The "Events and Activities" for the month are below these featured stories!
Americans couldn't wait until the opening of a new local Drive-In Theater. Opening night was often the busiest for theater owners, as this early photo of an unidentified Drive-In shows. The concession stand was usually located in the center of the theater’s lot, near the projector, for the easy access of the patrons. (Courtesy of Time-Life)
SOUTHEAST HISTORY Drive-In movies, and the last days of summer
By DANA BECK Special to THE BEE
Last month in THE BEE, I told you of the early theaters in the Brooklyn neighborhood. But, theaters were not the only place that movies were shown, in the Inner Southeast of the past. In the summertime, you also could attend Drive-In movies outside – from the comfort of your car. So this month, let’s remember those days….
As the end of summer approaches in 2023, families are heading out to enjoy the last opportunity for vacation together before school resumes. It’s the last time this year to choose a camping spot, and to enjoy such outdoor activities as swimming, fishing, hiking, and boating. A final drive over to the coast might be scheduled, too – where surfing the waves, digging for clams, flying a kite, or just spending time walking the beach are among the simple pleasures of the season.
For those who plan on staying close to home at the end of summer there are visits to the local city park, enjoying a concert, or planning a picnic. Or maybe – just maybe – gathering the family and kids or go to a Drive-In Movie Theater….?
Oh, wait. That’s right. There aren’t any Drive-In Theaters in Portland anymore; and if there were, certainly today’s generation would be wondering why they would ever have been any fun. I have answers to that question; and later I will disclose one place, not too far from Portland, where you can still experience a Drive-In Movie yourself before summer is entirely gone.
For a span of time in the last century, the Drive-In Theater was an important part of American popular culture. If you grew up in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s, you already know it was a time when you could take your date to the movies without getting out of your vehicle; show off your cool looking car; or spend the evening out with the whole family.
There weren’t any streaming services available – heck, there wasn’t even an Internet then! TV became available in Portland in the early 1950s, starting out with just one channel at first – but although by the 1970s television sets were becoming commonplace in homes, not everyone had one, and anyway there were only five channels you could get in Portland as late as 1975.
In that era, when new movies were released, they were only shown at local theaters – and it could have been years before the hit movies showed up on network television. But you could see them in your car on a big outdoor screen at Portland’s Drive-Ins during the warm and dry months. Families could pack the car with sandwiches and snacks, blankets and toys, and head out to see a movie at the Drive-In
If you lived in Sellwood or Westmoreland or the City of Milwaukie, the closest Drive-In was the 82nd Theater, one mile south of Foster – or the Super 99 Drive-In on McLoughlin Boulevard, down near Naef Road.
Those in the Woodstock and Brooklyn neighborhoods might have chosen the Powell Drive-In at S.E. 104th, or maybe the 112th Drive-In between Holgate and Powell.
For those living on the west side of the Willamette River the choice would more likely have been the Barbur Boulevard Drive-In, or the Liberty Theater in Tigard.
I was growing up here then, and my own favorite place to spend an evening with fellow classmates was the Foster Drive-In at 112th and Foster Road. It was there that Dave Schwartz, Jim Brent, Paul Minter and I watched the new James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” with Roger Moore as the new James Bond, replacing Sean Connery. It was a fun time to hoot and holler during the race scenes, cheer on “007” Bond, grab a Coke or two at the concession stand, and check out the other cars to see if any cute girls had arrived for the evening without a boyfriend.
In the month of October, close to Hallowe’en, Drive-In theaters were often packed with boys and girls out to take in the latest monster movie or horror film. Those were a big draw for the theater owners. The Sandy Theater at 102nd and N.E. Sandy Boulevard is where I took three neighborhood girls to watch “Dawn of The Dead”. If I remember right, there was a lot of screaming, pulling on my arms, and closing of eyes, during the many scary scenes. It’s possible that’s why my neck and shoulders still hurt occasionally, even today!
Portland’s first “Drive-In Amphitheater” opened in North Portland in 1946 near North Columbia Boulevard, and was constructed to be part of the Portland Speedway. With the capacity to hold up to 600 cars, attendees viewed movies on a large screen suspended across the racetrack grandstand. Problems occurred during the first few weeks when those watching the nighttime feature had to listen to the wailing roar of race cars zooming around the track right next to where movie patrons were parked.
Even more bothersome were the headlights of the race cars reflecting off the big movie screen over and over through most of the film. Occasionally a car would crash through the fence and startle audiences! It seemed as if the Amphitheater was constantly dealing with problems; but it still managed to be one of Portland’s longest-running Drive-In Theaters until it closed for good in 1979.
So how did the audience sitting in cars actually hear the dialogue and music of the movies? At many early Drive-In Theaters, sound was a technical problem for the theater owners. At first, in the very early days, the sound came from big loudspeakers mounted on the top of the outdoor movie screen – but that didn’t work well at all, even if you had all the car windows open. (And the people living nearby really hated the noise,)
Drive-In owners needed a better solution, and in 1946 the RCA Victor Company provided one – with the “In-Car Speaker System”. Rows of metal poles were installed along the parking lanes of outdoor theaters, and each of the poles held a set of metal-cased wired speakers that each motorist could hang on a side window. Each speaker had a volume control, too, to allow the car’s occupants to turn the movie sound up or down.
Of course, the drivers still had to remember to put the speaker back on the pole before they drove away – or either their car window would be shattered, or the speaker and cord would be yanked off the pole. Despite that little problem, “in-car speakers” were soon used in every Drive-In Theater.
Back at that Drive-In Amphitheater in North Portland, there was a more elaborate sound solution. Patrons were issued a metal speaker when they pulled up at the ticket window, and they could plug them into an outlet on the ground near where they parked. But they did have to return the speaker before they could leave the grounds.
While Drive-In Theaters were popular and profitable during the late 1940’s they weren’t the easiest venue to construct. Each one required between 15 to 20 acres of open land for the big screen, the projector building, and the concession stand, not to mention for all the parking spaces to mark, and for the wiring to install to provide sound to every car. Drive-In owners had to cough up a substantial amount of cash before they could open -- easily from $200,000 to $500,000, which was a lot more money in those days than it would seem now. But vacant land was plentiful outside of the big city, and East County and Clackamas County were the best places to build a Drive-In – so that’s where they were.
Canadian Phil L. Polsky amassed his fortune as owner of the Portland-based Christenson Oil Company in the 1930s, but his real interest was in building an open-air Drive-In Theater. That Amphitheater at the Portland Speedway was just his first projects, he was already looking for another location on the outskirts of the city. In 1947, according to The Oregonian newspaper, he decided on building a Drive-In Theater one mile south of the City of Milwaukie on Highway 99E, better-known of course as S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard.
That became a two-year construction project that cost Phil close to a quarter million dollars, but it was built to his specifications in a natural amphitheater, with a 26-foot rise from front to back, providing better viewing from all parts of the property facing the screen. The “Super 99 Drive-In” opened in the spring of 1950, and included a playground area right under the huge movie screen. Families could arrive early with their children, who could enjoy a miniature train ride, monkey cages, swings, picnic tables, and even pony rides, before dusk arrived and the main attraction began.
Milwaukie residents Diane Lorenzini and Patrick McCorkle remember well their childhood days at the Super 99’s playground. Diane wrote on Facebook that “there were swings and a merry-go-round below the screen, and we played before the movie started. It was fun.” As for Patrick and his brothers, playtime at the movie theater apparently was a tad bit more rambunctious – because, “once the evening got started, we usually didn’t end the day without one of us winding up bleeding.”
Nancy Duncan, the now-retired former owner of Schondecken Coffee Roasters across from the Post Office in Westmoreland, recalled a different experience on her trips to the Super 99 Drive-In Theater as a youngster. “Our friends lived behind the Super 99, and they wired speakers from the movie lot over to their house, where they had a clear view of the giant movie screen. We used to go over to their house every weekend and watch all the movies.”
Children were not only excited to visit the Drive-In’s “Kiddyland” playground, but going to the Drive-In meant children were able to spend the evening already wearing their pajamas. Milwaukie resident Debbie Harwood recalled her days when the family went to the local drive-in: “We were jealous of the kids who had station wagons. Their parents would back up the station wagon, pull down the tailgate and the children were able to lie down in the back on blankets to watch the movie. But we kids had to watch from the back seat of our car.”
And there were Intermissions! A night out at the movies, whether drive-in or indoor, would often include a ten-minute intermission in the middle of the movie you came to watch, to allow customers to get over to the concession stand to stock up on snacks and soft drinks! If you stayed in your seat you’d have ads and promotional messages to watch, so the snacks seemed a better choice than just staying seated. Spectators had about ten minutes, and an animated clock would appear on the screen and remind viewers how much time was left to buy food and drinks until the show would resume.
Refreshment stands in the Drive-Ins were usually built in the center of the movie lot, making them easily accessible to all the patrons. The inside of these resembled a cafeteria, where customers could line up and select what they wanted from a lighted menu-board above the order window. Hot dogs were always offered at the snack bar, and other fast-food delights available were mini-pizzas, burritos, nachos, and hamburgers. The concessions were often more profitable for theater owners than the ticket you bought to see the movie. Really, that’s still the case today -- although now popcorn is more likely the popular choice than cooked fast food.
But for a while, the dining at Drive-Ins got a lot more elaborate than that! Starting that trend, on March 9th, 1948, the brand-new 82nd Drive-In Theater opened a mile south of Foster Road, and 800 cars jammed the sold-out entryway of the theater on opening night – where the first show was “The Road to Rio”, a comedy starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, shown on a movie screen that stood 48 feet high and was 54 feet wide.
A ten-foot aluminum fence bordered the theater grounds, and red glowing lights installed in the ground helped direct motorists to their choice of parking spaces. And those patrons were anxious to visit one of the most modern concession stands in the city, for a taste of some of the Northwest’s best movie cuisine.
Quality food turned out to be such a draw that area restaurants hopped in to attract theater-goers; one was the Colonial House, located two blocks south of the 82nd Drive-In, which advertised that those who stopped by the restaurant after the show and displayed their movie ticket would receive a special price on steaks and southern fried chicken. (And in recent years, here in the Twenty First Century, some “luxury theaters” have added actual served dinners to their roomy loge seating as a draw for the movies they show. What goes around, comes around!)
But, getting back to those mid-Twentieth-Century teenagers – those kids couldn’t wait to get their driver’s license, and enjoy the freedom of cruising the streets in the family car – or, better yet, in their own car. And those young people realized that Drive-In Theaters were a great place to meet other students their own age.
Movie producers noticed, early-on, that teenagers were spending more money on movies than adults did – so, increasingly, films were geared to the younger generation, to reap more profits. Teenagers were ecstatic to watch anything about creatures, be they aliens from Outer Space, or prehistoric monsters, or the undead!
Drive-Ins were packed on Saturday nights to watch such films as the Invasion of The Body Snatchers, The Fly, Godzilla, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, and the Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. A young Steve McQueen was the hero in The Blob – in which he was quick to warn his classmates that they were in mortal danger from a blob of jelly. How’s that for stark realism.
American International Pictures began producing “teen exploitation” films in hopes of drawing big crowds. Posters for these were placed just outside Drive-In Theaters, to entice young people to buy tickets to such movies as “High School Hellcats” – the poster for which depicted a teen girl alone, with the caption, “What must a good girl say, to belong?”
Other such exploitive movies were “The Motorcycle Gang” (described as “A motorcycle duel to the death”); and “Sorority Girl” (in which schoolgirls Tina, Rita, and Ellie made shocking confessions). Local students of that era still remember….
Tom Hanna was a Madison High School graduate of 1961, He frequented Drive-Ins and admits, “If we didn’t have a date for the evening, we would invite our buddies to tag along.”
Tom’s favorite place to see movies was the Sandy Drive-In at 102nd and Sandy Boulevard. His choice of vehicle was a 1950 two-door, hardtop Chrysler – and Tom boasted that, “I had a trunk that looked like a battleship. I could fit six or seven guys into the trunk, to sneak them into the Drive-In.”
Once the entrance fee was paid for the two or three passengers riding inside his car, Tom was off to find a good parking spot. It only took a few seconds to extract his classmates from the cramped quarters of the trunk, and they then were free to roam the theater grounds, looking for other kids of their acquaintance to watch the movie with.
While Tom doesn’t now remember many of the movies he saw on that big screen, he does recall that “Reefer Madness” was shown a lot between the double features; and he also recalls that such evenings weren’t complete without a stop after the show at Jim Dandy’s Drive-In restaurant across the street. Jim Dandy’s was always filled with super cars and loads of teenagers, according to Tom, and it’s still there – serving burgers and shakes just as it did when it first opened in the 1940s.
In 1968, because of the ongoing popularity of drive-in movies, a teen council of 44 students from many Portland high schools petitioned Mayor Terry Schrunk to end a city curfew against teenagers. The City of Portland and Multnomah County then had a curfew, requiring teens between 14 to 18 years of age to be off the streets by midnight. But Drive-In Theaters usually didn’t shut down for the night until 12:30 a.m. or later; so teenagers staying to watch the ending of the last show were violating that curfew! The Mayor, and County Commissioner M. James Gleason, agreed to allow students to stay up until 1:15 a.m. – but ONLY on Friday and Saturday nights, and on legal holidays.
All good things come to an end. By the mid-1980s, Drive-In Theaters were struggling to stay afloat, and were disappearing from the American landscape. People who wanted to watch their favorite movie could now pre-record a show on a VCR and watch it at their own convenience on their television at home. Families no longer needed to spend three to four hours parked in a car at the outdoor movie theater to enjoy a movie together, and they saved money by making their own popcorn at home. Also, cars had become smaller, making them uncomfortable in which to spend hours watching a movie outdoors.
Another problem that continually plagued Northwest theater owners was rain! All of the Oregon Drive-In Theaters closed down for the winter, and Drive-In movies were only available during the summer and early fall.
By 1987 there were only eleven Drive-In Theaters remaining in the State of Oregon. A few of those were the Foster Road and Beaverton Drive-Ins, the Renfro Drive-In across the Columbia River in Vancouver; the Cascade Drive-In at Klamath Falls – and the Motor Vu Drive-In in Dallas, Oregon, twelve miles west of Salem. The Motor Vu finally closed in 2017; before it was demolished a year after that, the Motor Vu had the largest screen (90 feet wide) of any Drive-In in Oregon. And, it was voted one of the Top 10 Best Drive-Ins nationally, in the “USA Today” newspaper.
Drive-Ins haven’t completely vanished, if you don’t mind driving a few miles out of your way. Besides the occasional Pop Up Screen Drive-Ins that appear here and there around Oregon, you can still take your date out to the LaGrande Drive-In, the Milton-Freewater Drive-In, or – much closer! – the iconic 99W Drive-In in Newberg, southwest of Portland.
And you don’t have to worry about accidentally driving off with the theater’s window speakers, either: They broadcast the movie’s sound to your car radio from a low-power transmitter, now.
Bullseye Glass employee Robert James, one of this year’s three Gold Award artists, stands with his glass sculpture, “The Years Have Not Been Kind”. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
Bullseye Glass workers make & show ‘stunningly creative’ art
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
An art exhibition, unique in all the world, took place in the Brooklyn neighborhood during July. It was called “Working Glass: The work of Bullseye Glass employees”.
Wildly creative sculptures and “paintings” – all of them done in art glass – were on display in the Bullseye Glass Company warehouse, a block west of their main factory and showroom.
“One reason we hold this judged show is that we love the arts,” Bullseye President Jim Jones told THE BEE. “We were founded by artists, and to this day, most of our employees are artists.
“One of our company perks is that we provide an employee studio, so that everyone at Bullseye can experience firsthand why so many around the world love working with the materials we're making daily.
“Another reason for the show and competition is that it helps our company continue to innovate as our employees create what they are showing.”
Two award winners took a few minutes away from their work to tell THE BEE about the artworks that they’d created.
Gold Award Winner Robert James (Works in Quality Control)
“This is the first time I’ve submitted to the show,” Robert James remarked, as he stood near his work, called “The Years Have Not Been Kind”.
As a printmaker for several years, James said he was curious about ways that he could incorporate printmaking into the glassmaking process. “I used an image that I’d done on paper as a jumping-off-point for the glass piece.
Asked about the name he’d given to his entry, James said, “It’s an artist’s reflection on mortality.”
Joy Abedikichi, a sales representative with Bullseye, was one of the three Bronze award winners – for her work that she calls, “Stapelias in Bloom”. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
Bronze Award Winner| Joy Abedikichi (Sales Representative)
“I’ve been working glass for about twelve years now,” commented Bullseye Regional Sales Representative Joy Abedikichi. “I love the material, love working in glass, and was really excited to get connected with Bullseye,”
She was showing her wall hangings, which she calls “Stapelias in Bloom”.
Before last five years at Bullseye, Abedikichi had gone to art school, and then worked for a glass studio in Jackson, Mississippi, moving on to New Orleans – before landing in Portland.
“I do a lot of drawing – of plants and other things,” Abedikichi said about her creative process. “I started playing around, translating those drawings into glass, a few years ago.
“Bullseye employees do a lot with glass: They melt it, roll it, sell it, package it, ship it, and teach you ways to work with it,” Jones remarked. “But, they also love working with it themselves, and the ‘Working Glass’ exhibition is proof of that.”
Ten awards were bestowed in this year’s show. The artwork in this year’s exhibition can still be seen in an online gallery, right here – https://tinyurl.com/ebyy8jdt
At this year’s revived “Sundae in the Park” in Sellwood Park, Sellwood Community House volunteers Jerry Genther and Wendy Benther were kept busy scooping the ice cream, when the ice cream sundaes returned for the first time since 2019. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
‘Sundae in the Park’: The ice cream sundaes were back!
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
A summertime staple in upper Sellwood Park since 1980, “Sundae in the Park” was a highlight of the first Sunday in August each year for families in Sellwood, Westmoreland, and elsewhere in Inner Southeast Portland.
In 2023, the event returned to what so many remembered it as being, in Sellwood Park all day on August 6th.
“People who came said they were excited to see the ice cream sundaes back for the first time since before the pandemic,” smiled one of the event’s organizers, Sellwood Community House (SCH) Development and Community Engagement Director (and SMILE Vice President) Elizabeth Milner.
“And, our ‘make ice cream-in-a-bag’ activity, sponsored by Alpenrose Dairy, was another big attraction. Also this year, we introduced picnic lunches for sale, which was also a hit.”
Diverse entertainment – from the a-cappella groups, who gave the event a classic, old-timey picnic feel, to the magical Classical Ballet Academy performance and free ballet ‘mini-class’ – were among the highlights that kept those who came this year enchanted throughout the afternoon.
An estimated 1,000 people attended the revived “Sundae in the Park” put on by five Sellwood Community House staffers, and a corps of some thirty volunteers – including a few from the original sponsor, SMILE – the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood association.
“It went really well!” exclaimed Milner after the day was done. “The weather was beautiful, the entertainment was a hit, and I think people were really happy to see the traditions of ‘Sundae in the Park’ [including those ice cream sundaes] continue.”
In August’s second weekly Ardenwald-Johnson Creek August Summer Concert, “The Heavy Sugar Quartet” entertained. The band is composed of, from left: George Mitchell, once keyboard player for Diana Ross; drummer Ron Steen; PSU Adjunct Professor of Jazz Trumpet, Justin Copeland; and John Mazzocco, on string bass. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
August highlight: Ardenwald/Johnson Creek Summer Concert Series
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
The Ardenwald-Johnson Creek August Summer Concert Series returned after a late start in planning, and delighted crowds on Thursday evenings, starting on August 3 in Ardenwald Park -- with the band “Dina y los Rumberos”, serving also as the split neighborhood’s “National Night Out Against Crime” party.
Ardenwald is a neighborhood along Johnson Creek Boulevard, just east of McLoughlin Boulevard that’s part of Portland and part of Milwaukie, and also divided between Multnomah County and Clackamas County.
The following week, on August 10, THE BEE found the large family crowd present was enjoying “The Heavy Sugar Quartet”, offering an energetic style of jazz.
“These concerts are produced by the Ardenwald/Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association, as they have been for years,” concert producer Lane Rollins confirmed. “The person who had been producing these concerts wanted to step away; so, I offered to take it over this year. It’s important to have events like this, because they bring the community together.”
Ardenwald Park is on the Portland and Multnomah County side of the street, while Ardenwald Elementary School faces it on the Milwaukie and Clackamas County side.
“I really love music myself, all different types of music – so providing diverse kinds of music here is really a cool thing,” Rollins told THE BEE. “Look at all these people having a great time! I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for people to meet one another in a beautiful setting.”
The concert series continued on August 24 with the eclectic mix of blues, country, rock and jazz of “The John Bunzow Band”; then, closing out the month was “Rich Layton & Tough Town” – with “rock rhythms and honky-tonk blues” on August 31.
Now, through this exclusive BEE video, briefly be transported to this annual Summer Concert Series in Ardenwald Park – this, specifically, is at the concert on August 10th:
Just before turning to face the audience, and begin their July 15 concert in Sellwood Park, the Conjunto Alegre Latin Band said ‘hola’ to THE BEE. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
‘Conjunto Alegre Latin Band’ entertains in Sellwood Park
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
The weather was warm on Saturday evening, July 15, but the music by the Conjunto Alegre Latin Band was much hotter, as the Portland Parks & Recreation “Summer Free for All” Concert got underway in Sellwood Park.
Starting with the first number the band played, many folks were up and dancing to lively Salsa music from Puerto Rico and Cuba; romantic Merengue and Bachata from the Dominican Republic; Cumbia from Colombia and El Salvador/Mexico; and energetic Cuban Cha-Cha-Cha.
The band’s enthusiastic leader, Aquiles Montas, explained that Conjunto Alegre is translated as “Happy Band” – and smiles abounded at this concert.
Jim Friscia, co-sponsor SMILE’s coordinator for this concert, grinned, “Conjunto Alegre was a great choice to play in the park this year! Latin music has always been a big part of our summer concerts, back when we co-hosted summer ‘Free for All’ concerts every Monday evening in July. I definitely want to give a ‘shout-out’ to SFFA Supervisor Jarrell Hosley, Kim Holt and the team for booking this top-tier band for us.”
Throughout the evening, as many as 1,100 attendees enjoyed the show. “Folks loved the concert,” Friscia confirmed after it was over. “The band was feeding off the energy of the crowd, who were up and dancing all evening, and we had audience members from all over the city – and beyond – here in Sellwood Park.
“Many people asked why we only have one scheduled in the park and would it be possible to have more next year,” Friscia said. “We definitely hope that PP&R will consider putting more concerts in Sellwood Park in 2024 – we'd love that!”
Now, if after reading about it, you wish you’d been in the park for this concert – in this exclusive BEE video, here at least is a taste of the band, and the music that got people up and dancing in Sellwood Park –
The offer of a block party – with cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and pot luck – was all it took to get Reed neighbors to turn out en masse for their August Reed Neighborhood Association meeting. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
Reed neighbors vote – and barbecue – at street party
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
“It’s been too long since the Reed Neighborhood Association had its last summertime neighborhood event – primarily, due to concerns raised by the pandemic,” commented its outgoing President, Mark Gossage, at a street party on Sunday, August 6.
“What we’re doing isn’t complicated,” Gossage remarked. “We’re holding the neighborhood association election, while feeding all of our neighbors and friends cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and potluck dishes, on a lovely summer afternoon. It’s a great way to get folks to show up at a ‘neighborhood association’ meeting!”
With him, at the grills, was RNA Member at Large Chase Gibbons-Jorgenson -- who added, “Holding our neighborhood-wide ‘block party’ brings us all together. We see people we know; and we meet new neighbors. Getting to know your neighbors is always a good thing.”
Gossage chimed in, “So many people seem divided on so many issues in our society. Nothing like a good cheeseburger on a Sunday afternoon to bring people together. Here today, it’s all good!”
Now, the challenge will be to get neighbors to attend the next Reed Neighborhood Association meeting – without all that food as a lure!
“The Beat Goes On Marching Band” – although stationary for their pre-movie concert -- certainly showed they knew how to get the audience up and dancing. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
‘Really big band’ plays at Brentwood-Darlington Movie in the Park
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
Of this year’s Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) “Summer Free for All” events, not many have offered live music at their Movie in the Park. It’s either movie or the music.
However, the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association (BDNA) made sure their guests enjoyed both, at their July 21st Friday evening in Brentwood Park.
Before PP&R showed “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” on their big outdoor screen – with stereo sound – the crowd was wowed by popular tunes played by “The Beat Goes On Marching Band”.
“Not to disappoint anyone – but in this case, we’ll be standing still while playing, not marching around,” the band’s conductor warned the audience.
“We’re happy to be here welcoming people from our neighborhood – as well as families from other areas,” BDNA Chair Stephenie Frederick told THE BEE.
“In addition to having Portland Parks and Recreation represented here, we also have a recycling education organization present, our Neighborhood Emergency Team, and the Multnomah County Master Gardeners as well, all tabling here,” Frederick said.
“When people get together, as they are tonight, they start remembering what it was like before the COVID pandemic – and how much fun it was to do things together, outdoors,” Frederick remarked. “We’ve lost the habit of getting together; and I think this is a lovely way to bring people back to the way we used to be.”
The evening left the crowd entertained and happy when the movie was over, and those present began to drift away.
This map shows the Plat of Sellwood in 1893, eleven years after John Sellwood sold his 321 acres for development. The 1882 line between Multnomah and Clackamas Counties was still at Central Street (now renamed Sherrett); but that line was moved further south later in 1893 to Ochoco Street. Multnomah Street later became Harney; and Clackamas Street became Clatsop. (Courtesy City of Portland Archives)
SOUTHEAST HISTORY The ‘Watermelon Riot’ & John Sellwood’s good fortune
By EILEEN G. FITZSIMONS For THE BEE
It is unfortunate that so many Americans seem to have “hated history” in school. I suspect it was because of having to read about “famous” people, and having to take tests that focused on the dates of events.
History is actually about cause and effect! It tells of the events that build to a “flash point”, on a specific day – what happened then, and its aftermath.
It is important, too, that historians remain alert and open to new information that can shift an account that had seemed established beyond question. The Internet can be distracting and full of misinformation, but it also offers access to previously unavailable documents – especially what researchers refer to as “primary documents”. Letters, diaries, and official reports and accounts continue to be discovered, scanned (unedited), and made available online, world-wide. Digitization of newspapers provides an automatic index that can be searched by name or subject – a great alternative to random searches through reels of microfilm.
But shuffling through old (paper) documents can still yield clues; and that’s what led me to an “ah ha” moment that answered a nagging question about the founding of Sellwood. The story, as repeated for decades, is as follows: In 1855, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Oregon Territory (statehood was not achieved until February 14, 1859) wrote to two Sellwood brothers, who were then living in South Carolina, requesting their assistance in the ministry on the northwest frontier.
Consequently, they responded to that request by traveling by ship to the eastern side of the Isthmus of Panama (the Canal did not open until 1915) and crossing it on a newly-built railroad to the western shore, where they waited to catch a ship heading north to California. While in the waiting station, they were attacked by natives in a quarrel over some melons. Gunfire ensued, and fifteen people were killed with fifty more wounded.
Among the wounded was John Sellwood. The United States Government sought compensation for the American victims, leading to the Panamanian government making restitution – including money for John Sellwood. When he arrived in Oregon, with some of this money he purchased land – including 320 acres that he later sold to the company that divided it into building lots, naming the new community for him.
This account is basically accurate, but I could never understand why the Panamanian government was willing to pay the U.S. for violence and damage caused by private citizens. A second question was where did impoverished melon vendors obtain guns and ammunition? A clean-out of the SMILE Station basement this past February unearthed documents that yielded the answers, and led to additional sources that provide a broader view of life in mid-1850s Panama, as well as complex reasons for the violent eruption on April 15, 1856.
Enlightenment hinged on a single word: “troops.”
It was a sentence in a newsletter, the Oregon Episcopal Churchman. The article, written in April of 1975, quoted from several letters written by John Sellwood to various church organizations after he was wounded. In one dated April 19, 1856, the sentence that changed my understanding was, “troops who fired into the station…”
So, it wasn’t melon-crazed natives who shot into the passenger waiting room, although they actually did then join the melee, armed less formally with machetes, pieces of wood, and stones. The troops, “public employees”, caused mayhem – so after two official enquiries, the American government requested damages be paid by the Panamanian government.
Newspapers dubbed the event the “watermelon riot”, but the two investigations reached differing conclusions. The one by the government of New Grenada, under which Panama was a jurisdiction, concluded that the event was spontaneous, and the result of an inebriated American named James Oliver who had accepted a slice of melon, but refused to pay for it.
However, the U.S. Government believed that it had been a deliberate, premeditated attack. Oliver’s action was a “flash point” that triggered the violence, which for many reasons had been building for years. Causes included social upheaval created by Americans hastening to the California gold fields; natives who had guided travelers from the east to west side of the Isthmus, but whose income from this ceased when the American-financed railroad replaced them, causing resentment; and, poor communication at the time of the riot between officials charged with civil order.
These reasons are discussed in-depth in an online account printed in the Hispanic American Historical Review, a quarterly of Duke University Press (Feb.1990, Vol. 70, Issue #1). Search online for “watermelon riot” (a Wikipedia article), then scroll down to the first reference, which is an article by M. Daley, to read the entire article.
John Sellwood was severely wounded in the riot; a bullet barely missed his heart, and he suffered other injuries which required a stay of several weeks in a hospital in Panama City until he was able finally to board a ship bound for San Francisco and then Oregon. He and his brother James, who was accompanied by his wife and five children, organized and ministered to various Episcopalian congregations for the next forty years.
And so John received $10,000 in compensation – a princely sum, in those days – and, in 1866, he purchased the 321 acres that he sold sixteen years later to the Sellwood Real Estate Company. John struggled for a year to sell the land, for which he had originally paid $3,840 ($12/acre) and sold it for $32,000 ($100/acre). As his nephew Joseph A. Sellwood (who at age 13 was part of the family caught in the riot) said, in 1922, “While being shot was rather unpleasant at the time, it proved the nucleus of his fortune.”
John Sellwood ministered to the congregation of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Milwaukie without pay for the final 22 years of his life. (That historic church building – reportedly the oldest Episcopal Church structure west of the Mississippi – was moved sixty years ago, by barge, to its current location in Sellwood, just north of the east end of the Sellwood Bridge, where it’s known as Oaks Pioneer Church.)
John Sellwood, a bachelor, left his estate to his brother James, who divided it among his four surviving children – including Joseph A. Sellwood.
Finishing their first publicly-performed song – more or less together – here are the members of the new “Sellwood Moreland Ukulele Revival Klub” band at the Sellwood Community House. The odd name makes an acronym: SMIRK. And here, some members were actually smirking. (Photo by David F. Ashton)
‘Ukulele band’ formed at Sellwood Community House
By DAVID F. ASHTON For THE BEE
A newly-formed group of a dozen musicians playing stringed instruments were smiling brightly on Friday afternoon, July 28, in the outdoor patio of the Sellwood Community house, at S.E. Spokane at 15th in Sellwood.
Perhaps it was because their newly-formed musical group had just chosen the acronym SMIRK for their band – that stands for “Sellwood Moreland Ukulele Revival Klub” – only moments before their first public performance got underway.
“The ukulele is easy, super fun – It’s silly, and you can’t help laugh when you play,” grinned their leader, Cindy von Ofenheim. “All of these players started out as beginners; and now – after two months of ukulele lessons – our students are giving their very first performance!”
She’s been teaching ukulele for about 12 years, both to individual students, and to groups, Ms. von Ofenheim said.
During the recital, in addition to playing their ukulele, the instrumentalists sometimes also buzzed kazoos, and sometimes sang. The audience of some 60 adults and kids enjoyed the repertoire of primarily newer popular music.
Their classes are over, but the “Klub” will continue at Sellwood Community House on Thursday evenings starting September 7, from 6:30 until 8:30 p.m. Why not drop by?
New murals are displayed on the four sides of the recently-built garden shed at Woodstock Elementary School, and are visible along S.E. 48th Avenue near Woodstock Park. (Photo by Rita A. Leonard)
Woodstock School adds murals to recently-built garden shed
By RITA A. LEONARD For THE BEE
A Woodstock Elementary School garden shed construction project previously reported in THE BEE has now been brightened up colorful murals.
Responsible for that construction was second grade teacher Jessie Hunter -- also a “Sustainability Coordinator” – at Woodstock School. “In 2017 I started the garden project at the back side of the school; and, with parent help, I oversaw the building of a garden shed there,” he recalled.
“Then, in the fall of 2022, a local muralist – Addie Boswell, the mother of a Woodstock student – began to work with third grade students to create murals to decorate the shed.”
Ms. Boswell has been painting murals for 15 years. (Her website is – http://www.addieboswell.com). The mural project lasted about three months, with students from the Mandarin Immersion classes joining her to help out. Students said they wanted the murals to represent school values and seasonal themes – which led to keywords, such as Inspiration, Curiosity, Perseverance, Integrity and Compassion, along with nature and fun activities.
Boswell told THE BEE, “I did a residency -- four classes each – to teach students about mural painting. Then they sketched their ideas as a class, so all the imagery is theirs!
The mural project, although just decoration for a garden shed, had to go through a lengthy approval process by Portland Public Schools and also by the City of Portland, but eventually they were approved, and they were completed by spring of 2023, when they decorated the four walls of the garden shed. Following those keywords, the colorful murals include student faces, insects, flowers, rainbows, fruits, vegetables, birds, animals, and fun activities.
They can be seen and enjoyed by passers-by on S.E. 48th Avenue near Woodstock Park.
Some of the Brooklyn neighbors who gathered for an End-of-Summer picnic in Brooklyn Park on Tuesday afternoon, August 8th. (Photo by Rita A. Leonard)
Brooklyn throws a picnic to celebrate summer and update neighbors
By RITA A. LEONARD For THE BEE
In an early salute to the end of summer – held, actually, just a few days before summer’s heat reached new highs – Brooklyn neighbors gathered in Brooklyn Park on Tuesday afternoon, August 8, at 5:30 p.m., to picnic and get updated on the news of their community. Reclining on blankets and in chairs, visitors brought along kids and dogs, picnic baskets, and free watermelon to share
The Brooklyn Action Corps (BAC) neighborhood association was commended by the throng for posting new “dog poo bag” holders at each end of the park, for those in need.
Just across from the picnic, Majhor & Murray's Antique Auto Repair Shop – long a fixture across from the park, at 34ll S.E. Milwaukie Avenue; which had closed its doors earlier in the year – being cleared out in preparation for leasing. To the north, construction is proceeding on the large apartment building replacing Brooklyn’s former U.S. Bank Branch.
Residents also learned that the Greater Brooklyn Business Assn (GBBA) – which had gone dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic – has been revived, with Melaney Dittler as its President.
John Karabaic spoke at length about the “Brooklyn Paddlers Club”. This group of canoeists and kayakers meets either Thursday or Friday morning at 6 a.m. at Sellwood Riverfront Park, enters the river, and heads north around Ross Island, exploring and picking up trash. They have also been helping to survey homeless encampments along the Willamette River. If you’re interested in joining this group, you can either sign up, or ask for more information about it, via this email address – email@example.com
The community picnickers ended their get-together and departed Brooklyn Park by 8:30 p.m.
Events & Activities
SEPTEMBER 3 12th annual “Arab Festival” today at Oaks Park: Everyone of every age is invited to come and enjoy the delicious cuisine, bazaar, music, dance, poetry, clothing, crafts, children’s activities, and more – at the 12th annual “Arab Mahrajan Festival” at Oaks Park in Sellwood, north on Oaks Park Way from the bottom of S.E. Spokane Street. Free admission to the Festival (but Oaks Park does charge for parking). Questions, volunteering, vendors – email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
SEPTEMBER 10 Locally-made short silent film shows this afternoon: The Rogue Pack drama program for teens and kids at Sellwood Community House has made a melodramatic silent film, shot around Sellwood and Westmoreland, called “The Masked Villain of Sellwood”, and this afternoon from 1 to 4 p.m. you’re invited to be at the Moreland Theater – just north of Bybee on Milwaukie Avenue – to see it, at a fundraiser for nonprofit Rogue Pack. The film was written and directed by actor (and Rogue Pack instructor) Randy Sean Schulman, and starring local Rogue Pack actors who helped with the script. Includes a raffle and silent auction; and after the showing there will be an interactive conversation with the cast and crew. SEPTEMBER 16 Kathy Kallick Band performs classic bluegrass tonight: The nonprofit Reed-based Portland Folk Music Society presents its first monthly concert of the season tonight featuring the Kathy Kallick Band at the Reedwood Friends Church, 2901 S.E. Steele Street. Doors open at 7, concert starts at 7:30. Tickets at the door – and, discounted in advance, online at – http://www.portlandfolkmusic.org SEPTEMBER 23 “Oktoberfest” returns to Eastmoreland and Woodstock: The Southeast Portland Oktoberfest at Holy Family Parish & School, on S.E. Chavez Blvd. (formerly 39th), a block or two south of Bybee Boulevard, takes place from 1 to 8 p.m. this afternoon! Spend part of your Saturday with neighbors and friends for “fun on the field” with music, great food, a beer garden, lawn games, and kid's carnival. No admission charge! But food, drink, and carnival tickets will be for sale. “It's the perfect neighborhood event to usher in fall.” Everyone is welcome!
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