planpdx.org: Interview with Charlotte and Ogden Beeman
Date of Interview: December 1999
Interview By: Ernie Bonner
Location: Beeman home in Northwest Portland
On the right is a young Ogden Beeman at a neighborhood picnic organized by a young Charlotte Beeman. On the left is (will be) the young Charlotte Beeman. (Unfortunately you will have to wait until I work out the details of file formats before I can get her picture to stay in the frame. --Ed.)
CB = Charlotte Beeman
OB = Ogden Beeman
EB = Ernie Bonner
EB: This is an interview with Ogden and Charlotte Beeman at their home, and it's December 29, 1999, and Ogden's going to start off.
OB: My parents moved to Portland in 1942 when my father took a job in a downtown office building as a manager. Charlotte and I returned to Portland after going to Stanford and living in Florida. It was 1960, and we lived in an apartment.
My father was a really urban guy... he had worked in Chicago. One day while we were renting this apartment he said, "Ogden, I've found a great place for you to live." And I said, "What's that?" He said, "Down on Northwest 20th Street," which was across from what is now the big Fred Meyer store on 20th Avenue. Now there's a big apartment that just recently went in next door to that.
So we didn't have a home or much money. We checked out this house, and it was a two-story house we could almost afford, and we paid $8,000 for it. The house is still there and the last sale I know about was $285,000. That was five or six years ago.
Charlotte and I moved there. We had one child at that time, and we lived there for a couple of years. Then we rented the house while I went to graduate school in Holland, and we returned in about 1963. We enrolled our daughter in Couch School that year. Couch was really about the bottom of the bottom at that time because of the itinerant population.
In the mid- to late '60s, the nucleus of the neighborhood was just barely beginning. There were only a few professionals when we lived there. The guy who lived next door to us was a crane operator, and down the street were people on welfare. The school situation was pretty tough.
We started kind of finding each other. A guy named Lew Crutcher, who was a well-known architect, had moved into Northwest and had his architectural practice up on Flanders Street, about 24th or 25th. We got to know Lew and his wife, and Lew was a really urban-oriented person. He was extolling the virtues of Northwest Portland as an urban area, while we were living there because it was all we could afford.
So we started finding each other. Howard Glazer, at that time lived just below where we are here, down on 26th in a big house. Howard was an architect, and he definitely had the strength of personality and view we needed. I'm an engineer and I never had any planning background, but Howard had the vision that this is an important neighborhood. We certainly loved it here and have lived in Northwest ever since.
I think the real spark plug in this whole thing was Llano Thelin, who was pastor of the Congregational Church down on 19th. Llano has died since then, but he kind of got the bit in his teeth. That was at the time when churches were trying to get more involved, and he was on the front edge of that. Also a few of his parishioners - Mrs. Berg. She lived in an apartment house down on 23rd and was one of his parishioners who got involved with us.
My memory's a little fuzzy, but what was going on was the Urban Renewal Agency was trying to put together an urban renewal project, including Good Sam and Consolidated Freightways.
CB: I think your first involvement was the fight against Fred Meyer. It was interesting because it was a big development taking out houses and letting houses rot and be burned by bums in the attic, and that was Ogden's first...
OB: You're right. My first appearances before Planning Commission and City Council...
CB: Don Quixote and the windmill.
OB: This preceded NW District Association. If you're ever going to do a video, I can take you down and show you two vacant lots where I fought in front of the Planning Commission for these houses to not be destroyed, and they were both destroyed. One is a parking lot for a medical clinic, and the other is now an abandoned parking lot down on Lovejoy.
I went in front of the Planning Commission. I think it blew their minds having a citizen and particularly a guy like me coming up and saying, "This is wrong". They were just sort of oblivious to the whole thing.
We lost the first one. This little medical parking lot down here, we lost five to two in the Planning Commission. With the other one down on Lovejoy, people started understanding what I was talking about. We lost with a close vote, four to three or something like that.
Then there was the narrowing-the-sidewalks project. When they widened Burnside, they narrowed the sidewalks, and then when they put this little overpass over I-405 on Everett, they did one full sidewalk and one half sidewalk. So I went to City Council and objected to narrowing the sidewalks. That's where I met John Perry. This was before the planning effort. John was there because at the same hearing they were talking about taking out all the elm trees on the south side of the library in order to widen the street, in order to increase the capacity of the Salmon Street overpass on I-405. John was there on behalf of the trees, and I was there on behalf of the sidewalks.
We made an impassioned plea. I think we lost five-zip in City Council. The classical thing that I always remember about that was Don Bergstrom's comments. He was City traffic engineer. I walked down to work every day since I worked downtown for the government. I walked down Everett and Burnside both. I knew those streets very, very well.
So I got up and said, "We have a great place here where people can live and walk downtown, and we can't make it more difficult". In Portland, of course, you narrow a sidewalk the cars come by and splash water on you. Burnside became almost impossible as a walking street, and then everybody shifted to Everett, on which they were narrowing the sidewalks.
I finished my impassioned plea, and Don Bergstrom got up and said, "Well, the Council should know that we did a study up there, and we found that the sidewalks were occupied about 12, 14 percent of the time. The street lanes were occupied about 85 percent, and therefore it makes sense to narrow one and widen the street". The sidewalks are "underutilized" by 80 percent.
Those were kind of Don Quixote days. I was a lone voice. I don't think anybody from the neighbor-hood, or certainly nobody in government even gave us the slightest encouragement at that time.
Those were the precursors of what we were arguing for in those days. It couldn't even get in front of the Planning Commission today, let alone Council. Now you'd be laughed at if you wanted to talk about destroying houses to build parking lots.
EB: Do you happen to remember what year that was, approximately? Was Lloyd Anderson on the Council?
OB: Lloyd was not yet on the Council, actually. This was before that. We lived in Holland for a year, and we came back in '63. We had rented out our house and moved to Holland for a year, where I was in graduate school and Charlotte was teaching at an International School. It was sometime after '63, and our daughter Christie was born, in '64 after we got back.
Another thing we did was with Lew Crutcher. There's a great big elm tree - this is right up the street on Flanders between 23rd and 24th... a big tree and it's still there. His house was where he had his practice and lived right across the street.
So I can't remember exactly how it happened, but this tree was busting up the sidewalk and it still is. So the City was going to tear it out. Lew got a bunch of us in the neighborhood, and we went up there and we did a vigil with our kids. All the kids wrapped their arms around the tree and did the whole thing. Our kids still remember - I think Harriet still remembers doing that and her little dog came and peed on the tree. Lew was really a big factor in all this, but he moved - he took a job and moved to Minneapolis, I believe, as head of their Parks Department, something like that. We've kind of kept an eye out for him. He has died since then. He was the first one who painted the bridges. Oh, yes. That was his idea, and he pushed it and he pushed it and pushed it through. I can't really remember the exact dates. When was NWDA formed? We probably have that in the archives someplace. But at any rate, the City helped us get together, as a matter of fact, because they needed a neighborhood group, under the urban renewal laws or something.
EB: In my notes it indicates that in November of '69 the City okayed the bid for renewal study of Good Sam and Northwest Portland.
OB: Okay. I think '69 is about when the whole thing started. I think Good Samaritan was the catalyst, really. As part of that, they called a meeting at Chapman School, I believe, and I don't know how it happened, but we needed a chair, and Llano stepped forward to chair that meeting.
It was absolutely a riot - almost a riot broke loose, complete with our old friend Louise Weidlich standing up. She saw this word "development" - we started out being the Northwest District Development Association, NWDDA, and Louise thought this was all a plot to take over. She owned a bunch of real estate around here. So she got up and really made inflammatory statements, and here are some hundreds of people who are hearing this thing for the first time. The City's plan was to unite Good Sam and the truck company and just kind of do a continuous thing all through Northwest. It covered a huge amount of Northwest.
Llano did a marvelous job. It would take a minister to hold the lid on that thing. I thought we were going to have fist fights. It really just got totally out of control.
So the meeting ended and then those of us who were at that meeting got to know each other for the first time. That was the first time I met Llano, although he may have been in earlier meetings. My memory is Bing Sheldon was there and George Drougas, who ran the little grocery store down on Lovejoy, and lived down there for many years, George was there. Howard Glazer was there.
The reason there weren't more people there is there weren't people living in this neighbor-hood who would have an interest in that, Ernie. And the people up here on the Heights didn't care. Candy Demming was there - they used to live right across the street from where we are - Candy and her husband Bill were there. And I suppose in time I would think of more people.
Bing lived down on Northrup Street just below us here about 24th. But there were just like a handful of sort of younger, or yuppie, what we'd call younger professionals now. So we kind of got together, I think, on the side and said, "Let's form an association," which became NWDDA, and then the next year we dropped the second "d" because people kept thinking, "Development .... You guys are part of the enemy."
And then we started entering negotiations with the City, and I think Howard again was a real factor. And Howard's still around. You should interview him because he'd probably remember some of this stuff. He was a really strong person and had kind of strong opinions about not wanting to be swallowed up. We want to be ourselves. We don't want to be an adjunct to the city.
So we went on and held a few more meetings that kind of got calmed down. I think Louise didn't come to one so it allowed us to form, and survive. I think Lloyd Keefe was probably head of the Planning Department at that time, and Lloyd was a reasonably supportive guy. I think he had probably more neighborhood interest at heart than most of the Council. He was kind of quietly supportive, I think, of what we were doing.
So I believe it was at that time that the leadership group started forming, and I don't know whose idea it was directly, but these houses were being knocked down, and it was really a horrible situation.
CB: All that time I remember going door to door for United Way, March of d Dimes or other campaigns. This was in '68 and '70, but we went door to door, and the next campaign, two years later, we'd find the addresses would just be gone. These old houses would be flattened.
OB: I think the Fred Meyer expansion took out about 15 residences, but I may be wrong on that number. But all around us. They took out the two houses next door and four houses across the street, and then over on 20th Place they took out some more.
And I can't remember whether NWDA was formed at that time, but I know I testified against that, to deaf ears. The real estate guy who was buying up this property for Fred Meyer approached me to sell our house, and I actually think I would have sold it, but they didn't want it. We were living there happily and whatnot.
When they finally did the final design, their entrance and exit driveway on 20th came right out at our front door. If you go down there and look at that and see kind of this big kind of square house across the street, that's where we lived. So we had the Fred Meyer battle. I can't remember whether - I don't think NWDA was formed then.
So we started meeting at our house a lot. Llano, and I think Glazer was there. Drougas may have been involved. The thing that we decided was not to take it on kind of head-on politically, but to do an end-run and get them to do a comprehensive plan, starting with a policy plan and then a comprehensive plan. We thought strategically this is terrific; nobody can object to doing a plan. It looks harmless. It will whiz right through City Council to get us off of their backs.
So that was really probably the most important strategic thing that happened was coming up with this idea of, "Let's get a plan." That did two things. It focused everybody on that and gave them something to fight for. So then the political effort all shifted. I think Lloyd Anderson may have been on the Council by then, but the political effort then shifted to getting this plan, and the plan became sacred.
And then we were able to go to City Council. I think they'd seen enough of us that they didn't want us riling around down there anymore. So we were able to get the funding for the plan, and that was a huge breakthrough. Then John Perry and Dave Richen worked for the Planning Commission, and they were assigned to work up here.
Denny West was on the faculty of Portland State. He was in that urban planning department and he didn't live in the neighborhood but he became very interested in what we were doing. He started coming to our meetings and kind of offering advice and whatnot.
So we had this kind of nucleus, this group that was coming together. So we had the big march on City Hall. They rented buses and they bussed 60 or 70 people from the neighborhood down there to a City Council meeting. I think it was when the hearing was being held on funding the Northwest Plan. But political pressure was really kind of stepping up.
OB: What was the first year Neil was elected?
EB: He was elected in '70, but he didn't take office until '71.
OB: Seventy-one, okay. Well, Lloyd was there, and then a bunch of us shifted - we saw Neil as the next best hope . And of course, we had a huge bias, Neil being the only chance we had. It was horrible to go down there in front of the Council.
Lloyd was a bright light, but only one of five, really.
Concurrently with this, a few of us were meeting downtown to try to get somebody to run against Ivancie, and Tom Walsh was in our group. There must have been a half dozen of us. We'd meet down there about once a week and we couldn't come up with anybody. It was just a dead loss. We approached people individually, people that might have the name or the reputation to do it.
So at the last meeting we threw up our hands in despair. We met actually down at Stoel Rives - what was not then Stoel Rives but is now Stoel Rives' office. Everybody threw up their hands in despair. And Walsh stepped up and said, "Damn it, I'm going to run." And everybody goes, "Yea". And then not I so much, but Charlotte and a few other people really became the back-bone of Tom's campaign.
Then Neil ran the same year, but we were so focused on Tom that - well, we supported Neil and had coffees and stuff, but we never did the emotional thing.
CB: We decided Tom needed help a lot more.
OB: Yes. Neil looked like kind of a shoo-in at that time.
So the next year rolled around and the NWDA was off and running. You couldn't stop it by that time. But the nominating committee asked me to be chair and I said, no. I was really busy at earning a living. I'd just gone to work for the Port of Portland as Marine Manager in the late '60s.
So they nominated George Drougas for president and me for vice president. That would be fine, and maybe be president the next year. So my memory is that we went to the first meeting, where we were going to have elections, and George didn't show up. So "Hey, Beeman, would you run the meeting?" They elected me president. So I was the second president. Llano was the first, I was the second, and Bing was the third.
So we really kept the flag up there. We really had the horsepower, and of by that time the Planning Commission was starting to listen. Even though Tom lost and it sort of shook everybody up, the election of Neil we felt gave us an ally - somebody to really look after the issues in City Hall.
So that year was largely devoted to helping John Perry and Dave Richen do the plan and get public input. Just the input process helped a lot. It helped finding active people who were interested in the program. With John and Dave, really you couldn't have chosen two better guys to do this. Dave is a marvelous guy, and John is still a good friend of ours. They were professional, but we knew where their sympathies were, and they could see this whole thing unfolding.
So then the plan came out, and I can't remember whether the busloads of people went - I was thinking they went down there to get the plan funded, but they might have gone down there to get the plan approved.
OB: I just found an interesting letter that I wrote... I found this letter accidentally in some other papers, a letter by me to members of the Planning Commission, subject NWDA, November 1973. So this was now a few years later, and I'm not in office any more.
The letter is kind of interesting because apparently when the Plan came up there must have been some criticism from the Planning Commission or from City Council that the supporters hadn't done a good job of showing how we fit with city policy and making a strong case for why this should be done. So I wrote this letter, which I think is kind of eloquent, and basically says it's the neighborhood's job to propose, and it's the Planning Commission's job to dispose. And don't try to shuck your responsibilities back on us. It isn't our job to show how this conforms to city policy or why it's good for the city, it's your job.
OB: Yes. I finished up my term of office, I think to be replaced by Bing, and right at that time, - maybe it was a defensive posture or maybe pressure from NWDA - the Mayor or somebody on Council came up with the idea of what we call "DPO", District Planning Organizations. They sent out invitations to a half a dozen of us who had been active in the neighborhood associations. I was just going out as president of NWDA, so I was the logical person to be on it. And they sent out invitations to an organizational meeting of the Mayor's committee on this DPO, so I went.
The Mayor had nominated the president of Lewis & Clark College as the chairman of this committee, and all the rest of us were just neighborhood activists, ready to march on City Hall. He had wisely chosen to put the president of Lewis & Clark, who I think was a friend of his, a pretty even-tempered guy, as chairman.
We went to the organizational meeting, and it was the same as what happened with the NWDA, this guy didn't show up. So we all said, " what are we going to do? The guy who's supposed to be chairman of our committee never showed up." And then everybody said, "Well, we don't really want an outsider as chairman of this, we want a neighborhood guy, so Beeman, would you be president?" It was sort of thrust upon me.
EB: Were there people from the Mayor's Office at that meeting, do you remember?
OB: I don't recall that there were. I think it was just kind of an anathema to them. I just don't think they knew how to handle it. I don't recall that there was anybody from the Mayor's Office. There may have been an aide or somebody there, but my memory is there wasn't. So they had done really a darn good job of selection. I think I was the only one from Northwest, and a couple people from Northeast, and I think somebody from Southeast, people who had been in the early days of the neighborhood movement.
We defined our objective as trying to write a policy for the City regarding neighborhood associations. And of course I was strongly driven by two considerations, one of which was we had all just worked our buns off around here. Charlotte and I were giving inordinate amounts of time, and we had so many volunteers, and we were just running everybody ragged. So I guess the fundamental idea of having some money set aside, and at that time, believe me, it was modest - a few thousand dollars to get a typewriter or a small office space. It was just beyond imagination - you said Mary (Pederson) went to work for $1,000.
One of the things that I carried into that DPO task force was the idea of some modest grant being made to a neighborhood that got together and passed all the stuff.
Then the other thing that struck me was that we had no standing with the Planning Commission or with City Hall, so we'd go down, "Well, we're from NWDA." Well, you're one person, and then the person next door would say something else, or the developer would say something else. So the other thing that I carried into this thing from our NWDA experience was the aspect of some standing. If the neighborhood association was going to stay together, it had to have some standing. And we didn't know exactly what that standing was.
That kicked off one of the toughest, most stressful years of my life because once a month or so I would meet with these five or six people that were really ready to tear down City Hall and rebuild from scratch. And you know, I'm a moderate person, and I was very cognizant of the possible. I thought, "Hey, everybody wants everything, but what can we do?" Well, we might get some money, and we might get some standing, and increase the recognition of neighborhoods. And I thought, "Boy, if we could do that, we will have been really successful."
And by that time I guess Neil had been elected - does that sound right?
EB: He was elected in '72. He was actually elected in May of '72, by gaining a majority of those running in the Primary. He won in May. Actually he was a kind of quasi-mayor for eight months, being officially sworn in on January 1, 1973.
OB: Well, I recall that Bill Scott, who I think at that time was in the Mayor's Office, used to come to some of our meetings and saw the agony that we was going through. I think he was just sitting there happy that it wasn't the Mayor's Office. We were taking the heat.
But we had some pretty radical people, and I'll just tell you one view that was there. There was a very strong view on our committee that the neighborhood associations should be the first level, and then there would be DPO, a district planning organization, so several neighborhood associations, like the West Side thing or the Northeast would come together and kind of approve or sanction the things that were coming out of the neighborhood associations.
And then there was the radical proposal that that group or another group to be formed would act in lieu of the Planning Commission, that if it came up through the neighborhoods, and it was sanctioned by the district planning organization, then it was law.
I realized that it was not going to fly.
I was taking the approach that, look, we are on the crest. We've been invited by the City to make this recommendation that will put us on the map, where we've never even been on the map yet. It will put us at the table. And I said, "If we come up with radical ideas that nobody can buy, it's just going to be a laugher."
I probably spent four or five meetings arguing this out, and it was rough. I remember at one of these meetings there was a black woman from Northeast that was on our committee, she'd been an activist over there, and she came to all our meetings. She was very good, very excellent input. And one day she didn't show up at our meeting. I was at the Port of Portland by that time, and I think we met in the boardroom over at the Port on Saturdays. She didn't show up, and one of her friends showed up. And her friend came in, and she said, "Thelma" - or whatever her name was - "can't be here today, but I'm going to sit in for her."
So I said, "The Committee's all made up of people who have been designated by their neighborhoods and have been part of our whole proceedings here. You're welcome to sit here and listen and make any comments you want to, but you're not part of the committee."
She went over and she sat down in a chair. We were meeting at the board table, that big round board table at the Port of Portland. She said, "Yes, I am." And I was thinking, "Oh, gosh." She was a really outspoken obstreperous woman, and here I was struggling with half the other group who wanted to create a socialist state.
EB: Was this Mrs. Benson, perchance?
OB: I think it might have been.
EB: Mrs. Benson was a famous... big round person.
OB: Yes, very large.
EB: And willing to just sit and break up a meeting.
OB: Yes, well, she was doing it.
And miracle of miracles, about that time, when I was just thinking, "We'll maybe just adjourn the meeting" in walks the actual member of our committee, and she said, "Okay, I'm going to take my seat," and Mrs. Benson, if that's who it was, got up and left. That was one kind of skirmish with the end of everything.
And I spent hours. I met with people privately and spent hours and hours, as well as our meetings, at trying to get people off of this "We're going to run the city." It's just not practical. It's not our job to run the city, and sort of some of that is kind of encompassed in that letter.
EB: I know that Lloyd had proposed several kinds of ways to try to make - get neighborhoods somehow officially involved in City decisions.
EB: So did you notice Lloyd around this issue at all? Do you remember?
OB: Well, I remember Marvin, and come to think of it Marvin was kind of in from the beginning, I think, on NWDA. They lived up in Willamette Heights, and still do.
Lloyd was certainly important to us because he was the closest thing we had to a friend. I think from time to time he spoke up and backed the Comprehensive Plan, and of course that's just his language. I think he was there, but I don't think we ever felt we had any muscle in City Council until Neil came along, and then I think he and Lloyd became allies. They were looking for a third vote. But I don't remember Lloyd as kind of coming out or - and that's just my memory. We gave money to his campaigns, and we looked at him as being the one there that would have an interest.
Anyway, the DPO task force, filed a report with some of these ideas in it, and then I think it was probably Bill Scott who took that and converted it into an ordinance. Then they had a DPO ordinance, which is probably in your memory. And I think they took the best bits of what we had and left out some of the radical stuff. I actually even think we may have included some of the radical stuff in there just to be able to carry some of these people along into a vote. We knew it was going to be finally written someplace else. So we had some of that. I think we had two levels in there, but it was pretty impractical.
EB: Then eventually the big fight was tearing down the districts and placing that power in each neighborhood. You know, that was a big fight about that later. Neighbors were definitely not interested in giving any of their power to this district.
OB: Yes. But that was just the opposite, of course, of what I was confronted with in this thing because they were forming a new government, really.
Anyway, it was a stressful - boy, the two years back to back, president of NWDA and then this thing, I was worn down to a nubbin. I was stressed out, and it was really hard. And then I had a huge responsibility over at the Port of Portland; I had a very responsible job over there. So that was going along in the middle of it.
At any rate, sometime after that DPO report went in, I was appointed to the Planning Commission. I stayed there just two years, and I can't remember the exact reason. Actually, I was appointed president-elect of the City Club in about '75 or '76, something like that, and I think that put me past overload for civic duties. So I resigned from the Planning Commission at that time and then went on to be president-elect and then president of the City Club, I think about '77 or '78.
At that time - I'm trying to think of when we - I think we were already back from Korea, weren't we? We were in Korea in '74 and '75, so we had been gone a year in Korea, and then came back, and I started my own consulting practice. For all intents and purposes, aside from City Club activities, I pretty much felt that was the conclusion of my era of civic activities. My consulting practice was really starting to go, and I was traveling extensively overseas. So I just kind of folded things up, and really Charlotte picked up a lot of - some NWDA, but more important the school board and these elections, Neil's election and other things.
So that kind of ends my story.
EB: Well, we'll switch over to Charlotte for a while, and then we'll come back and have you both talk about things. I have another date here, June 2nd, 1973, Mayor recommends Charlotte Beeman and Bob Walsh for PDC. So maybe you could give your version of the things that were going on there in the early '70s.
CB: I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and I met Ogden at Stanford. We were married and then after we bumped around the country a little bit, we came back here in 1960. And that's when my residence here began. My involvement was through our 3 children at first and it was pretty much with the schools and PTA in those early years.
When we were living in the Couch area, we found the transient nature of neighborhood made the school situation difficult. We enrolled our daughter there for kindergarten. It was the first year that the schools allowed people to transfer voluntarily their children to another school. So we transferred Harriet to West Sylvan School on the bus. In fact, the bus just went by on Burnside, and she caught it by herself. These days I'm not sure you'd be able to do the same thing.
Later we moved into the Chapman area, and I got involved with the Chapman PTA, and I became president for a couple of years. Some of the pictures I sent you are from that time. The School District severely limited the amount of money the PTA could raise for the school. We changed it - an early precursor to the Schools Foundation.
Our first big fund-raiser was The Fair Northwest - great gathering of a number of different groups in the neighborhood. We raised a little money and bought books for the library and other things like that.
I was pretty much at home with my children and behind the scenes with NWDA. I got involved with Tom Walsh's campaign. There were three women, Alison Belcher and Marlene Bayless and I were the three organizers of the different areas of town. And of course Tom lost the election by a squeak so we were very sad. We were also supporters of Goldschmidt, and I became more involved with supporting Goldschmidt's activities. I was appointed to the Portland Development Commission in '73.
Unfortunately I didn't have very long on PDC - unfortunately for me because I thought it was fascinating and I learned a lot. We went to Korea in 1974, and that ended my PDC 'career'.
With PDC we had quite a lot of money for urban renewal projects through tax increment financing. We had a lot of opportunities to make improvements in the inner Northeast.
EB: On PDC, were you involved in that group of people - when Neil came in in '73, he fired everybody, or he pretty much asked everybody to leave. It was a big ruckus: Planning Commission, PDC and so on.
CB: Everybody left except for Elaine Cogan who wouldn't resign.
EB: Elaine Cogan wouldn't go. Maybe somebody else, too, I don't remember, but certainly Elaine. So were you part of the people who were appointed to finish the positions vacated at that time?
CB: I believe so, yes. After I left Bob Walsh stayed on. I think part of the agenda was to change the director of PDC, which wasn't stated, but it seemed obvious once you were on the Commission.
My role with NWDA was more background, but I do remember organizing the 'Charette' or brainstorming meeting that we had on the Thurman-Upshur corridor where the freeway was going to go through but was eventually stopped. We had all those architects living in the neighborhood. It was a 'hotbed' of architects. I remember Edgar Waehrer was very much involved, and he was in a lot of this stuff Ogden was talking about. And Marvin Witt, Carol and Alf Edelman and just on and on. There were a whole lot of us who came together, and we walked the neighborhood and brainstormed and drew up some different ideas for what should go in that Thurman-Upshur corridor.
EB: What about working in the Mayor's Office on the schools policy?
CB: Yes. After we got back from Korea, I went to work for Neil's campaign for the last time he ran for mayor in 1976. Later he appointed me to the position of city schools liaison, which was the first time they'd had such a position, and it was not particularly defined. It had sort of evolved.
The one thing that we worked on there was to develop a city school policy because there are so many things that the city and the schools do together. For example some of the maintenance of parks and school grounds has been cooperative, and certainly the use by schools of parks has been always ongoing. Most of our schools are built next to parks. And then things like school crosswalk guards and other cooperative work with the police. Another cooperative arrangement was the Community School Program - the schools provided the facilities, and the City was funding some of the directors of community school programs for after school use of the buildings. So we wrote the City/Schools Policy document and the City Council adopted it.
When I was in that position we developed the Multnomah Community Center. Since we were unable to establish joint use of Multnomah School while it was still a school, the District turned it over to the City for a nominal fee. We remodeled it and moved the Multnomah Art Center there, a Senior Center, day care and others. It still is a very successful Center for that neighborhood and is used extensively for meetings, the Neighborhood Association office etc.
Neil's creation of the City/Schools Liaison position grew out of strategies to keep people with children in the city. There had been some public conflicts between the School Superintendent, Robert Blanchard and Neil. They wanted to improve communication between the two. My counterpart at the District and I arranged breakfast meetings for Neil and Robert about once a week to talk over issues.
Karen Baldwin, Sarah Newhall and I put the City/School Policy Document together from my office. Neil teased us a lot about the time we put in on it etc. He was more interested in action than policies. I think he was well aware that they are only as good as the people behind them that make them work. But he supported the policy in City Council when we took the document before them for adoption.
EB: I think the strategy approach was largely something that Alan Webber and Ron Buel wanted, but that Neil didn't especially care about. Neil wanted a project, you know: "We want to build something."
EB: He told me just frankly when I was interviewing him about the job, I said, "Well, you need to do a Comprehensive Plan," and he says, "We don't need a Comprehensive Plan." And as a matter of fact, you know, for his purposes - actually if we had prepared a Comprehensive Plan instead of the things we did do, we would be much worse off today. So there is a tendency to - I mean, certainly it's among planners, to think that you can organize things a certain way, through strategies and policies and process. But I think the planning efforts that people remember are the ones that result in something actually being built - and when I mean built, I don't mean like agreed to, I mean something built. And so in that sense I think he had good instincts about it.
The other thing about it that's interesting now, and maybe you have some thoughts about this, too, is that there is some sense among people now that maybe the time for neighborhood associations is gone. I mean, There I some concern that they're becoming a kind of monster that now can't be controlled. They don't represent the neighborhood, you know, they don't give you really good advice, and they basically hold things up.
OB: Yes. I don't feel close enough to the neighborhood movement to really respond to that, but I think that the things that were driving us in NWDA and DPO are past. That's the past, and the stuff that was written to respond to that was really responding to stuff that was happening in the '60s. So from that standpoint, maybe the need for it is past, or maybe it needs to be reformulated. I read the little NWDA newspaper or stuff that comes out, The Examiner and the fact that there is an organization and people can go there and argue about parking or our relationship with the industrial district, I think it's important to have that format or that forum where people can get together and talk about these things and have appointed committees. I think the appointed committees have been good. I think they've done a lot of good.
But the attitudinal change and the political change in City Hall has made a lot of the nitty-gritty kind of not necessary or not relevant anymore. So I guess I would say rather than the need has passed, I would maybe rephrase that and say maybe that the functioning should be reexamined in the light of today's problems and what the issues are.
What we wanted to accomplish, I would say, has largely been accomplished.
EB: I agree.
OB: And it's been set. We said, "We want this institutionalized, it has to be institutionalized," and of course the neighborhood associations became the manifestation of that institutional aspect. But now that it's been institutionalized, maybe you can kind of let it go, with the confidence that it will kind of take care of itself.
So Charlotte, back to you.
CB: I was thinking about what was concerning me then, and since I was so involved in the schools all that time we were some of those that really believed in this policy about trying to keep families with children in the City. We were willing to send our children to public schools and to work with them to keep the quality there.
At that time the District was pressured by the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. We were under the gun to integrate the schools in some way or other or be forced to by the Feds. The way that the School Board chose to do it here was voluntary bussing, and that was done through a lot of encouraging and publicizing in the black community to bus out. They also poured a lot of extra money into the schools in largely minority areas, so that white children would bus in. They developed early childhood centers that were somewhat successful in attracting white students. The arts magnet and the dance program at Jefferson were also part of that effort.
As I continued being involved with the schools, I was very much aware of the "white flight" issue. Seattle had a tremendous problem with it, and in fact I think it destroyed their school system, and it has never quite recovered from that.
The way it was done here was much less destructive to the whole system in that it didn't cause very much "white flight". Of course it's all been changed now, turned around, because minorities wanted their children to be able to attend schools in their own neighborhoods. They felt that it was "brain drain" to encourage them to bus. So even information about other schools was blocked by members of the black community.
Ironically, as soon as the people in Neil's office who were pushing these policies were out of City Hall they all moved to Lake Oswego and Riverdale and other suburbs.
So some of us were real believers, though, and we worked with the schools. When a number of kids were being bussed we provided resident homes for students being bussed in so that they would have a neighborhood home to go to if there was an emergency or after school or whatever they needed. We tried to do a number of things to make it work.
So in the Liaison position, I was watching the school district's population go down rapidly, and the school district went through big discussions over the closure of a couple of schools, including Terwilliger where the population had dropped so low that it threatened the viability of the school. But that situation was happening all over the district and many schools had a lot more space than was needed.
Shortly after Neil went to Washington, I left that position .... The new mayor needed her own people. The position stayed vacant for a while. Marcia Douglas held it later.
CB: So I ran for the school board in 1980 and won that position at the same time that Dean Gisvold won his. We had both watched very carefully and attended most of the meetings that were held about school closures. It was a tremendous and lengthy debate because we had about 35 percent fewer children than the population for which the school district was built.
And so when Dean Gisvold and I got on the school board, the first meeting we went to we closed three high schools and about ten grade schools. The previous school board members whom we had beaten in the election had decided not to close any. That was probably the most significant thing that we did for the future of The District. It significantly cut our school costs for then and later. The number of children continues to decrease and now the District will have to close some more buildings.
EB: You know, every time I start thinking about the school situation, I get sad. It almost seems like there's no solution. Do you ever get kind of, "Oh, gosh, how can I overcome all of these forces, all pointing in the opposite direction of me?"
CB: Yes. Jonathan Newman was a good friend of mine, and I just watched him during those many years he was on the School Board. He was so passionate about his beliefs, and he was very passionate about integration. They had a really fine school board then made up of professional people who worked so hard to get some kind of integration that didn't completely destroy the school district. Robert Blanchard was superintendent and played a big part of that. I thought he was a very fine superintendent, although he had a hot temper which got him in trouble.
When I came on the school board, all that we did, I could see, was unraveling what Jonathan did, and I don't think we had a choice. We hired a black superintendent; that calmed things down for the black community, but we still had people stomping on our desks saying, "We want our children back in the neighborhood". Under pressure we did unravel all the work that was done for integration.
At that time the schools were in good shape, much better shape than they are now. The same time that Dean and I ran, we won a new tax base. Both of us ran saying, "Don't vote for us if you don't vote for the tax base because this school district won't be worth much without it." And that was great because we were out there giving coffee after coffee and talking to lots and lots of people, and that was really a big part of the message from us as well as our opponents. And the tax base passed.
At that time we were in really good shape financially. Thanks to Bill Scott the Board the savings that we instituted and the school closures kept the District in excellent shape financially for several years. What has happened now with Ballot Measure 5 is tragic.
EB: What do you guys think is going to be happening around here in the next 15 or 20 years? What's going to be happening in Portland that's going to be interesting?
CB: Well, I think all these houses will be turned into condominiums. Like the one down the street that was turned into condominiums, has big "sale" signs in it now.
That's one thing, I think: more condensation, more traffic problems.
OB: Yes. We're noticing the impact of the infill property. Our neighbors just built a little house down on their extra lot here, and then this easing up on the rules towards condominiums or apartments for these old houses we notice. And as Charlotte says, we're going to notice it more as time goes on and people can less afford. Some of the electronics and high-tech industry people have moved into older neighborhoods like this and are able to afford some of these big houses. But I think most of your downtown or the traditional professional group that would move into neighborhoods like this, are in Dunthorpe or suburbia or someplace, seeking better schools.
This neighborhood, since NWDA and the Comp. Plan and then the whole economics of what's happened, because houses around here were so cheap, it was just mind-boggling they were so cheap. And then some of us who worked on the NWDA and on the Plan bought properties, rental properties or residential properties, in the neighborhood and fixed them up, and so there was a lot of internal - you could call it gentrification, but maybe call it investment or whatnot.
CB: Look at 23rd Avenue and 21st Avenue. They were just funky little streets.
EB: That's the difference between a good neighborhood and a bad neighborhood; in a good neighborhood they're investing, in a bad neighborhood they aren't.
OB: Well, I think there's been criticism of gentrification, but I think it's been gradual enough people have not been booted out of their houses and a lot of people have stayed. There are still good opportunities with the apartment population around here; there are still good opportunities.
You don't have maybe the ability for retirees and that section of the population that used to gravitate up here, but they've gravitated someplace else, maybe Southeast or...
EB: Well, this density thing I think is one thing that's - I mean, the whole philosophy of the region now is, you know, get denser, make transit more efficient, make all your public services more efficient and so forth, is encroaching on livability.
CB: Yes, is that going to explode on us?
EB: I think it's a collision course here, it really is, and you can see it happen in the Southwest where you'd wonder now if we came in here to do Northwest district planning today and we talked about fairly significant increases in density, even down in the flats, I wonder how many people would want that? They'd say too many cars, too many people already, and so on. So I think we are on a collision course there, and I don't know how it's going to be resolved. But to me it has always interested me that they talk so much about the benefits of density, but they don't talk about the costs of it, which are real and down home.
CB: Are you still in your same house?
EB: Well, we moved to Alameda three years ago... almost four years ago, from Sunnyside. We were in the Southeast, Sunnyside, for a long, long time, and we just moved over there about three years ago.
EB: I just saw this house - on 27th and Knott, essentially, 27th and Stanton.
CB: Og grew up on 36th...
OB: Klickitat Street.
EB: Oh, really?
CB: That's about where Capps live, isn't it?
EB: Oh, everybody's over there. When we moved over there, we didn't realize it, but we were moving right in the middle of a lot of our friends.
OB: That wasn't the reason, but it ended up doing that.
CB: Several of the kids, 30s, are moving in closer Northeast. Lots of - Peter has probably four friends there now, and Mark Landauer lives over there. These people don't have school age children yet, so it will be interesting to see if they stay when their kids get to school age.
EB: Well, maybe we'll get some energy out of these people, when they see the schools aren't good enough for their kids...
OB: Well, that would be great. You always wonder, you look back and you say, "Where's that next generation that's going to do, you know, whatever we did?" Or at least we had energy and we had a vision and kind of a goal.
CB: What we're seeing with the kids is they're all working so hard; they have two jobs and children, and they don't have a lot of extra time. At least I was able to be home fixing Og's dinner when he was out going to all these meetings.
EB: Well, they're going to have to make some choices. It's definitely true that when we lost the housewife, or now the househusband, you lost a tremendous resource, tremendous resource. I remember Sally Landauer talking about that, she and Vera Katz.
CB: Right, at that Clinton Street...
EB: At the Clinton Street thing, you know. You know, they said, "Hey, we've got to go do something." Here, too, tremendously - tremendous resource.
CB: Did you know about the "lunch bags" or the "Wednesday winos"?
EB: The Wednesday winos, right.
CB: Yes. I mean, that group were all the people that were doing political volunteer work. We would get together at someone's house with our petitions and our children and lunches and...
EB: Now, was that the group that eventually marched on City Club?
CB: A number of them did. I didn't.
OB: Gretchen was part of it.
CB: But Ogden was active in the City Club, that was his thing and eventually he quit over the issue of excluding women. So I didn't march because of his involvement.
[End of Interview]