DSP Alumni

A Witness to Some of Oregon City's Unsavory History

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Guest Writer 2 Comments


Written by Anjuli Grantham

The McLoughlin House was the home to Dr. John McLoughlin, Father of Oregon. After the McLoughlin family sold the home, it became the Phoenix Hotel, a boarding house with a rough reputation. Photo: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, National Park Service)

“It is at the Phoenix Hotel/ that the bugs and the roaches do dwell.”

This couplet re-focused my wondering mind as I rummaged through vertical files at a family research library in Oregon City, Oregon. I was looking into the history of the McLouglin House, built in 1846 and currently managed by the National Park Service, when I came across anecdotes related to Dr. John McLoughlin and the McLoughlin Memorial Association. Dr. McLoughlin was Chief Factor of the Columbia Fur District of Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver and is recognized as the "Father of Oregon." After all, it was his letters extolling the fertility of the region that tempted the initial settlers who traveled west on what became the Oregon Trail. At the beginning of the 20th century, the McLoughlin Memorial Association formed to save the McLoughlin House and in doing so became the Pacific Northwest's first preservation organization.

I sensed that this little ditty about insect infestations held some promise in illuminating a poorly documented period in the house's history. In the years after McLoughlin's heirs had sold it, the house was a hotel, boarding house, and reputedly a brothel known as the Phoenix Hotel. But trying to find out more than these basic facts was proving illusive. I eagerly read on, and discovered that according to the reciter of the poem, the Phoenix Hotel was considered dirty due to its association with Chinese laborers. Chinese laborers? In Oregon City? I then came across a photocopy of an old newspaper, bearing the title "Why No Chinatown in Oregon City." Now this was getting interesting.

Anti-Chinese violence reverberated across the Pacific Northwest. This contemporaneous depiction published in West Shore magazine in 1886 depicts the violence in Seattle.

After more research, I discovered that in the 1880s, Portland had one of the largest Chinese populations in the nation. Dozens of Chinese laborers worked across the street from the Phoenix Hotel at the woolen mill in Oregon City, just downriver from Portland. The 1880s were a tumultuous time in the Northwest. An economic recession hit the region. The hundreds of unemployed, unskilled, and wandering white men who had moved west, envisioning the promises of Manifest Destiny, discovered towns with no jobs. A handful of demagogues blamed their unemployment on Chinese immigrants, asserting that Chinese "coolies" were taking what were rightfully white men's jobs. By 1886 Anti-Coolie Leagues organized in neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the Pacific Northwest with the expressed purpose of expelling the Chinese immigrants from their jobs and from the Northwest.

In the winter of 1886, Oregon City citizens approached the managers of the woolen mill and demanded that the mill fire the Chinese operators and replace them with white workers. The managers obliged, but not at the rate that the Anti-Coolie League and local Knights of Labor demanded. As a result, in February a handful of men gathered at the Phoenix Hotel. There they decided to rid Oregon City of the remaining Chinese workers. Under the cover of darkness they walked from the hotel to a boarding house nearby where the mill workers slept. The mob wrestled the approximately 30 Chinese workers from their bed, marched them to the pier, and shoved them aboard a steamship headed to Portland. The next day only a few Chinese residents remained in Oregon City. Similar expulsions happened throughout the region that same year, with the most dramatic occurring in Tacoma, Washington, where in one night hundreds of Chinese residents were forcefully removed from town. The wave of anti-Chinese violence crested in the late winter and early spring of 1886.

When the McLoughlin Memorial Association fought to preserve the McLoughlin House more than twenty years after Anti-Coolie League members gathered within it, they likely were not keen to recall the less than heroic incidents which the house had surely witnessed. And here we have one of the values of historic preservation. It protects the tangible resources that connect us to our intangible, sometimes forgotten, past. Take the McLoughlin House as an example. In this one house we can bear witness to the grand narrative of the American West which encapsulates our nation’s proudest and most shameful moments.

Anjuli Grantham researched the McLouglin House while working as an intern at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. She recently accepted a postion as curator of the Baranov Museum in Kodiak, Alaska. Anjuli attended the 2010 National Preservation Conference as a Diversity Scholar.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Exploring the Social Design Narratives of Buffalo, New York

Posted on: August 17th, 2011 by Guest Writer


(Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Written by David Rose

The City of Buffalo and the Eastern Great Lakes region, as a whole, bears a wealth of history that spans well beyond great architecture and landscape design. At every corner there is a story that is sown deep into local, national and international memory. Robert Shibley, the Dean of Architecture & Planning at SUNY Buffalo, suggests that in order to be familiar with the city one must learn the story of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s system of parkways, Joseph Ellicott’s radial grid and the diverse functionality of the water throughout the city’s history. The narratives that frame the architecture and design features of Buffalo have great depth, building a legacy that has immensely contributed to the development of the city. If we commit to a holistic understanding of these stories then we may find ourselves getting through to Buffalo “for real.”  

Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, home to an underground railroad station before the Civil War. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Consider, for instance, the social implications of Fredrick Law Olmsted's abolitionist disposition as we peruse his masterfully created system of parkways throughout the city. Olmsted, who took to the southern United States just prior to the Civil War and reported on slave life in the ‘Cotton Kingdom’, calling on President Lincoln to stop the spread of slavery out west, was a social designer. His conceptualization of ‘The Parade’ in Buffalo, now Martin Luther King Park, took into account the celebratory culture of German immigrants that resided in close proximity to its locale.

We may also draw connections between Joseph Ellicott's radial grid street plan, his Quaker heritage and familial ties with Benjamin Banneker, a man of African descent who was commissioned by the Ellicott family to survey the nations capital. Joseph Ellicott’s radial grid plan was inspired by the outlay of Paris in the same manner as his brother Andrew and Benjamin Banneker’s workings for Washington DC.  The intent was to bring communities of people together. I am sure that Olmsted and Ellicott believed that they were laying the groundwork for what would be the city’s social conscious, by design.

Finally the water was the key element in producing the city’s hydropower and industry. It existed long before Olmsted, Ellicott, Sullivan, Richardson, Wright and countless other place makers in Buffalo developed their crafts.  The water sustained the livelihood of American natives for centuries, being used most notably as a vessel that brought fugitive slaves to freedom. It is such socio-architectural underpinnings that aid in preserving the past while cultivating a social meaning for those who are often left at the periphery of the preservation movement.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

A Preservation Discovery at Colorado's Granada Relocation Center

Posted on: July 19th, 2011 by Guest Writer


The refuse pile where water tower part were found on private ranchland southeast of the Amache site. (Photo: Barbara Darden, Schueber + Darden Architects)

Written by Jane Daniels

Hidden for years underneath tractor tires, rusty metal cans, old farming equipment, and windblown dirt and debris were the original wooden legs, metal nuts, bolts, brackets and other parts of a water tower that once stood at the Granada Relocation Center (Amache) in Colorado.  Located about 260 miles southeast of Denver, Amache is one of ten former Japanese American internment camps that existed in the United States during World War II. Amache operated from 1942-1945 and was listed on Colorado’s Most Endangered Places List in 2001. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

Dismantling the water tower tank. (Photo: Jane Daniels, Colorado Preservation, Inc.)

Renewed interest in the water tower was spurred by the donation of the tower's tank by a private rancher who used it to contain water since 1947, and the tank was documented and dismantled in December 2010. Other tower parts were soon uncovered in a nearby refuse pile. It was quite a surprise for many that the parts still existed – it was much like hitting the preservation jackpot!

Though this discovery was recent, preservation efforts at Amache are longstanding.  For years Amache-related organizations such as the Amache Preservation Society, Friends of Amache, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the University of Denver,  as well as former camp internees, local high school students and an incredibly committed teacher have spearheaded countless projects at Amache. I serve as Colorado Preservation, Inc.’s liaison to Amache, and I am endlessly impressed with the passionate carefulness exhibited by those involved with Amache. As a first generation immigrant, I deeply appreciate working with these diverse and devoted groups to find the best means to interpret Amache’s important and complex history.

Earlier this month, through the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grants Program, the National Park Service awarded funds for the reconstruction of both the water tower and one of the guard towers at Amache. With the generous award and anticipated matching funds, the towers will be rebuilt in close proximity to a proposed future reconstructed barrack block to include the original water tower, a guard tower, a mess hall, recreation hall, and laundry building. A historic building stock survey is also now underway by Colorado Preservation, Inc. to research, identify, locate, and assess these former Amache buildings with the idea that a few could potentially be relocated back on site in the block development area as an interpretive museum and visitor center. By using original historic fabric from the former camp, the tower reconstructions and the barrack block development will aid interpretation, public education, and heritage tourism efforts throughout in the southeast region of Colorado.

By digging deeper, literally and figuratively over the next few years, Amache will be even better able to show that there is more to learn and see beyond the surface of historic places. Albeit a seemingly barren site, Amache has much to offer. A new website, an integrated iPod driving tour, and newly constructed way-finding signs are also coming soon. This incredible historic resource, its current preservation activities and growing public support are wonderful tell-tale signs of what’s to come for Amache.

Jane Daniels is the Preservation Programs Director at Colorado Preservation, Inc. She was a 2008 and 2010 National Trust Diversity Scholar.  Jane can be reached at jdaniels@coloradopreservation.org.  For additional information about Amache, visit http://www.amache.org.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Kansas City History: Out, Loud and Proud

Posted on: June 21st, 2011 by Guest Writer 2 Comments


Written by Christopher Leitch

Publication illustrating Phoenix House, the first gay and lesbian “community center” in Kansas City. 1968. (Photo: LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC)

History - that deliberate recording of human activity - is interesting for what it tells us, but should not be thought of as the independent, scientific record of what actually happened. Oscar Wilde said that “history is merely gossip, made tedious by morality.” Similarly, we understand that histories can be falsified or altered thus excluding whole segments of society. Being included in history – having been and done – is validation of existence; being removed from history is one of the most egregious actions. Personal experience tells us that the past must have been more richly textured than the abbreviated digest presented in majority institutions. However, if the evidence is edited or absent, owing to racism, homophobia or other prejudices, how will we know?

Because history collections are often incomplete or don’t provide deep evidence of minority and marginalized communities, the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) was founded. GLAMA is a collecting partnership of the Kansas City Museum, the Jackson County Historical Society and the University of Missouri Kansas City Library’s LaBudde Special Collections Department. GLAMA’s mission is to collect, preserve, and make accessible evidence of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Kansas Citians throughout the city’s history.

The 2-year old collection is deep and diverse and includes photo albums from the KC Co-ed Sports Association; oral histories with LGBT senior citizens; political papers and memorabilia from ACT-UP KC and the Condom Crusaders; and costumes and archival materials documenting the career of Melinda Ryder, a well-known KC female impersonator. Actions to date have included publications and lectures, tours of collections and a very popular Gay and Lesbian History Trolley Tour that visits urban sites of interest to LGBT history. The trolley tour visits residential neighborhoods where our “places that matter” have not always survived.  It offers a powerful historical lesson about the secrecy of social and political gatherings in private homes before a time when LGBT persons could gather publicly without fear of harassment or living in fear for their lives.

Cover of LGBT publication showing marchers from KC’s first Gay Pride Parade, at the Liberty Memorial. 1979. (Photo: LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC)

GLAMA reinforces the notion that when something is absent from history – our public record – we cannot participate in it, remember it, reflect on it, learn from it. As such, we see various efforts to re-insert characters and people and activities into histories – like Women’s Studies programs and Black history departments – to build a complete story of the past.  Similarly, we live in a society that insists on branding citizens with a sexuality-based identity, which can easily translate into marginalization, particularly of the LGBT community.

History museums are often imagined - and frequently behave - as warehouses of the records of previous generations. We remember, reflect upon and learn from the past in order to make sense of our continually-evolving present. What physical evidences of today will we remember 50 years in the future? A fundamental starting point for a museum is the decision to actively collect history as-it-happens. Museums are highly valued in our society and are well-placed to capture local history as it’s made. By building a picture of the community as it grows and changes, we can be poised to present accurate stories to future generations. The GLAMA project seeks to do just that.

Christopher Leitch is the Director of the Kansas City Museum, the city’s history museum. He founded GLAMA in 2009 with Stuart Hinds of the University of Missouri Kansas City and David Jackson of the Jackson County Historical Society.  Christopher attended the 2010 National Preservation Conference as a Diversity Scholar.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Main Street at Work in Des Moines' 6th Avenue Corridor

Posted on: May 17th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Alecia Kates

Dowling Honor Students volunteer for the Rock the Block neighborhood clean-up. (Photo: Alecia Kates)

“We don’t like what you did and we called the manager to complain!” That was the running theme of the feedback we received after completing 10 hours of landscaping work through the Rock the Block neighborhood cleanup project. We hoped our hard work to beautify 13 properties on 6th Avenue would inspire others to improve their businesses and homes. That was not the case, at least not initially.

As the executive director of our Main Street Urban Neighborhood District, I anticipated my greatest challenge would be to raise millions of dollars to fund a streetscape improvement effort or entice developers to see 6th Avenue as the next greatest area for commercial property development. By far, understanding the most effective way to engage the people is the most interesting piece of the puzzle.

After hearing the opinions of seemingly every Des Moines resident on how to transform 6th Avenue, I decided one more opinion couldn’t hurt. So, I asked one of the residents to specifically identify what he did not like about the landscaping job. We listened to each other’s perspectives and eventually compromised on the choice of the plants and their placement. He decided to help with the landscaping project on the spot. I helped him sort the plants and showed him different ways to arrange them. Meanwhile, he invited several of his neighbors over to hear about our revitalization plans.

Residents of the 6th Avenue Corridor enjoy the 2010 Jazz in July festival. (Photo: Alecia Kates)

By the end of our conversation, he shared his vision to have neighborhood picnics that would bring the community together. I promised that if he put together a committee and gave me a budget, my organization would help sponsor the neighborhood event. Two days later he reported back to me that he came up with a draft budget and that a neighbor was working on a flier for the event. He even asked if I had extra materials for landscaping the garden in the back of his apartment building. He was eager to meet again to plan the rest of the event. It was at that point, I realized I found one of the neighborhood’s leaders.

It’s the people that create the memories and make the buildings important. It’s the residents whose purchases will sustain existing and new businesses in the district. I came into this work with the idea that I somehow needed to change things; however, to make meaningful change, the first order of business is to work with the people and resources already there. With the help of the community, there is so much exciting progress on the 6th Avenue Corridor — from partnering with the Public Art Foundation in order to design art concepts for the streetscape to achieving a zero vacancy rate to creating 7 new businesses and 13 new jobs.

Revitalizing one of the lowest income and most diverse communities in Iowa has its challenges: fundraising, planning, and recruiting volunteers, to name a few. Although challenging, the most rewarding part is engaging the people. As much as revitalization is about giving new life to a community, it's also about celebrating the life that already exists.

Alecia Kates is executive director of the 6th Avenue Corridor, Inc., a Main Street organization and recent recipient of the Public Art Foundation Award. Alecia attended the 2010 National Preservation Conference as a Diversity Scholar and will attend the National Main Streets Conference in Des Moines, Iowa to be held May 22-25, 2011.

Would you like to attend the National Preservation Conference as a member of the 2011 Diversity Scholarship Program? We are now accepting applications for this year’s conference, which will take place in Buffalo, New York from October 19-22. The deadline to apply online is June 1, 2011.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.