The History

The following history of Portland’s public markets is from George Eigo and the Oregon Historical Society. (Section titles added by editor).

Farmer’s Cooperative Market

Farmer’s Cooperative Market, est. 1934.

An Idea as Old as the City

farmers from considerable distances brought in all manner of produce, fresh fruits of all kinds, and an abundance of vegetables. According to variety everything was piled on long tables or filled large bins, everything open to the air but protected from rain and sunshine by a low roof. The smells…seemed completely exotic to me, almost overpowering in their mixtures.The idea of locating a public marketplace in Portland is almost as old as the city itself. First evidence of a space set aside for the purposes of municipal marketing comes from an 1854 map belonging to Edward Failing, dated only a decade after the city’s founding and three years after its legal incorporation. “Thinking ahead, the survey map specifically platted two areas for future market squares. One block, bounded by 5th and 6th, Morrison and Yamhill streets, became known as the Market Block, the site of at least two future markets.”

In spite of the city’s good intentions to provide a marketplace, Portland’s first investment in a public market was a thoroughly private venture. Captain Alexander P. Ankeny, a Pennsylvania-born soldier, produce dealer, meat packer, city councilor, steamship builder, and successful capitalist recognized as early as 1866 the value of business-district real estate and the profit to be made in local commerce. By 1868 he had drawn up plans to erect an “Ankeny Block” on the downtown land he owned on First between Ash and A (now Ankeny).

From the moment it opened its doors, the New Market and Theater was touted as one of Portland’s great architectural wonders, the cry for an affordable public marketplace being temporarily muted by the building’s visual dominance. It was deemed by one contemporary critic as the finest addition to a quickly growing skyline, and by another as reminiscent of a Renaissance palace.

The high-ceilinged market vault was divided into twenty-eight stalls, which ran down both sides of a centralized arcade lined with “marbleized columns and arches.” Each vendor stall sat between a pair of columns with aligned “counters … enhanced by … marble tops and carved fronts.” A “six-tired octagonal display covered with mirrors and plants” occupied the middle of the floor at the vault’s central axis. The market floor was lit by five central bracketed gas-lit chandeliers as well as by smaller stall chandeliers. Never were beans shucked nor chickens slaughtered in such opulence.

Ankeny’s Central Market housed up to 28 food retailers ranging from elegant grocers to seed merchants to a coffee and oyster refreshment saloon.Ankeny’s New Market and Theater was, from its inception, a multi-purpose building mixing retail commerce with entertainment and business concerns. The Central Market housed up to 28 food retailers ranging from elegant grocers to seed merchants to a coffee and oyster refreshment saloon. The top two floors housed Ankeny’s business office as well as the offices of the Portland Board of Trade and the gymnasium belonging to the Turn Verein Society, a German American athletic and social club. The wings housed a diverse clientele, among them Western Union Telegraph, Wells Fargo & Company, and Pfunder’s Drugstore.

The Central Market proved popular both commercially and culturally, attracting a clientele more elegant than common. Ornate displays and musical variety shows punctuated market transactions. The marketplace opened early and closed late and quickly became the centerpiece of many a downtown Portlander’s social plans. Once the Theater opened, it, too, became a favored place for Portland’s fashionable audiences whose interests ran from straight drama to musical reviews to an occasional “prize fighting demonstration” by the likes of pugilist, John L. Sullivan.

This success lasted at least into the 1880s. By mid-decade, however, the city underwent another of its frequent demographic changes. To the market’s detriment, Portland’s downtown residential area began a westward migration beyond the Park Blocks, settling into newer enclaves around 19th Street, away from the daily grind of Portland commerce. This residential shift left most downtown retail houses without sufficient business. What residents remained could not sustain the public market’s elegant grocers and purveyors of fish and fowl. By 1885 Central Market ceased its operations, the ornate market floor turned, by decade’s end, into sales space for agricultural implements.

Twentieth Century Changes

Portland’s first municipal market began as a private venture headed by Evening Telegram editor, John Francis Carroll, to bring the consumer and grower face to face without the interference of a middle man. Chronicles and public records indicate the presence of a number of public and farmer markets operating in Portland over the next three decades but none of them achieved more than fleeting recognition. Mention is made of a successful outdoor market operating ca.1903 between 3rd and 4th Streets around the Yamhill-Taylor area. One chronicler described her experience there as a welcomed sensual onslaught. Without giving the market a specific name (other than the Farmer’s Market) she explains it as a place where “farmers from considerable distances brought in all manner of produce, fresh fruits of all kinds, and an abundance of vegetables. According to variety everything was piled on long tables or filled large bins, everything open to the air but protected from rain and sunshine by a low roof. The smells…seemed completely exotic to me, almost overpowering in their mixtures. My mouth watered from the grapes, apples, peaches, plums and every type of berry…and garden truck in leaf and root. There were shining piles of oranges from California and a great assortment of nuts in big open bins: hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts. Other stands within the block-square market held aromatic herbs and spices that added their aromas to the redolent atmosphere. And in and out, moving along the narrow aisles between the long produce tables, a constant crowd of men, women and children leisurely marketed and sampled the wares until they made their decisions as what to buy.”

In addition to the downtown public markets, a market operated by the Italian Ranchers and Gardeners Association (IRGA) began operation just east of the City Market in the early 1900s. Italian immigrants had begun settling Portland in the 1860s bringing with them a cultural history rich in small-plot farming and produce marketing. By 1883 East Portland boasted an “Italian Row” located between the river and 2nd around Oak Street. This area was noted for its Italian Gardeners’ Garden located along the Willamette.

A second colony of Portland Italians settled into and farmed the area around Ladd’s Addition during the first decade of the 20th century. While the new citizens “entrenched themselves in a variety of occupations, … (m)any supplemented their incomes with small gardens in the city.” These growers eventually formed the IRGA and set up its first market on a wooden structure set up on “pilings embedded in the bank of the Willamette River.” It proved a successful complement to the downtown public markets.

A river-weakened building rather than market competition drove the Association back across the river, where in 1908, they relocated their new marketplace “more readily accessible to the growers.” The market square covered the block between SE Main, Madison, 3rd and Union and became known as the Eastside Italian Market. It was particularly popular during the1910s and 1920s, the hey-day of the municipal market movement in America, and prospered so long as the growers and their plots remained close to the urban business centers. When urban development removed the farmland in Ladd’s Addition from circulation, the growers left for more spacious outer neighborhoods like Milwaukie and Parkrose taking their market with them.

It is not clear if the 1908 removal of the Italian Market contributed to the demise of the downtown public markets, but by the early 1910s Portland’s Market Block was, once again, without a viable public market. This proved unsettling to some and by 1912 the movement for a municipally operated marketplace took shape spearheaded by several of the city’s Progressive organizations. Coincident with others public market movements around the nation, the aim of the Portland group was to bring the consumer and the producer face to face by “awakening” municipalities to their “proper obligations in relation to the food supply.” The solution lay in city support for a public market designed to serve producer, consumer, and municipality alike.

Progressives and Populists

Some producers raised their voices against market ordinances restricting products, regulating stalls and maximizing prices, seeing the market’s managed economy as un-American, opposed to free trade, and contrary to the spirit of a free people.A well-organized public market, the movement suggested, furnished the small producer with “an easily accessible” market and the “best opportunit[y] for … a fair ‘market price.’” For the urban consumer, the market “made available for choice larger quantities of fresher produce than can be found at ordinary store at lower prices,” and would spur an “active competition” within the rest of the “commercial community resulting in indirect reduction of prices.” For the municipality, a public market had a three-fold effect. First, it encouraged local farmers to “produce more,” which would “help solve the city’s problem of making available an adequate food supply at reasonable cost.” Greater production, in turn, aided the local economy by keeping “at home a greater proportion of the money spent by the citizens for food.” Finally, a public market became the foundation to local prosperity through the “improv(ed) living conditions of the city and its immediate trade territory.”

Portland’s first municipal market began as a private venture under the aegis of the Producers’ and Consumers’ Public Market Association. Headed by Evening Telegram editor, John Francis Carroll, the group pushed for a producer’s market that would bring the consumer and grower face to face without the interference of a middle man. In April of 1914 the group opened its first market, the Albina Public Market, on Knott Street between Williams and Albina. It proved successful enough, for they opened a second, the Carroll Public Market, on Yamhill, a month later. Success was immediate. Opening day saw some 35,000 shoppers and a celebratory parade. By mid-afternoon most of the produce was gone.

Within two months the city was forced to take over market operations. They quickly framed new market ordinances and provided a market master, sheds, and umbrellas. Portland embraced the new market immediately. The press crowed its benefits almost daily and traffic filled the streets to the point of chaos. Eventually the market grew to encompass an area of six blocks and 212 stalls where over 400 vendors operated daily.

Carroll Market became a model of operations for other municipalities looking to own and maintain their own public market. City engineers, chambers of commerce and concerned citizen groups from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to San Jose, California; from Dallas, Texas to Vancouver, B.C.; from St. Paul, Minnesota to St. Paul, Oregon corresponded with city commissioners on the hows and wherefores of public marketing.

The Carroll Market seemed to offer something to please almost everyone. Consumers benefited from cheaper, fresher produce, producers from the local, affordable marketplace, and the city from the daily revenues. Besides that, it possessed an open market old world charm that made it a hit among tourists and travelers as well.

Carroll Public Market

Carroll Public Market, 1914-1933.

Success, however, was not without its problems. From the outset complaints were a normal part of daily operations. Most proved manageable. Some local retail grocers saw the market as an unfair and cheap competition to small business owners already feeling the economic squeeze of the expanding chain store. Some producers raised their voices against market ordinances restricting products, regulating stalls and maximizing prices, seeing the market’s managed economy as un-American, opposed to free trade, and contrary to the spirit of a free people. Some of these complaints took on a particularly nativist tone seeing the immigrant farmers who utilized the public market in substantial numbers as an adversary. Consumer complaints were bountiful as well, settling most often on product & sanitation conditions, hawking violations and vendor manners.

Carroll Public Market’s major drawback, however, proved to be neither its economic policies nor its market regulations but its own success. The Yamhill Street location simply could not handle the daily traffic. Its narrow streets and extended vendor sheds impeded pedestrian and automotive traffic alike. Congestion in and around the area was notorious. So were the public health problems that resulted. More than four hundred food vendors were regularly crammed into six city blocks for up to eighteen hours a day. So much food and such market density proved more than sanitation regulations and strict enforcement could handle.

A 1927 city council study proclaimed the present Yamhill Street configuration no longer tenable, and gave the city five years to find the Carroll Market a new home, recommending relocation along the waterfront. The announcement set in motion a lively debate that was played out in City Hall corridors and the press for the next decade, a debate that centered around not only the market’s new site and but the nature of a public market itself.

From Old World Charm to Retail Magnificence

On December 14, 1933 “Portland’s Marvelous New Million Dollar Public Market” finally opened to a three-day “public reception” that boasted “wonderful sales” and “plenty of music and fun.”.Public debate raged over the next two years. Some found the market’s proposed waterfront location bad business. It removed the market from the business district core. Some also found the relocation project bad politics filled with shady real estate swindles and lucrative city contracts. Even after the contract had been awarded and the ground broken and the concrete poured for the new market building, the Yamhill Association producers refused to give up the fight. Rather than join the new private venture they threatened to remain on Yamhill Street and keep the old market going as best they could.

None of this brouhaha seemed to deter the progress of the Portland Public Market. Construction began in the summer of 1933 and proceeded apace. Records indicate a quicker than usual construction schedule with concrete being poured by the tons daily through November. On December 14th “Portland’s Marvelous New Million Dollar Public Market” finally opened to a three-day “public reception” that boasted “wonderful sales” and “plenty of music and fun.” Meanwhile, the Yamhill Public Market Producers’ Association christened its rival operation, the Farmer’s Cooperative Market in the warehouses along Yamhill, even as the old sheds of the Carroll Market were being torn down and carted away.

Open resistance to the new Portland Public Market did not seem to have an adverse effect on business at first. Vendors, shoppers and assorted visitors crowded the new building daily through early 1934, as much to witness the technological splendor of the million-dollar market as to shop for summer squash and ham hocks. Part of the allure began with and remained the spectacle of the shopping experience. What the Carroll Market represented to tradition, the Portland Public Market represented to modernity. “Conceived by men who had vision blended with modern efficiency and economy,” the market appealed at the same time to the old and the new. In the minds of the shoppers, the “color, romance and bustle akin to the bazaars of Old Bagdad (sic)” was transformed by New World “modern construction and utility” into a romance of efficient technology.

Even Epicurus who wrote with gusto of the delights of the palate as a satisfaction for the soul, never walked into a garden so heavily laden with delicious delicacies as (is) the great Public Market. … Going to market … (in) this new mass merchandising emporium … now means the possibility of going to one central shopping center and finding everything in the food line the world has to offer. …  Market Day (is) both a business enterprise and a social holiday.

Portland Public Market

“Million Dollar Market” 1933 – 1949.

The appeal of the new Portland Public Market remained for most its retail magnificence. It was seen and marketed as “a veritable palace of wonders in which (one could) shop and gaze at fascinating wares” for days on end. Hyperbole aside, the Portland Market had much to boast about. At the time it was the world’s largest public and farmer’s market. The building ran 620 feet along Front Street between the Hawthorne and Morrison bridges and eleven stories high, with 220,000 square feet of floor space. This translated into space for approximately 200 merchants. Each vendor stall was equipped with a sprinkling system, overhead light fixtures and a springless scale for maximum accuracy. For maximum sanitation, the market provided the vendors with two dry storage and one large refrigeration room, all guaranteed vermin proof.

For the consumer the Portland Public Market offered variety, cleanliness and convenience. From 8 AM until 7 PM (except Saturday when the market stayed open until 9PM), shoppers were encouraged to push market-provided Handy Anne shopping carts through main floor and mezzanine and browse concessions and stalls for groceries, produce, meats, fish, fowl, flowers, tea, tobacco, candy, preserves, prepared foods, dairy, and baked goods, with “nationally advertised goods preferentially treated.” While the main floor catered solely to the shopper’s food needs, the mezzanine was reserved exclusively for specialty and personal service shops including household goods, barbers, beauticians, optometrists, dentists, typists, dry cleaners and a gas station. When shoppers were finished the market’s passenger elevator awaited to take them either to the roof where their cars, groceries and attendant awaited them, or, if they did not feel like going home just yet, they could visit the market’s 500-seat auditorium to watch domestic demonstrations of all sorts given from a modern kitchen set up on stage.

By 1937 Portland Public Market advertised its yearly sales volume at between five and six million dollars with some fifty to sixty thousand customers a week. According to the market manager the occupancy rate ran and remained at just over ninety percent. While the Portland Public Market may have come close enough to profitability for the market master to wax eloquence about the its future as an integral part of the modern world of retailing, it never caught on as a local marketplace. It struggled in the late 1930s to keep steady customers and vendor occupants.

Several factors contributed to the Portland Public Market’s steady demise. To begin with, the debate surrounding its origins opened an unnecessarily public and combative wound that was never fully healed. Those who had fought against the Portland Public Market in 1933 remained against it in 1942. Converts were rare. While the Portland Market was able to survive for a time on its novelty status, it never established itself as a base of local and repetitive business.

By 1942 the PMC was forced to end its business operations on Front Street and, judging from the press surrounding its end, no one seemed to mourn the loss the way many did the Carroll Market. Mostly it was forgotten. By 1943, the building was leased to the U. S. Navy, and by 1948, the Oregon Journal took it over as an operations plant. In 1969 it was demolished to make way for McCall Waterfront Park.

In moving to the waterfront, the Portland Market did not simply modernize the Carroll Market and take it inside, but altered what had been a successful, if problematic, formula for direct producer marketing at a time when such an economics was equally political. It ignored the market’s populist politics – something that continually drove the Carroll Market – in favor of a modern super market economics of scale. There was a loyalty among the Carroll Market vendors and consumers that one never hears about among the Portland Market’s counterparts. Producers fought for the former’s survival as they never did for the latter’s. While the Portland Public Market may have attracted the curious it never attracted the loyal consumer.

A Car in Every Garage

In a world that valued consensus and homogeneity, the notion of local color and flavor proved idiosyncratic.Customer loyalty was not tied simply to market politics but to location as well. The planned waterfront development never took place, at least not so in the way that the market’s organizers had anticipated. The market was expected to be the cornerstone but not the sole piece of the new commercial district. By including a parking lot on the roof of the building, the Portland Market proved attractive to automobile traffic but had problems attracting pedestrian and suburban commuter customers. Without the expected redevelopment of the area, which included a rail connection to suburban shoppers, the market could not be expected to establish a dependable customer base.

Finally, the growth of suburban neighborhoods added to the public market’s woes. A victim of bad-timing, the Portland Public Market was attempting to lure consumers into the downtown area at a time when other forces, social and economic, were driving urban residents further afield. The success of the automobile changed the retail landscape considerably. Rather than spend hours traveling into and out of town, the modern consumer preferred spending time at the convenient neighborhood shopping center where a multitude of consumer urges could be satisfied all at once.

The closing of the Portland Public Market was certainly not the end of public markets in Portland. Throughout the 1930s and1940s local producer and farmer markets maintained their own, but in the wake of the post-war suburban sprawl and the decentralized shopping patterns it signaled, the idea of a central Portland market seemed sorely outdated, more a novelty than anything. In a world that valued consensus and homogeneity, the notion of local color and flavor proved idiosyncratic. The urban public market no longer seemed attractive nor useful.

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