We started near the oldest building in Portland, on the corner of SW Naito and Oak, built in 1857. It’s now covered in stucco, but the Dielschneider Building next door, has exposed brickwork and was built only two years later.
From there we walked along the waterfront, through the Memorial to the Japanese Internment. One thing I really appreciated was that our tour guide, David, did a great job of bringing details in to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the sites we visited.
I have been to the Memorial twice before and it is always moving, but the research David had done on the Japanese Community in Portland, what was known as Little Tokyo in 1940, brought home the magnitude of what was done to them. From the Memorial we walked up through what had been Little Tokyo and is now Chinatown.
For a couple of hours we walked through Old Town/Chinatown seeing old buildings and talking about such things as: the only state-sponsored and organized Rock Festival in history (Vortex I); firemen fighting over a burning building, back when Portland’s fire companies competed for business; men “crimped” into service on the clippers to China; and Portland’s Three Sirens Liverpool Liz, Nancy Boggs and Mary Cook.
We ended up in the basement at Old Town Pizza in what some say are Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels. This is a fun little argument that people have been quarreling over for years. Rumors of the Shanghai Tunnels go back a lot further than anyone can remember. The oldest that I know about, I just found out, goes back to the Fifties.
I don’t care how the argument comes out, but we know there are tunnels in the Old Town area. Some of those tunnels were used for loading goods onto ships. In fact anyone who grew up in Portland will tell you, most stores do their loading through tunnels in the sidewalks. Portland has very few alleys. We also know that people were impressed against their will into service on ships in Portland’s harbor.
Did they ever get “Shanghaied” through tunnels? Probably. Does it really matter? Who cares? It’s fun to poke around in the basements of old buildings and out under the sidewalks. At one point we turned off our flashlights and heard Stewart Holbrook’s wonderful story of “Bunco” Kelly crimping the dead guys. This is history as legend and history as fun.
David also carried a magic portfolio emblazoned “Keep Portland Weird” that contained photographs and historical documents of all kinds to back up the “legends”. The thing that intrigues me is that there are 12 tour guides and each does their own tour, based on their own interests. I’m thinking I might need to do this tour a few times. In fact I hear that at least one tour guide has an interest in Portland crime and has found stories on this blog helpful. All I can say to that is, “Thanks for reading and helping to keep these stories alive.”
My ideas for improvement: If I managed the Old Town Pizza where the tour ended I would have a bucket of iced beers, sodas and waters available at the end. I would have gladly paid for a cold drink after the hot basement. Make a deal with the Oyster Bar, it’s a great old building and a good stop on the tour, but it would have been nice to get a discount there like at Old Town Pizza. My partner and I went to the Oyster Bar after the tour and it was very nice.
For Halloween, how about a Murder Tour around dusk? If you need a guest “scare”-guide, let me know.