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Portland in the Gay '90s
Circumstances of Interview
Federal Writers' Project
Works Progress Administration
OREGON FOLKLORE STUDIES
Name of worker : Sara B. Wrenn Date March 24, 1939
Address : 505 Elks Bldg., Portland, Oregon
Subject: Portland in the Gay '90s -- Sporting House Guide.
Name and address of informant: Wm. (Billy) Mayer, 220 Third Avenue, Portland, Oregon
Date and time of interview: March 23, 1939 a.m.
Place of interview: Cigar stand in lobby Davis Building, 220 3rd Ave. Portland
Name and address of person, if any, who put you in touch with informant : Unknown person, presumably a salesman, volunteered the name upon hearing the interviewer asking whereabouts of another "prospect."
Name and address of person, if any, accompanying you : ----
Description of room, house, surroundings, etc. : Small cigar stand, in lobby of Davis building, one of Portland's early day business and office buildings, shabby and out-of-date. The interview was interrupted frequently by purchasers of cigars rather than of cigarettes.
Personal History of Informant
Information obtained should supply the following facts:
1. Ancestry :
2. Place and date of birth :
3. Family :
4. Places lived in, with dates :
5. Education, with dates :
6. Occupations and accomplishments with dates :
7. Special skills and interests :
8. Community and religious activities :
9. Description of informant : Dark complexioned, medium sized and dapper type of man, who wears his clothes with an air, and was probably something of a man-about-town in his day.
10. Other points gained in interview : The interviewer gathered that the informant could tell some talltales and otherwise pertaining to the history of Portland, and particularly of certain phases of Portland life of a former day. But when he clamped his mouth down, and said "Nah, " she decided to "soft pedal" and take what she could get.
Other vital statistics unobtainable.
Nah, I don't think I've anything worth telling. Nah, nah, I don't want to be bothered. Here's a little old book. Nah, I wont let you see it--I wouldn't let my own mother see it. It's a guide to the old bawdy houses in Portland, back in '94. Here, I'll read you some of it, if you must have it.
There was a back on it originally that advertised the old White House, out on the Willamette river, where the fine homes of Riverdale are now. There was a little race track out there--quarter mile track I think it was--and all the bloods with fast horses used to drive out there on what was called the Macadam Road. It was the only road of the kind then in the country. That's how the street leading out that way got its name. They served meals and I guess just about anything you wanted at that old White House. It had verandahs out over the river, and later, when launches came along, the gay folks went up the river that way.
Here's an advertisement of the old restaurants in town, and there's advertisements of the theaters and the saloons and pool-rooms too. Those old restaurants, with their private boots and dining rooms, could tell some tall tales. There was the Louvre, and up on West Park there was the Richards Restaurant. That was a big place, with side entrances, where they served fine food and wines and liquors of every sort. There was a big dining room, of course, but its likely most of the paying business was in the private, small dining rooms leading off from the narrow corridors. Mayor Harry Lane, afterwards U. S, Senator, was responsible for closing up the Richards place. He had it raided and closed. Seems some of his women relatives, or one of them at least, frequented it. There was quite a scandal at the time. Nah, I don't remember the details. Anyway, Lane closed Richards, and shortly after all the other places with booths was closed up.
Here, these verses--Sam Simpson, the old poet of Oregon, is said to have written them; I don't know.--But they advertised the "madams." Yes, they were all called "madam" then. I don't know why they all have "Miss" in front of their names here. Ah, here, you might as well take the book and copy the stuff, I haven't got time to read it all....
Oh, I don't mind telling you one little old fool story about myself.
Don't amount much to nothing. Just shows what a fool a fellow makes of himself getting drunk: in the early 1900's I was making pretty good money and I spent it, mostly on booze. Finally I decided to cut the likker out. I sobered up and saved my money and put it in the bank. There was a bank--I don't remember its name--up on Sixth and Washington streets. I put my money in that. Kinda funny, we always associate snakes with drinking, and there was a snake that run up and down the sign on that bank; anyway it looked like a snake. Electricity running 'round letters was just being introduced. Well I put my money there till I got $200.00. I was feeling pretty good. Then one morning I went up to the bank to deposit $20.00, and it was closed. All my money gone to hell. The lid was off from that minnit. I got good an' drunk an' before night I was dead-broke, the $20.00 gone an' all the loose change I had besides. I had a big gold watch that I'd carried a long time. All my friends knew it. It had a lighthouse engraved on the face of the lid. I was still pretty drunk, but I wanted to raise same dough, so I wandered up Third street to a saloon where there was a friend of mine. I thought he'd lend as $10 on the watch. His saloon had a ladies entrance, just like they all had them days. I went in the ladies entrance, an' I was showin' this friend the watch an' while we was talking about it, a girl came out one of the rooms. She saw the watch and said, "Let me see it." Not having my wits about me I handed it over and just like a flash she was gone through the door. I dashed after her, but she'd gone through one door and I'd gone through another. She wasn't any place to be found, and she took my watch with her. I sure was broke then. Well, the funny part of the whole story is that a good while afterwards I was in a saloon--I think it was on Washington between Fourth and Fifth--when in comes a fellow from the street. He had a watch, and he wanted to know what the saloonkeeper would give for it. The saloonkeeper was an old friend of mine, and right away he grabbed the watch. It had a lighthouse on the cover and it proved to be my watch. I paid $40 for it and got it back.
But before I got through with treats an' everything that damned watch cost me about a million. Funny thing, that in a town of 200,000 where there was 419 saloons at that time, that fellow should come in the saloon where I was to peddle my watch.
They talk a lot
about stopping the gambling about town
these days, but you don't see 'em
doing much. It took a man like Tom
[?], who was county sheriff in 1905,
to close the gambling joints. One of
the biggest and most popular places
was the Warwick. I recall Tom went
down there with a hatchet and broke
down the door himself. Then he pinched
the place and put a padlock on the
door, and he kept a deputy sheriff
outside that door for a solid year to
see that it wasn't opened up again.
Now they stop a place and then don't
pay any further attention to it.
Extra Comment :
interviewer, upon learning of the
informant, called upon him
immediately. He promised an interview
and some stories of early-day Portland
; (material which he claimed to have
given a well-known writer. When the
interviewer arrived, however, promptly
on the minute the next morning he had
changed his mind. He gave only the
small amount of material included
Taken from original in possession of Wm. (Billy) Mayer
220 Third Ave., Portland
A small printed
guidebook in pamphlet form. Printer's
name not shown.
A description of amusement resorts of Portland, Oregon and vicinity.
Also a complete sporting record.
A FAST LOCALITY
In Portland is a notorious locality, known by the suggestive name of the "White-Chapel District." It is the home of the most abandoned members of the demimonde , and on a small scale resembles the famous section of London, after which it is named. Within its boundaries are several hundred women, most of whom live in small one-story houses or cribs. The inmates of these cribs represent every nationality, with the French predominating.
On Lower Second street can be seen Japanese and African women.
This district lies north of Ankeny street, and, owing to the surveillance of Portland's admirable police department, is perfectly safe for the stranger to visit, provided he does not got too familiar with the occupants of the "cribs."
MISS MINNIE REYNOLDS
89 - Fifth Street
parlors, skilled to please,
151 Seventh Street
Let's live while we
MISS MABEL MONTAGUE
94 Fifth Street, Cor. Stark
Here is a mansion,
of which it in related
MISS DELLA BURIS
150 East Park, between Alder and Morrison
Here is a lady of
such ways all admire.
MISS MAUD MORRISON
95 Sixth Street, Cor. Stark
No man in this City
who is known as a sport
MISS IDA AURLINGTON
No. 90 Fifth Street
To reign is
beauty's queenly right,
If you're out for a
lark, or that is your passion,