Man prizes century-old car show memento
A treasured relic from the past shows how much the approaching Portland International Auto Show has changed over the past 100 years.
Judged by a printed program from 1919, almost everything is different, from the name of the event to the organizers, the location, the automotive manufacturers — and the fact that tractors won't be included in the 2019 show that opens Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Oregon Convention Center.
The program is owned by Stan Usher, a talkative 80-year-old retiree who lives in Beaverton with his wife, Maxine. Usher received the program from his grandfather, which is odd, since he and his wife, Stan's grandmother, didn't drive.
"I don't know why they had it," says Usher, who first came across the program in a chest of drawers while helping his grandparents move into an assisted living facility years ago. "He said, 'Do you want it?' and I said 'Yes,' without even knowing what it was."
Usher says he would run across the program over the years while looking for other things in his house. It was published by The Oregonian as a broadsheet. Usher eventually read it from cover to cover, reflecting on the ads from car companies that do not exist anymore, including Essex and Marmon. The last time he read it, Usher realized it was published nearly 100 years ago, and contacted the Portland Tribune to ask if the newspaper was interested in it.
Pamplin Media Group, which owns the Portland Tribune, is the media sponsor of the 2019 Portland International Auto Show.
Things were different then
The program guide is like a time capsule from Portland's past.
Published on Feb. 23, 1919, as an 16-page special section, it is filled with stories and advertising supporting what was then called the "Tenth Annual Motor Car Show."
The event was held in the former Hippodrome Building at Northwest 20th Avenue and Marshall Street, which the program says has "the largest unobstructed floor of any building on the Pacific Coast," with approximately 53,000 square feet devoted to displays. It housed an announced 49 personal cars, 35 commercial cars and trucks, and eight tractors. The building, which opened in 1914, was closed and demolished in the 1950s because of fire concerns.
The 1919 show ran from Feb. 27 to March 1, and was sponsored by the Dealers' Motor Car Association of Oregon, a forerunner of the Metro Portland New Car Dealers Association that is organizing the 2019 show.
Articles addressed such issues as the "perennial" problem of different qualities of motor fuels and farmers replacing horses with trucks. Another said 3 million cars would need to be produced in 1919 to meet the country's needs. In comparison, 17 million new vehicles were expected to be sold in 2018.
None of the dealership names in the program are familiar today. Only a few of the manufacturers are still in business. They include Cadillac, Ford and Mack Trucks. An ad for a steam-powered Stanley Steamer boasts it has only 27 working parts and therefore is "so simple an inexperienced person could assemble it with but a week's worth of instruction."
Cars apparently were not very reliable 100 years ago. Many of the ads are for repair shops.
None of the addresses in the program say what quadrant of Portland they are located in, suggesting that Portland was so small in 1919, there was no need to say if they were in the north, south, east or west parts of town.
Usher says the program guide is a link to his family's past. They originally were from a small village in the southern part of Ukraine, whose name is not known. His grandfather, Charles Ushkatz, and his wife left to escape the Bolshevik Revolution, arriving in Portland around 1922. Some other members of the family already had emigrated.
Ushkatz started the Ross Island Grocery on the corner of Southwest Corbett Avenue and Whitaker Street, near an early Portland shipyard. Usher's family was living in Oakland, California, at the time, but were persuaded to move to Portland to help run the store.
"My grandfather called my father and said his store was doing pretty good. He had a contact at Blitz (an early Portland brewery) that was providing it with all the beer he wanted. The shipyard workers liked that, and also bought a lot of groceries. But my grandfather said there were a lot of rules and regulations he had to follow that he didn't understand. He asked him if he would move to Portland to help run the business, which we did," says Usher, whose father, Saul, shortened his family's name to Usher.
"I wouldn't mind Ushkatz," adds Stan, who has decorated his home with posters from "House of Usher," a low-budget 1960 gothic horror film starring Vincent Price.
Usher's grandfather later opened a new grocery, Usher's Food Store, at 2348 S.E. Ankeny St., and ran it until he retired. Usher worked there for a while before going into the service, then returned to Portland, where he worked at First National Bank on Southwest Broadway. It was near the Broadway Inn restaurant and lounge — later renamed Higgins, which was co-owned by an uncle — close to the former Oregonian headquarters and the former Portland FBI headquarters and a few blocks from City Hall.
"I met a lot of reporters and FBI agents and city employees there," Usher says. "I got to like the reporters. They would tell you a lot of things about their stories that weren't in the newspaper."
After feeling stifled by the bank's many personnel rules, Usher went to work as a salesman for Platt Electric, an electrical supply house, in 1965. There he met Ray Feves, another worker who was a stringer for Variety magazine on the side. Some of the writing work was mundane, like reporting on local weekend movie grosses. But Feves also covered celebrities when they came to town for promotional events, and struck up friendships with some.
"One day at work I answered the phone and it was Danny Kaye. He was in Portland and wanted to invite Ray to his hotel for dinner," Usher says.
Feves started bringing Usher to some of the publicity events. At one, he met sex symbol Raquel Welch when she was in Portland to film "Kansas City Bomber," her well-reviewed 1972 drama about a female roller derby team. She asked him what color uniform she should wear. He said blue to contrast with her red hair.
"I'd bring it up in conversations with my friends sometimes by saying, 'When I was talking to Raquel Welch' and things like that," Usher jokes.
Usher then went to work at Pacific Lamp Wholesale, retiring from there in 2011.
He says he didn't go to many auto shows himself. Although Usher knows and respects some local car collectors, he's never been all that interested in automobiles. The few times he went was for the entertainment, which used to include big-name stars, including Spike Jones, Patty Page and Frank Sinatra Jr.
But Usher says he and his wife may go to the 2019 Portland International Auto Show. He found and kept a copy of the 1969 Auto Show program because it came out 50 years after his first one.
"Since it's the 100th anniversary of our program, we're thinking of going to see how much cars have changed over the past century," Usher says.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.