Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland Preview


         Portland had a unique experience with alcohol prohibition.  Oregon outlawed booze four years before the rest of the country and we had a very difficult time enforcing the law.  George Baker was elected mayor in 1917, a year into Prohibition and he adopted a unique strategy to deal with the problem.  Working closely with organized crime and the Portland police bureau to take control of illegal liquor distribution, Baker accomplished two major goals: giving Portland the reputation for effective enforcement of the Prohibition laws and keeping high-quality liquor readily available for himself and his friends.  In our new book – Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland due out from the History Press in February – Theresa Griffin Kennedy and I examine the historical and sociological record to bring you a portrait of Portland in the early twentieth century.
            Beginning with the Girl Rush, that started with the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition and brought more than 7,000 women per year to the Rose City, we examine the impact of expanded women’s rights and progressive politics on Portland.  We investigate the criminals who brought illegal booze into Portland and the police officers and city officials who cooperated with them.  We also look at the effect the protection of violent criminals had on the city in terms of rising violent crime rates and abuse of power. And we examine the Red Scare that destroyed the Portland IWW. We also found a wealth of exciting, interesting characters who make Portland’s history so fascinating and so fun.  Here is a little sample of what you will find in the book. First the robbers:
The Pullman Porters Ring
            The most persistent, long-running and successful bootlegring in Portland used the Pullman porters on the Southern Pacific Railroad, which made regular runs between Oakland, California and Portland, to bring a steady stream of high-quality whiskey into Portland.  Originally run by businessmen from San Francisco and Portland, the ring’s leadership was arrested in a coordinated raid in 1918, setting off a struggle for control of the lucrative enterprise.  After a violent struggle, described in the book, Tom Johnson, an ex-armed robber and World War I veteran, emerged as the ring’s leader.  Johnson, who remained in control of a bootlegging empire well into the 1950s, became one of Portland’s most powerful and influential African American leaders.
Roy Moore
            Another armed robber, Roy Moore, seized control of a large still in 1924 and became the largest supplier of low-quality booze in Portland.  Moore, known as the King of Northwest Bootleggers, was a violent criminal who ran an armed robbery and murder-for-hire ring after serving a term in McNeil Island Penitentiary.
Bobby Evans
            A close friend of Mayor George Baker, Augustine Ardiss (aka Bobby Evans) grew up on the streets of South Portland and became a popular boxer, referee and sports promoter, before becoming the city’s Crime Chief.  By the end of the 1920s Evans was the most powerful gangster in Portland and cooperated closely with the city government to “contain” crime in Portland.  In 1932 his greed, and Baker’s desire for political revenge, inspired a dangerous grab for power that failed and touched off a violent struggle for control of crime in Portland.
And now the cops:
Sam Vessey
            An effective enforcer of the Prohibition laws, Sammy Vessey seized gallons of illegal booze at Union Depot in the long struggle with the Pullman Porters Ring.  In 1918, one of the leaders of the ring accused Vessey of being “fixed” and cooperating with the smuggling.  While it is difficult at this late date to determine the truth of the charges, there is a very strong possibility that the bootleggers were attempting to frame a good officer in order to neutralize an effective enemy.
Frank Ervin
            Originally an officer on the Motorcycle Squad, FrankErvin rose through the ranks rapidly, becoming head of the Traffic Division.  Ervin became Police Chief Leon Jenkins’ right hand man; handling liquor distribution, anti-union activity and other dirty work for the chief.  Ervin hired officers who were experienced bootleggers, at least one who spent time in jail, for his Traffic Division.
Leon Jenkins
            One of Portland’s most respected and effective Police Chiefs, Jenkins modernized the police force; inaugurating the city’s first Patrol Car Squad, Forensics Division and use of radio.  Jenkins also cooperated with the corrupt city administration in the distribution of liquor and the use of police for political ends.  We also present evidence that Jenkins abused his power occasionally to settle personal scores.
But wait that’s not all:
Secret Police
            Anyone who has dabbled in Portland history from this period has heard rumors of “secret police” and “vigilantes.” Theresa and I have checked into these rumors extensively  and we give you the inside story on how “private detectives,” “stoolpigeons” and vigilantes were used to not only gather evidence on bootleggers, but also to blackmail, frame, burglarize and threaten the Mayor’s “enemies.”
Industrial Workers of the World
            From the 1917 Lumber Strike through the Centralia Massacre and the 1922 Waterfront Strike, the IWW was under attack. In our new book we explore the illegal tactics and unconstitutional laws that Mayor Baker used to target and destroy the Pacific Northwest’s largest, most popular and most powerful union.  The Sedition Law, Espionage Act and Syndicalism Law were combined with outright lynching to intimidate, jail and murder the leaders of this movement.  The result was to increase the power and influence of the nascent Communist Party, setting the stage for the Red Scare of the 1930s.
Ku Klux Klan
            My co-author, Theresa Griffin Kennedy, and I chart the rise and fall of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan here in Oregon, where they had their greatest political success of the twentieth century.  From their humble beginnings through their rapid growth and quick decline, we use the words of ex-Klansmen as our source to tell you the “Truth About the Invisible Empire.”  We examine their anti-black violence in Portland and other Oregon communities as well as the financial scams against their own members and the general public which destroyed them as an organization here.  We also look at how their crossover membership in groups such as the American Legion allowed them to continue working for their hateful goals. And we answer once and for all the age-old question, did Mayor Baker join the Klan?
            There’s also murder, which I will preview on my SlabtownChronicle blog.

            That’s just a small sample of what you will find when Murder & Scandal in Prohibition Portland is published by the History Press in February 2016. See you there.
Welcome to Mayor Baker's Portland.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hurry Hurry Step Right Up!

My new book, with Theresa Griffin Kennedy, Mayor Baker's Portland (coming from History Press in February 2016) will include more information on Roy Moore, King of the Northwest Bootleggers, and the Sells-Floto Circus robbery of 1921.  Here is some background on the circus.
The ad in the Portland Oregonian for the 1904 first performance of what became the Sells-Floto Circus is full of whimsical artwork and copy designed to highlight the romance of the circus.
            In the nineteenth century, before mass entertainment media existed, travelling shows were the most exciting thing that could happen in a town, even a town the size of Portland.  There was a strong theatrical circuit in the Pacific Northwest, led by the Baker Players, under the leadership of George Baker. Vaudeville shows, with jugglers, singers, clowns and risqué dancers were highly popular, but not always socially acceptable.  Portland had a lively theatrical scene that included both legitimate and “variety” theaters and the Chautauqua circuit with its program of oratory and education was highly popular in the summertime. “Coontown” – the African-American neighborhood located near Union Depot in NW Portland – was the center of Portland’s music scene and the Colored Immigrants’ Aid Society and other black social organizations put on elaborate pageants and “cakewalks” to highlight their music. Even with all of this, by the turn of the twentieth century Portland was still hungry for entertainment.
            On July 29, 1904 The Great Floto Shows and Circus Beautiful made a one-day appearance in Portland under a gaudily painted bigtop tent pitched at the corner of NW 21st and Savier.  At 10:00am that morning the circus parade started out from the tent and marched through the streets of the Slabtown neighborhood with music from a huge steam calliope.  The small train of circus wagons was accompanied by the Ben Hur Herd of Arabian Stallions and Herr Litzen’s Funny Dutch Elephants, the Priskorn brothers on unicycles followed by a “prodigious aggregation of living freaks.”  On the wagons the star performers in their dazzling outfits waved to the crowd; they included La Belle Leona, premier equestrienne; Mlle. Arline, the “girl in red” with her performing dogs; Mlle. Vallecita, the beauteous jungle queen with her caged “savage wild beasts;” Sugimoto’s score of Japanese; the Bartine Trio, neck breakers, flip-flappers and twisters; and the Great Ellett Family of flying aerialists.  The free parade was a great show just in itself and it drew a long line of excited kids back to the show grounds. Any kid who could scrape up a quarter attended at least one of the two shows.  For adults the fare was fifty cents and a lot of them went too. 

     The bigtop was packed for both the 2pm and the 8pm show and the sideshow with its freaks and games of chance and skill did great business.  It must have been after midnight when the tent folded and the roustabouts got everything packed away.  They would have had to leave at dawn to make it to Chehalis in time for the parade at 10 a.m the next morning. It was a rough life, but the glamour associated with the elaborate shows created a strong attraction and many young people, even children “ran away to join the circus.”  One young man who did was Alexis Priskorn, who did velocipede and unicycle performances with his brothers.  Known as the Great Alexius, he had a famous “loop-the-loop” trick that “defied gravitation.”  At the age of 24 Alexis had become a headliner with his “death defying” act featured on circus posters and advertisements.  The Great Alexius was featured on the ad for the Portland show too, but he wasn’t there.  On July 19th when the show reached Baker, OR after five months on the road from Dallas, TX and up the west coast, Priskorn was hospitalized with a high fever.  Less than a month later when the show was performing in Golden, B.C. Priskorn died of what was believed to be typhoid fever.  The circus continued on, making daily appearances in towns and cities across western Canada and down through Minnesota and Missouri back to Texas.
In Europe Eph Thompson, the African American animal trainer, was nothing unusual, but in the United States it was rare to see a black performer in a starring role.
     With the 1904 performance a tradition was born that would continue for the next two generations and longer.  Owned by the publishers of the Denver Post the Floto name came from one of the paper’s most popular sportswriters, gambler and fight promoter Otto Floto. In 1906 Willie Sells joined the staff and the name changed. The Sells-Floto Circus was an annual event in Portland until the 1940s, when it was swallowed up into the Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey conglomerate.  The circus was heavy with trick riding acts and it almost always included elephants, although elephants, tigers, lions, bears, rhinos and hippopotamus came and went with the seasons. Between 1906 and 1910 Eph Thompson, the African-American animal trainer who toured with the country’s first “somersaulting elephants” performed with the Sells-Floto Circus when it came to Portland. In 1914 and 1915 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, with its trick shooters and racist reenactments of recent history, toured with the Sells-Floto Shows and played in Portland. 
Bonfils, the hippo, was a wildly popular performer from the time he was featured in the Baby Animals Exhibit.  Some of the other animals didn’t fare as well.
      By the 1920s the circus had become engrained in the local culture and adults with fond memories of childhood circuses built up a romantic image of the circus in the younger generation. The Sells-Floto Circus worked hard to keep that romantic image alive. One of the big attractions of the show was the “baby animals” exhibit which featured baby camels, elephants, lions and Bonfils, the hippo who was a hit for the circus from the moment he was born.  The babies didn’t all do well, though.  Tillie, the elephant who toured with the Sells Floto Circus for nearly twenty years, gave birth four times, the only elephant births in captivity at that time.  None of her babies lived longer than a year.  One newspaper report from 1911 describes skinny, shaking elephants and toothless lions, but the next year the press agent for the circus made sure that everyone knew the problem had been corrected.
The big stars of the early 20s Sells-Floto Circus was the trick-riding “Happy Hannefords” featuring Poodles Hanneford the trick-riding clown. Another great star of that period was Berta Beeson, the “slack-wire” aerialist who appeared to be a beautiful young woman in a spangly outfit, but was actually a young, male grocery clerk from Indiana named Herbert Beeson.  These acts and some sixty more, not to mention 57 clowns and the freaks performed at the Vancouver, WA show on the night of September 16, 1921.  After the last performance that night as the circus’s treasurer was transporting the box office take to the railroad yard a pair of robbers took more than $30,000 from him and assaulted Poodles Hanneford and his mother Grace before fleeing in a stolen car.  One of the robbers was Roy Moore, who would become even more notorious later in the decade as the “King of the Northwest Bootleggers” and then in the 1940s as the leader of a ruthless, brutal gang of thugs and robbers.  The robbery didn’t hurt the circus too badly, even though it held up the crew’s payday for one day as the circus treasurer took out a loan from a local bank to cover the loss.  The publicity was good for business and the take from Portland was higher than usual during the circus’s two day stay.
The Happy Hannefords were famous for their trick riding and their clownish member Poodles “The Prince of Clowns.”  Poodles had a bad experience one night in Vancouver in 1921.
     In 1926 Mayor Baker convinced the circus management to do a benefit performance for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, a project he considered his greatest accomplishment. Baker’s persuasion created another tradition that exists to this day.  The Shriner’s Circus is still a national show that raises money for the Shriner’s charitable activities. In 1929 the Sells-Floto Circus was purchased by the American Circus Corp. and continued to tour with acts like Tom Mix, the singing cowboy of the movies, through the 1930s.  By then the circus was becoming more of a nostalgic sensation than a popular form of entertainment.  The “golden age” of the American circus was long past before World War Two began.  On the west coast for the first two or three generations of the twentieth century it was a popular and engaging form of entertainment.  For Portlanders born between the 1890s and the 1930s the Sells-Floto Circus was a vivid memory and an annual event.
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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Masks Off: The KKK in Portland

            The Ku Klux Klan went through three distinct stages in its long career as a terrorist organization.  Founded by confederate veterans of the Civil War in 1866, the original KKK enforced a reign of terror against newly freed African American slaves throughout the south. Although racist feeling was high in Oregon in the 1860s and 1870s and a hate group that used KKK- like methods terrorized Chinese immigrants in Portland the KKK didn’t get a foothold here before being eradicated by the Federal government in 1871. The original Ku Klux Klan was through as an organization by 1875, but its methods of terror and its ideology of white supremacy flourished underground throughout the country.

The Multnomah Hotel was the Portland headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan from 1921 – 1925. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
             The second stage of KKK development took place between 1914 and 1925 and saw the Invisible Empire, as it called itself, achieve its broadest popularity and influence.  In Portland the KKK had thousands of members and achieved its greatest political success, especially during the 1922 elections.  Rocked by financial and sex scandals and torn apart by internal dissension the KKK lost most of its influence by 1925 and by 1942 the Invisible Empire folded as an organization.
            The aftermath of the Second World War and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement saw a resurgence of support for the Ku Klux Klan and the organization was reborn once more.  Working through “front organizations,” such as White Aryan Resistance, Aryan Youth Movement and Eastside White Pride, the KKK gained new support in Portland, but only as a marginalized, violent, semi-underground organization.  Under attack financially after such high profile cases as the Mulegeta Seraw murder in 1988, the KKK was forced even further underground where it still exists as a violent faction of the political right wing.
            Often seen as a rural cultural group in the long struggle between urban and rural culture in America it is interesting to note that the KKK, after 1914, drew the majority of its power from cities and achieved its greatest political success in Portland.  The reasons for the unique aspects of the KKK’s development are many.
            The 1920 census proved what keen observers had known for some time: the dominance of rural culture in the United States was passing.  The 1920 census was the first time in American history that urban population was higher than rural, a trend that would continue for the next century.  The grandchildren of the pioneers were moving away from the farms where they were raised and finding a new culture and a new experience in American cities, especially in the north.  The so-called Great Migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north had been underway for decades, but significantly picked up during the Great War.  Northern cities were seeing a large influx of African Americans and racial tensions rose with the population.
            Along with African Americans most U.S. cities were also seeing growing populations of immigrants, mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe.  Anti-immigrant feeling, always strong among the American working class, contributed to a growing value in “white identity” and a rise in racist attitudes and policies in American cities like Portland.

Fred Gifford, Grand Dragon of the Oregon Ku Klux Klan, kept papers in his desk that he said could send Mayor George Baker to prison for a long time.  He liked to brag about it and order Baker around. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
             In addition to these factors Portland was influenced by its isolation.  Since the 19th century Portland had been considered the “end of the earth” by most Americans.  Before the railroad came in the 1880s the trip to Portland, either overland or by sea was a weeks long journey that was only survived by the toughest.  Even after the railroad began to serve Portland it was still a grueling journey that took days of traveling under harsh conditions.  This isolation led Portland to turn inward and the small social world the city created was dominated by fraternal organizations such as Moose, Elk, Masons and Kiwanis.  Most Portlanders, regardless of class or wealth, belonged to at least one fraternal or beneficial society.  Even new immigrants founded their own social groups.  Fraternal organizations were vital to the social function of the city and any group that presented itself as such could find support.
            This was the situation that Brace Calloway, a KKK organizer known as a kleagle, found when he arrived in Portland in 1921.  Calloway had been ordered by the Imperial Wizard, the group’s national leader, to keep his organizing plans secret, but after checking into spacious quarters at the Multnomah Hotel Calloway made himself available to reporters from both the Oregonian and the Portland Telegram.  After an interview with Calloway appeared in the Telegram he was recalled and replaced as kleagle by Luther Powell, who had just finished organizing klan chapters, known as klaverns, in Medford, Klamath Falls and Roseburg.  The organizing in Oregon was part of a nation-wide plan to spread the Invisible Empire as a fraternal organization.  By the time Powell began to organize in Oregon klan membership stretched from Atlanta, KKK headquarters, to California and as far north as Maine.  Their largest strength was in the south, especially Georgia and Texas, but they also gained large numbers in the Midwest, especially Indiana and Ohio, and the west coast.
            Luther Powell was a talented organizer who knew the key to a successful organizing campaign was to start with the most influential people possible. He quickly named Fred Gifford, an electrician for the Northwest Electric Company and business agent for the Electrical Workers’ Union, as Grand Cyclops, or local leader, and took up residence in the Multnomah Hotel.  Their first move was an organizing coup that compromised the city leadership and announced the klan’s presence with authority.
This photo, which ran in the Portland Telegram, was a major coup for the Klan, because it compromised city officials.  George Baker (third from right) and Leon Jenkins (third from left) said they were surprised when Fred Gifford and Luther Powell stepped out from behind a curtain in full klan regalia. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
            Mayor George Baker, Police Chief Leon Jenkins and several other city officials received an invitation to a reception at the Multnomah Hotel.  They all claimed that they had no idea it was a KKK event, and that is probably true.  When the city officials gathered Luther Powell and Fred Gifford, in full hooded-regalia, stepped out from behind a curtain and a photographer snapped a picture that was published in the Portland Telegram. The men included in the picture said they were surprised by the appearance of the hooded klansmen, and in the picture surprise is evident on Chief Jenkins’ face.  The move was brilliant because it not only compromised the officials by implying their support for the klan, it began a huge uptick in KKK membership in Portland.  Holding large public meetings at Civic Auditorium, with support from Mayor Baker, large hooded parades on foot and in cars and cross burnings at Mt. Tabor and Mt. Scott, the klan inducted as many as 1100 members at a time.
            Mayor Baker steadfastly denied that he ever joined the KKK, but he did their bidding several times before his falling out with the organization in 1924, and he actively courted their political support.  Many historians have doubted Baker’s claim that he never joined the klan. Baker was a strong booster of fraternal organizations and a member of at least two dozen groups, so most people have assumed that he joined the KKK as well. Klan member, and publisher of the KKK newspaper the Western American, Lem Dever told the true story in his 1925 book Masks Off: Confessions of an Imperial Klansman. Dever, who personally doubted Baker’s “racial qualification” for membership, claimed that the mayor never joined the organization.   Grand Dragon Fred Gifford bragged that he had evidence that could have sent the mayor to jail for a long time, which he held over Baker’s head.  The mayor was certainly involved with several illegal activities that could have sent him to jail and blackmail by Gifford would easily explain his subservient, but antagonistic relationship with the klan.
            Luther Powell claimed that the klan was “the antithesis of lawlessness,” but the group’s activities involved several episodes of violence in Oregon.  Klansmen in Medford, Coos Bay and Oregon City were charged with abduction, intimidation and torture and at least one murder of a black man in Coos Bay was believed to have been committed by the klan.  In Portland, local klansmen abducted a woman, accused of immorality, and burned a K into her breast with acid.  It is clear that the klan’s support for “law and order” was only for public consumption and not for practice.
George Baker always claimed that he was not a member of the Ku Klux Klan.  Many local klansmen believed the mayor was “not racially qualified” for membership and the Grand Dragon had blackmail information on the mayor.  He never had to join the klan to do their bidding. Photographer unknown. Portland City Archive.
            The KKK’s large membership in Oregon led to strength at the polls. The klan backed candidates and initiatives and were credited with several electoral victories.  KKK support was vital in the election of Walter Pierce as governor and the passage of the “Public School Bill” which outlawed Catholic and parochial schools and was declared unconstitutional before it went into effect.  In addition they supported many local candidates who were elected to the state legislature and local governing bodies.  Most notably K.K. Kubli, who became president of the State Senate, and Dow Walker and J. Howard Rankin, who were elected to the Multnomah County Commission all received heavy support from the KKK during their campaigns.
            Financial scams by Luther Powell and other klan organizers and the rampant corruption of KKK backed public officials, liker Walker and Rankin who were both recalled after less than two years in office, led to the demise of the KKK in Oregon by 1926.  That story will be told in my upcoming book Mayor Baker’s Portland: Sex Scandal and Forgotten Murder in the Prohibition Era.
Thanks to Dawn O’Neil for research assistance on this article.  Thanks also to all the patrons and first lookers at and Fred Stewart, super sponsor, for all their help and support.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Golden West Hotel

Between 1906 and 1931 the Golden West Hotel on NW Broadway and Everett was the only hotel in town that would accept black guests.  It became a central location for African American social and economic interaction.
              By the time it closed in 1931 the Golden West Hotel, at the corner of NW Broadway and Everett, had become the center of the African American community in Portland.  The five-story, one-hundred room hotel included a Chinese restaurant, candy store, ice cream parlor, saloon, cigar store, theater and Waldo Bogle’s barbershop on the ground floor and George Moore’s Golden West Athletic Club in the basement.  The athletic club included a Turkish bath, gymnasium, boxing ring and card room.  Located just a block from both the original Mt. Olivet Baptist Church and the Bethel AME Church, the Golden West became a Sunday gathering place for African American families.  Before 1919 housing was not formally segregated in Portland, so most African American families lived in various neighborhoods on the east side, but they worked in or near Union Station and went to church in the neighborhood.  As the largest black-owned business in town, the Golden West was a natural gathering spot for black Portlanders, but it didn’t start that way.
            Contrary to popular belief, proprietor William D. Allen, who came to Portland from Tennessee in 1901, never owned the building that housed the Golden West.  The building was erected in 1893, as a three-story, eighty room hotel and was originally called the Tremont House.  Just blocks from Union Station in NW Portland, the Tremont House dominated a neighborhood that was in swift decline.  By 1905, when the new owner, J.H. McClung of Eugene, leased the building to Thomas McNamee, who renamed the hotel the Golden West, it was a rundown building in the heart of what was becoming known as “coon town,” a district dominated by African-American businesses and residents.  After decades of holding on against opposition, segregation and racial discrimination, Portland’s African American community had finally established a foothold.  Many black Portlanders worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, or one of the large downtown hotels, and worked their own businesses in their off hours.  The stability of jobs for a small group of African Americans, allowed a prosperous, but small, black community to thrive.
            McNamee probably didn’t allow black people to stay at the Golden West, and that was one of the main reasons that his business struggled.  For more than a year the building was tied up in a lawsuit between the new owner, McClung, and W. McPherson, who operated the Tremont House and the nearby Gilman House.  The lawsuit, and publicity surrounding it, probably suppressed business as well.  McNamee opened the Golden West Hotel on Christmas Day, 1905, advertising a full turkey dinner for 25 cents, but the business never took off.  Within days McNamee was in debt and some his creditors had brought lawsuits against him for payment.  By spring 1906, McNamee had had enough and the Golden West changed hands again.
            It was probably at this time that William Allen first became involved with the hotel, although his identity was kept secret at the time, probably because of the color of his skin.  Instead Al Wohlers, an ex-policeman who had become one of the North End’s most notorious saloon owners and brothel operators, was the public face of the Golden West.  Wohlers ran a saloon at NW Fourth and Davis and rumor said that the vice payoff went from the illegal businesses in the North End to Wohlers, who cut it up and distributed the graft to the Police Bureau and city officials.  In the decade after he became involved with the Golden West, Wohler’s became one of the city’s most powerful “fixers.”
Waldo Bogle ran the Golden West Barbershop, just one of the many black-owned businesses that operated in the Golden West Hotel.
            When Allen took over as proprietor of the Golden West the hotel began to be the focal point of Portland’s black community, because it was the only hotel in town that would accept black guests.  It soon filled up with lodgers, many of them railroad workers and Pullman porters who worked on the Southern Pacific out of Union Station.  Although Allen was able to find a good base of clients, the business continued to struggle.  Leon V. Jenkins, who was a patrol officer in the neighborhood starting in 1909 and became chief of police in 1919, said that the neighborhood of the Golden West was “one of the toughest districts in the city.”  The neighborhood was filled with crumbling old buildings and crowded with poor people.  It soon became a focus of street crime and many people, black and white, refused to walk through the district without being armed.
            W.D. Allen struggled to make the business prosper and early in 1907 an opportunity allowed him to get the hotel on a paying basis.  Late in 1906 the famous variety theater Paris Inn, located at NW Third and Davis, lost its license and was forcibly closed down by the city.  The Paris Inn was a theater that presented racy burlesque shows.  Upstairs the theater had a series of booths, where patrons could enjoy the favors of the Inn’s attractive cast.  Mayor Harry Lane had promised to close down prostitution in the North End and the Paris Inn became the focus of one of his campaigns.  Al Wohlers negotiated a solution with the owners of the Paris Inn and a compromise with the police.  Fifteen prostitutes from the Paris Inn relocated to the Golden West Hotel and with the connivance of members of the Police Bureau began to operate from the upstairs rooms.  Allen was probably happy to have the extra income, because from that point until the Great Depression, the hotel was a profitable business and Allen began to get his share.  It wasn’t until Prohibition in 1916 that the hotel began to be a real money-maker, though.
            W.D. Allen was very active in his community, a member of both the Colored Masons and the Improved (Colored) Benevolent Order of Elks.  Like many of Portland’s most successful businessmen, Allen made his money from illegal activity while making himself a vital and respected member of the community.  Allen had a complicated relationship with the police, as well.  Like many Portland hotel and saloon owners he cooperated with the police whenever it furthered his interests and occasionally suffered a raid.  Allen managed to keep his reputation clean, only being convicted one time – in 1919 he was fined $150 for possession of liquor.  Allen was accused of many crimes, but never convicted of most of them.  There were at least three attempts by the city to pull the license of the Golden West Hotel, but Allen managed to keep the business going until 1931.
            In 1911 Col. M.W. Hunt, a surgeon in the Oregon militia for more than twenty years, retired from his Salem law practice and invested in real estate in Portland.  In June of that year Hunt bought the building that housed the Golden West Hotel for $85,000.  It was a time when the Uptown neighborhood was improving.  The name of Seventh Ave. was officially changed to Broadway and the street was widened from 60 feet to 80 feet.  A large fire in 1908 cleared many of the crumbling old buildings and opened up construction opportunities in the neighborhood.  In 1912 the new Post Office at Broadway and Hoyt began construction and several other major projects began.  Hunt invested more than $40,000 in his new building, temporarily removing the façade and adding two stories and more than twenty guest rooms.  After 1913 the Golden West Hotel became very prosperous.  The new fifth floor became one of the most prestigious addresses in town for a black Portlander.  Late in 1913, Hunt sold the building to a Canadian investor at a tidy profit and it remained in the hands of Canadians for several decades.
            When Prohibition went into effect in January 1916, the prosperity of the Golden West Hotel accelerated.  One of the most important, and stable sources of high quality liquor in Portland was the Southern Pacific Railroad, that made regular runs between Portland and Oakland, CA.  Liquor was still legal in California, until 1920, and the Pullman porters, cooks and waiters of the Southern Pacific aided the smuggling and distribution of bonded whiskey all over Oregon.  The Golden West Hotel became the Portland headquarters of the “Pullman Porter Bootlegging Ring” and the fifth floor became the home of some of Portland’s richest black bootleggers.  Men like Tom Johnson, Sam “Yam” Wallace, John Lowe and Harry Duvall made their headquarters at the Golden West and lived in high style in suites on the fifth floor.  After 1916 residents of the Golden West Hotel became regular entries in the “New Car Owners in the County” column of the Oregonian.
In 1916, when Prohibition went into effect, the saloon at the Golden West closed and Al Green converted it to a candy shop/soda fountain.  Green continued to sell bonded whiskey provided by the Pullman Porter Bootlegging Ring that operated from the building.
            That same year, Al Green converted the Golden West’s saloon into a candy store – in 1922 it became an ice cream parlor.  George Moore, W.D. Allen’s brother-in-law, opened the Golden West Athletic Club in the basement and began to train boxers there.  The Athletic Club also featured a large, hidden card room and the telephone number “Broadway 77” became one of the city’s most reliable connections for cocaine and heroin.  An elaborate system of electrical buzzers was installed to warn card players in the basement, lottery players in the restaurant and brothel and drinking customers upstairs when a raid was about to occur.  The days of financial hardship were over for the Golden West and it was during this period that it saw its most important use as a community center, as black women’s groups held meetings there and the restaurant filled up with black families on Sundays after church.  African American Portlanders who grew up in the 1920s remembered the Golden West very fondly, and knew nothing of the illegal activities that were carried on there.  Some of them remembered getting their first drink at the Golden West, where whiskey sours cost 25 cents.
            Many of the people involved with the Golden West Hotel, including W.D. Allen and barber Waldo Bogle, were interested in music and the Golden West’s house band became legendary.  The theater in the Golden West was the site of Portland’s first jazz concert in 1914 and the hotel was immortalized by a jazz improvisation called The Golden West Hotel Blues, which was broadcast over Oregonian Radio in 1922.  Many young black Portlanders were introduced to music at the Golden West Hotel, including Allen’s son, William Duncan Allen Jr., who became one of Portland’s most famous musicians in the 1930s.  As the only hotel available to black visitors to Portland, the Golden West hosted many important African Americans, including labor organizer A. Phillip Randolph and Illinois congressman Oscar DePriest.
            In 1931 Portland’s African American community was under intense pressure to relocate to the eastside, to the new “negro district” around Williams Avenue.  The Great Depression had started and the Golden West had fallen on hard economic times.  Allen closed the Golden West Hotel that year and opened a new hotel on the eastside – The Melody.  A couple of years later the New Golden West Hotel opened in the old location, but it soon took on the character of Portland’s transient hotels, full of poverty, misery and crime.  In its second incarnation the Golden West was an integrated hotel that took both white and black guests, but it didn’t last long.  In 1943 with housing at a premium the hotel reopened as the Broadmoor Hotel, providing temporary housing for transient workers.  The Broadmoor closed in 1984, and interest in black history inspired a movement to restore the building.  Central City Concern, a low income housing organization, acquired the building in the 1980s, restoring the hotel and providing low income housing.  The history of the Golden West has been partially preserved at the building and it is the centerpiece of any serious tour of African American historical sites in Portland.
            The Golden West Hotel is probably Portland’s most important African American historical site. The underground activities that occurred there are largely forgotten, but live strongly in rumor.  This article is an attempt to correct that problem and give factual evidence to the rumors that persist.  Portland history is full of respectable businessmen and community leaders who made most of their money from illegal activities.  In this respect William D. Allen can be recognized as a true Portland businessman.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Saga of Handsome Hans

John E. Fagerlie, better known as Handsome Hans, was a star of Mayor Baker's secret police until his career was ended by a bullet.
             During Prohibition the Portland Police Bureau found itself in a precarious situation.  With intense public pressure from Temperance groups and church leaders to enforce the laws against alcohol, Chief Leon Jenkins had to keep up a good front while keeping the liquor flowing to about one hundred speakeasies and an equal number of beer and wine shops approved of by the mayor and protected by the police force. Jenkins managed to walk his tightrope expertly, but at the cost of morale among police officers.  Already low paid many of the officers on the force depended on the two to five dollars per month they were able to collect from illegal businesses on their beats, but they resented the reputation they got as crooked cops from the practice. Most police officers take the job out of a desire to help people and enforce the law, but under the corrupt system that dominated the Portland Police Bureau they found themselves frustrated at every turn. Officers like Floyd Marsh, who served on the Portland vice squad from 1926 to 1929, resented being forced to make illegal liquor deliveries to City Hall and having his cases thrown out of court because the booze he seized disappeared out of the evidence room.  Independently wealthy from his career as a gold miner in Alaska, Marsh was as close as Portland ever came to an untouchable; immune to bribery he was still manipulated into illegal activity by a corrupt system.  Marsh describes some of the illegal acts perpetrated by the police in his memoir, published in 1976, but he said that if he told the whole story no one would believe him.  One story he didn’t completely tell is about the “secret agents” employed by the police bureau
            These secret agents, who Marsh and the Oregonian referred to as Mayor Baker’s secret police, were an interesting group of people.  Because of the secrecy involved in this police unit it is difficult to know who worked as a “secret agent” for the Bureau, but there are a few who can be identified. Anna Schrader was an informant for the vice squad, as were John E. Fagerlie and Roy Million.  Marsh refers to two “special plainsclothesmen” named Roy Cox and John Seeley, but those seem to be false names.  Cox and Seeley performed special operations, including “frame ups.” In his memoir Marsh says that he could find men to do “anything short of murder,” but historical evidence shows that some didn’t draw that line.  It is impossible to know how many special operatives there were and most of them practiced discretion in order to keep their cover.  The special agents did their work for personal reasons, for example Anna Schrader was having a sexual affair with police Lt. William Breuning and her work for the police gave their relationship good cover and allowed her to earn extra money.  John Fagerlie was dragooned by the vice squad after he was arrested in a speakeasy, but he did his job with style and he seemed to enjoy it very much.
            John or Johan E. Fagerlie was born in Norway in 1895 and brought to America as a child around 1905 where his family settled in Duluth, MN.  Hans worked his way west as a logger and arrived in Portland about 1920.  Like the majority of men who worked in the woods he spent the “off season” in Portland living off of the wages he had earned that year.  Like many of his fellow workers he frequented the bars and gambling dens of the North End, which despite Prohibition continued to operate wide open. “Handsome Hans” was very popular with the working girls of the Tenderloin and he was known to all of the bartenders who kept speakeasies, or secret drinking parlors.  Arrested during a police raid in 1924 Handsome Hans soon went to work for the vice squad as a “stool pigeon.” The controversial “stool pigeon” system, in which certain criminals were allowed to continue criminal activity if they provided information the police could use to arrest other criminals, had been notorious at the Police bureau as early as 1903.
Lillian "Blondie" Foley fell into the clutches of Handsome Hans and took him to her room at the Arcade Hotel.
            Handsome Hans continued to frequent Portland’s nightspots and enjoy the company of the ladies, but now he was gathering evidence that provided search warrants for Sgt Casey O’Hara’s raiding squad.  O’Hara’s squad, which included Floyd Marsh for a time, followed up on Fagerlie’s intelligence, making arrests and seizing stocks of liquor.  This activity, which occurred regularly for years, provided the arrests that gave Chief Jenkins the reputation as one of the best Prohibition enforcers in the country, while providing booze for the city hall crowd and income for the city in bootlegging fines. It was also a good tool to control competition in the underworld, running rivals out of business and collecting taxes from approved speakeasies by forcing them to submit to arrest occasionally. Leon Jenkins always claimed that he had nothing to do with the payoff and Floyd Marsh said that he was an “honest chief,” but even if he collected none of the payoff, Jenkins got great benefits from the corruption and used his power recklessly for both personal and political reasons.  Others benefited from the corrupt system as well. For example Handsome Hans had accumulated a fortune of nearly $25,000 (more than $300,000 in 2015) by 1925.
            He needed that money to retire on, because February 1925 saw his career flare out in a spectacular raid at the Arcade Hotel on SW First Street.  The Arcade Hotel, built in 1877, had become very rundown over the years like many other Portland hotels.  Catering to traveling businessmen on modest budgets, the hotel provided easy access to women and gambling, but was really a “clip joint,” where one was as likely to get robbed as get laid.  The Arcade had the distinction of being the site of Portland’s first successful liquor raid on January 4, 1916, three days after Oregon’s prohibition law went into effect. It was the city’s second liquor raid, but James “Birdlegs” Reed had the Union Club on North Park Avenue clean by the time the police arrived.  Gus Anderson, ex-saloon swamper, was not so lucky.  He was arrested in room 62 of the Arcade Hotel, six quarts and fourteen pints of whiskey, along with several bottles of beer, champagne and wine were seized.  Anderson quickly pled guilty and was sentenced to three months in the county jail. A large spread appeared in the Oregonian on January 5, crowing over the “record prosecution” that saw Anderson convicted less than twenty-four hours after the raid.  The story featured a picture of sheriff’s deputies pouring the illegal alcohol down a drain in the courtyard of the hotel and sent a strong signal that Portland was serious about enforcing Prohibition.
Dan "Crip" Reardon was a career criminal.  His earliest known arrest came in 1899, but he had a good lawyer and was never convicted.
            The Arcade Hotel raid and prosecution of Gus Anderson set the pattern for Portland’s enforcement of the liquor laws for the next decade and a half, arrest and prosecution of low level and working class drinking establishments.  This policy had two advantages: it gave the police high profile arrests that could be used as evidence that the city was aggressively enforcing the law, and it did nothing to hinder the liquor business, which remained a large source of the city’s income.  The Arcade Hotel continued in business as a “clip joint” where it was easy for “denizens of the underworld” to find a woman and a drink.  Meanwhile Handsome Hans began his work and soon had quite a bit of success.  Hans received a lot of publicity in January 1925, when information he had gathered led to the arrest of sixteen people on charges of bootlegging, prostitution and gambling.  The publicity in the newspapers didn’t make Hans’ job any easier and possibly led to the shooting that took place on February 17.
            Handsome Hans was on his regular rounds that night when he encountered Lillian “Blondie” Foley, who was sometimes known as Lillian Cantrell. Blondie invited the tall stool pigeon up to her room where they could get a drink. As it had been arranged two uniformed officers followed the couple up the stairs and waited just out of sight. Blondie and Handsome Hans went into a hotel room where they met Dan “Crip” Reardon, a career criminal and ex-saloon keeper who sold them a bottle of “whiskey.” Handsome Hans pulled out his badge and arrested Blondie and Crip on the spot. Blondie screamed and her lover, William “Shorty” Smith burst in from the next room and fired several shots at Handsome Hans.  Patrolman Burt rushed through the door with his weapon drawn.  Shorty pointed his pistol at Burt and pulled the trigger, but the empty revolver only clicked.  He threw the gun on the bed and said, “”I’ll give up.”
            One of Shorty’s bullets penetrated Hans’ lung and left him on the edge of death for several days.  W.E. Smith, aka Shorty aka Wee Willie aka Smitty the Bootlegger, was one of Portland’s most colorful and violent underworld characters in the twenties.  Arrested for possession of liquor several times, Wee Willie usually paid his fine with a sneer.  He was also arrested several times for violent crimes as well, including a 1933 murder, but always acquitted by juries. After shooting Handsome Hans, Wee Willie was jailed on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, but the newspapers almost seemed to be rooting for Hans’ death so he could go down for murder.  Smith claimed that he heard Blondie scream and thought the place was being robbed, so he fired in self defense.  The jury bought it and Smith was acquitted.  He and Blondie eloped to Vancouver and were married in August.  Mr. and Mrs. Smith would both be involved in the murder of Samuel Taylor, a logger and cousin of a Portland police sergeant, in 1933 in a remarkably similar set up.
Wee Willie Smith aka Smitty the Bootlegger drove a taxi and had a quick, violent temper.
            Handsome Hans lingered on death’s door, but slowly recovered.  He was soon overcome by other troubles.  During Fagerlie’s hospitalization publicity about his private life was published in the Oregonian, including the amount of his wealth his relationship with a local widow.  Before Willie Smith could come to trial, Hans found himself the defendant in a trial for “alienation of affections” brought by Guy Allmon of southeast Portland.  Hans denied having a relationship with Allmon’s wife prior to her divorce and the case was thrown out of court, but Fagerlie eventually married Mrs. Allmon and acknowledged paternity of her son, Donald Allmon. Fagerlie became a U.S. citizen in 1929 and he and his wife retired to live on his savings and a $40 per month pension he received from the city.  The only other time he made the papers before his death in 1970, was in 1949 when he found a seven-leaf clover while taking a walk.
            Mayor George Baker’s “secret police” were exposed by the Fagerlie case and a great deal of debate was stirred up over the methods that the Police Bureau was using to enforce Prohibition laws. The Oregonian concluded (September 25, 1925), “So in the end the law will have reached nowhere – being defeated by its own stupidity.”  Mayor Baker defended his system strenuously, even publishing the results of the “secret operative squad.” From December, 1924 until September, 1925 the squad had been responsible for 1422 arrests with 1333 convictions.  Fines paid into the city totaled $52,350 during that period and the city’s contribution to the squad’s budget was $50 per month. Although Mayor Baker didn’t mention where other funds might be coming from to support the squad’s work, it was clearly coming from somewhere.  Most of the Oregonian’s readers seemed to think that if it was stupidity, at least it made economic sense.  The tax commission turned its discussion to the purchase of a new car for the use of the Mayor and City Commissioners.
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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lifting as She Rose

            I am very proud of the students in Jason Miller’s class at Madison High School and their efforts to put a gravestone on the unmarked grave of Augustus “Gus” Waterford, the first African American employee of the Portland Fire Bureau.  I thought they could use a little encouragement, so I dedicate this newest Weird Portland post to them.  Keep up the good work.

Harriet "Hattie" Redmond (1862-1952) was an important leader during the 1912 campaign for Women's Suffrage. By the time she passed away in 1952 she had been forgotten.
            Portland’s African American community has been politically active in defense of their civil rights since the earliest days of Portland’s history when Abner and Lynda Francis successfully campaigned against Oregon’s Black Exclusion laws. After the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870 guaranteed the right to vote for African American men, Portland’s black community organized to get the most out of their newly won ballot power. Organizations like the Portland ColoredImmigrants’ Aid Society cooperated with the local Republican Party in order to multiply their power. By the 1890s they had succeeded in cracking employment barriers in a variety of fields: African Americans were hired by the Police Bureau, the Fire Bureau and other city departments.  Although black city employees were really only tokens and most of them did not keep their employment for long, the fact that they were hired at all shows the political clout that black Portlanders were able to wield.
            Although African American men began voting in Portland in 1870, African American women, just like their Euro-American counterparts were excluded.  In 1872 when Abigail Scott Duniway approached the Morrison Precinct polling place “with a determined but modest demeanor that evidently meant business” (according to the Oregonian) she was accompanied by three other women, including Mary Beatty, an African American woman.  After an intense debate with polling officials Duniway, Beatty, Mrs. E.F. Hendee and Mrs. M.A. Lambert illegally voted in the presidential election.  Although their protests raised eyebrows among Portland’s men, it was only one of the earliest volleys in the long struggle for women’s right to vote.  It took forty years for Duniway and her sisters to win the vote and many people credited their success to the broad coalition and diverse support they were able to build.
In 1913 Hattie Redmond became the first African American woman in Oregon to register to vote.
            The coalition that won the vote in 1912 included a wide range of groups from the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League (CWESL) and the Men’s Equal Suffrage League to Esther Pohl Lovejoy’s Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League. Although the initiative passed by only a slight margin, it drew support from a wide and diverse group of Portlanders.  The Suffrage Initiative didn’t do well at the polls statewide, but the margin in Multnomah County gave it enough to pass and the CWESL and its president Hattie Redmond got a lot of credit for their efforts to get out the vote.  In addition Redmond held regular voter education meetings at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, the largest African American church in the city at the time, which ensured a solid “yes” vote from the black community.  Redmond became the first black woman in Portland to register to vote in 1913, when the new law went into effect.
            Hattie Redmond was a forty year old widow, although she claimed to be thirty-eight, when she registered to vote.  She was born in St. Louis in 1862 and had come west with her parents as a child.  Her father, Rueben Crawford, was very active in Republican Party organizations and the Colored Immigrants’ Aid Society.  By the time he died at the age of 89 in 1918, the Oregonian called him the most well known ship’s caulker on the west coast.  Hattie was married to Emerson Redmond in 1893, but the marriage was not successful and he was estranged from his wife when he died in the Multnomah County Poor Farm in 1907. That same year Mt. Olivet Baptist Church opened and the Crawford family were founding members.  Hattie was also one of the founding members of the Oregon Colored Women’s Council (later renamed Oregon Colored Women’s Club). With the motto “Lifting as We Rise” the women of the Colored Women’s Council organized the CWESL with Redmond as president.
            After the passage of the Suffrage Initiative in 1912 Redmond continued to work on electoral campaigns through the Colored Women’s Republican Club, which supported candidates, and the Women’s Christian Temperance League, which helped to pass the Prohibition Initiative in 1914.  In addition she had a decades-long association with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) as well.  Most of her life though was spent working.  In 1913, when she registered to vote, she was working as a hairdresser, but she had many jobs, mostly in the domestic servant realm.  For thirty-nine years she was a janitor in the Federal Courthouse, a position from which she retired with a small pension in the 1930s.  By then she was well into her 70s, but she still had a long life ahead of her.  Her health became more precarious, but her financial situation improved slightly in 1941 when she was hit by a car while crossing SE Powell near her home on 32nd and received a small settlement.
During the Centennial of Women's Suffrage in 2012 Hattie Redmond was rediscovered and it was found that her grave at Lone Fir cemetery was unmarked. A new stone was placed on her grave at a ceremony attended by more than 200 people.

            Although Redmond was honored by the YWCA in 1950, most of her political and social activity had been long forgotten by the time she died at the age of 90 in 1952.  She was buried in Lone Fir Cemetery, near her father Rueben Crawford. Over the years the small stones on the graves were buried and for many years no one even knew they were there.  In 2012, during the preparations for the Centennial of women’s suffrage in Oregon, researchers discovered Redmond’s contribution to the campaign and got interested in her life.  Exploring Lone Fir cemetery they uncovered her long buried gravestone.  That summer Friends of Lone Fir paid for a new stone for the grave and Senator Avel Gordley dedicated it in a ceremony attended by more than two hundred people. Hattie Redmond once again proves C.E.S. Wood’s aphorism, “Good citizens are the riches of a city.”
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