By PATRICIA SANDERS
Fire-damaged 1930 Montavilla Ice & Coal Company building
Photo by Thomas Tilton
The day after the three-alarm fire of April 19 at 408 SE 79th Avenue, I was shocked to see the gutted 90-year-old ice-plant building, home to the Montavilla Garment Factory for the last ten years.
I saw piles of collapsed wood planks, charred timber beams, spills of sawdust insulation. The remaining tall concrete walls framed a devastated and hollowed-out interior. The smell of smoke was still in the air.
I encountered a group of former Garment Factory employees and they expressed their sadness and shocked. If the building is beyond repair, I thought, this would mean the loss of both an innovative business as well as a 90-year-old Montavilla landmark.
This building was erected in 1930 as an addition for The Montavilla Ice and Coal Company, a business that existed for over 40 years. Begun by Leslie Leroy Giles (1885 – 1961) around 1917, he continued running it until he retired in 1952. Then Giles’s son-in-law George H. Schenk (1912 – 1959) and his son Irvin L. Giles (1916 – 2002) managed the company until at least 1960.
Before getting into the ice and coal business, Leslie Giles had a meat market at 1997 SE Stark, where the Redwood restaurant is today. While still at this address, he added ice to his inventory.
In 1927, Giles moved his business around the corner to what was then 66 E. 79th and named it the Montavilla Ice and Coal Company. This building no longer exists. It was located where the Bipartisan Café parking lot is today.
The original Montavilla Ice and Coal Company was on SE 79th Avenue between the Portland Garment Factory and the Bipartisan Café.
Source: Google Maps
Ice and coal may sound like a strange combination of products to us today, but back in the days of iceboxes and coal furnaces, they were a logical combination. Both needed to be delivered, and those deliveries were mostly seasonal. The same trucks could be used for ice in the summer and coal in the winter. With both products in high demand, ice and coal companies sprang up in cities across America.
Trucks like this one belonging to the Atlantic Ice and Coal Company delivered the products to homes and businesses.
By 1930, the Montavilla Ice and Coal Company was one of seven such companies listed in the Portland city directory. In 1952, Montavilla Ice and Coal was the only one. By the 1950s most— but still not all— households had shifted to refrigerators.
To attract business over the years of its existence, Giles advertised in The Oregon Journal, The Montavilla Times, and Polk’s Portland City Directory.
Montavilla Ice and Coal Company ad in The Montavilla Times of March 15, 1928
In more elaborate ads, Giles stressed the quality of his products. For example, that his ice was made from pure Bull Run water and that he carried quality coal, such as the longer-lasting, clean-burning King Coal from Utah. To learn how Montavilla got its Bull Run water supply see this previous Montavilla Memories story.
Giles’s business apparently flourished, so in 1930 he was able to add a new and larger building, the one that burned on April 19. The Sunday Oregonian of June 29, 1930 reported that this concrete and wood addition was completed and was equipped with the latest ice-making equipment capable of producing 18 tons of ice a day.
It is indeed sad to see a building that has stood for nearly a hundred years and has housed several businesses succumb to an arsonist’s flames.
May this article serve as a memorial.
Friends of the Portland Garment Factory have created a GoFundMe campaign. Here’s the link if you wish to donate.
Historical story ideas? Questions about Montavilla’s past? Also share a love for neighborhood history?
Comment on the article at the link in the heading. Or you can reach out to Pat Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here.