PDX: Growing up Oregonian

June 3, 2008

Oregonian Buiding Postcard, 1940sNo, I don’t mean native, I mean hanging around the offices of the well-established newspaper here. My mom has worked for The Oregonian longer than I’ve been alive. Long enough to have been around in the days of the Journal, Portland’s then-afternoon paper (our late family friend, Donald Sterling, was at the helm of the Journal at the time it got sucked into the Oregonian-sphere in 1982).

When I was very young, my father also produced the news at KOIN (our CBS affiliate). So you could say it was a journalistic family.

As a child, I spent a considerable amount of time in the Oregonian building in downtown Portland. I can only hope my sister and I were tolerably well-behaved. Probably not, regrettably.

Here are some things I remember:

  • The pneumatic tubes! Oh, the pneumatic tubes! Papers scrolled, pushed into cylinders, then FWOOMP!! The hollow FWOOMPing sound! The tubes went past the wall opposite the elevators on at least some floors; I would stand there and hope something would go sucking by. There are few things more fascinating to a child than pneumatic tubes.
  • There is a tunnel! through the center of the building. For driving through. And parking and whatnot. you can see a green truck turning left into it in the postcard photo. Additional trivia: that truck is going the “wrong way”–traffic has always in my memory gone northbound through the building only.
  • I had a vision come to me late last night in the miserable throes of insomnia (it inspired this post). I have the vaguest of memories, like an unsubstantiated dream, suddenly in my head unbidden, of a coffeeshop or casual restaurant in the northwest corner of the building (Broadway & Columbia). I see it in hues of late-70s browns and golds, dimness, perhaps the smell of coffee and cigarette smoke? Did such an establishment exist? I’m fairly certain it did. There was an external entrance and one into the Oregonian’s lobby in my memory/dream.
  • I had several favorite areas in the building: where the artists worked (at the time, the 5th floor), hispid forests of graphic pens and nests of color separations; the newsroom, because stuff goes on there; the backshop and underbelly areas, because they were mysterious.
  • The early 80s in the editorial department: picture this. Almost entirely male, everyone with cubby office (steelcase desk, piles of yellowing newsprint, metal Venetian blinds, a fifth in the bottom drawer, linoleum). And they smoked cigars. Like for real, at their desks. This world came to represent what might be most accurately termed “old school” in my frame of reference.
  • The teletype machines ka-bangKa-bangKa-bang.
  • The place was run by some sort of Hal 9000 type mainframe. Reporters each had a terminal, generally referred to as a “scope.” When the shit was really going down, the terminals would beep. This was regarded as a Very Big Deal. I believe they beeped when Reagan got shot. I’m not sure what else qualified for a beep.

I’m hoping my mom will sail in and straighten me out on a few of my wispy memories here.


  1. thisKat says:

    So funny to know someone has the same childhood memories I have! The pneumatic tubes were definitely the best. And I do remember the smoking. For a long time, until smoking was banned in the newsroom, my mom had one of those air-sucking machines next to her ashtray. I loved the electric typewriters and the corrective tape. I used *a lot* of corrective tape. And the bound carbon copies! White, pink and yellow. The newsroom was noisier then, like newsrooms are in the movies, with old phones ringing real bells. (How did they get anything *done*?) The last time I was there it felt like a library, with the gently buzzing phones, the carpeted floor and the soft cubes.

    There were many times we were there late into the night and my brother and I would race around the newsroom, pushing each other on rolling chairs, hopped up on sugar from the candy machine, and probably tea from beverage machine. (Did my mom really give us caffeine?)

    But my favorite memories are of the people, some now long gone: Uncle Early (Dean), Fran Jones and her houseboat, Kent Clark (his real name), Rod Patterson and perm and his Hawaiian shirts. There are more and I can see their faces or hear their smokey laughs but I can’t remember their names. I always felt special and important and smart when these people ooohed and aaaahed at my “stories.”

    When I read Katharine Graham’s biography and she described scenes in the newsroom at the Washington Post, I always pictured it as the Oregonian newsroom, circa 1979.

  2. Maggie says:

    Yes, there was def. a coffee shop of some sort down there – very brown, very diner-esque. But I fear, my sister, that we were not saints. I remember many hours of a game that involved running all over the newsroom but not letting anyone see us, which in the process I am sure caused massive disruption. Also, I thought the tunnel was built originally because they also printed the paper there (in the part of the building with the big non-transparent windows along 6th Ave). I think that’s cool. I also think the newsroom, as it exists now, is no newsroom. Where’s the noise, and the frenzy, and the wry wisecracking old guys? Computers (and the Internet – consider Desk Set, one of Mom’s favorite movies) just took all the fun out of it…

  3. Fran says:

    About the cafe in the corner of The Oregonian building. It was called the Press Box and may have had a different name when it changed hands in the late 70s. There was an entrance to it from the newspaper’s lobby (the lobby itself at that time was two floor high, with a window overlooking it from the second floor, over the elevators).

    The decor was indeed dreadful brown and gold carpet and fake wood-paneling. I never ate there under the old owners; the new ones were renowned for roasting a couple of turkeys every day and serving really good sandwiches, hot or cold.

    This all came to an end when there was a chimney fire and the restaurant was closed. The owners reopened in the building across Sixth, then called Equitable Plaza and now Unitus Plaza. They left THAT location after The Oregonian ran an “investigative” piece about how people abuse handicap parking tags and fingered the owners, who were using one that had been issued to the (then dead) mother of one of them. Oh, well, there went a really good lunch option.

    When I started at the paper in 1976, there was also a lunch counter across Broadway, called the Broadway. It had a counter with red-vinyl chrome stools and served specials like baked heart or meatloaf. There was a bar on the north side of the space that had a large painting of a reclining nude over it. And the back bar, which is now the bar at Higgins, was a topless bar (the entertainers, not the drinkers, were topless). The space was renovated into a spot called Atwater’s, not very interesting, then became Higgins. I don’t miss the baked heart.

Related Posts

Scipio the Computer has deemed that these might be similar in content!
Wonderful games with Caslon