Taking the Banfield to Edgefield, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Yesterday I told you about the Multnomah County Poor Farm at Edgefield, just east of Portland. Today I will tell you what The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, did with the farm.

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Down the Rabbit Hole?

The brothers had been successful at creating restaurants and pubs out of scruffy buildings, but had never taken on a project this big. There were 292 acres and every inch of every building and every square foot of land needed work. Flooring was damaged from broken windows letting in animals, vandals and rain.img_79111.jpg

The first building they got up and running was the Power Station in 1991, as a guest hotel, theater and restaurant. People came, stayed, paid, and the brothers’ bankers realized this could be a success.

The brothers envisioned what they called a “down-the-rabbit-hole” experience, a place like nowhere else. There would be no phones, no televisions, no smoking, just food and wine, beer and cider, sunshine, rain, gardens, art and comfort.

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ART!

Once the Power Station was up and running, work on the main building, called The Manor, got under way. Having been built for people in wheelchairs, all the doors were really wide. The brothers decided that rather than replace every single door, they would have a staff of artists paint each one, making each room a unique place. That worked so well that they hired more artists, and now art covers all the doors, ceilings, and is hung on every wall.

The building had been vandalized while it was empty, including someone painting a pentagram at the head of the main staircase. The brothers wanted good energy, not bad, in their place, so they hired a troupe of bagpipers to come out. The musicians formed a circle around the pentagram, played “Amazing Grace,” and painted over the evil symbol.

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Thursday at McMinamen’s

The gardens needed redoing. Patrick McNurney was the landscape guru for the property. There were almost no trees, and lots of weeds, but he knew that the land was fertile. He was instructed that there shouldn’t be any straight lines in the gardens, and that the plants should all dance together. He succeeded beautifully.

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Flowers Dancing Together

There is an herb garden, fruit and vegetable garden, and winding paths through groves of aspens and birches. There is a spa with a serpentine hot tub to float and nap in. There is currently a winery, brewery, bakery and distillery on the premises. Yes, it IS heaven.

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A Very Happy Grandma Judy

We enjoyed our day at Edgefield. On the way to the place, we found Ben Pilchuck and his partner blowing glass in the old shop. We had brunch The Black Rabbit Restaurant (there’s a story in the name, too), then a tour around the place with Thursday, who has been working for McMenamin’s for 35 years. She is funny and knowledgeable, and I will be talking to her more, I hope.

It would take weeks to see the whole place, and pages more to tell you all about it. I will show you this wonderful place when you come to visit.

Love,

Grandma Judy

 

Taking the Banfield to Edgefield, Part 1

Dear Liza,

Yesterday we had a road trip, going 14 miles east of home. We actually got on a freeway!  ( Not nearly as common for us here as in California). The number 84 freeway is also called the Banfield. We went out to visit Edgefield.

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Mt. Hood in the distance

Edgefield is a beautiful, interesting place with an even more interesting past. From 1911 to 1982, this complex of buildings and farms was the county poor farm, 292 acres of land where people came when they had no where else to go.

There was a real farm, with cows, pigs, chickens, orchards of fruit and acres of vegetables, which was tended by the folks who lived here. They provided food for their own tables, as well as to the county jail and juvenile facility.

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Main Building

There was a power station to supply electricity for the place. The staff had farmers, nurses, cooks, and administrators. The residents weren’t required to work, because some were old and sick. But if you could work and did, you ate better than if you could work and didn’t. The Depression, when many people were poor, filled the place up, and World War II, when lots of work was needed, emptied it of able bodied people, leaving just the old and sick.

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Gardens and Original Water Tower

After the war, Social Security and other social safety nets came into being, and fewer people needed to live on the farm. A hospital was built as the population got older. By 1982, the buildings were too old and out of compliance with safety laws, and there were so few residents that the County moved them to other hospitals and closed Edgefield down.img_7911.jpg

It stood, abandoned, for eight years. It was big, old, in need up repair, and quite a way out of town. No one knew what it could be used for.

Then The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, who are known as The Brews Brothers because of their work developing the microbrewery industry in Oregon, came along. These men had, by 1982, created more than a dozen bars and restaurants out of historic, abandoned buildings. They had been successful in re-imagining spaces they felt were worthy of saving. In 1990, they saw Edgefield  and fell in love.

I will tell you what they did next tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to…. History!

Dear Liza,

We returned to McMenamin’s History Pub at The Kennedy School on Monday night for dinner, fun and education. This time the subject was an odd combination: The Poor Farm and the Rose Garden.

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Another mosaic at The Kennedy School

Let me explain. From 1868 to 1911, there was a farm in the West Hills of Portland where people who were poor or sick and couldn’t take care of themselves could go. At the Poor Farm, there was shelter, food,  a farm to work on, a hospital, and doctors to care for the people. It wasn’t fancy, but it was care, and over time the population of the farm grew from 20 to more than 200. Some of these people were sick and needed the hospital to recover and then go home, but others couldn’t live on their own and stayed for the rest of their lives.

In 1911, some nurses came to see the farm and decided the whole place was no longer acceptable as a health care facility. It was too old and falling apart.

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          The Poor Farm in the West Hills               Oregon Historical Society photo

Besides that, the property in the West Hills which had been so remote from town in 1868 was now on the western edge of a city needing to expand, and was very valuable. (Eyebrows up!) The city of Portland wanted to develop City Park, right next door, as “the crown jewel” of the city. Some of the property was sold to be developed into fancy homes, which would be near the newly developed park and have lovely views over the city to Mt. Hood in the east. The Poor Farm, with contagious people living right next door to the new Park and the expensive homes, was a problem. The Farm was torn down and the people moved east, by a town called Troutdale.

But the hills weren’t stable! Every bit of land that was moved to get the hills level caused landslides. No housing development was possible. (Sad sigh from developers.) By then, the city of Portland was even bigger, and City Park was getting too small and crowded. The whole top of Mt. Washington were brought in and developed into the park. The old Poor Farm property became the Oregon Zoo.

Then, in 1915, World War I was raging in Europe. Besides the danger to the people, buildings and gardens that had been developed for centuries were being destroyed. Jesse Curry, a Rose lover in this “City of Roses”, asked the city to set aside land to plant roses brought from Europe, to save them. The unstable land where the houses couldn’t be built became this Rose Garden and tennis courts. The Rose Garden now has 607 varieties of roses and is cared for by paid gardeners and hundreds of volunteers. It has become the Crown Jewel of The City Of Roses, and gets 700,000 visitors every year.

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Adorable little girl in Rose Garden

I am learning so much about how cities grow. The basic needs of people don’t change: food, shelter, jobs, and fun. But a city of 2,000 deals with these very differently than a city of 200,000 or 2 million. Change is hard and messy, but necessary.

And, in Portland, you also get roses.

Love,

Grandma Judy