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A General Description of The City.
In order to describe a number of the features of our city, which need not be treated separately, but without which our work would be quite incomplete, it is attempted here to pass through the place from north to south, giving a running commentary upon scenes and events as we go, and to throw in gratis whatever hard facts or statistics may be necessary for elucidation. It will be borne in mind that this is a description of the Portland of to-day, and may therefore serve for future reference, as well as for present information.
A poet of America once pitched upon the Columbia river and its continuous woods as a type of solitude. This imperial stream, although now tracked by steamships and hundreds of boats, nevertheless impresses one as still lonely; the small rude villages, the canneries, the sawmills, situated in the shade of the forests or in the clefts of the hills, as yet exert no influence to transform the character of the river. On nearing the mouth of the Willamette one finds this air of solitude still unrelieved. St. Helens, an old fashioned spot, possesses a certain dreamy attraction on its green shores above its bluffy rocks, but is unable to break the spell. The wonderfully beautiful islands and shores of the Willamette at the delta, fail to betray the fact that white men have been here for nearly a century. They are marked with but slight traces of man, unless it be for the huts of wood cutters, or the barns of cattle raisers. The wide, open meadow lands lie uncultivated. The trees along the shore have been felled but here and there. The steep impending hills to the west rise in successive eminences and ridges, hardly betraying the stroke of an axe. Old, weather beaten houses on the shore, a few mossy orchards, sweeping green meadow lands, with cows wandering and grazing, make up most of the picture. To be sure [page 427] one sees occasional sections of the railroad line and the telegraph poles strung on invisible wires, but hardly a more pristine scene is to be met with in the world, than on the lower Willamette, and it gives scarcely an intimation of the presence of a city. One would think Linnton or St. Johns is the end of the way.
From the lower river Portland is scarcely imposing. It has not amplitude of front to give it perspective. It could never rival New York, as seen from its lower bay. It has not the amphitheatric presence of San Francisco, or even Tacoma, enabling the observer take in the whole picture at one glance. Neither has it a magnificent sweep of water to introduce it, like Astoria, or the sense of infinity from contiguity to the sea. The hills, still ragged with a forest broken but not cleared, tower on the horizon, and form the emphatic portion of the prospect. On the east side, as one looks against the face of the rolling plain, giant stubs of dead trees belonging to the once imperial forest, rise irregularly from out of a ground work of picturesque brush and wild young fir trees that have sprung up with the vigor of ancient times, but ignorant that they have fallen upon an age no longer benignant to their existence.
The general ensemble of the city as it slowly discloses itself from behind the bold shoulders of King’s Heights, is still that of nature untamed, and seems almost to forbid the idea that a city of 50,000 inhabitants lies between the river and hills. Nature is here present upon such a preponderating scale that it may be well doubted whether the general idea of art, and the craft of man as the ruling sentiment will dominate for half a century yet. Even piling up buildings of many stories in height, and towers, and lining the rivers with masts, seems to be but as the sinking of a river into the ocean— art into nature—leaving the long circle of hills to smile or darken as the sky is bright or dim. On a fine day the Heights are gay with greenery or the colored foliage of deciduous trees; and in the summer flush to pink, or pale to amber on their exposed fronts. But more habitually they affect heavier tints, assuming a dark blue or a sombre purple. A soft veil of haze, curtain like, frequently rests over the city, and lies in the tenuous invisible folds on the prominences, gathering to more perceptible depths in the clifts and ravines. The [page 428] rich verdure, the stately trees that will always grow, and the tinted atmosphere, will ever give Portland a peculiar tone and coloring of her own—not ruddy or blazing like some tropical or Rocky mountain city, but rich, warm and entrancing.
Wreaths of smoke from a multitude of stacks, here and there jets of white steam from almost every building on the water front; masts of ships, bustling steamers and the iron bridge, looking in the distance like the work of genii, at length arouse one from the powerful spell of nature, and assure him that he has reached the place. Two great buildings at Albina demand first attention, and show upon what a great scale the city is now working. These are the Portland Flour Mills and the Pacific Coast Elevator. The flour mills occupy two immense buildings of seven stories in height, and turn out a product that not only feeds our own people, but goes the world over. Trains of cars run immediately to their walls. They are the property of W. S. Ladd & Co.
The Elevator is a new enterprise, and a building has been erected this summer at a cost of about $1,000,000. It was established by a capitalist of Minneapolis, F. H. Peavy, who is the principal owner. Mr. E. C. Michner is the resident partner and general manager. Mr. D. P. Brush is superintendent. All of these gentlemen are thoroughly acquainted with the methods of handling wheat by elevator, and their enterprise undoubtedly marks a new era in the method of shipping cereals. The elevator is an enormous structure, built upon deep water of the river on a foundation of piling, which, however, is being filled in with earth at a cost of $20,000. It is 375 feet in length over all by 70 feet in width, with a height of 150 feet to the peak. It has a capacity of 1,000,000 bushels, being fully up to the eastern elevators in all dimensions. By its eight shippers, or sixteen elevators, eight cars may be unloaded at once, in about fifteen minutes time; and two ships may be likewise loaded. It is furnished with eight separators and cleaners, with a capacity of 3,000 bushels each per hour. There are also sixteen scales of a capacity of 60,000 pounds each. It is in every respect furnished with the latest appliances, such as steam shovels, and is adapted to handling in bulk or in sacks. The entire building is lit by 178 [page 429] incandescent electric lights operated by an engine and dynamos on the ground; and is protected from fire by Worthington pumps.
Albina itself strikes one with the general weight and importance of its operations. It lies—so far as the business portion is concerned—upon a low tract of land about the level of high water, but twenty-five feet above the low stage. It is most admirably adapted to railroad work, and is the terminal of the O. R. & N. line. Here is seen upon the plat a labyrinth of tracks, long trains of cars, the immense brick round-house with twenty-two stalls; the car shops of brick, the largest more than 400 feet in length, and 60 feet to the peak, with arched doors and roofs furnished with windows for admission of light. A brick chimney of 156 feet in height, and engine of 500 horse power, and two other shops of large dimensions, afford means of repair and of manufacture.
Almost the whole river front of Albina is occupied by wharf buildings as much as 200 feet deep, with arching roofs as much as fifty feet above the water. They rest on piling set systematically and of selected smooth, uniform logs. The business part of the town, aside from its great works, is of rather mean appearance, of cheap temporary structures, small sized and of inferior architecture. The residence portion is built well back on the face of the bluff or on the plain beyond, and has attractive school houses and churches and many pretty cottages. On the river bank is the saw mill of John Parker & Co., with a capacity of about 30,000 feet per day.
On the lower part of the city opposite, on the west side of the river, one notices the bone yard of the O. R. & N. Co., where old skeletons of mighty ships—or shallow river crafts—lie white and dry on the embankment. Scant trees, usually shaking in the river breezes, of such deciduous grown as balm or oak, lend grace to an eerie looking shore. There are various river crafts tied up or moored along, or hauled up on the sand, some of which are occupied by families whose cook stoves smokes ever curl and blow, and whose red and white garments washed and hung out to dry, ever flap in the breezes. Weidler’s great saw mill, a mammoth, whose dust and shavings gild the shore for many a rod, whose corpulent logs float idly in the boom, awaiting the time of their dissolution, and whose [page 430] tall chimney smokes silently, and whose engines still puff white steam, also draws a long gaze. It is next up the river from the "bone yard" or place where steamboats out of service are moored and as an establishment, ranks as one of the old standbys. Other lumbering establishments, wharves warehouses, ships, and such amphibious buildings, huddle farther up. All this lower city front for many a mile is raw and wholly utilitarian, not a shingle or pile ever having been set for beauty or symmetry. Nevertheless, there is an immense attraction about it, like the grim, unassuming comeliness of rocks; and if kept a little cleaner so as not to offend the senses by a variety of ill odors, would lure one to long vigils and reveries in its environs. Behind the river bank lie the lagoons, green with slack water and aquatic plants, earthy smelling, and crossed and recrossed by trestle roadways and railway tracks. A great work has been done in filling the upper end of Couch lake, making the ground look for a long distance as if it has been the battle ground of the Titans—indeed of the modern coal-smutted dumpcar hands of Titanic energies.
From these somewhat uninviting parts, one passes westward up the long streets, meeting with an area of manufacturing establishments, and gradually finding himself in the midst of a middle class of cottages, mostly unpretentions, but comfortable and occasionally displaying signs of ambition. This passed, one is led rapidly on by the sight of grand and imposing residences in the distance, of costly structure and splendid ornamentation. Many of these are set upon whole blocks, beautifully decorated with trees, turf and flowers, and supplied with tasteful drive-ways. One notable feature of Portland here first seen, is the elevated or terraced blocks, making the level of the lawn a number of feet above the streets, giving a somewhat regal aspect to the whole premises. Some of the more palatial of these edifices occupy double blocks, the cross streets not being run through. Among those of the spacious and magnificent West End houses costing about $20,000 to $50,000—some of them $90,000 each—of three and four stories, and mainly in the Queen Anne style. It is upon the swell of the plateau that these fine houses begin to appear, and the views from their upper windows and turrets are [page 431] extensive. For ten blocks back—16th to 26th streets—or even further, and from about N street southward to Jefferson, or some twenty streets, the region is, by popular consent—and still more by prevailing prices—forever dedicated to dwellings of wealth and delightfully ornamented, but not overshadowed by trees. The houses are projected and their accompanying grounds are laid out on such an ample scale, and there is so little crowding, the sun and sky have such complete access that one is much impressed with the general air of elegance and taste. There is, of course, none of the marble and stony grandeur of New York or Chicago, of the splendor of Euclid Ave., in Cleveland, or the lavish adornment of Jackson street in Oakland, California, or the pre-eminent extravagance of the palaces of the money kings of Nob Hill, in San Francisco; but for substantial comforts and tasteful display the west end of Portland has few rivals. It is, moreover, devoid of superfineness, or niceness, but is wholesome and neat. The general spirit of this portion of town might be distinguished from the streets or avenues of other cities, in that the separate houses appear to be built independently and with reference only to their own needs and entirety, while the others referred to are more often constructed as complete streets, each edifice being planned and laid out with reference to the rest, and as but a part in one continuous whole. The characteristic of Portland in its residential quarters will probably prevail even when the city attains its largest population, wince the irregularities of ground and peculiarities of situation will necessarily modify the architecture, and, to quite an extent, at least, make each dwelling a complete whole in itself.
On the environs of this region toward the north are two buildings very worthy of note. One of these is St. Vincent’s Hospital, under the charge of the Sisters of Charity, among the cottages and shops toward the Lake; and the other the Good Samaritan Hospital, on 21st and L streets, much nearer than the other to the hills. The latter was established in 1875 under the Episcopal diocese, but chiefly by the labors of Bishop Morris. It, like St. Vincent’s, has a substantial building three stories high, including basement and 75 feet wide, by a length nearly twice as great. Both St. Vincent’s and [page 432] the Good Samaritan make amends—to some extent at least—for the evil deeds of the menstealers and body destroyers that lurk along the North Shore. The Bishop Scott Military Academy on 14th and B streets, founded by the first Episcopal bishop of the Pacific Northwest, the medical college near by, the stately block of houses of Mrs. Judge Williams, and a multitude of handsome dwellings adorn the bulge of the plateau on the other hand. The steep hill to the west is rapidly being cleared of its logs and brush and fine houses are ascending its sides, and perching upon coigns of vantage and in sunny plats on their uneven slopes.
B street, running up from Couch’s Addition, is the natural boundary of North Portland on the south, following for the most part the depression of Tanner Creek, and further on over to King’s Creek. Between this and Jefferson street, some ten blocks, the land has, owing to the irregularities of the ground, and the little winding vale of the creek, been left lying in large, and often irregular blocks, some of which contain an area of as much as five acres. The lay of the tract is romantic and delightful in the extreme. The creek forms a sunken valley, with little meadows on either side, which have been, and to some extent are still occupied by the Chinese for garden purposes. Ash trees, weeping willows, and various wild shrubs have been suffered to grow, and the winding lines of this depression, cut by water, form a most grateful rest from the strict angularity of the streets as laid out by man. Upon the west side the hill climbs rapidly, but not abruptly out of the cleft, going steadily and confidently toward the Heights. On the way it looks back, figuratively speaking, somewhat lovingly, certain very gracefully, and makes no such violet assent as the sterner hills to the northward and southward. It is no breathless climb, but an easy ambling gait. The big plats, grassy and set with small trees, lie wide, with but few houses, but those present large and stately. That of Mrs. Gaston on the first swell, and a cluster near form a handsome group. On the northern side of this hill front a tract of some five acres is occupied by the residence and grounds of Mrs. H. D. Green, whose delightful architecture and [page 433] adornment is almost submerged in a wealth of beautiful trees. Her large hot-houses, filled with the finest of exotics, are a mark for the sun and a gnomon to the whole city upon which they look down.
Going down the slow hill once more one finds that B street heads, to speak in the manner of the mountaineer, in a stony canyon, whose natural roughness has been aggravated by gravel-diggers. Out of this rises, or did rise King’s Creek, a stream of most delicious water, which has now been consigned to more than Tartarean gloom in a sewer. In a cleft on the left, which is soft and leafy with trees overhanging, and cool with the shade of some immense firs, begins an inviting path, gently rising, leading between two banks more or less bestrewn with leaves and ornate with fern fronds, maiden-hair, wood-brakes, wild shrubs, and fox tails. Trees of fir, cedar, dogwood, maple and willow lean over the way; logs lie above across the ravine from one side to the other, and upon them have been laid rustic walks.
The city has other parks—a whole string of them from end to end, but some individual of pomological ideas was intrusted with the work of improving them, and set out trees in lines geometrically straight like an apple orchard, making the park blocks almost offensive to a man of sensitive nature. The City park was, however, saved from any such errors. It contains forty acres and was bought as much as ten years ago from A. M. King at the then high price of $1,000 per acre. Lying on the hillside, with gulch and steep brow, and looking like all the other hills surrounding, the people of the city felt no vast interest in the place, and it was difficult to gain any appropriation to improve the same. If $50,000 had been secured at once it is likely that the whole thing would have been grubbed and levelled and set out to popular trees in straight rows. But having only about enough means to employ a keeper, the city took no such disastrous steps, and the gardener was left to make the place as attractive as possible by his personal labors. Very wisely he decided not to dig up the trees but to simply clear away the rubbish and to let the native shrubbery and the wild-wood still grow. Following along in this line it was soon demonstrated what a wealth of beauty had already been lavished upon the spot. Little firs, [page 434] clumps of crooked vine maples, clean-bolled dogwoods, endless bunches of the scarlet flowered currant that flames in the early spring, and many others such as our suns and showers nourish, were left to their first estate, and were only relieved of the rubbish of years. The roads which have been built from B street and from Jefferson street, must of necessity wind along the hill and thus be as curving as the hill points themselves. As time has gone the ground has been turfed, the roadways terraced above; hothouses and plats of flowers added; pumps, a seal-tub, a bear pit, cages for panthers, and a deer-park have also been supplied.
Coming around in front of the hill one discovers Portland. One sees now that he has not as yet seen it at all. From the river it is not the city but the back-ground that appears. From the hill-fronts he looks down over the place. To get a full, unobstructed sweep, let him ascend the heights still back of the pack and stand on the tree-shagged knob of King’s mountain. While on the subject of parks, it may be suggested that forty acres is very small for anything really fine. Let six hundred be added to it. A good piece of land along the river, or perhaps Ross Island; and a square mile or two on the East side should also be secured before values become too exorbitant.
In coming back from the park, one sees on the south side of B street a large wooden building, covering two blocks, 400 x 200 feet. It is that of the North Pacific Industrial Exposition. It was erected by the people of Portland in 1888, at a cost of $150,000. Its first opening in 1889, from September 26 to October 26, was a great success, people coming in for attendance from all parts of the Northwest. The exhibit was good, the music excellent, furnished by special contract with Liberati, of New York, and the receipts were so large as to assure the success of the undertaking henceforth. From the time of the organization of the Mechanic’s Fair on the old Market block it has been the custom of the people of the surrounding towns and country to come to Portland at the time of the exposition, and the transportation lines have favored them with reduced fares. This has made Portland a sort of Mecca for the whole Northwest; and is unquestionably the best sort of policy for her to pursue—a liberal [page 435] spirit of general good feeling inviting communication and friendship. The following is a good description of the building: the exposition building is a mammoth structure of brick, iron, glass and fir. It is certainly the largest edifice on the Pacific Coast, and competent judges, who have visited exposition buildings throughout the United States declare it to be superior for the purposes for which it was erected to any they have seen. It is 400 feet long by 200 feet deep and covers two full blocks. Practically it is three stories high, the floor of the central portion or music hall being thirty feet lower than those of the two large wings, while a gallery forty feet wide extends throughout the entire building. With the galleries the building has a floor space of 143,000 square feet, and, after deducting aisles of ample width; can accommodate 250 exhibitors with 200 square feet each. The general plan of the main floors and galleries has been made so that all pushing and crowding may be avoided, and exhibitors may have spaces that can be seen by the greatest number of visitors.
The officers’ quarters, ladies’ parlor and gentlemen’s smoking room are on the main floor in the front part of the building, while the musicians’ room and dining room are in the rear portion. The interior is lighted by large windows on every side of the building, and by suitably located skylights. Under the main floor is ample room for storage. The boilers, engines and dynamos are separated some feet from the building and enclosed in a stone, iron and brick structure.
The right wing of the building, which is 200 x 150 feet, with a gallery 40 feet wide, is intended chiefly for exhibits of machinery. Main lines of shafting may be attached to the outside row of the gallery supports and so arranged that exhibitors can belt to almost any space in the entire hall. Steam pipes run under the floor and are so situated as to be easily tapped by exhibitors of engines and machinery requiring steam. Suitable arrangements are also made for exhibitors of pumps, electric-motors and other exhibits that require special facilities.
The central portion of the Exposition building was originally intended to be used permanently as a garden, with tropical plants, caged wild animals, and birds of rare plumage, but the possibilities [page 436] of the uses to which this central portion could be put, led the management to temporarily at least, abandon the "garden" idea, and make of it a music hall. The rough plank floor on which it was intended to lay from twelve to eighteen inches of soil, has been covered with a toe and top nailed, best quality wood floor, and when waxed, as it will be, will make one of the finest floors in the country for promenade concert purposes. Two galleries, each sixteen feet wide, extend the entire length of either side. These are roomy, and have a seating capacity of 1,000. From every part of these galleries a full view of the stage can be had. The stage of this music hall is set in an elegantly painted grotto, and is surrounded almost entirely by a semi-circular sounding board which serves to intensify the magnificent acoustic properties of the hall. Behind this grotto is a magnificent landscape painting, executed by an eminent artist from Munich. The scene is typically representative of some of the garden spots of the North Pacific Coast, and is spread upon a canvas of 100 x 85 feet. The roof of this hall, or garden, is of glass supported by eleven semi circular arches of iron and fir. The diameter of each being 100 feet. The floors of the two wings of the Exposition building lead directly on to the galleries of the music hall. The entire seating capacity of this hall is between 5,000 and 6,000 persons.
The dimensions of the general exhibit hall are the same as those of the machinery hall, 150 x 200 feet, with a gallery forty feet wide, extending throughout. The entire building is lit with the Brush system of arc lights and the Swan system of incandescent lights. For an art gallery a space 75 feet long and 35 feet wide has been enclosed in the front gallery of the general exhibit hall. A wall space of 4,600 square feet is afforded by this enclosure.
On the whole this exposition building is one of the most notable features of the city.
Coming down B street one finds himself again in the north End, but above the area of mean buildings. He strikes the center of the great wholesale houses, and there are few finer anywhere. It is a region of brick blocks, three to five stories in height, of massive iron fronts and deep cornices. The shore is here lined with wharves. It must [page 437] be said, however, that for the water front there remains much improvement. It looks, at present rather crude and backdoorish. Time will be when the beautiful lime-stone of Souther Oregon, or some other kind of rock, will be used to build substantial docks or moles from one end of the city to the other, and the wharf fronts and roofs will be carried to a height of seven stories. Our docks at present are all two-story to accord with the rise of water of twenty feet in June. The coal bunkers and the railroad bridge across the Willamette give a deep emphasis to the scenery here. The latter is of iron, completed in 1887, at a cost of nearly $1,000,000, and is double, for both the car track and a roadway. It connects on the west by a viaduct with Third street.
Passing from Couch’s and Stark’s tracts to Lownsdale’s one reaches the region of retail houses, banks, offices, halls, hotels, and churches. The streets are paved with Belgian block, basaltic stones cut in brick shape, making a durable roadway, but as the weather surfaces grow sooth, very severe on horses, sometimes giving them heavy falls. The buildings here are massive, elegant, of three to five stories, and kept reasonably clean. Many are set with turrets or small towers, and occupy for the most part five or six streets, and nearly half a mile along the river front.
To strangers there is nothing more attractive than the Chinese quarter. This comprises about three blocks on Second street, Alder being their cross street. The buildings which they occupy are mainly of solid brick, put up in the first place largely by Americans, but on long leases to the Chinese merchants and have been fixed over according to their convenience and ideas of beauty. They are intensely oriental in their general air, with piazzas of curved roofs, highly ornamented with yellow, white and vermillion paint, and paper globes and gewgaws. Red paper inscribed with characters in black serve as signs, and are pasted numerously over doors and windows. On gala days the entire area is lit up by lanterns, or gaily ornamented with paper, and thin, peevish tones of their flutes and fiddles, the falsetto twang of their gongs, making a noise, exceptionally flat and weak, lacking even in energy of tone, which is kept up with monotonous persistency. If the Chinese heart is as [page 438] devoid of sentiment as their music would indicate, it must be quite barren. But as if to contradict such a conclusion the long rows of flowers of gaudy hue, and in the spring time their basins or vases of early blooming lillies should be observed.
The main fact to notice is their presence, and Portland’s tolerances of them. They are not a particularly desirable people and are subject to the usual criticisms and strictures that apply to man in his natural state, but it has not been found necessary to expel them, and it is acknowledged by thinking people that the work they perform so well—laundrying, housework, wood-cutting, clearing up land and railroad construction—is no detriment but makes work of a more desirable and better rewarded kind for the American. Also to those who believe that the race which claims the more enlightenment owes fraternal care to those inferior, either in attainment or opportunity, it seems odious to deny an equal chance in our city.
The middle portion of the city has been spoken of as the place of churches, the large Catholic Cathedral built of brick, and surmounted by a tower with a fine chime of bells, erected on Third and Stark streets; the old Presbyterian Church on Third and Washington; the Baptist on Fourth and Alder; the Congregational on Second and Jefferson; the First Methodist Church on Third and Taylor; and Trinity Church on Sixth and B would justify the remark. In truth, however, the area of churches is moving back. Already the roar of business, the pressure of other buildings and the centres of the residence quarters, have moved the church area more than half a dozen streets westward. This is all the more to be desired since, as is usual, business buildings of a very inferior sort have been made to occupy the cheaper ground just back of the main grand mercantile houses. Some of the church edifices have therefore found themselves almost submerged in a drift-wood of mean, wooden shanties, devoted to occupations highly offensive to religious feeling.
It will be unnecessary to name here the fine business buildings of this central portion, since they are spoken of elsewhere. Some of them will, however, necessarily be noticed. Ladd & Tilton’s bank, a very tasteful two story brick and stone structure with fluted column decoration, and carved frieze and cornice, has for many years been [page 439] noticeable on the corner of First and Stark streets. It was in its time a stately building, and is still attractive, but is now towered over by the heavier and taller erections of later years. It has for a long time afforded rooms on its upper floor for the uses of the Portland Library Association. With great public spirit Mr. W. S. Ladd has furnished this space free of rent. On the east side of First street, coming on Washington, stands the massive stone and brick building of the First National Bank. It is finished with full columns in Doric style, and its heavy plate glass windows, and its finely inlaid floor of vari-colored stones and marble give the structure on a while a look of costliness and magnificence not exceeded by any in the city. Following out Washington to Second, one of the largest and handsomest of all appears, being the Commercial National Bank of four stories; adjoining this is a very handsome five story building of pressed brick. This is indeed the quarter of the finest structures, ending in the Abington, on Third street, of five stories.
Alder street next beginning with the five-story Gilman house, labors under the disadvantage of leading through the Chinese quarter, and not until Third street is reached does it emerge into splendor. There, however, appears the Masonic Temple, built about twelve years ago. Although but three stories in height, its great amplitude of reach causes it to rise above all else in the vicinity. It is constructed of stone with Corinthian columns set upon the walls and dividing the stories.
Morrison street, into which enters the bridge-way from across the Willamette, begins with the Esmond Hotel of five stories, on the north, and W. S. Ladd’s five story brick, on the south. The St. Charles Hotel stands on the south side, and on First street handsome brick blocks appear—except that on the southeast corner, apparently as a relic of ancient architecture, remains the old wooden, clapp-boarded two story Occidental Hotel. The street continuing westward is of a very uneven character. Fine three and four story brick and wooden houses, alternate with one story fish and fruit stalls and coffee houses. On Fifth street, however, the block devoted to the U.S. Custom House and Postoffice is found, and the [page 440] building itself, of bluish-gray Bellingham Bay sandstone, two stories and a half in height, surmounted by a dome of glass, is massive and handsome. Its spacious dimensions and fine proportion are much enhanced in appearance by its position on the brow of the incline, which having been carefully cut and sodded presents a banked and terrace-like front as much as ten feet above the level at the crossing of Fifth street and Morrison. By its wide walks, its green turf and its slight adornment of exotic trees, it possesses an entirety and pose, or repose, and a perspective of its own. It is in truth a very satisfactory and admirable building, well representing the benign way of the central government.
Immediately west, massive and enormous, occupying a full block of brick resting on a stone foundation, seven stories in height, with a multitude of bow windows, is the special pride of the city. This is the Hotel Portland, just completed at a cost of $750,000. This sum was raised by subscriptions, and in a peculiar sense the building belongs to the people. The structure was begun in 1883, during the great "boom" consequent upon the building of the O. R. & N. R. R., and the completion of the North Pacific. Upon the collapse in the stock of the Oregon & Transcontinental, soon after, work was suspended and the foundation was left destitute and almost unprotected, and was called for a time the "Villard Ruins." It was a lonely pile, useful chiefly to the circus and theatrical manager as a fine wall for sticking flaming posters, and a kind of gloomy horror was attached to it from its having been in the course of time the scene of a mysterious murder. The absolute necessity of a hotel fit for the accommodation of the tourist travel to Portland, was earnestly and unremittingly pressed upon the attention of the citizens by the leading papers, and was recognized by the capitalists of the city. Fortunately no outside party was found willing to finish the work, and the people themselves took it into their own hands, thereby rearing something of which they feel proud. Arrangements were completed and thee building begun in 1888. The pile now finished presents two hundred feet solid upon both Morrison and Yamhill streets. Facing Sixth street it embraces a deep court and in the angles of the roof rise its turrets. The roof is steep, of slate, [page 441] with a multitude of dormer windows, and is relieved of uniformity by massive brick chimneys. The prospect from aloft is commanding, affording a certain openness and airlines not realized even from the Heights. If one were disposed to be critical, he might raise the question whether the smooth and narrow curls of frieze and cornice quite satisfied with the expectations raised by the massive and rugged rock-work of the foundation, and he might be so unreasonable as to wish that a breadth of one hundred feet lay all about the structure, for lawn and drive-way, for trees and fountains, and that he might have larger foreground to see the hotel. But in this last particular, he would be clearly allowing a taste for the spacious premises of the sea-shore hotel do dominate the warmer spaces of city walls, or perhaps be anticipating the next great structure of the kid, to be placed on some rock-bound tract as that of Jacob Kamm’s on Twelfth street.
In truth one finds himself here in the midst of large buildings, for on the block north of the hotel is the grand new Opera House of Judge Marquam.
South of the hotel, very much embowered in trees, is the quiet edifice of the church of our Father belonging to the Unitarian Society, whose pulpit has been occupied from the first by Rev. T. L. Eliot, who has ever been prominent in works of progress and humanity. Following Morrison street out to Tenth through much shade of maple trees, and just completed but not costly edifices, one runs upon the new circle of churches. Here is the old Tabernacle built previously to accommodate the great audiences that assembled to listen to the preaching of Mrs. Hampton. Since that time it has been in constant use for mass meetings of the religious societies and temperance folks. The building itself is simply a square box, something like a barn, with windows only in the hip roof. Looking one block down to Alder street, on the opposite side, one sees the great stone church of the Presbyterians, recently finished at a cost of more than $100,000. The tall spire is most imposing, and the gothic window and roof is of excellent effect. The work is exceedingly fine, in block built bluish gray sandstone and blue stained mortar. South, and on Taylor street, is the Grace Methodist [page 442] Church building, party of stone. On Main street, still on 10th, is the Jewish Synagogue, of wood, in gothic style, but with front finish in the Moorish. Passing northward on 9th street, to the neighborhood of Clay, one finds the edifice of the Second Presbyterian or Cavalry Church, in some respects the handsomest, most graceful and attractive of any in the city. The interior finish, vaulted and in white, or inspiration, tint is very delightful. At the end of Morrison street is the magnificent High School building, accommodating, graceful and convenient.
Sweeping out to the hills with occasional vacant lots, or blocks, built for the most part with houses of great uniformity of excellence, although not so magnificent or occupying so much space as in the north end, this portion of the city with churches and school buildings, is the most substantial center of the residences. Some are costly. The umbrage from the shade trees, mainly of maple, is deep and in places too heavy, the pointed poplars ever bending this way or that, in the breezes, and in selected localities elms and box elder vary the artistic ornamentation. On the lawns, evergreens cut exceedingly prim, "make and Mar" the beauty of the scene. As is common to weak and suffering humanity, the idea that to attain beauty a plant or tree must either be bloated or shorn out of its natural form, has here, as elsewhere free course. Passing down the hill on Jefferson street, back to the river, one discovers the palatial seat of W. S. Ladd and J. N. Dolph, with those of James Steel and Senator Corbett and Henry Failing, so near as to seem to belong to the locality. South of Yamhill street, on the river front, there are no notable buildings, and out to South Portland, while the city is fairly well built, there is nothing striking unless it be the iron works, or as far as the Marquam gulch, notable for big bridges. South Portland, on a romantic high level embossed upon the angle of the hills, which here round off in a strangely retrousse points, circles about its fine school houses, and has many ambitious homes and cottages. There is a peculiar air of thrift and neatness about this quarter which speaks volumes for the future.
Of East Portland, great in the future, a word should be said. The front is repellent, being built largely over a lowland and the [page 443] gulches. The buildings are yet largely of wood, and the streets are likewise of cheap material, and usually in ill repair. But casting an eye of pity on this first front of the place one finds the further streets nicely improved, a large number of neat cottages and some few handsome houses, good school buildings and a number of home-like churches. The lay of the land is very fine, that portion on the north, known as Holladay Addition, being exceptionally high and handsome. Toward Mt. Tabor, for nearly three miles, the surface is rolling, excellent for building, and is laid off in an indefinite number of additions and parks. Sage real estate dealers insist that the plain will in time be the most dense portion of the city of Portland. Extending to the eastward half way toward the mount is Sunnyside, a small place, situated directly on the Mount Tabor Motor Line. As for motor lines this section is gridironed with them, and from the preparations made by capitalists for the accommodation of population, this basin has the right to look up. But Tabor itself is handsomely improved and delightfully still, with an atmosphere at the summit of the most healing and balsamic purity. South of East Portland is Brookland, a fine ridge looking down on the Willamette and Ross Island. Farther south are Sellwood and Willsburg. Back from the river on a tract of rolling land is Waverly.
With proper improvement the east side of the river has the greatest possibilities and when Portland needs the space of Philadelphia, can furnish sixty square miles for her use. It is as yet crude—with much that is fine—not being wholly out of its swaddling clothes.
The cemeteries, to close our view as ends the brief scene of life, are located on the east side of the river, or on the hills to the south. The oldest now used is Lone Fir, one mile east of the Willamette. The significance of the name is from a solitary fir tree of large dimensions overlooking the grounds. The company, incorporating for purposes of sepulture, was organized in 1866, and the sight was then farm removed and very quiet. Some forty acres are set off and the tract is well improved. It is for the most part thickly set with graves, and proper monuments commemorate those laid here to rest. [page 444] A number of the stones, shafts, vaults and ornaments are costly. But once so quiet in its thickets, the place has now become crowded by the residence portion of East Portland, a much frequented highway being on one side, and the Mt. Tabor Motor line, with frequent trains on the other. St. Mary’s Cemetery (Catholic) lies across the way north, but is no longer used.
In 1882, a large and beautiful cemetery was provided, and a company organized, embracing the most wealthy men in the city, ex-Senator H. W. Corbett and W. S. Ladd being of the number. The site chosen was on the hilltops, four miles south of the city, above the macadam road. The grounds extend to the east of the eminence where there is a perfect view. The spot is now, as it ever will be, peaceful, near the sky, and if the departed still care for the beauties of earth, affording them the best that Portland can give. By special provision the grounds are to be tastefully and even elaborately improved; nothing unsightly or uncouth to be allowed, and the graves of those whose friends are absent still to be kept green and adorned with flowers. It is a graceful feeling of the human heart that would make a little border land between this world and the unseen, and in this place cemented to this purpose by the people of Portland, are found all the elements appertaining to this interest. To the same interests are the other cemeteries, Greenwood (Masonic) west of Riverview; the new Jewish cemetery on the Boone Ferry road, four miles south; the Ohavi Sholem and the B’nai B’rith cemeteries lie one-half mile further.
From this brief view of our city, indicating opulence and prosperity it is not to be inferred that the career of Portland has all been easy and plain sailing. Aside from the envy of other cities, great calamities, the casualties of nature, or the carelessness or destructiveness of an, have not been unknown.
Water has a double chance in the city, coming down the Willamette in the winter, and up the Willamette from, or rather backed up by the Columbia, in the summer. The winter freshets are seldom at all troublesome. Even the most violent floods seldom raising the river more than twenty-five feet above low water mark—the water rushing swiftly by to fall into the Columbia, which rarely [page 445] rises during the winter, or early spring, its sources then being ice-bound. In 1861, the time of the great flood, which carried away old Champoeg near French Prairie, and many houses and other buildings along the Willamette, gave our city a slight reminder, taking away Lownsdale’s wharf and perhaps other structures. This flood was repeated in 1890. The main trouble came from logs and great drift shooting by, endangering bridges, ferries and their cables, and causing steamers to skip hither and yonder. Some of the small crafts have suffered at such times, being sunk, or compelled, as in one case at least, to jump over a log to avoid being rocked and perhaps upset. It is only rarely, however, that any difficulty occurs, and by proper precautions all may be avoided. The rise of the Columbia, while not so violent, is much more of an occasion. It often brings our river up twenty feet and sometimes as much as twenty-nine above the lowest water. It is not the turbid Columbia water, but the clear blue fluid of the Willamette, yet when the rise is very rapid the current is sometimes thrown back, making the water run slowly up stream. In old times, before the lower part of the city was raised to its present level, the rise of the Columbia was looked for with great anxiety. If a flood was reported on the way, the lower stories of the warehouses, the cellars of the stores, and even the lower stories of the houses in the north end were hastily cleared of goods. As the water rose into the streets, as it did a number of times, the lower city was abandoned by business. The steamers came up to the upper docks, and temporary walks for the accommodation of pedestrians were made of planks on trestles. The Nicholson pavement became a great care, for it showed a disposition to rise and float off, and to be kept in place had to be freighted down with rocks. The R. R. depots became useless and the cars stopped up town. While the people of the north end were in the throes of such a disorder, like mice threatened with inundation, the south siders looked on with none too much commiseration, deeming it a just recompense for going to the swamps below town, in preference to the highlands on the south. In 1876 the flood was particularly high, and stood for weeks. It was deemed useless to trifle any longer, and the grade was raised to a point above [page 446] danger, and the streets paved with Belgian blocks. The city is not yet rid of trouble, however, for although the water seldom comes up to the streets at high times, the cellars are filled, leaving them foul and noisome with dirt, and the refuse of dead water as the flood subsides, and the sewers are rendered useless. This breeds an infinite amount of malaria, throws a multitude of bad odors into the dwelling houses and streets, and works vast injury to the health of the population. A dyke of masonry should be extended across the entire river front, excluding the water, and the sewers within should be kept clear by a system of steam pumps. In no other way can the trouble be removed. As population increases and the wastage is multiplied this will become imperative.
Storms have occasionally interrupted business. The Oregonians pay no attention to rain and there is no diminution of traffic or travel or in the number of vehicles on the street, even for the most drenching showers. Cold, freezing weather, however, drives draymen and hackmen to their quarters, and the finest, clearest days may pass with but the smallest possible work done. Snow sends everyone to shelter. The winter usually passes with but little of this. Some years, however, the fall has been considerable, and in 1883 it came so suddenly as to cause a genuine blockade. It fell on December 16, with east wind and a temperature of 19̊ above zero. The storm shifting, threw down a vast depth of eighteen inches from the southwest, mingled with rain and hail. The east wind finally getting the mastery, brought clear skies and a low temperature, converting the mass of slush into ice. Business and travel were impeded for six weeks. The walks and streets were unfavorable for ordinary vehicles; street car tracks were useless; railroad lines were blockaded east and west, north and south. The city hibernated. To an eastern man the sight was quite ridiculous, since this was nothing more than ordinary weather on the Atlantic coast. But the Portland people preferred to wait cosily in their homes and let the snow bank up at their front doors, expecting the south wind to come any night. Their expectations were finally fulfilled, and if another such a blockade should come, our people would go home, build up the fires, and wait again for the south wind [page 447]
Occasionally the Willamette freezes over, as in January of 1887, suspending navigation for a few weeks. This has happened no more than four times in fifty years. Violent winds and showers have sometimes visited the city, as in January of 1880. But owing to our light wooden buildings there has been small injury, the damage being chiefly confined to sign-boards and the loss of hats. Slight shocks of earthquakes have been felt, but with no damage beyond fright and stopping of clocks.
Fire, the chief peril of wooden towns, has been quite destructive here, but is now happily ceasing to play so much havoc. The stone, iron and brick buildings of the present are practically fireproof, and the fire department is very efficient. In 1883, the total loss was $319,092.20; in 1884, $403,051.90; in 1885, under the paid fire department, the loss fell to $59,329.73; in 1886, $98,146.06; in 1887, $84,173.72; I 1888, $54,347.70; in 1889, $20,000.
The first large fire was in 1853, the burning of the old steam saw mill at foot of Jefferson street. The loss was probably upwards of $25,000. The great fires were in December, 1872, of over $100,000, and of August, 1873, of about $1,250,300. The latter was a great catastrophe and should be spoken of somewhat particularly.
The fire of December, 1872, which was started at the foot of Alder street, had left at this point a spot not yet occupied by buildings of any kind. This circumstance is thought to have prevented the burning of the whole city, when fire was once more loose in the dry season. The great fire began at about 4:30 o’clock a. m., Aug 2, 1873, while the summer drought was on, and, by popular opinion at the time, was due to incendiarism. It began in the furniture store of Hurgren & Shindler on First street near Taylor. Fastening on the oils and varnishes in the work room, the energy of combustion was so great as to throw up a shaft of flames through the building far into the air, with dense smoke accompanying, which soon burst into sheets of fire, and involved the entire structure. The alarm of the bells and the cries of firemen aroused the city, and the streets were soon crowded with men. There were wooden buildings close by, the Metropolis Hotel, the Multnomah Hotel, the Patton House [page 448] and a saloon, carpenter shop and foundry, on the same block; and within a quarter of an hour the whole was under the flames. The fire passed through these buildings with extraordinary rapidity, our fir lumber proving to be excellent kindling wood, and burning with the violence of tinder. Although promptly on the ground, the firemen were unable to check the devastation, and under a breeze from the hills the conflagration was so extended as soon to include six blocks, reaching to the river and between Taylor street to Main and back to Second.
The front of the fire, moving northward, making a blinding light and a scorching heat, leaped easily across the street, advancing on three blocks, sweeping down four dwellings on Second street and catching upon the Portland Hotel on Taylor. The Fashion stable on the west side, a saddle shop, saloon and a market and some four frame-buildings on Front street were next seized and the fire bent toward two hotels, the Lick House and Kellogg’s, which lay directly in its path. Seeing the uselessness of trying to save these buildings, the efforts of the firemen were directed toward the St. Charles Hotel, then reckoned as one of the grandest buildings in the city, and located at the corner of Morrison and Front streets. Ascending to the roof and covering the side threatened with blankets, upon which they kept constant streams of water, and working often in an air of scorching heat, as the flames bent toward them they held on most bravely and manfully, keeping their post until the Kellogg house had sunk down. With the crash of this building a torrent of fire was rolled up which threatened to sweep everything, and swaying out toward the river front overwhelmed even the engine of one of the companies (Columbia No. 3), working there on the edge of the water. But the open space left from the old fire intervened between this and the buildings on the north, and after this last burst had been driven back, it became apparent that the danger was past in that quarter. It was the Salem company that had come from the capital early in the morning on a train which made the fifty-three miles in an hour and fifteen minutes, that held the roof of the St. Charles.
Scarcely had the destroyer been stayed on the north—as the morning was advancing—when a jet of flame was seen ascending [page 449] from a block on the west, or northwest, in the rear of the store occupied by Powers and Burchard, from about the centre of the pile, thereby suggesting incendiarism. A crowd quickly surrounded the block to seize the perpetrator of the deed as he should pass out to escape the flames; but, as usual, nobody was found, or in the general excitement easily escaped. The block was soon in uncontrollable flames, and the north side of the street was again in great danger, but by the prompt destruction of the awnings and other inflammable materials on the north side of the Yamhill street this was relieved. By this action the spread of the fire father north was prevented and the largest portion of the city was saved.
Toward the river it was found impossible to stay the element, the breeze coming from the northwest, and it became evident that the fire must run until it reached the water. It passed on, successively sweeping over the block on Taylor and First streets consuming a saloon and a number of tenements, occupied for the most part by Chinese, and the costlier brick structures occupied by Emil Lowenstein, C. S. Silver & Co. And P. Selling. It swept through the produce and commission house of Cohn and Rosenfield, and caught upon the stores of Walter Moffitt, J. A. Strobridge, Dr. Weatherford, and A. Meyer. These buildings were speedily swept under and left to burn down.
To the southward the flames ran with great speed, pressed upon by the wind, and met with no effectual resistance so long as there was material to burn. A large number of dwelling houses, store rooms, a foundry, frame buildings, saloons, the ice works, Love’s hotel and McGinn’s bakery succumbed, and the flames leaped across Madison street, burning, among other things the engine house of the Protection fire company. As a sort of dramatic incident, one of the members of the company ran under and tolled the bell until the string was snapped by the hot air and flame. Vaughn’s flouring mills, the steam saw mills of Smith and Brothers, cabinet shop of W. F. Wilcox, Jones’ coffee and spice mills, Moffit’s wharf and brick buildings, Sykes’ brewery, a number of hotels, saloons and restaurants, and the extensive sash and door factory of John T. Walker, [page 450] together with many lesser buildings went down successively in ashes or up in smoke. A most determined fight was made to save the steam saw mill of Smith Brothers, at the foot of Clay street, and, although it caught in a hundred places it was finally saved. At Clay street, having passed over a district of eight blocks along the river bank, and for the most part back to Second street, and having consumed almost $1,2000,000 worth of property, the conflagration met with a number of shade trees, and came upon a less densely built section, where the dense foliage arrested the sparks and defeated the flames—demonstrating, as has so often has been done, the green trees are the best of protectors against fire.
Various wild and ill-ordered individuals, either a little turned by excitement, or allowing their love of destruction to exceed all bonds, or else in hope of plunder, were found setting fire in other parts of the city as the day advanced, but these were quickly extinguished. During the whole terrible destruction the steamboats on the river rendered most efficient service, taking on vast quantities of goods that were hurried out from the stores and other threatened places. As may be supposed, the excitement, the rush of the crowds, the rage and terror consequent upon reports of incendiarism, and the curiosity of people from the suburbs, bringing them in from all sides, reached a great pitch. But, nevertheless, in all this turmoil and in the hasty work on the part of fireman and others, there were but few accidents.
Great praise was accorded to the firemen who certainly fought bravely and sagaciously. Invaluable aid was rendered by the Salem and Vancouver companies. To provide for those rendered homeless nearly all the churches fitted up their basements for sleeping and eating accommodations, and much provision was sent in from abroad. Great sympathy was felt for Portland throughout the East, and contributions were sent from many points; General Grant, then President, among others, lending his influence to raise means at Long Branch. Portland, however, rather surprised the country and herself by accepting but little of this proposed aid, trusting to her own vigor to rise again from her ashes. [page 451]
The loss, however, proved exceptionally high, there being no more than $250,000 insurance, leaving the net loss something over $900,000. Partly from the fact that the heavy business center was then moving toward the north end partly that the loss fell upon many of small means, the burnt district was very slow in rebuilding.