Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Three Abe Weinsteins

      While researching the early days of Organized Crime in Portland for my upcoming book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 I came across this weird episode in Portland history. Hope you enjoy it...


     Since Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May opened their general merchandise store in 1849 Jews have made their mark on every area of Portland society, culture and history. From Bernard Goldsmith (1869) to Vera Katz (1993) the city has had five Jewish mayors. The state has had two Jewish governors and three Jewish Senators, most of them from Portland. Jewish Portlanders have made major contributions in business (Julius Meier and Aaron Frank), philanthropy (Ben Selling), medicine (Dr. Albert Starr), law (Gus Solomon and Irvin Goodman), literature (Bernard Malamud and Phillip Margolin), art (Mark Rothko), music (Ernest Bloch and David Schiff) and entertainment (Mel Blanc). Polina Olsen does a wonderful job of telling the story of Portland’s Jewish community in her book Stories of Jewish Portland (2011). Since Portland’s Jews have been involved in such a wide range of the city’s life it is no surprise that they have made their mark on crime as well. One of the earliest, and most violent, figures of organized crime in Portland was a Russian-Jewish immigrant named Abe Weinstein; but who would have thought that his name was so common?
            The first generation of Jewish Portlanders came from Germany and found good opportunities for business as they followed Gold Rush miners north into the new state of Oregon.  Anti-Semitism was always a problem for Oregon Jews, but it rarely became violent and in Portland it remained subtle and polite.  By the beginning of the Twentieth Century a small, prosperous and influential Jewish community was established in the city.  It was around this time that the second wave of Jewish immigration, from Russia, began to enter Portland.  Between 1900 and 1920 the city’s Jewish population more than doubled. The new immigrants settled in the neighborhood known as South Portland, about a mile south of downtown. They were attracted by the settled Jewish community with its six synagogues, kosher stores, Jewish community center and soon a Jane Adams-style settlement house, the Neighborhood House. The Russian Jews, with their foreign ways, dominant Yiddish language and generally lower economic condition faced intense discrimination from the community and sometimes oppressive classism from the more established German-Jewish community.  The experience of three men who shared the same name gives an illustration of what these new Portlanders faced.
Boys' Government candidates at Neighborhood House in 1914. The "good" Abe Weinstein is second from the right; the "bad" Abe Weinstein is the first on the left.

Abe Weinstein, the gangster, was born in Russia around 1899. His father, Max came to Portland in 1903 and his wife Etta followed with the children in 1905. Young Abe found work early as a Newsboy, selling papers on the streets. He became an active member of the Portland Newsboys’ Association (PNA) that met regularly at the Neighborhood House and eventually bought a clubhouse of their own through their creative fundraisers. One of the PNA’s fundraisers was the election of Boy Mayor to preside over the Rose Festival. In 1912 Abe Weinstein finished fourth in the race for mayor, at a penny a vote. The Oregonian made lots of jokes about “repeat voting” among the newsboys; edging into social commentary during the reign of the political machine dominated by Mayor Joseph Simon and the heirs of Larry Sullivan.
            In 1914 Weinstein ran for district attorney in an expanded Boys’ Government election in conjunction with the Rose Festival. It was an interesting choice of office for him to run for, since later that year he would face his first arrest for a gambling offense. Weinstein obviously had charisma and leadership skills, because he always attracted attention from the press and usually had a posse of other young men who followed his lead. He distinguished himself athletically; playing handball, basketball and boxing with Newsboy teams at Neighborhood House. By the age of 20, in 1919 Weinstein had established a gang of robbers and burglars who used his Junk Shop in northeast Portland as headquarters. Abe’s brother, Hyman, had a mercantile store in Burns, OR, which helped move stolen goods away from Portland. Hyman Weinstein had already set himself up as the “vice lord” of Eastern Oregon. He was the man to see for gambling, bootlegging, prostitution and drugs among several lightly populated rural counties. Abe followed his brother’s example of diversifying into the vice fields.
In 1932 the "bad" Abe Weinstein was involved in a bombing campaign against rival gambling and prostitution joints in the closest Portland ever came to gangland warfare before the 1990s.
 Weinstein’s victorious opponent for district attorney in the 1914 election was sometimes referred to as Abraham T. Weinstein, but I like to think of him as the “good” Abe Weinstein. He was also born in Russia around 1899 and he came to Portland with his family in 1906. Growing up in the same neighborhood with the “bad” Abe Weinstein, the two young men must have encountered each other at the Neighborhood House and other places in the tight-knit ethnic community. The “good” Abe Weinstein was limited athletically by very poor eye-sight. At the age of nine he was injured when he apparently walked full tilt into a parked automobile. His eyesight didn’t limit his academic ability as he excelled at Failing School and Lincoln High School. By 1947 he was a respected criminal defense attorney and a trustee of Congregation Linath Hazedek. The two young men also shared a name with an older Portlander as well. Abe Weinstein was born in Russia around 1860 and came to Portland in 1903. He went into business with his two brothers in the ownership of a river steamer, “Matinee Girl” and became a fixture of Portland’s waterfront.  The original Weinstein Brothers became fathers to a second generation of Weinstein Brothers who dominated Portland’s garment industry, through a variety of business names and partnerships well into the 1960s.
             After being defeated for boy district attorney the young athletic Abe Weinstein followed the family business. In October 1914 he and two other boys were arrested for running a small casino, with adult clients, at a little place near SW 2nd and Yamhill. The “Newsboy’s” club might even have featured slot machines provided by Portland’s first slot machine king, S. Morton Cohn, through an ambitious young employee named Royden H. Enloe. Enloe would become Portland's second “slot machine king,” when Cohn moved into the more respectable career of real estate developer during the Great War. Enloe employed brutal methods to extend domination over slot machines, juke boxes and pinball machines all over the city. He also pioneered in the field of “labor slugging”, hiring out anti-labor goon squads during the 1922 Waterfront Strike that destroyed the American Federation of Labor International Longshoremens’ Association (ILA). The relationship between Enloe, and other gangsters, with Mayor George Baker’s administration, most likely mediated by “Matchmaker Bobby Evans” aka Augustine C. Ardiss, carried on a long tradition of corruption in Portland’s city government. Ardiss, who had a long career as boxer, boxing manager and boxing commissioner in Portland, always denied any connection to organized crime or any other unethical behavior. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his typical response to those charges or questions. Enloe and Ardiss would both be fixtures of organized crime in Portland, buying their slot machines from Al Capone’s “Chicago Outfit,” until the 1930s when a new generation took over. Men like James Elkins, who put Enloe out of business, and Al Winter, who came to dominate bookmaking and gambling in place of Evans, are much better remembered than their predecessors.
Abe Weinstein allied with the notorious DePinto Brothers in their 1932 campaign to control vice in Portland. Nick DePinto, the eldest, ran the gang under the leadership of Matchmaker Bobby Evans.
            The “bad” Abe Weinstein is another one of Portland’s most forgotten sons, but in the 1920s and 30s he was one of Portland’s “usual suspects.” Involved with several high profile thefts and gambling operations in the 1920s Weinstein allied himself with the DePinto Brothers gang, led by elder brother, Nick, in their bid to take over bootlegging, prostitution and gambling in 1932. Finally sent to prison for the violent campaign that involved at least four bombings and an unknown number of deaths, Weinstein eventually retired in Las Vegas. Al Winter and Milton Hyatt ran the Hotel Sahara there and old partners in crime Mike DePinto and Jack Minsky were regular visitors.
An Extra Bonus
            In 1970 Abe Weinstein of Cleveland, OH came to Portland and joined the Portland Symphony Orchestra as lead clarinetist; leaving his mark on Portland music and carrying on the proud tradition of his name. Which leads to the question: Who’s Abe Weinstein now?

     If you enjoyed this story I hope you will visit the website for my new book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 and support this exciting new project.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Austin, TX v. Portland, OR


            Some weird new friends from Austin, TX have thrown down the gantlet; challenging Portland for the crown of weirdness.  Now I haven’t been to Austin in quite a while, but I must say that I’ve never had a bad time in Austin, TX. The beer is good, although it’s Texas Style. They know how to make music and the food is pretty good. I even like their movies – Slackers (1991) is my favorite. They invented the slogan "Keep Austin Weird," but hey, we stole it fair and square. And they are in Texas; which is pretty weird…but to challenge the queen city of weirdness, Portland, OR for the title.  Come on you silly Texans.

            Well the results are in…from our new friends at www.sparefoot.com.  I think they are from Austin so the results speak for themselves.
Portland vs. Austin weird



Like I said, the results speak for themselves. Better luck next time, Texas, although they certainly have their good points and a vacation in Austin, TX sounds pretty good right now…before it gets too hot.  Who’s next? Missoula, MT?



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hidden History of Portland: A Preview


In Hidden History of Portland I have tried to tell stories from Portland’s history that have not been well told in the past.  I explore the experiences of various groups who have faced discrimination and repression. In this preview I hope to give you a little taste of what you will find in the book.

Part I: Oregon vs. Ilahee

            The area where Portland is now has been inhabited for thousands of years by a wide variety of people. In this chapter I explore the people who lived here before Euro-American settlement began in the 19th century. I also explore the native resistance to white settlement and the way early Oregon politicians used violence against Native Americans to build the state.




During the Nez Perce War of 1877 Lt. C.E.S. Wood kept an illustrated journal of his experience. He leaked several of his pictures and impressions to Harper’s Magazine in an attempt to shape public opinion about the war.
 



Before Portland
 
The area where Portland is now has been inhabited for thousands of years. A complex society based on a mixture of cultures, family ties and trade was wiped out by disease and violence when the Euro-American settlers came to the Pacific Northwest to stay.
            War Brokers
 
In the 1850s men like Gen. Joseph Lane and Gov. George Law Curry used violence and war against the Indians to create the state of Oregon. The Rogue River Wars and the 1855 Yakima War were conscious elements of the plan to create a state.
 
            C.E.S. Wood: A Rebel Formed by War
 
The Nez Perce War of 1877 was the last well-organized Native American military resistance to American settlement in the Pacific Northwest. C.E.S. Wood, who later became one of Portland’s most prominent attorneys and political radicals, was a U.S. Army lieutenant during the war and his experience had a huge influence on his later life.
Part II: Woman’s Work
Women who came to the Oregon Territory faced legal and social repression, but some of them found unique opportunities that were often not available to women in the East.

 
The high point of Abigail Scott Duniway’s career came in 1912 when Governor Oswald West asked her to write the Woman Suffrage proclamation. After forty years of tireless political activism Duniway was in her eighties and only had a couple of years left to live.

 
Walks Far Woman and Other Female Pioneers
Marie Dorion, a woman of the Iowa Nation known as Walks Far Woman by her people, was one of the first pioneer women to come to Oregon; accompanying the Wilson Price Hunt expedition to Astoria in 1811. She made the trip while pregnant and caring for two young sons. The hardship that “Walks Far Woman” faced was similar to that found by thousands of other pioneers who followed her to the new territory.
            Disorderly Praying in Stumptown
The Temperance Movement was one of the first expressions of the women’s movement in the United States. In Portland it began with the Great Temperance Crusade of 1874.  This political movement aroused great feelings in Portland and offered a vision of political action and liberation for women. The anti-alcohol movement split the women’s movement in Portland delaying the woman’s vote in Oregon until 1912.
            Abigail Scott Duniway: Remaking the World With Her Words
Abigail Scott Duniway crossed the Oregon Trail with her family at the age of 17 and grew to adulthood along with the State of Oregon. A novelist, journalist, publisher and businesswoman, Duniway became one of the most important political activists in the region.
            Susan B. Anthony: A Peaceful Warrior
Susan B. Anthony, America’s great women’s leader, visited Portland three times between 1871 and 1905. The story of her visits and activism in Oregon illustrate the course of the woman’s movement in the state.
 

Part III: Tacit Agreements
 
Portland has always had a small, but vocal African-American community. Making tacit agreements with the white community about the “place” of blacks, some African-Americans were able to achieve prosperity.
 


In 1899 Company B of the 24th Infantry, a Buffalo Soldier unit with black soldiers and white officers, was stationed at Fort Vancouver. The 24th saw combat in Cuba and the Philippines and was used to break a strike of miners in Idaho. The men of the 24th made connections with Portland’s black community and many of them set down roots in the Northwest.

            To Be Treated as Free People
 
Discouraged by Black Exclusion and Sundown Laws, African-Americans still came to Oregon at all stages of Portland’s history.  From the successful resistance to the Black Exclusion laws by Abner and Lynda Francis to the lawsuit that integrated Portland Public Schools in 1870 organized themselves to resist racist laws and attitudes, but Portland soon gained the reputation as the most racist American city outside of the South.
            George Hardin: Police and the Color Line
Once Portland’s African-American community achieved stability the fight for equal opportunity in public employment began. George Hardin, one of the first black men to be hired by the Portland Police Bureau, struggled for decades to integrate the police force.
            Beatrice Morrow Cannady: Tea and Racial Equality
Beatrice Morrow Cannady arrived in Portland in 1912 and took over editing the Advocate, Portland’s second African-American newspaper.  Over the next two decades Cannady’s gave voice to the black community and fought for equal rights; becoming Oregon’s first black woman attorney and the first African-American to run for public office in the state.
 
Part IV: The Most Alien of Aliens
            Asian-Americans have always made up one of the largest racial groups in Portland’s population. The history of Portland’s Chinese and Japanese settlers is well documented, but little told. Both groups faced intense racial discrimination and even violence, but they persevered and made large contributions to Portland culture and prosperity.
Chinese and Japanese workers were vital to the development of Portland as the transportation hub for the region. Competition for jobs made Chinese Labor an important issue in the growing labor union movement.
 
The Celestial Kingdom in Portland
In the 1870s large parts of Portland were destroyed by fires. In both instances anti-Chinese feeling was prominent. In addition to the large number of Asian workers who built railroads and other elements of infrastructure a class of Chinese merchants became active in Portland and made common cause with the city’s establishment. By the end of the 1870s the city was split over the issue of the Chinese: working people violently agitated for outright expulsion; property owners and the wealthy supported and protected the Chinese community.
            The Chinese Question
In 1880s anti-Chinese feeling reached a high point. Chinese workers were physically expelled from communities all over California, Oregon and Washington. When the Chinese communities were expelled from Tacoma and Seattle, most of them came to Portland. During that time Portland’s Chinatown swelled until it made up more than 25% of the city’s population. 
            Jack Yoshihara: Interrupted Lives
 After Chinese immigration to the U.S. was restricted in 1882, Japanese workers took their places in railroad construction. By the twentieth century most of the Nissei, first generation Japanese immigrants, and their children, the Issei, identified as Americans. World War II caused a huge crisis among Portland’s Japanese citizens, most of whom were interned in Idaho for the duration of the war. Jack Yoshihara, a college football player for the Beavers, encountered huge consequences for his life when he was not allowed to travel with his teammates to the Beaver’s first Rose Bowl appearance.
 
Part V: The Problems of Self Government
            Self government was the main motivation that pioneers had when coming to Oregon. Portland was founded as a city by a public meeting in 1851. City politics was soon dominated by a small group of wealthy merchants who ran the city to suit their own interests.
 


Harry Lane was elected mayor of Portland in 1905. A Democrat, he received support from the Progressive wing of the Republican Party and William S. U’Ren’s People’s Power League. In 1913 he became the first U.S. Senator elected by popular vote.
 
Political Warfare
The first several decades of Portland history were dominated by a struggle for political power between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The focus of the struggle was control of the city’s Police Bureau. After 1880 the Republican Party had undisputed control of both city and state government and its members, such as James Lotan, took advantage of their power to enrich themselves.
                        The Oregon System
In the 1890s disgust over the abuses of the Republican Party led to a powerful populist movement, first in the People’s Party and later with the Progressive Party. The movement, under the leadership of William S. U’Ren, brought in a revolution in “direct democracy” that led to the Oregon System, which included direct election of Senators, the Initiative and Referendum and the Recall election among other reforms.
                        Lola Baldwin: The Day of the Girl
The Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 brought national attention and renewed emigration to Portland. The new wave of emigration included thousands of young women looking for a better life. Women such as Lola Baldwin, Portland’s first woman police officer, and Louise Bryant, a reporter for the Oregonian, found new opportunities in careers that had been previously dominated by men.
            To read more click here
Part VI: To the Brink of Revolution
            Labor unions had been active in Portland since the beginning of the city in 1851, but racist and sexist policies on the part of the unions limited their scope and power. In the twentieth century the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) began to organize migratory workers and other workers without regard to their race or gender.  Before the Great War the IWW gained great power in Portland, but the war and the Red Scare that followed broke the power of the union.
            No Outward Sign
The period 1880-1930 has been called the Golden Age of the Migratory Worker. In the Pacific Northwest, where the economy was dominated by agriculture, lumber and mining, migratory workers made up a large part of the labor force. Migrants developed a complex culture that used expressive language to convey their iconoclastic view of the world. Homosexuality was an accepted part of the migrant worker culture and their presence in Portland contributed to the city’s first gay community.
            Sulphuric Eloquence: Dr. Marie Equi and the Wobblies
Dr. Marie Equi, an open lesbian, became one of the most important radicals in Portland. Her experience with the Oregon Packing Company strike and IWW Free Speech Fight in 1913 radicalized her and led to her life-long advocacy of women’s and workers’ rights.
            Stewart Holbrook: Inventing Working People’s History
The Great War and the Red Scare that followed saw the repression of the IWW in the Pacific Northwest. Cultural and technological changes transformed the experience and culture of workers, but the Great Depression of 1929 brought a revival of organizing and political activism. During this time Stewart Holbrook, a freelance writer, pioneered a new type of history that sought to tell the story of working people and others who had been ignored by standard histories.
 

 

 
 

 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Shanghaied Boy

I know that I have been very remiss in my duties both to this blog and Slabtown. For this I apologize. I was shanghaied by the History Press and I have been slaving away at the Hidden History. My term of servitude will be up soon and I will be back here, but in the meantime I want to share some more of the work of my friend Barney Blalock. Who knew he was an animator too?

The Shanghaied Boy by Barney Athanasius Blalock

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Singing Sentinels


The Singing Sentinels at the height of their fame in 1946. Left to right: Herman Klick, Chuck Faris, Del Von Zeuthen and Ken Rogers. Photo courtesy of Portland Police Historical Society.

            Henry Kaiser was no stranger to the Pacific Northwest when he arrived in Portland in 1941 to begin building ships for the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine. He had previously managed the construction of the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams, which provided the electricity for rapid industrial expansion throughout the region. By spring 1942 Kaiser had three shipyards in operation in the Portland area: one at Ryan Point in Vancouver, WA; one at Swan Island; and, one at St. Johns.
War fear gripped the city after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In February, 1942 Portland’s Japanese residents were rounded up and interned in a makeshift shelter on Swan Island, where they stayed for several months before being relocated, mostly to the Minidoka, ID camp. Kaiser instituted heightened security in an effort to prevent sabotage and by the end of the war the company employed more than 2,000 security guards. At first the guards were unofficially part of the Portland Police Bureau and Kaiser-made Portland Police badges remained a part of their uniform after they were incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard in December 1942. The fear wasn’t completely unwarranted given the submarine attack at Fort Stevens on June 21, 1942 and the air attack on the Siskiyou National Forest near Brookings on May 5, 1945 in which two Japanese pilots used incendiary bombs in an attempt to create a massive forest fire.
     War provided opportunities that were welcome after the hard years of the Depression, not just for work, but sometimes to take advantage of talent. In the locker room of the Oregon Shipbuilding Company near St. Johns, four young security guards found an opportunity to take advantage of their talent for singing. The four men were Del Von Zuethen, Chuck Faris, John “Ken” Rogers and Mel Gordon. Over the years Del Von Zeuthen told Oregonian reporters Lawrence Barber, John Guernsey and others about how the quartet came together. Von Zeuthen, who would become a pioneer in the field of broadcasting music in industrial settings, liked to sing baritone. He and Ken Rogers, who Von Zeuthen called “as good a bass as ever was” and a couple of other guys “who would rather sing than do anything else;” liked to harmonize as they showered and changed out of their uniforms.
            Morale was a high priority. Early in 1942 President Roosevelt himself had endorsed entertainment programs such as radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly as vital to the war effort. The most modern thinking on industrial practice also endorsed the use of music in the workplace to improve productivity. Rodger Smith, Kaiser’s chief of security at St. Johns, wanted to have a quartet of security guards to provide entertainment at ship launchings and other events and he soon approached the four men who had become popular in the shower room.

The boys who would rather sing than anything clown around with Red Skelton in 1944. Photo from, Oregonian Historical Archive Multnomah County Library.
            Chuck Faris and Ken Rogers were so excited by the chance to sing professionally that they wrote a song together, “Down the Ways” that would be used for the launching of every liberty ship in the Portland area starting in April, 1942. In nearly a thousand performances the song would become a sentimental hit and a strong reminder of the war for many Portlanders. The men sang a cappella in a Barbershop Quartet style and soon they had a repertoire of more than 200 songs, including their most popular number “Cool Water.”
            Del Von Zeuthen, rumored to have been a pilot with Claire Chennault’s air force in China, was soon appointed program director for all of Kaiser’s shipbuilding operations in Portland and Faris became the manager of the singing group. Mel Gordon, who would go on to have a long political career in both Multnomah and Clark counties after the war, shipped out with the Merchant Marine in 1943 and was replaced by the talented young tenor soloist from the First Congregational Church, Herman Klick. Klick worked in the plant, but soon put on the uniform and badge of a Singing Sentinel.

It’s not generally known that Mel Gordon began his career in the 1930s as a singer and was the original second tenor of the Singing Sentinels. In 1960 he served a term as state legislator from Laurelhurst and then served several terms on the Multnomah County Commission and the Clark County Commission. Photo from, Oregonian Historical Archive Multnomah County Library.
            Before Gordon left the group the quartet had become very popular. They appeared on the Treasury Star Playhouse on radio in 1943 and recorded their first album for the U.S. Treasury Department. On September 23, 1942 President Roosevelt heard them sing when he visited the Kaiser plant in Vancouver for the launching of a Liberty ship that was built in a record ten days. In July, 1943 at Mel Gordon’s last ship launching before shipping out his wife was chosen to sponsor the U.S.S. William Hume, Kaiser’s 225th Liberty ship, by breaking a bottle of Champaign across its bow.
            Herman Klick was a talented singer and the group’s popularity increased. The Singing Sentinels performed with radio stars such as Red Skelton and once Chuck Faris impersonated Jack Benny in a performance for Benny’s wife Mary Livingston. The end of the war wasn’t the end of their career. In September, 1946 the quartet cut an album of American Ballads and then moved to Michigan, where Kaiser had converted the immense Willow Run plant to automobile production. The Singing Sentinels, sometimes known as The Singing Ambassadors, continued to tour the country in a specially designed automobile to promote Kaiser-Fraser dealerships well into the 1950s.

Ken Rogers died in 1969 but the three surviving Sentinels celebrated a tuneful reunion in Laurelhurst Park in 1981. Left to right: Del Von Zeuthen, Chuck Faris and Herman Klick. Photo from, Oregonian Historical Archive Multnomah County Library.