Happy 150th, Oregon! Here’s a little Valentimeline from the heart of the state.

By Kasey Cordell May 19, 2009 Published in the February 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Kate Madden

When Oregon celebrates its sesquicentennial on February 14, Portland will have reason to throw back a little champagne, too. After all, we’ve been the figurative heart of the state since the first covered wagons rolled in, excepting that brief period around 1850 when a handful of misguided businessmen envisioned Oregon City as the center of industry. To honor Portland’s contributions to Oregon’s greatness, we offer this Valentimeline tracking the lovable highs in Portland history as well as the inevitable lows. Consider it our way of saying, “We love you, Portland.” And sometimes, well, we love you not. 

Oregon Territory goes dry. In a shocking display of poor judgment and faulty economic theory, the future microbrew capital of the United States outlaws booze. It’s the first prohibition law in the country.

Cheers! Oregon gets its booze rights back.

Bing Crosby’s great-grandfather, Nathaniel Crosby, builds one of Portland’s finest homes at the corner of SW First Avenue and Washington Street.

Portland has only enough money to build a jail or set up public schools. The city decides that whole education thing can wait another two years—we go with the jail.

Twenty-two-year-old Henry Pittock, who will later become publisher of the Oregonian , makes the first ascent of Mount Hood on August 6.

Eighty years before Brown v. Board of Education , Portland integrates its three schools, allowing thirty black students to attend.

The Portland Police Bureau establishes a minimum height and weight requirement for police officers: 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. Today’s average American man is 5-foot-9 and 191 pounds. (And no, the requirement is not still in place.)

Fred T. Merrill opens Portland’s first bike shop. By 1898, it’s the biggest bicycle store west of the Mississippi. In 1903, he will run for city council on the slogan Keep Portland Wide Open (as in, keep prostitution and gambling legal). Sound familiar?

The Morrison Bridge, Portland’s first trans-Willamette span, opens. It’s the longest bridge west of the Mississippi.

Beer baron Henry Weinhard offers to send beer flowing from the Skidmore Fountain for a day. For some inexplicable reason, the city turns him down.

Census figures report that Portland is 89 percent white. (Today: 78 percent)

Who needs job security? Within the space of nine months, Mayor Sylvester Pennoyer appoints four police chiefs and replaces the entire police force.

Police and firefighters breathe a little easier when the city’s first pension plan is introduced.

Legendary chef James Beard is born in Portland. Our food scene, and the world’s for that matter, will never be the same.

Portland gets its first amusement park, Oaks Park, still in operation today.

The Portland Beavers, our minor league baseball team, win the first of eight Pacific Coast League titles (they also win in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1932, 1936, and 1945).

The city is connected by 160 miles of electric streetcar tracks, and ridership soars to sixty million. By comparison, today’s rail system (MAX light-rail and the streetcar) covers about fifty miles and averages about thirty-seven million rides each year.

Lola Baldwin becomes the first municipally paid policewoman in the United States when she’s named head of the Portland Police Women’s division.

Women gain the right to vote in Oregon, eight years before it becomes federal law. (Wyoming beat us to the punch by about forty-three years. Yeah, Wyoming.)

Portland gets its first stoplight.

Governor Oswald West successfully champions a bill that turns Oregon’s 363-mile coastline over to the people, protecting it from private development.

Capital punishment is abolished and death penalty ping-pong begins. Oregon will abolish and reinstate the death penalty four times over the next ninety-five years.

Portland goes dry. In a shocking display of poor judgment and faulty economic theory, the future microbrew capital of the United States outlaws booze.

Who thought it was a good idea to name a hockey team the Rosebuds? Regardless, Portland’s team, the first American one in the Pacific Coast Association, plays for the Stanley Cup (and loses).

Any smidge of pride we took in integrating our schools back in 1873 is undone by the Realty Board’s practice of threatening to dismiss realtors for selling homes outside of designated “black areas” to African Americans.

Death penalty reinstated. Ping.

Before he didn’t give a damn, Clark Gable was a tie salesman and small-time actor in Portland. Once he took the advice of his wife, Josephine, whom he met in Portland, to fix his teeth, his Hollywood career took off.

The Klu Klux Klan arrives in P-town.

Portland widens major thoroughfares by 120 feet to make room for cars; the city boasts more automobiles per capita than Chicago or New York City.

Fred Meyer and his wife, Eva, open the first one-stop-shopping grocery store in Portland, on NE Sandy Boulevard. Today the chain includes 130 stores in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicates Timberline Lodge, the Works Progress Administration project that would become a future site of filming for Stephen King’s The Shining .

Sammy Davis Jr. made a living singing and dancing on the stages of Portland before Ol’ Blue Eyes called him East.

Ship builders put the “port” in Portland, churning out more than four cargo and warships every week in Henry Kaiser’s NoPo shipyards.

Portland native and Lincoln High School grad Johnny Pesky signs with the Boston Red Sox. In 1946—after taking three years off to serve in the war—the shortstop helps his team win the American League pennant and a berth to the World Series (where the Sox lose). His jersey, No. 6, is retired in 2008.

Tektronix is founded; local stores stock up on pocket protectors. (By the early 1980s, the high-tech company will employ close to twenty-four thousand people.)

Portland author and Newbery Medal winner Beverly Cleary publishes her first book, Henry Huggins . Her Ramona Quimby series, loosely set in a Northeast Portland neighborhood, comes out five years later.

Matt Groening is born in Portland to Homer and Margaret Groening.

After dropping out of Portland’s now-defunct Washington High School, Linus Pauling is awarded the first of two Nobel Prizes (in chemistry; his second, in 1963, was a Nobel Peace Prize). Eventually, Washington High gives him an honorary degree. How generous.

Death penalty abolished. Pong.

Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman begin selling athletic shoes together under the moniker Blue Ribbon Sports and make about $8,000 that year (about $53,000 today). You know how this story ends: with a dollar sign and a whole bunch of zeros.

David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards plants Oregon’s first pinot noir grapes. His 1975 bottling will put Oregon on the international winemaking map.

Oregon trackster Dick Fosbury shocks the Olympic audience in Mexico City (and revolutionizes a sport) by hurdling over the high bar backward … and winning.

When President Nixon plans to give a pro-Vietnam speech here, seventy thousand protesters announce plans to voice their dissent. To head off any clashes, Governor Tom McCall establishes a weeklong music festival at McIver Milo State Park to be held the same week as Nixon’s visit. It’s called Vortex: A Biodegradable Celebration of Life. He also declares that violations of public-nudity and pot-smoking laws will be ignored during the festival. McCall said afterward, “There was a lot of pot smoking and skinny-dipping, but no one was killed.” (We’d be willing to bet a few babies were conceived that week, though.)

City Hall is da bomb—seriously. On November 21, a bomb explodes behind City Hall, killing no one but obliterating our replica Liberty Bell. Freedom stopped ringing for only a few weeks, though: Portland raised $8,000 in private donations for another knockoff.

The airplane hijacker known as D.B. Cooper leaps out of a Boeing 727 over the Columbia River with $200,000.

At thirty-two, Neil Goldschmidt becomes the youngest big-city mayor in the United States. Still too old to be sleeping with the babysitter, though.

The waterfront goes from gray to green when Harbor Drive, the six-lane stretch of asphalt that separated downtown from the river waterfront, is torn out and replaced with a park.

Lincoln High School and Reed College graduate Gary Snyder earns the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his collection Turtle Island .

A Beaverton subdivision hosts Portland’s Street of Dreams, the first such home show in the country.

Gary Gilmore, a serial killer and the subject of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song , is executed by firing squad.

We know you know, but we’re saying it again: the Blazers win the NBA championship.

Death penalty reinstated. Ping.

Portland draws a line in the mud with the establishment of the urban growth boundary.

The starting gun fires for the first Hood to Coast race, a 197-mile relay from Mount Hood to Seaside. Eighty runners take part. Today, the race draws more than twelve thousand runners (and 466 Honey Buckets to serve them).

The Blazers have a first-round draft pick and pass on Michael Jordan in favor of Sam Bowie, a move that has been called one of the most colossal blunders in NBA history. (At least we still have an NBA team. Sorry, Seattle).

After four years of construction and $214 million, MAX light-rail begins shuttling East Side commuters into the city center. Ridership soars. Unfortunately, sales of deodorant do not.

The first Starbucks opens in Pioneer Place, then multiplies like a gremlin. Today there are more than sixty in Portland.

Gresham’s Tonya Harding is implicated in the infamous knee-clubbing of rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. After being banned from figure skating, Harding tries a few new sports: boxing, wrestling, drunk driving, and in 2000, “Smack your boyfriend with a hubcap.”

Elliott Smith performs “Miss Misery” from Good Will Hunting (directed by Portlander Gus Van Sant) at the Academy Awards, where he was nominated for best song. He loses to Celine Dion for that insipid tune from Titanic.

Portland science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin receives a Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress.

Indie-rock band Sleater-Kinney moves to Portland, forever sealing the city’s fate as a mecca for all things angsty.

Family gatherings become much less painful when Oregonians gain the right to buy hard liquor on Sundays and holidays.

Portland Monthly ’s first issue, a 104-page magazine covering the Blazers, fall arts, and the best of the city, hits newsstands.

Portland earns the League of American Bicyclists’ gold rating for bike-friendliness.

Guitarist Chris Funk from the Decemberists goes on The Colbert Report for a guitar showdown with Stephen Colbert. He wins. (Of course.)

Greg Oden mania hits Portland. In what we hope will not be a repeat of the Sam Bowie/Michael Jordan draft incident, Portland picks the seven-foot center from Ohio State over Texas’s hot-handed Kevin Durant.

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