessmen and merchants in the community – but eventually the Exposition was built on Guild's Lake in Northwest Portland.The fair drew thousands of people to the Rose City daily. Many of the visitors rode the interurban railway across the Willamette River to the newly-opened Oaks Amusement Park at Sellwood, or travelled through this community to their weekend destinations in the countryside. Additional excursions eastward included stops at Damascus and Boring – and points south to Oregon City and Canemah Park for fishing, hunting, or listening to live music while enjoying a picnic lunch.
Quite an astute businessman, J.W. invested his store's profits in buying vacant lots and acreage in the new development just to the north – Westmoreland. If passengers alighting from the streetcar in front of the Caldwell store happened to come in to inquire about any land for sale in the area, J.W. offered his own vacant lots. J.W. Caldwell was not only good at selling fresh vegetables, but also turned out to be a wizard with real estate transactions.
In 1915, Caldwell was recognized by his peers across the Rose City, and was elected Vice-President of the Portland Grocers and Merchants Association.
During this period, small grocery stores began to push back against the arrival of nationally-franchised grocery stores like Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, and McMarr Food. These new stores were opening around the city, and they were proposing a law to the Portland City Council to close stores on Sundays in observance of Sunday Services – a crafty idea that would be disastrous to locally-owned markets.
J.W. organized a group of grocers who stormed down to City Hall by ferryboat or streetcar to protest against such an idea, as endangering the "mom-and-pop" markets. One of these local store owners even went so far as to argue that Sunday was their busiest day of the week. Portland's City Councilmen relented and decided the local grocery stores could stay open as often, and as long, as they liked.
Getting back to the Caldwell family and its store – when they were old enough, the children were called upon to serve at the counter, sweep the floors, and stack the canned goods as needed. Perishable products like vegetables, milk, eggs, and other dairy products had to be picked up at farms. Often the kids were required to take a trip by truck or wagon down to Union Station in the Northwest Portland where dairy products arrived daily by train.
When she was not helping to staff the store, Mary Caldwell volunteered her services to the Sellwood Presbyterian Ladies Aid Society – helping to raise money for missionary trips for students at the church. J.W. liked the camaraderie of fraternal groups, and was elected to the Sellwood's business association, which was called the "Sellwood Board of Trade":.
When the Presbyterian Church was looking for donations to build a new church, James and Mary helped supervise the fund-raising "county fair" held at the Sellwood Feed Store on S.E. 17th Avenue. Visitors came from afar to buy at the open-air booths filled with baked goods, candies, jams and jellies, and decorative flowers – all of it accompanied by all-day music. With the help of the community, the result was the dedication on December 11, 1922, of the new Moreland Presbyterian Church on Bybee Boulevard.
Marcia's mid-century story resumesMarcia Singer never got to meet her great grandparents. Her grandmother Elizabeth died before she was born, and J. W. passed away when she was only two years old. As she grew into her preteen years, Westmoreland was ever-changing, and new experiences could be found around every corner.
The Portland Parks Department's Sellwood Community Center at Spokane and 15th Avenue – today operated by the community as the "Sellwood Community House" – offered an assortment of classes. Marcia signed up for ballet and tap, and she even tried her hand at pottery. She joined the Camp Fire Girls, and during the summer was also involved with the Moreland Presbyterian Church's Vacation Bible School.
Her summers were also occupied as a counselor at Camp Onahlee, a Camp Fire Girls' encampment located on the Molalla River near Mulino. Camp Onahlee was designated an outdoor program for young girls in Clackamas County between the ages of 8 and 18. Marcia's mother was assigned as the camp's nurse, handling everything from scrapes and bruises to broken bones, and any other outdoor mishaps. And Marcia herself was made a camp counselor.
Cabins were available there for the younger girls, while the older girls were excited to sleep in teepees. At the start of the season, Marcia remembers that an older gentleman would help her and the additional camp counselors to set up the tents for the rest of the summer. It was a ritual that every young counselor looked forward to each year, she says.
One of Marcia's best-remembered outdoor adventures was when she led a group of students on a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Hood region. "I remember traipsing into the Lodge wearing these big klunky boots and a massive backpack at the start of our trip," recalls Marcia.
Reading books has always been an important part of Marcia's life, and the Sellwood Library – then across from St. Agatha's Catholic Church – was a place where she would spend a lot of her free time. When the Sellwood Library moved east to Milwaukie Avenue, Marcia earned extra money hiring on as a library associate, a job in which she shelved books, worked at the desk, and helped patrons find new books to read.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Easter were treasured times when family gathered, usually at the Singer household. Stories of the Caldwell and Babb clan were told and retold to the young folks, and Marcia learned more and more about her grandparents – Clinton James Caldwell, and his wife Myrtle Grace.
Clinton James and Myrtle Grace CaldwellClinton James seemed to have inherited his leadership skills from his father, but in a soft-spoken way. He was chosen Vice President of the Sellwood Alumni Association after he graduated from Sellwood Primary School (today's Sellwood Middle School) in 1903. Although J. W. Caldwell had been anxious to have his son eventually take over the family's grocery store, Clinton had other plans – and decided to continue his education in preparation for a career in banking.
Starting out as an assistant cashier, Clinton worked his way up in the banking business. In 1922 he accepted a position as bank teller at Portland Trust Company in downtown Portland; and later he was promoted to Assistant Manager of the Mortgage Loan Department. He retired in 1958, after 36 years in banking.
Hidden among the coins and paper money in the bank, he found a real treasure – his future wife, Myrtle Grace Babb, who herself was a bookkeeper there. The couple had a common connection to Sellwood – it's where they both grew up! Myrtle's grandfather, Elmer Sidney Babb, had built many houses in Sellwood. One of his greatest accomplishments, he always said, was the construction of the two-story community building at 15th and S.E. Spokane Street. Built in 1910, it was the first branch in Portland of the YMCA; later it came under the ownership of the Portland Parks Bureau and was renamed the Sellwood Community Center, today's Sellwood Community House.
Clinton and Myrtle didn't stray far from their childhood community. After their marriage and honeymoon, they continued to commute to work downtown while still living in Sellwood, in a house at 14th and S.E. Rex Street.
Clinton's favorite pastimes were golfing and bowling; he later helped organize the Portland Trust and Savings Bowling Club. Myrtle loved to paint, and also spent many hours knitting and doing needlepoint.
(Today, Marcia Singer's rooms in her Westmoreland house are filled with family treasures – chairs with needlepoint seats, kitchen towels, hand towels, hot pads, lap rugs – all embroidered by hand by her grandmother Myrtle.) Myrtle and Clinton had two children, Robert and Elizabeth. Robert attended Benson High School, and later enrolled at Lewis and Clark College. He was drafted into the military as the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he was a well-decorated lieutenant when he finally returned to Portland. Elizabeth Caldwell wanted to be a nurse, and was a R.N. at Good Samaritan Hospital in Northwest Portland. In 1940 she met her future husband Jack Singer; and when they finally married, just like their forebears, they wanted to stay in Inner Southeast, and raise their children in Westmoreland.
Jack and Elizabeth SingerJack worked in the Plywood mills at the Plylock Company in St. Johns. Although travel to and from work made for a long commute, Westmoreland was still the neighborhood they cherished, where old friends and relatives were always around for comfort and support. When most of the employees of Plylock were laid off in the 1960s, Jack found a new job working for a door factory – and he later went to work for a furniture factory near Johns Landing, right across the Willamette River from Westmoreland.
Jack was a good ballroom dancer, and when the family made occasional outings to the Oaks Park Skating Ring, he liked to show off his expertise in dancing wearing roller skates as well. Marcia also remembers her father as an adept handyman around the house, and recalls the many times she accompanied her dad to the Moreland Hardware Store, which opened in 1950, to buy items for weekend projects.
Jack's interests also included gardening. He gardened in his back yard, and was even elected President of Men's Garden Club of Portland. But, if truth be told, Marcia recalls that it was really his wife and her mom, Elizabeth, who created the garden design for their yard, planted hundreds of flowers, and made their yard the envy of the entire neighborhood. In her later years, Elizabeth returned to her love of nursing, working at a nursing home on River Road in Milwaukie, south of Sellwood.Marcia attended Cleveland High School, but outside of her educational responsibilities there, she also took advantage of the opportunity to get involved in the Portland Rose Festival. She took part in several Rose Festival activities in the first two weeks of June. One year her duties included being a flower girl – in which she was to throw a stream of rose petals in front of the Festival Princesses as they walked by. In another year she was chosen as a "train bearer" for Rose Festival Princesses – in which she followed behind a Princess to ensure that her gown didn't become entangled along the way.
The most satisfying but exhausting responsibility she undertook was decorating Rose Festival floats. This entailed being taken by bus out to an orchard in Gresham where groups of young people volunteered to pick "bachelor button" flowers, and paste them onto the various floats in the week before the Saturday morning Grand Floral Parade. The reward for all this hard work, for her, was a free ride aboard one of the festival floats.
And, there were other activities during Marcia's C.H.S. years. In her freshman and sophomore years at Cleveland, Marcia was invited to join a group of girls who played guitars and sang some of the popular folk songs of the time. Most of the girls in that group were girlfriends from her church, and her Cleveland High English teacher helped sponsor the girls. "We entertained at retirement homes, and the people there loved our singing," smiled Marcia during a recent interview. "It was a great way to give back to the community, and hone our skills."
Annual spring fashion shows and modeling opportunities arose at the Pearl Rhoads ladies' dress shop on Bybee Boulevard at Milwaukie. A glass-enclosed showroom was located above what is now the Starbucks Coffee Shop, and Marcia was invited by the store owner to model some of the latest fashions there. Those who passed by could view the girls strolling along the "catwalk of fashion" on some afternoons. After that was over, Marcia was allowed to take home her choice of one of the dresses from the store – a luxury to any girl, since most of the clothes she ordinarily wore were hand-sewn by her mother.
And finishing those many memories brings us back to today. Marcia says she will always cherish those days of being a camp counselor, camping out along the Molalla River, the fun-filled weekends along Milwaukie Avenue in Westmoreland, or driving by the house her father once built and the storefront grocery that her great grandparents once ran.
But, those are all in the past now, though fondly remembered. As the lyrics said, in one of Marcia's favorite songs from her youthful years in the 1960s – it was a song sung by Chad and Jeremy – "That was yesterday, and yesterday's gone."
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