This weekend

Thanks everyone, we hit our fundraising goal in less than three days! It’s not always easy to ask for support, but we are grateful folks stepped up to support our campaign to purchase new video equipment.

Donations are still coming in, and all that we’ve been given over the goal will go towards funding our writers and creators in their work. You can see the campaign— and donate if you’d like— right here.

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The future of the Wapato Jail facility has been a controversial topic for years here in Portland. Could it be a destination for unhoused people in need of treatment, mental health services, and job training? Its owner Jordan Schnitzer thinks so.

The doors were opened this week, and for those who couldn’t make it we filmed the tour. Watch the video below.

There’s been a lot of criticism and push back against the idea, but as is always said about the broader issue— it’s complicated. But I hope a look inside Wapato can offer some additional food for thought on its fate.

The most recent update to the saga which brought federal housing officials to the facility is reported by OPB here.

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7TH

Winter makers craft fair (event):

For the next three Saturdays (12/7, 12/14, 12/21) visit Portland Mercado:

“Come and support local community craft vendors, and enjoy culture food, drinks, music, and live performances. All are welcome to join us to celebrate the holiday season!”

This Saturday, get your photograph taken with Santa to benefit the Foster Powell Neighborhood Association.

Portland Mercado, 7238 SE Foster Rd * 11 am – 2 pm

Family theatre:

“Once Upon a Time Family Theatre is a magical mix of theatrical simplicity and grand storytelling for kids and their families. There’s always a slight twist to the traditional story that keeps these productions fresh. Though simply produced, these delightful and engaging productions will soon have everyone fully absorbed in the interaction of live theatre.”

This month’s production: “The Shoemakers Elves”

Portland Metro Arts, 9003 SE Stark St * 11:30 am * $1 for children – $1 for adults

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8TH

Free winter concert:

It’s Portland Metro Concert Band‘s free winter concert.

Howard F Horner Performing Arts Center at David Douglas HS, 1400 SE 130th Ave * 3 pm – 5 pm * free

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Enjoy your weekend!

Volunteer group is taking the City of Portland to court to serve food in parks

By CORY ELIA

An image from a Free Hot Soup serving in Directors Park in late October, with people waiting to eat in the background.

Volunteers from the group Free Hot Soup are intending on taking the City of Portland to court over attempts to restrict their ability to serve meals to the houseless of Portland, according to a press release by the Oregon Justice Resource Center. There are a dozen plaintiffs suing the city according to the press release.

The release states, “a group of Portland volunteers is suing the City of Portland to protect the rights of people to provide vital free food services and other necessities for people who are houseless or otherwise food insecure. Their lawsuit asks the courts to block and declare unconstitutional a proposed new policy from Parks & Recreation that would place unfair restrictions and burdens on voluntary groups who provide food to people at city parks.”

Village Portland reports: Volunteer groups are determined to keep feeding houseless despite new City rules

City municipalities across the country have tried to keep volunteer service groups from feeding the houseless, and Portland’s Commissioner Nick Fish, who heads Parks, is just the latest of many to create new rules that would establish limitations. The City’s plan for Social Service Permits came to light at the end of October, first reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive.

The new regulation requiring the permits would take effect December 1, 2019 and was approved by Parks Director Adena Long in October according to Commissioner Fish’s Chief of Staff Sonia Schmanski.

According to Schmanski “We have reached out to Free Hot Soup to better understand their concerns.” And further says, “Commissioner Fish has pledged to help them secure funds for insurance, and to connect with downtown property owners who may be interested in hosting them indoors.”

When the new regulations were announced, it seemed like it was aimed at one specific group named Free Hot Soup who serve meals to the houseless community members of Portland’s Downtown in Directors Park five nights a week. The volunteers have been serving here for over six years and the new regulations require them to get a permit to serve.

See interviews with Free Hot Soup volunteers in the video above.

To obtain the permit the group would have to follow food-handling regulations, obtain liability insurance (which group members have expressed isn’t available to Free Hot Soup because it’s not an official non-profit), and it will further limit them to being able to serve only a single night per week.

Email’s obtained by Willamette Week confirmed this was true. The emails showed that establishments surrounding the park had complain not only to City Commissioner Nick Fish but also to the Portland Business Alliance about the number of houseless individuals. The PBA’s President Jon Isaacs further pressed Fish to stop Free Hot Soup’s meal services.

Also affected by this policy change are the groups Help 4 Houseless and Beacon PDX who distribute food camp to camp and were recently attempting to start serving in parks.

Despite the new regulations from Fish’s office, Free Hot Soup volunteers have expressed that they plan to ignore the threats of fines and continue their work. They also wish for it to be known that they aren’t an official non-profit organization and just a loose gathering of concerned and compassionate citizens wishing to provide other citizens with a meal.

In looking into the results of other attempts by municipalities to stop meals service, it becomes apparent that Fish’s attempts might actually be a violation of the constitution, specifically the First Amendment. It has been declared in other districts, besides United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which oversees Oregon, that feeding the houseless is a form of political expression and therefore protected under the freedom of speech. 

Fort Lauderdale, Florida is a prime example of this. The local chapter of Food Not Bombs were the targets of an ordinance by the City of Fort Lauderdale. They fought it and won the case in Eleventh Circuit’s courts.

If the Free Hot Soup case makes its way to the Court of Appeals, the City’s rules could also be declared unconstitutional— like what happened in Fort Lauderdale.

These groups feel City government isn’t doing enough to provide for their most vulnerable citizens, and feeding the hungry is an act of political expression.

Volunteers serve meals at a Free Hot Soup serving in Directors Park in late October.

Advocates and activists going against the City of Portland for the way they treat they houseless here have been saying that the city government is unduly influenced by the Portland Business Alliance. The email exchange and actions by Fish suggest these concerns may be semi-valid.

Research by a graduate student at Portland State University named Kaitlyn Dey shows how the Portland Business Alliance runs the downtown business district as a Business Improvement District and advocates aggressively for anti-houselessness policies downtown like no sit or lay regulations.

“This is what happens when you prioritize businesses over people” stated Juan C. Chavez, Director of Civil Right with the Oregon Justice Center in an interview with Village Portland. Chavez went on to say, “due to reportings, it is obvious that Fish had been in communication with the business alliance for a while and could have addressed this properly.”

Chavez points to the Fort Lauderdale case, but also a case out of San Diego, as examples similar to what is happening with Free Hot Soup. San Diego’s case involves a church who had their meals services shut down after pressure from local police due to its proximity to a scheduled Major League Baseball All-Star game.

San Diego and Portland’s situation share a commonality in that they are both cities catering to the interests of larger, richer entities while ignoring the needs of their most vulnerable citizens.

“It’s confusing to me why the city would do this when they’ve acknowledged the homelessness problem,” Chavez stated.

In the press release Chavez is quoted as saying “Our clients’ rights to band together to help their community who are hungry are being infringed by this new policy. The City cannot place these types of speech restrictions on Portlanders who limit their engagement to peaceful, socially useful activities such as feeding people. Compassionate assistance for the houseless may not translate into dollars and revenue for the City like business activities do, but its high value to community should be protected.”

Chavez concluded his quote by saying “We demand more and expect better from our elected leaders.”

An sign from a Free Hot Soup serving in Directors Park in late October.

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Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.

Contact Cory:

Facebook: Cory Elia
Twitter: @therealcoryelia


Crowdsourcing for new video equipment

Click on the image to go to the campaign.

We’ve been at this a while— telling stories about neighborhoods and neighbors serving neighbors in a variety of ways— and now we’d like to give you the chance to support that work and help Village Portland expand our coverage.

We’re starting small and specific: A new video camera that can help share the stories of all the amazing organizations, volunteers, and small businesses here in Portland. $350 will get us a second-hand video camera, backup battery, and SD card for Cory Elia to be able to move at his own Batman-like pace, and be where I cannot. 

Crowdsourcing a video camera for Village Portland

Kept up with the videos we’ve done lately? Did you see the one about the threat to Free Hot Soup, a meal for the food insecure five nights a week downtown? Or our conversation with an advocate teaching neighbors about architecture and ways to get involved with how their neighborhood develops?  How about our good times at the Weird Portland United gala?  

Asking for money is wildly humbling and uncomfortable, frankly, but it’s a small step into a shift of focus that is necessary to grow our work and meet the goal of having a part-time Village Portland reporter-cheerleader-referee in every neighborhood of Portland.

There’s so much going on in this town that doesn’t rise to the attention of citywide media, and these stories need to be told.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s been involved or offered their encouragement to me and all the contributors of Village Portland. If you’d like to extend that support by donating to this fundraiser, that would be awesome as well.  

Thanks & peace,
Andrew Wilkins
Publisher / Editor 
Village Portland
villageportland.com

* Any money raised beyond our goal will go to funding our freelance writers’ work.

The Montavilla sewer kerfuffle

By PATRICIA SANDERS

Lately, I’ve been noticing the sewer work in our neighborhood and occasionally reading the Bureau of Environmental Services notices about repairing aging 100-year-old pipes.

Wait, 100-year-old pipes? That got my attention. Did that mean another of those neighborhood improvement battles? As it turns out, it did. In fact, there were many tussles and controversies spread over several years.

You had your pro-sewer faction, you had your anti-sewer faction, you had questionable bids as well as a big controversy over possible defects. Much to research.

From the late 1800s and early 1900s, cities all over the US were putting in sewer systems, mostly combined systems with sewage and stormwater in the same conduits, which is what we have in Portland

Of course, cities needed sewer systems for the sake of public health— the connection between contaminated water and epidemics was understood. But also, sewer systems were more convenient and less smelly than the old cesspools in backyards. 

Portland built its first sewer system using buried wooden troughs in 1864, then in 1883 it put in 15 miles of terracotta pipe. As Portland grew, especially east of the Willamette, sewer systems would expand and by 1915 they included Montavilla.

Montavilla Sewer Ground-breaking.
The Oregonian, April 25, 1915 (Source: Oregon Historical Newspapers)

The photo above shows the official ground-breaking ceremony on April 24, 1915, taking place on still-unpaved NE Glisan Street at what is now NE 86th Avenue. Participating are some of the key players in the Montavilla sewer drama. The most important of these are the three figures in the right half of the photo: on the far left, contractor William Lind and next to him members of the Montavilla Board of Trade William DeVeny— Montavilla’s own Buffalo Bill look-alike— and WH Hamilton, president.

DeVeny, one of Montavilla’s most ardent community advocates, was promoting a sewer system as early as 1901. At that time, he and others realized they probably wouldn’t get one unless Montavilla became part Portland, which had started building sewer systems on the East Side in 1893. After years of debate, in 1906 Montavilla voters finally agreed to annexation.

After a few years, a Montavilla sewer system started to look like a reality. A new system that included Montavilla was surveyed in 1909 and a plan was created by 1912. This system would be the largest one in Portland to date.

But there was a hitch. It was about money. A group of Montavilla property owners protested being assessed for a system that wouldn’t serve them for several years. But others, including a majority on the Montavilla Board of Trade, wanted it to proceed as quickly as possible, so they could begin paving East Glisan. After protests and arguments, the Board presented a pro-sewer petition signed by 400 property owners who favored construction and the City Council approved the project.

Progress, however, was slow and in 1914 the Montavilla Board of Trade pressed the City move faster. Finally in October, the project went out to bid.

New problems emerged. The first set of bids was rejected by Robert Dieck, Commissioner of Public Works, who suspected contracting firm Giebisch & Joplin had lowered its bid after bids were opened. Dieck recommended the bid go to William Lind. Montavilla property owners wanted Giebisch & Joplin. The contract again went to bid— twice— and Dieck rejected both, again for “irregularities”. 

Finally, in January, 1915, Lind won with a bid of $148,639, a whopping $25,000 lower than the next lowest one. In fact, according to The Oregonian, this was the lowest bid ever received by the City for such construction.

Montavillans rejoiced at the savings. The Board of Trade hosted a banquet at the Montavilla School. 250 came. Food was served by the PTA women. There was music, including the popular Veteran Male Quartet. There were speeches, including Mayor Harry Russell Albee’s, in which he praised the Montavilla spirit.

To add to the good feelings the Board convinced Lind to hire as many unemployed Montavilla men as possible. This was a welcome boon during the depression that had hit the entire Northwest in 1914.

Work on the Montavilla sewer system begins The Oregonian, April 25, 1915
Source: Oregon Historical Newspapers

Work began in April. The photo above shows workers standing by reinforced concrete pipes ready to be lowered into sewer ditches. To the left, we see Contractor Lind (in a bowler hat) and DeVeny, looking like a wizard with his long coat and flowing locks. Lind began the project on Glisan Street, so street paving could begin as soon as possible.

Installing pipes in deep trenches The Oregon Daily Journal, November 21, 1915
Source: Historical Oregon Newspapers

Construction presented lots of challenges. One of them were the natural depressions of Montavilla topography. This required many trenches to be exceptionally deep— 30 feet below the surface in places. 

Lowering a pipe section. The Oregonian, November 21, 1915
Source: Historical Oregonian Newspapers

Another challenge was installing pipe sections weighing more than a ton. After casting the sections on site in steel forms, the pipes had to be transported to the trenches, where heavy block and tackle were used to lower them into place (as seen in the photo above).

On December 28, 1915, the Montavilla sewer system was completed and ready for inspection by City Engineer Philip H. Dater, who led a party of Montavilla residents— required to bring their own boots— through a mile-long section.

At that time, the new Montavilla system would serve 20,000 people. The final price tag was $160,000, approximately $12,000 more than the original bid.

You’d think this was the end of the story— but no. There’s a surprising postscript. In spring, 1916, a few sewer workers claimed the construction was faulty. Testifying at a Portland Civil Service Board hearing, they claimed they saw cracked pipes, which supervisors and City inspectors allowed to be installed rather than discarded. The erupting controversy made headlines for weeks.

Disturbed by such allegations of contractor and oversight irresponsibility, the City Council instituted an investigation. They appointed a committee of three outside engineers recommended by the Oregon Chapter of the American Society of Engineers to conduct an independent study and then issue a report. 

Alarmed that their new system might be flawed, members of the Montavilla Board of Trade showed up for the City Hall hearings. DeVeny and Montavilla attorney, HB Dickinson, were allowed to question the witnesses. Montavilla also wanted its own engineer, GA Kyle, to inspect the sewer system. The reports submitted by the Council-appointed engineers and the Montavilla engineer declared the work to be sound.

In its May 2, 1916 edition The Oregonian stated that DeVeny was “entirely satisfied” with the sewer and that Montavilla’s confidence had been restored. And after such a long battle, DeVeny must have been satisfied to connect his house at 542 NE 80th Avenue to the sewer and to receive its final inspection on June 30, 1916 (per Portland Maps).

A final note: The engineers hired by the City recommended that the employees who “aided in spreading false and malicious reports” should be fired. This would set off yet another controversy… but that’s another story.

If you’d like to know what Portland has been doing to upgrade the city sewer system in recent years, you can watch an excellent video on the Environmental Services website.

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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 pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here


Southeast Portland might be missing 120 warming shelter beds for the houseless this winter

By CORY ELIA & ANDREW WILKINS

When Village Portland started to hear from several advocates that East and Southeast Portland might be missing 120 emergency warming shelter beds this winter it inspired us to investigate further.

Clackamas Service Center, Central Nazarene, and Sunnyside Methodist Church each housed an emergency warming shelter at their respective facilities in 2018 but two of those places probably won’t be able to operate as a shelter this year.

That would result in leaving over a hundred more houseless individuals who call the stretch of bike trail along I-205 home to face potentially freezing weather. 

According to their website, Joint Office of Homeless Services open emergency warming centers ten to 20 times a year:

Marc Jolin, director of the JOHS, wrote in an email on October 25th that they expect to have the same severe weather shelter capacity as they did last year. JOHS capacity doesn’t include Clackamas County or independent shelters.

According to Jolin, Nazarene and CSC were both Clackamas County operations last year, and said that he can’t speak to what they’re doing this season. Sunnyside was an independent project, and he’s aware that they won’t be open this year.

“We are currently in the process of finalizing our winter and severe weather shelter capacity plans,” Jolin stated, adding that a representative from his office would reach out to Village Portland when it was complete. We’re still waiting to hear back from them over two weeks later, and will update the story when we get the final plan.

“In terms of the region I have less information, but there is a table summarizing shelter capacity in this recent shelter study from the state,” he wrote.

State of Oregon: Oregon Statewide Shelter Study 

According to the 2019 Multnomah County Point-in-Time Count, even with the over 1,400 emergency warming shelter beds available more than 2,000 of Portland’s houseless remained on the street. 2019’s count also showed a significant increase, 22%, in the number of people living unsheltered on the streets.

The count indicated that this is because more volunteers conducted the outdoor portion of the count in 2019 than in previous years.

Volunteer and financial need

There are several reasons why each place were unsure about having a warming shelter at their facilities this winter. 

Clackamas Service Center was not only understaffed but also overcrowded at their facilities which resulted in unsatisfactory conditions on multiple occasions and some damages, said Krista Harper, CSC Volunteer Coordinator.

Costly cleaning and repairs from last year’s shelter are making them unsure of opening this year. Clackamas Service Center could only have around 24 guests for their shelter. CSC also paid their emergency shelter staff, another burden for the community supported non-profit.

We recently learned that Clackamas Service Center will be able to open their emergency warming shelter in partnership with non-profit Do Good Multnomah.

The organization “partners with the community to provide permanent supportive housing and low-barrier emergency shelter to houseless veterans in Portland” and accept referrals at their Wy’east Shelter here.

Central Nazarene, which has nearly completed opening a tiny house community called Agape Village, believes they will already have a difficult time providing proper support to the village and the warming shelter without more volunteers and financial support than was received last year. Because of that, pastor Matt Huff said their emergency last year probably won’t be open this year.

Depending on the number of volunteers they had for overnight shifts, they were able to have around 80 or more guests at their facilities and it will be the biggest loss of beds out of both.

We interviewed Huff as part of a story on church service work in Portland. Watch it below:

Sunnyside Methodist, however, has simply changed hands from last year and the group of volunteers who usually help with the warming shelter, Beacon PDX, were forced out by the new church. While all their situations might be inconveniencing to them it is the houseless of southeast Portland who will suffer the most from this. 

The volunteers of Beacon PDX are still trying to find another location for their work. Learn more about their story in the tribute below:

More volunteer effort

Jonathan Ogden is one of the organizers of the volunteer-run Montavilla Emergency Warming Shelter hosted at Saints Peter and Paul/San Pedro y San Pablo Episcopal Church on 82nd Avenue between E Burnside Street and SE Stark Street.

MEWS was begun by a small group of volunteers in the brutal winter of 2017. A core of six to eight volunteers held down the shifts and did training, and 20 to 40 neighbors ended up volunteering throughout that winter, he said.

From fund raising to cleaning to long overnight shifts, it was an impressive, massive effort from neighbors. We wrote about it here.

Ogden keeps in contact with the volunteer groups that organize the warming shelters, so we asked him some questions about preparations— beginning with his opinion on whether if the community was prepared for this season.

“No, not really, and since having taken a few of the only family shelters offline last year, there’s not been any plan to speak of as far as I’m aware,” he wrote.

211, a non-profit organization that connects people with health and social service organizations, told him that they have reached out to MEWS and Portland Assembly to make sure they were planning to run this year.

He said that they have learned a lot for this year based on their experience from previous years.

To connect with resoures, dial 2-1-1 on your phone, or visit 211info.org.

“Johnnie Shaver had started by himself a few years back and our Neighborhood Action Council decided to take up the project (help with training, resources, ect.) but he was super badass and definitely had it down to a science,” Ogden said. “There’s a good amount of documentation for this year to train more people,” he said.

If you’d like to support MEWS, there are two volunteer trainings in December, opportunities to donate, and a craft fair on December 14th all listed on their Facebook page.

He said that Wapato Jail is a solution the PPA is pushing, but he said he thinks it’s “jail light”, too far away from downtown, and the service models they plan to use are ineffective and traumatic.

“The results really show that peer-run load bearing shelter and camp models work best for people that they deem “service resistant” which is basically the city admitting they don’t know how to reach these people and then turn to victim blaming. The use / creation of that term should raise some alarms.”

Money is wasted on police who are not equipped for this issue, he said; money that should go to Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) or neighborhood associations to enable them to be a medical interface to the neighborhood.

Also what’s missing are survival programs that offer housing, food, power, water, and data as a human right.

“These are essential to life and should not be put on the market,” Ogden said.

Ogden says the same Wall Street tycoons that got into water 20 years ago are moving into multi-family housing— and are driving prices up for profit.

211 is offering trainings for emergency warming shelters and accepting donations of supplies here:

Winter Weather Donations & Volunteering Multnomah County

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Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.

Contact Cory:

Facebook: Cory Elia
Twitter: @therealcoryelia

This weekend

It’s been a beautiful fall— but it’s hard to ignore winter is coming.

As Cory Elia reported earlier this week, the City’s new permitting system for parks will definitely make harder for Portland’s food insecure to be fed.

Hopefully a solution can be found; a solution that doesn’t cost money and more hassle for the people who volunteer their time to feed their hungry neighbors.

For me, this issue has helped spotlight another element of the hard work neighbors are doing to serve their community.

Volunteer labor also keeps Portland’s emergency shelters running. We’re working on a story about some advocates’ concern that we don’t have enough emergency shelter space.

Find links in Elia’s story if you’d like to get involved, and enjoy Philip King‘s look at kindness and food security in their cartoon “Life in the Village” below.

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You can testify in writing about City of Portland Design Overlay Zone Amendments (DOZA) until Nov 15th here. The changes aim to “improve the design review process, standards and guidelines”.

Learn more about what’s being proposed at the link, or this article from SE Examiner.

And here’s our interview with Heather Flint Chatto, director of PDX Main Streets, an advocacy group that helps, “raise design literacy and empower community members to manage growth and change.”

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9TH

Introduction to mushrooms (event):

Event Image

“In this class, local mushroom enthusiast Leah Bendlin will teach the basics of mushroom identification for beginners, including physical features, ecology and anecdotes about mushroom oddities and beauty.”

Leach Botanical Garden, 6704 SE 122nd Ave * 10 am * ???

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10TH

Gentrification film:

“Exploring the complexities and contradictions of gentrification, “Priced Out (2017) is a heartbreaking vision of the history of housing discrimination in the nation’s whitest city, and the personal impact it has had on residents.”

There’ll also be a table discussion and Q&A following. Light refreshments will be served.

Midland Library, 805 S.E. 122nd Ave * 2 pm – 4:45 pm * free

Enjoy your weekend!

Halloween in Old Montavilla

By PATRICIA SANDERS

Source: The Sunday Oregonian, Oct. 29, 1916

Today when most of us think of Halloween we probably think mainly of children’s activities like trick-or-treating and community parties. Looking back at the early 20th Century we find many similarities in the ways Halloween was celebrated, but also some striking differences.

For example, the old tradition of Halloween pranks that came to the United States with Scottish and Irish immigrants in the mid-19th Century was gleefully taken up by boys (mostly) all over the country. In rural areas, which parts of Montavilla still were then, popular tricks were putting wagons and livestock on barn roofs, digging up vegetables in gardens, tipping over outhouses, and removing gates to let livestock escape. (These customs persisted into the mid-20th Century— I remember my father telling me about outhouse tipping in rural Montana.)

In the cities, Halloween devilry could be more dangerous and destructive. The Oregonian of November 1, 1910 proclaimed “Rowdyism Is Rife.” It reported three false fire alarms and a cable stretched across a streetcar track that caused the car to wrench from the tracks, hurling passengers from their seats. In 1907, Juvenile Court Judge Calvin U Gantenbein handled 40 cases of Halloween delinquents, including a youth who greased a streetcar on a downgrade hoping to cause a runaway car, which, of course, could have killed or injured many passengers. The delinquents, he said, thought they were justified because it was Halloween (The Oregon Daily Journal, October 28, 1908).

Nationally, Halloween violence and looting grew even worse during the Great Depression, although the local mischief described by The Montavilla Times of October 30, 1931 was of a milder sort. One popular prank was covering windows with bar soap and tallow, dumping garbage cans on front lawns and cutting down clothes lines. According to The Montavilla Times of Oct. 31, 1929, you could foil such window smearing by washing windows with glycerine or kerosene.

Despite the Halloween devilry, in the early 20th Century, parties were the most common way to celebrate the holiday. These could be held in homes or social halls by private individuals or organizations. They could be for adults and/or for children. Since, by this time, Halloween had also become more commercialized hosts could buy ready-made Halloween merchandise and consult books, magazines and newspapers about how to plan a successful event. They could buy Halloween cards, masks, party favors, noisemakers, pumpkin pies, even special Halloween cookies.

Ad in The Montavilla Times, Oct. 23, 1931

Ad in The Montavilla Times, Oct. 30, 1931

Adult parties tended to be more on the spooky side, and carried forward many of the customs and themes that go back to Celtic celebrations of the transition between the bounty of the fall harvest and the dormancy of winter. Called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), this was commemorated the night of October 31, a time when the ghosts of the dead supposedly returned to earth.

This association of ghosts with Halloween, of course, continues to the present. It was also a popular theme in early Montavillan celebrations. At one Montavilla party in 1902, for instance, a ghost greeted guests at the door and another ghost provided each of them with a sheet and pillowcase, so everyone could be ghosts. Lights were turned low— some hosts used only jack-o’-lanterns— to create an appropriately eerie atmosphere.

Another common feature starting with late Victorian adult parties was foretelling the future. This practice again goes back to the Celts, who believed their priests (Druids) were assisted by the returning ghosts in predicting the future. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, this translated into games meant to predict women’s marital prospects. A common game of bobbing for apples was played to determine which young lady would marry first. Often parties also included a fortune teller.

At a 1906 Montavilla party, for example, this was a major entertainment of the evening, where seven unmarried ladies along with nine men (marital status not given) were on the guest list published in The Oregon Daily Journal. Attesting to this now-forgotten romantic side of Halloween, The Oregonian of October 30, 1916 declared the holiday to be “the time of merry revelers, the eve when tradition declares love affairs are settled and fortunes told are sure to come true…”

A timely want ad in The Montavilla Times, Oct. 9, 1930

Divination was not the only entertainment at Halloween parties. There were also lots of games at both adult and children’s parties. The 500 card game was popular in the early 20th Century, but sometimes hosts were more inventive. Take the 1927 Montavilla party where guests were asked to come masked and dressed as ghosts. They were all seated in the living room and four judges were asked to guess the identity of each “ghost.” The last person to be recognized and unmasked received a prize.

Costumes, another theme going back to Celtic times, were popular at both adult and childrens’ parties. Sometimes costumes were even mandatory, as at a 1912 Michigan Society of Oregon party held in Grebel’s Hall at the corner of NE 80th Avenue and NE Stark Street. Anyone who came to that party sans costume was to be fined 10 cents.

Costumes— aside from the ever-popular ghost and witch— as today, varied according to current interests. Favorites in 1916, for example, were Theodore Roosevelt, President Wilson, Charlie Chaplin, suffragettes, college girls, sailors, and Mother Goose characters. Children’s costumes were less topical and more benign, as we see in the photo below.

Children’s Halloween Party at a Mount Tabor home
Source: Oregon Daily Journal, Nov. 7, 1920 (Historical Oregon Newspapers)

By the 1920s, Halloween became more of a community holiday. The old practice of trick-or-treating was revived, although now children might trade mischief for candy instead of the earlier custom of reciting a rhyme or singing a song in exchange for a treat. (Trick-or-treating was curtailed during World War II due to sugar rationing, but was revived after the war.)

Halloween dances were another popular form of communal celebration. In 1926, two of these were held in different Montavilla community halls (back when Montavilla had such things): one at Community Hall at SE 79th Avenue and SE Stark Street and another at the The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall at the southwest corner of NE 80th Avenue and NE Glisan Street.

In 1926, Montavillans could also choose to leave the neighborhood for the big Halloween celebration of the widening and lighting of Grand Avenue, newly made the widest business street in Portland. There they could find traditional orange and black decorations, Halloween window displays, live band music, and a Juvenile Merry-Maker’s Parade. The Montavilla Community Club received a special invitation to attend this lavish community event.

As you can see from these examples, Halloween already had many familiar aspects in the early 20th Century— costuming, motifs such as witches, ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating—but there was also a romantic side that has been lost and there were some really creative parties.

Did I mention the 1927 Montavilla party where the hosts recreated a forest in the basement, complete with lights twinkling in trees and foliage, where guests were treated to platters of doughnuts and cider? No? Well… I think those Montavillans knew how to have fun on Halloween. Don’t you?

If you want to know more about the fascinating history of Halloween⁠⁠— more than I could tell you here⁠— you can find Nicholas Rogers’ “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night” in the Multnomah County Library, available to read on your computer.

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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 pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here