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January 9th, 2013 MITCH LILLIE | Theater
 

The Portland Beard

Touring the city with native proto-foodie James Beard.

perf_beard_3910A BOY AND HIS BEAR: James Beard as a child in Portland. - Image courtesy of the James Beard Foundation
James Beard would probably be very proud of what Portland has become.

When the foodie icon was born here in 1903, Portland was barely out of its pioneer days. But Beard’s young adult life was not so different from that of thousands of Portlanders today: He sought out trendy new restaurants and locally sourced markets, took shitty jobs so he could have a creative outlet and got into plenty of trouble.

Beard, eponym of awards many call the “Oscars of food,” went on to become a respected cookbook author and is recognized as a key force in bringing French cuisine to backward American kitchens in the ’50s. A new play by James Still, I Love to Eat, makes its West Coast premiere here this week. The play is set in the kitchen of his New York brownstone, now home to a museum.

But what if Portland were the setting for I Love to Eat? Here is a list of the places that influenced the young Beard—important sites for the gourmand, thespian and cosmopolite. So many things are different, and yet the same. Most of the places Beard walked have changed, and yet his Portland seems, in many ways, to be our own.

Below, a guide to his haunts. Beard lived in Portland before our current quadrant system was developed, meaning many addresses and streets have changed since then; modern-day cross streets are given.


Southwest 13th and Morrison: Berlitz Language School and Parking Lot

Then: The Gladstone, a 12-room boarding house operated by Beard’s mother, Mary. The Gladstone served curry and wild mushrooms with the help of her well-respected Chinese kitchen staff, according to Robert Clark’s 1993 biography of Beard, The Solace of Food.

Now: Linguaphiles attend the Berlitz language school and park in its often empty lot.


Southeast 21st and Salmon: Santa Maria Apartments

Then: Before Beard was born, his family moved into a home in a quaint development called Hawthorne Park.

Now: The other homes in the development are still pretty damn quaint and Victorian, but the Beards’ home has been razed to make room for a small apartment building.


Northwest Nicolai Street from 25th to 29th avenues

Then: The Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905 was a high-class fairground where a 2-year-old Beard watched Triscuits being made and viewed the world’s largest log cabin, according to Clark’s biography.

Now: Industrial ports and the O’Neill Transfer and Storage Co. have filled in the area.


Southwest Yamhill between 1st and 5th Avenues

Then: The Carroll Public Market, where Beard and his mother shopped. “That was really the heart of Portland’s mercantile economy,” says Ron Paul, director of the planned James Beard Public Market, which would be a Portland version of Seattle’s Pike Place. “There were up to 300 merchants on any given day lining the streets. Beard’s mother was a sophisticated shopper, and she enjoyed the best and was never afraid to haggle.”

Now: A MAX thoroughfare has transformed the market into a mall. An acupuncture clinic, Chipotle, Pioneer Place and Tiffany’s now line the stretch.


Southeast corner of Southwest 4th and Alder: Central Drugs and Parking Deck

Then: A gay-owned, notoriously “immoral” bar and restaurant, the Louvre is where Beard’s mother often secretly brought her 5-year-old son, according to Clark’s biography.

Now: Central Drugs stands beneath a nine-story parking deck.


147 NW 19th Ave.: Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Then: In this stone church, Beard joined his first choir and eventually the Auld Lang Syne Society, an exclusive social club only for families who had been pioneers.

Now: The Auld Lang Syne Society is no longer, but the building is largely unchanged. A Trinity Lutheran historian knew nothing of Beard’s attendance or of the Auld Lang Syne Society.


North of Seaside: Summer Home in Gearhart

Then: Beard’s lifelong love of the Oregon coast bloomed in Gearhart, and it’s here  he first experimented with homosexuality with other boys in the dunes behind the home. Later in his life, “he hardly spent any time in Portland,” says Morris Galen, Beard’s longtime Portland attorney. “But he came back [from New York] because he appreciated the Oregon coast above all else.”

Now: The Beards’ summer cottage, the tiniest in Gearhart, still stands. It is privately owned.


531 SE 14th Ave.: Washington High School

Then: After being kicked out of a private English boys’ school in Canada, Beard attended Washington High School. There, he wrote for student paper The Lens, studied Spanish, became wildly popular, acted in numerous plays both in and out of school and read nonrequired classics voraciously.

Now: Though destroyed by fire two years after Beard graduated and then shuttered in 1981, Washington High School still stands in the same location. For the past few years it’s been home to the Time-Based Art Festival, and the building may be converted into multifamily housing.


3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.: Reed College

Then: Reed was a prim establishment school when the extremely popular Beard enrolled for $125 per year, only to be expelled six months later. “The official story is, he was thrown out for having an affair with male students and a professor,” according to Reed spokesman Kevin Myers. “But he never held a grudge against Reed.”

Now: Being gay is A-OK, but $125 won’t buy your juggling textbook. How did Reedies pay the penance for homophobia? “He was unofficially apologized to by being given an honorary degree in 1976,” Myers says.


Southwest 9th and Stark: Police Station

Then: The go-to spot for Beard in his early 30s and his acting friends was the Town Tavern, which served everything from steaks to tamales to sukiyaki to burgers.

Now: A police substation, surrounded by barriers, keeps close watch on tweakers in O’Bryant Park (“Paranoia Park”) across the street.


Southwest 5th and Alder: Meier & Frank Building

Then: The dejected Beard returned to tiny Portland after living in Paris, London and New York City, and took a job in Portland’s top department store, Meier & Frank, as a decorator. Unfulfilled, he tried to re-enter Portland’s acting scene, but left for Hollywood after it became clear Portland was too small for his ambitions.

Now: The lower levels were taken over by Macy’s in 2006, while the upper floors are now luxury hotel the Nines, home to Departure and Urban Farmer.


View James Beard in Portland in a larger map

SEE IT: I Love to Eat at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays, 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays, noon Thursdays through Feb. 3. $39-$65.

 
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