Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Once-Cozy Cornelius

A few years ago when I was on the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, a long-hoped-for proposal came to us, to renovate the Cornelius, a downtown hostelry on Park Avenue that had long been vacant and neglected. The Cornelius has something of a mansard roof, and huge, heavy, openable double-hung windows, and is located right in the heart of things at the corner of Park and Alder. Designed by John V. Bennes, it was built in 1907-1908. It's a handsome structure, very dignified, nicely detailed. A small Europeanish remnant of the Portland a century ago, but one that still fits comfortably into its corner of town.

But suddenly the economy fell, and the project fell with it. Now, the owners say they want to demolish it. Just get rid of it. To do so, they will have to go through not only the Landmarks Commission, but City Council, but what the heck. Why do we so blithely throw away buildings like the Cornelius?

All images courtesy Steve Dotterrer

The Phantom Streetcars

Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 101742
Here is what collectors call a RPPC--a "real photo postcard"--depicting a street scene in Stanford, Montana, postmarked June 9, 1913. It looks a little funny, doesn't it? The streetcar seems to be kind of disproportionally large, and the trolley pole appears to be drawn in with heavy ink.

Yes, the postcard is a real photograph of the main street of Stanford, and that is a real photograph of a streetcar--but the streetcar photo has been carefully cut and pasted onto the street scene. The penciled scrawl says, "Not yet but soon."This is a booster postcard, promoting the future metropolis of Stanford, so up-to-the-minute that it has streetcars. In 1910 the growing Stanford district had a population of 1,176; but prosperity did not continue, and the town's population today is less than 800. It never had a streetcar.

I recently ran across another RPPC with a faux streetcar on eBay. This image is of Jordan Valley, Oregon; "all cars stop" = all streetcars stop. This card is most likely a novelty item, for the remote sheep ranching trade town of Jordan Valley never had a reason to aspire to the status of Stanford, which is a county seat town on a mainline railroad line in a prosperous farming area. In the 1920 census, Jordan Valley had a population of 355, and like Stanford it has seen a decline since then, to about 230 people today.

There was a brief period from about 1905 to 1920 when streetcars represented the acme of metropolitanism, and postcards were the modern way to send a quick note--they were the Tweets of their day. If your town lacked a streetcar, you could still hope one might arrive, or you could admit to living in a small place and make a joke of it. In any case, it pays to advertise.

Monday, June 17, 2013

French Cuisine on the Streamliner!

Here’s a picture postcard of dining on the train, circa 1930. That’s the year that the Union Pacific Railroad introduced the Portland Rose as its premier through train from Chicago and Omaha to Baker City, Pendleton, The Dalles, and Portland. Although this was white-linen-tablecloth dining, the car’s décor, as well as the diners’ attire, is pretty down home, even if it is well dressed: there is no smarty Art Deco folderol here.

But the Union Pacific got with it in the 1930s. This was a time when their passenger train service was being hacked away at in great chunks by the Depression, the automobile, the airplane, and even the motor bus (the railroad established its own bus lines in 1929). In 1934, Union Pacific came out with its first “streamliner,” a sleek bullet train that set speed records and wowed the public.

Their second snappy streamliner went into service in 1935 as a new train, the City of Portland, “sailing” from its terminal ports of Portland and Chicago five or six times a month. And lo! in the dining car not only did the décor get smartened up over that of the Portland Rose, but the solid but mundane menu was shaken up, too. (And no doubt the diners dressed more fashionably, yes?)

For a time, the Union Pacific offered continental cuisine! Here you see the menu, as shown in an advertising folder from 1937. The full dinner price of $1.75 is roughly equivalent to $28.00 today: that's not outrageous, but the Union Pacific also ran dining cars at the time that catered to those pinching their few pennies, and there you could get a full plate dinner for 35 cents (about $5.60 in today’s money).

In case you are wondering, tranches au sauman [saumon] Montpelier would have been a hunk of [Columbia River] salmon with a butter sauce of herbs and anchovies. Potatoes Delmonico are smashed with cream and topped with cheese and breadcrumbs and browned. The Union Pacific had a fondness for fruit fritters as an accompaniment to main dishes, and it especially favored pineapple fritters. While apple fritters have survived as a fairly popular sweet treat at the doughnut shop, pineapple and cherry versions seem to have disappeared. What’s the story, do you suppose? And remember, prohibition had ended only a few years earlier, so your choice of wine was red or white, and probably from California.

While French cuisine apparently did not last very long, we have here a 1939 menu from the streamliner City of Los Angeles, showing a few variations on the theme. Railroad dining cars had a habit of occasionally promoting regional products on their menus, or of pushing particular foods, but to offer an entire “ethnic” menu was pretty rare. The only other one that springs to mind (it, too, did not last for long) was the “Italian Dinner” served on the California Zephyr in the 1950s, between Chicago and San Franciso. Don't you think a Thai menu would have a following on the Amtrak Cascades trains to Seattle?