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 fa├žade 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.
          Thanks to Fred Stewart, supersponsor, and all of the patrons from who have made a pledge to keep this work going.  If you haven't heard the podcast Murder By Experts yet, you should check it out. We are experimenting with new ways to tell history. Remember history isn't free, support your local historian.

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.”
Thanks to all my patrons and sponsors at, especially Fred Stewart - supersponsor.  If you like the work I do and think I should continue doing it, please make a pledge

Sunday, April 12, 2015

No Headstone on My Grave

            Adam Augustus “Gus” Waterford was born in British Columbia in 1860, the son of Alexander Waterford, a self-freed slave from Tennessee, and Martha Griffin Waterford, a Kentucky woman. In 1865 the family moved to Portland, where Gus grew up with several brothers and sisters. Alexander Waterford found work as a laborer and participated actively in Republican Party politics. Records have not come to light to substantiate the rumor that Alexander Waterford worked as a Deputy for the Multnomah County Sherriff or served as a Justice of the Peace in East Portland in the 1870s. He did some kind of work for the city of Portland in 1874, for which he was paid $26. He was a founding member of the Hayes and Wheeler Republican Club in 1876, along with Joseph Simon, W. Lair Hill and Henry Corbett, becoming one of the first black Republican Party activists and paving the way for his son’s career in JosephSimon’s political machine.
From the Oregonian June 6, 1886.
            Gus Waterford was not a large man, but he and his brothers stood up for each other. When Gus was assaulted by Sam Glover in 1886, his brother William came to his defense. Glover and William Waterford were each fined $5 for the fight in front of the Snowflake Saloon. By that time Joseph Simon was establishing a firm hold on politics everywhere in the state, including Portland. Like big city bosses all over the country Simon made alliances with influential men in various ethnic communities in order to bring out the vote. In Portland, African America orators, such as JuliusCaesar, stumped for Republican candidates and brought out the Black vote. Gus Waterford, with the help of his father who was by then a Grand Old Man of the Party, found a place for himself in Simon’s machine. Waterford may have been a little too outspoken for his own good. Where the Oregonian spoke admiringly of men like Caesar, who cooperated in spreading racial stereotypes, they never spoke respectfully of Gus Waterford and they failed to report on, or minimized, his career achievements.
From the Oregonian March 27, 1909. So far it has been impossible to verify that Gus Waterford ever worked for the Multnomah County Sheriff.
            In 1896 the Oregonian referred to Gus Waterford as “the well-known politician, ward heeler and wire puller.” They were probably referring to his position in the Portland Fire Department, although they never reported on the integration of that institution. Fire Department records have not yet been unearthed to confirm the date of Waterford’s hire, but he is acknowledged as the first African American employee of the Fire Department. It is most likely that he was hired in the 1890s, because political warfare between two factions of the Republican Party led Joe Simon to put pressure on the city of Portland to hire African Americans. In 1892 Moody Scott became the first black employee of the City and George Hardin became a Portland policeman in 1894. At some point during this time Waterford became Portland’s first black fireman. Like Hardin, who was laid off from the Police force in 1895, Waterford didn’t last long in the Fire Department, but he was a strong enough ally of now U.S. Senator Joseph Simon that he became the first African American employee of the Portland Post Office, where he worked as a Porter and Supply Clerk.
            Waterford was fired by Postmaster John Minto in 1908 in a scandalous case that was either an attempt to blackmail Minto or a graft operation in which Minto skimmed money from Waterford’s wages.  The truth of the matter depends on what you believe, but few powerful Portlanders at that time were willing to take the word of a black man against a white man.  Waterford was probably in declining health when he left the Post Office, because he died of stomach cancer in less than a year.  Waterford is buried now in a family plot somewhere in Lone Fir Cemetery, but there is no marker over his grave.  His brother William lived another thirty years, dying in 1938 of atherosclerosis.  William, who suffered from dementia, was hospitalized in the Oregon State Hospital at the time of his death.  His cremated remains are among the thousands of unclaimed urns collected in the Oregon State Hospital awaiting a family member to claim them.
Thanks to Sherylita Maison Cruise of the Friends of the Golden West Hotel for the original research that went into this article.  Thanks also to the Oregon Black Pioneers for helping to preserve Oregon's black history. If you know of existing buildings or graves that relate to African American History please add them to our collection. Preserving Portland's untold history is an important job, but it doesn't come free. Please support your local historian

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Free Speech or Bombs

Dr. Marie Equi arriving for her trial on sedition charges with Dr. Ruth Barnett.
           Free speech or bombs was the choice that C.E.S. Wood gave the United States in his defense of Dr. Marie Equi for violation of the World War I sedition law. Equi, called ‘Doc” by her friends, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison at her San Francisco trial in 1919, but President Woodrow Wilson shortened her sentence and she only served ten months in San Quentin.  Her crime: unfurling a banner emblazoned “Down With the Imperialist War!” during a protest. By 1920, when she reported to prison and seventy years before George H.W. Bush gave Portland the nickname Little Beirut, Doc was a veteran protestor who raised her voice loudly for Worker’s rights and Women’s rights. One of the least-known episodes of her life occurred in Portland in 1912, before her political radicalization. It was her first major confrontation with the corruption of the Portland city government and set the tone for the events of the following summer during the Oregon Packing Company strike.
            Like many of Equi’s causes it began with a personal fight, in this case with George Prettyman who worked as the superintendant of the Medical Building, at the corner of SW Park and Alder, where she kept her office since the building opened in 1908. Dr. Equi specialized in women’s health and provided a full range of medical services, including abortion which was illegal under Oregon law. Michael Helquist provides good background on the abortion laws and their enforcement in Portland prior to 1920 in his recent contribution to the Oregon HistoricalQuarterly. According to Helquist abortion laws were selectively enforced and many doctors chose to provide them although they could be risking a lot. Julia Ruutila, another famous Portland radical who did the most extensive research on Equi’s life and knew her personally, said that Doc performed abortions because “she believed that women should have the right of choice and should not be forced to bear a child.” That would be about right. Portland’s “Stormy Petrel of Politics” did things because she believed in them and because she cared very deeply for other people, especially young women.
            Dr. Equi testified in court that she and George Prettyman had been very friendly until they had a falling out over a young woman, Helen Noble that he had brought to her for treatment of a “bad disease.” There is little doubt that the “disease” was pregnancy and that Noble was a prostitute, a victim of a “white slave” gang that was being protected by important members of the city’s judiciary system. Prettyman, who had been an engineer for Multnomah County for many years, is a mysterious character who is described by the Oregonian as a special Sheriff’s deputy, although there is no other indication that he had a connection with law enforcement. In most of the newspaper coverage he is described as janitor of the Medical Building, but it is clear that he was much more than a janitor. Doc “cured” the young woman’s “disease” and gave her a good talking too, saying that Prettyman should marry her. Equi was probably unaware that Prettyman was already married to another woman, who would later charge him with serious domestic violence. Prettyman was offended and refused to pay for the medical procedure, most likely threatening to charge Equi for performing the illegal operation.
            Equi withheld her rent in an effort to collect what Prettyman owed her and over the next few months things escalated. It is difficult to tell what actually happened between Equi and Prettyman, because their accounts are at such odds. Often the testimony of the two parties sounds like the squabbling of children as they hurl accusations at each other, but it all came to a head on the evening of May 17, 1912. Dr. Equi and her associate Dr. Bessie M. Gardner worked late in their office that evening and by the time they were ready to leave the building was empty. Prettyman, either by accident or as a practical joke, had pulled heavy gates across the stairwell, locking the two doctors upstairs. When they were unable to use the stairs they rang for the elevator, but Prettyman refused to bring it up. The two women dropped eggs from the sixth floor in an effort to get Prettyman’s attention and the fight was on. Prettyman brought the elevator to the sixth floor more than once, but either he refused to let the women on or they refused to ride with him. Finally Dr. Equi went into the reception room that she shared with Dr. Baird and telephoned the police.
"College Girls" at the annual suffragist gathering at Oaks Park in 1912. Second from the left is Dr. Bessie Gardner, third is Louise Bryant Turlinger.
            Prettyman barged into “Dr. Baird’s” office and attempted to handcuff Dr. Equi. Doc was never one to submit to arrest with “lamblike obedience.” The two of them scuffled and Equi was severely bruised before she pulled a handgun from her purse and pressed it into Prettyman’s stomach. The threat calmed the situation down and the police finally arrived to sort out the “riot.” For over a year Equi, with the assistance of her good friend attorney C.E.S. Wood, pursued criminal charges against Prettyman and a civil suit against the Medical Building, but it was in vain. Judge George Tazwell, of the Police Court, had a reputation for being very severe with most criminals, but he could be surprisingly lenient at times. Prettyman’s charges were dismissed, along with several charges that came before Tazwell’s court over the years. The civil suit was eventually dismissed and Dr. Equi relocated her office.
            1912 was an important year in Marie Equi’s life. For six years she had been a public figure in Portland because of the heroic relief effort she organized after the San Francisco earthquake. She had used that celebrity to promote the cause of Women’s Suffrage, but she had serious political disagreements with the women who ran the women’s groups in Portland. Her lesbianism was a factor, but the basic disagreement was over the place of Abigail Scott Duniway in the movement. Duniway who had led the still unsuccessful movement since the 1870s was the target of her sisters frustrations and the aging leader was being forcibly retired just as the goal was about to be achieved. Most of the women of the new generation were conservative feminists who fit into the mainstream of Portland business and society. Dr. Marie Equi emphatically was not. In many ways she had taken over the role of “people’s doctor” that ex-mayor and current Senator Harry Lane had played so well.
            In 1905 C.E.S. Wood told the National American WomanSuffrage Association Conference that although he supported the vote for women that voting meant nothing without economic equality. In 1912 when women finally achieved the vote in Oregon, Dr. Equi realized that her old friend was right. She began more and more to work for economic equality and the rights of workers and the unemployed. In 1913, standing up for another young woman in the Oregon Packing Company strike, Doc’s politics would begin to be more radical and militant. Between 1893, when “The Dalles Sensation” confronted a dishonest employer with a horsewhip, and 1912 when Doc and Prettyman fought, Marie Equi was non-violent. After the confrontation with Prettyman violence, used in self defense became a common occurrence for Doc as she took to the streets in strikes, a struggle over birth control and protest against the war.
Dr. Marie Diana Equi "Doc" shortly before her death in 1952.

            For a look at how the abortion laws were enforced in the 1950s you should see my new book, with JB Fisher  Portland on the Take. If you find value in my work and would like to support more local history like this I hope you will join my campaign at

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dancing for Freedom

Thelma Johnson Streat graduated form Washington High School in 1932 and became one of the most important artists of her generation.
            Portland’s African-American community has always been small, but very active and vibrant. In my book Hidden History of Portland (2013) I describe how Portland’s black community took political action against the discrimination they faced in the early decades of Portland’s history. Beatrice Morrow Cannady, Portland’s first black woman attorney, led the fight for civil rights and dignity from 1912-1936. One of her most radical and effective organizing tools was a series of inter-racial Tea Parties designed to highlight the cultural achievements of black Americans and give white Portlanders the opportunity to get to know their black neighbors. In September, 1934 Cannady highlighted the achievements of a young Portland artist named Thelma Johnson, who under her married name (Thelma Johnson Streat) would become one of the most celebrated artists and educators in the country.
            Born in 1911 in Yakima, WA Thelma began to paint when she was seven and moved to Portland with her family where she graduated from Washington High School in 1932.  She gained her first national recognition in 1929 when her painting, A Priest, received honorable mention at the Harmon Exhibition in New York. She studied at the Museum Art School (now the Pacific Northwest College of Art) and in 1934 the Portland Advocate, edited by Beatrice Cannady, sponsored her first exhibition at the YWCA. In 1938 she exhibited a “one-woman” show at the J.K. Gill Art Gallery. Shortly after the Gill Gallery show, Thelma married Romaine Streat and moved to San Francisco where she took a job with the Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
            In San Francisco Streat worked with Diego Rivera, the renowned Mexican painter, on his Pan-American Unity mural and began to receive serious recognition. Rivera said that her work was “one of the most interesting manifestations in this country at the present. It is extremely evolved and sophisticated enough to reconquer the grace and purity of African and American art.” While working at the famed Pickle Factory art studio in 1941 Streat completed her most famous painting, Rabbit Man. The next year Rabbit Man was acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Streat became the first African American artist to be exhibited in MoMA’s “New Acquisitions” show.
            In 1943 Streat moved to Chicago where she exhibited paintings and studied at the Art Institute creating her most controversial painting, Death of a Black Sailor. The painting, done in mural style, depicted the death of a black sailor who risked his life in the war to defend democratic rights he was denied at home and earned Streat death threats from members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).  Inspired by the thought of Beatrice Cannady, who believed that education was the key to attaining civil rights, and spurred on by the threats from the KKK, Streat initiated a visual education program called “The Negro in History.” As part of that program she painted portraits of Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Harriet Tubman among others.
            In 1945 Streat returned to Portland and although she traveled extensively she always returned home to Portland where she exhibited paintings and performed dance. In Portland Streat painted another celebrated painting, Shed a Tear for My Daughter, and began the next stage of her career as an expressive dancer. Before coming home to Portland she had spent time in Queen Charlotte’s Island where she studied dance and painting with the Haida people. She incorporated the bold colors and strong graphic design of Haida art into her own work and studied their traditional dance. In August 1945, at a home in Northeast Portland, Streat presented a dance performance in front of one of her paintings. Streat danced an expressive dance influenced by Haida performance and the principles of abstract art, with narration provided by her sister’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Faith.”
            Thelma Streat’s dance performances were very popular and she made dance and music a focus of her work for the rest of her life. In 1948 she married Edgar Kline, a playwright and producer who had been her manager for three years, and expanded her career internationally. She and her second husband traveled the world exhibiting her paintings and performing dance, before settling in Honolulu in 1950, where she founded Children’s City, an education center that taught art as well as tolerance through the appreciation of cultural diversity. “If  I can any small way nourish the minds of island children, if I can enlarge their horizons, then the purpose of my work is fulfilled,” Streat said, “The principal aim of Children’s City is to eliminate those prejudices which are the outgrowth of misinformation concerning peoples of different ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds….”

            Thelma Johnson Streat broke many barriers and received many honors in her life. She was the first African-American woman to have a painting exhibited at MoMA and by 1947 she was one of only four African-American abstract painters to have had solo exhibitions in New York. In 1949 she became the first American woman to have her own television program in Paris and in 1950 she performed a dance recital at Buckingham Palace for the King and Queen of England. She was also a frequent visitor in the home of Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1958 Streat began making plans for a second Children’s City that she planned to open in Saltspring Island, British Columbia. She never got to open the second school, because she died suddenly in Los Angeles, where she had begun to study anthropology at UCLA, in 1959. Streat’s importance has only increased since her death.  She continues to have exhibits of her work and in 2010 she was awarded a posthumous doctorate from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Her painting Black Virgin is in the collection of Reed College.
      If you enjoyed this post and think the work I do is worthwhile I hope you will support my campaign on Please follow the link and make a pledge. It is very important.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Portland’s Connection to The Maltese Falcon

            Any admirer of detective fiction must recognize the importance of Dashiel Hammett as a writer and an inspiration. His masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, has been as influential on the art of cinema as Hammett’s other work has been in the development of crime writing. Hammett’s experiences as a private detective gave his work authenticity and he often based fictional characters on the people he met in that work. Warren Harris has done groundbreaking research on one of those criminals who inspired Hammett’s characters: Edwin A. “The Midget” Ware. Ware was the inspiration for The Maltese Falcon character Wilmer, the gunsel beautifully portrayed by Dwight Fry and Elisha Cook Jr. in the classic films made from Hammett’s novel. Recently I had the great fortune to receive an inquiry from Mr. Harris concerning a crime that occurred in Portland in 1932. Harris’s question led me to this interesting little piece of Portland weirdness. So here it is, Portland’s connection to The Maltese Falcon, now that’s Weird Portland.
Dwight Fry, one of the most interesting actor’sof his generation, played the role of Wilmer the gunsel in the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon. The film played Portland theaters almost a year before the real life inspiration for Fry’scharacter visited the city.
       Edwin “The Midget” WareFresno’s notorious Midget Bandit, finished a long prison term in 1932. Newly discovered evidence proves that after being released from prison Ware traveled north with a companion and spent some time (about thirty days) in the Rose City before going on to his fatal encounter with the Law in Washington state in 1934.  Ware, born in 1905, began his criminal career early with a series of robberies in Fresno and Los Angeles, CA in 1921, when he was seventeen. Inspired by the exploits of southern California armed robber Roy “The Smiling Bandit” Gardner, and the intense press coverage his crimes received, Ware began his life of crime in emulation of his hero and with a strong instinct for publicity.  The Fresno Herald, was the first to call Ware the Midget Bandit, but soon papers all over California featured the sobriquet in headlines and at the peak of his crime wave, the Midget Bandit even got headlines in the New York Times. It might have been the newspaper headlines that inspired Dashiel Hammett, but it is more likely (although still undocumented) that the ailing private detective had a personal meeting with Ware, most likely in the Fresno jail in 1921. Hammett’s comments about his inspiration for the character of Wilmer seem to point to the personal meeting theory.
Edwin Ware was 27 years old when arrested inSeattle, long past his prime as a robber and as a publicity hound. He was veryclose to the end of his short, violent life. 
       Ware and his partner, Jess Taylor (aka James Blythe) another ex-convict, arrived in Portland around December 1, 1932. There is no evidence that either man knew anyone in Portland, if they had things might have gone much better for them. At that time there were several armed robbery gangs operating out of Portland. The most powerful was the gang run by Shy Frank Kodat from his speakeasy/boarding house on SE Water Street. Kodat specialized in recruiting promising young robbers and burglars from the Oregon State Prison. Claiming that he was working to rehabilitate these ex-cons he helped them plan and pull off robberies all over Oregon, Washington and northern California. The main rule was, no jobs in Portland. Although the rule was sometimes broken, and Kodat’s power was often defied and challenged, Shy Frank enforced his will brutally and often used the Police Bureau as an ally in his fight against the competition.
       Ware later told Portland Chief of Detectives, Harvey Thatcher, that he and Taylor had been planning a bigger robbery, but had needed cash to advance their plans. On December 3, 1932 the two ex-cons attempted to rob a Pool Hall on NW 6th and Flanders. The Oregonian originally called the place a “soft drink shop,” which was often a codeword for a place that sold illegal alcohol. It is pretty likely that Louie Azich and Jim Walch, two local working men, were drinking illegal beer while they shot pool with three or four other men that night.  Taylor took the lead when the two ex-cons came in, pointing a gun at the patrons and ordering them to line up. Ware, who was known as a “two-fisted gunman” in his earlier days because of his propensity for using two guns, only had one gun this time and most likely he never even drew it, just backing up his partner.  It is not clear whether Patrolman Clarence Spaugh was called to the scene of the crime by a passerby, as in the official version, or if he was waiting somewhere close by, but he sneaked up on the two armed robbers and got the drop on them. The indignant group of pool players joined in the arrest and Taylor was badly beaten, being hospitalized for several days after the robbery attempt.
Portland Patrolman Clarence Spaugh sneaked up on the two armed robbers and got the drop on them. The crowd of would-be victims administered a little “street justice” to the brash Californians. Photo courtesy of Portland Police HistoricalSociety.
       Taylor was sentenced to a year for attempted robbery and Ware got thirty days for carrying a concealed weapon. Both men were wanted for a robbery/assault in San Francisco a few days earlier and were scheduled to be returned to California after their release. Taylor probably spent his year in Salem, where presumably he learned about the facilities available to ex-cons in Portland so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Ware probably spent some more time in jail after he finished his thirty days in the Multnomah County lockup. It looks like he was smart enough to avoid the “tough town” of Portland the next time, but he didn’t fare much better in Seattle. He was arrested there in 1933 and killed in an attempted jailbreak in Walla Walla in 1934.
         Of course this wasn't the first time that ex-convicts from California found more trouble than they wanted in the Rose City. Here is a much earlier version of the story Mayhem on Morrison Street from my book Murder and Mayhem in Portland. You might also like my latest book, with JB Fisher Portland on the Take.
If you like my work I hope you will support my campaign.