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This is the Blog of Fenton J. Beaver: Blogger, Historian and Oregon Rodent Laureate, Bringing you tid-bits of Beaver state history on an ocassional basis.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Oregon State Mental Hospital

The Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem is a despicable, dismal place. On the outside it is a horrifying beast of a building, the paint is peeling, the roof is in disrepair, it’s 121 years old and looks every day of it. On the inside it is even more atrocious, many of the rooms are inhabitable, the ones that are still used have seen unimaginable misery and and the very worst of human behavior. Salemites grow up with stories of what happens inside, from sexual abuse to murder. The buildings appearance does little to discredit the rumors and, sadly, most of the stories are true

Its demolition is long over do, no amount of remodeling can salvage what years of public indifference have reduced to wreckage. It’s time to start over and build anew and our senate president, Peter Courtney is attempting to push the Governor and legislature’s hand to do just that. Unfortunately, the revelation that something must be done has come at the last possible moment (lawsuits are surely on the way) and in the middle of a state budget crisis.

The Oregon Insane Asylum, as it was known when it was created in 1883, wasn’t always so decrepit. When it was first built and for many years after, it was actually quite stately looking. It was the culmination of 21 years of work to consolidate Oregon’s “insane and idiotic person”(the wonderfully PC terminology of the period). It all started with Governor Addison C. Gibbs recommending to the legislature that such an act take place. Before his suggestion, dealing with the mentally ill was the realm of county governments.

Prior to the construction of the building just east of downtown Salem, the state began contracting with Dr. J.C. Hawthorne and his clinic in Portland; this was the first Asylum run with state monies. He was given the position of Superintendent of the Insane in 1865. Governor Gibbs in his state of the state address had this to say about Dr. Hawthorne’s work:

Herewith, I transmit a report from Dr. Hawthorne upon the condition of the Asylum. It affords me pleasure to be able to state that the institution continues to be well managed, and that the proprietors are faithfully performing the conditions of their contract. The Asylum is a credit to the State and the proprietors.

It’s been at least 80 years since the State Mental Hospital was anything near Governor Gibbs' descriptions. How sad that we’ve some how regressed with time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Portland Rosebuds

History is an infinite lattice work of interconnected ideas and relationships. When you delve into it through research, even shallowly, you never know what you end up learning. While brushing up on my Portland arena knowledge for the prior post I discovered that Portland was home to America's first professional hockey team. The Portland Rosebuds began play in 1914 as part of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association; two years later they became the first U.S. team to play for the Stanley Cup. They played, and lost 2 games to three, against the then fledgling Montreal Canadiens. Their rivals to the north, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first team to bring the cup south to US soil. A little more than a decade after their Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the PCHA folded. The team was sold and moved to Illinois where they became the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks maintain a relationship with the city of Portland through the Portland Winterhakws minor league team.

But where did the Portland Rosebuds play? I must look into this.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden

Coliseums, arenas, and stadiums are at their very heart of the purpose communal structures, tied to the region. There should be an aura of the land around and the people that use it somehow entwined into the architecture and name. The original plans for Memorial Coliseum called for it to be made out of timber, perfectly appropriate for an Oregon arena. The Rose Garden used 45,000 tons of recycled goods in its creation; a subtle but appropriate material for Oregon of present day. Then there is the name: Rose Garden. What could be more perfect for a place that calls itself the Rose City?

That’s all about to change soon. The Rose Garden Arena company, after several years on the edge of financial ruin has sold out and is selling the naming rights to the Blazers home. Lets all cross our fingers and hope for something like “Nike Garden” or “Adidas Arena” it seems like the two local sports giants would jump on the opportunity to bestow the nearest arena with their brand but it could just as easily end up something idiotic like Petco Park or "Luck Eagle Casino’s Palace o’ Sports."

Memorial Coliseum will remain Memorial Coliseum though. It will stoically gaze at the younger sibling that rose up out of its parking lot, taking pride in the fact that it was the location of the Trailblazers only championship in 1977. It will know that from its courtside seats sat the first President ever to watch an NBA game live. It will forget that that President was only Gerald Ford and the team he was watching the Blazers play, the Buffalo Braves, would become the worthless Los Angeles Clippers. Instead, it will remember that it was on Memorial Coliseum's court that the 1992 Dream Team played together for the first time before making history in Barcelona.

It will sit in quiet dignity contemplating the great events that took place within and honoring the soldiers it was named to memorialize.

Until it becomes a Costco.

Friday, November 12, 2004


I can never really completely finishing cleaning my room. I can get close (though I usually don’t) but without fail I always come across some personal artifact that distracts me from the task at hand. Usually it’s a yearbook. I organize my space so rarely that when I find and open my High School scrapbook I always have new insights into the way I was, the things I did, the crushes I had, my entire life back then.

This last time I attempted to sort through my things it wasn’t my yearbook that captured my attention, which in the living room collecting dust with stacks of other books; it was a black and white picture of a burning domed building. It’s all black excepted for the fire, white in the grayscale, glowing through the buildings interior and bursting outward into a huge pale ring. The lack of color does nothing to diminish the power of the flames. The starkness in fact only intensifies it.

The photo is on a postcard. The caption on the reverse reads:

The 42-year-old Oregon State Capitol in Salem was destroyed by fire on 25 April 1935. The copper dome – the building’s most striking feature – crashed to the ground soon after the fire’s onset. Losses included oil portraits of John McLoughlin and Jason Lee, as well as many other artifacts.

I’ve always been jealous of other states and their old, grand Statehouses. Iowa and New Hampshire’s ornate capitols are seemingly filled to the brim with state knickknacks and paintings; California’s is so large and governmental looking. Even Washington’s feels historic and stately. Our capitol is relatively small and new (it’s the fourth youngest) and its austere, modern architecture verify it’s creation in the height of the depression era.

I don’t hate our new capitol building; in fact I appreciate how unique it is. Where others are gaudy and flamboyant; it is streamlined and utilitarian. Where others are use scale to identify their purpose, it relies on the subtle strength of its solid looking build. And, though I dislike that, unlike our previous statehouses, it is built of imported materials (Vermont marble mostly) and not good old Oregon hardwood (we learned our lesson) our capitol is a good symbol of our state and its government. It is not audacious or pompous but it works. As much as many of us like to criticize our state officials, historically they’ve been among the better statesmen in the country. Oregon is the state that works.

What I’m jealous of isn’t the building, but the history inside. After reading the back of that postcard I began to mourn the loss of those “historical artifacts.” What were they? In my head I imagine oil paintings of Mt. Hood and documents, and furniture and all manner of Oregonian relics, all manner of connections to what Oregon was and where it was headed. People at the scene tried to save what they could. Several people ran into the building to remove what they whatever they could grab, one of them, Mark O. Hatfield, went on to become one of those “better statesmen” mentioned above. Despite the future Governor/Senator's best efforts, most everything was lost.

Oregon lost a little of its memory.

That’s why I am here, to reclaim some of it, to help fortify the rest. I am here to compile what I can and to try and make sense of where this state, has been and where it is going. I’m here to be one more historical record because one more is one better than we already had and I’m here because I love Oregon and I want to know it as best I can.

So, between the doldrums of work and sleep and… cleaning my room. I hope to learn and share what I find with anyone who is interested. My focus with this blog is not any particular time in Oregon history, nor person or event. I want this to be all of Oregon’s past and even some of Oregon’s present.

Hopefull, I'll catch a few readers on the way.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Portland Still Hates Bush

How odd that my very first post of any substance on this blog, which I have created specifically to deal with Oregon and it's history, should have to do with Washington, and it's history. An anniversary is an anniversary though and at least it's in the vicinity.

On this date of November 11, in the year 1889, President Benjamin Harrison declared Washington the 42nd state in the union.

It remains the only state named after a former American President. I really shouldn't have had to tell you that. It would have perhaps been more appropriately named "Polksylvania" because, as They Might Be Giants taught us, it was James K. Polk's aggressive posturing that lead to the British forking over the land that under the 49th parallel aka the Oregon Territory.

Washington's first settlers were actually Oregon bound but after arriving in what is now the Beaver State, George W. Bush (yes, that was his actual name) found that the Oregon Provisional Government would not allow him to own or settle Oregon land. Though he had the same name as our current President he unfortunately did not share the same race. Dubya and his party were entirely African American and entirely unwelcome in Oregon. They were forced to flee across the Columbia and then some. They ceased fleeing and settled in what is now present day Olympia.

So... Oregonians haven't always been so progressive.


Happy Birthday Washington.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

So this is it

...this is the begining.