Mount St. Helens didn't merely erupt on the morning of May 18-it exploded. "This is it!" exclaimed geologist David Johnston over the radio from nearby Coldwater Ridge, seconds before the mountain detonated. Those were his last words. He was one of 57 people who died that day, including mountain man Harry Truman, who refused to believe St. Helens would really blow.

St. Helens would clear her throat again 25 years later-a mere hiccup compared to the 1980 blast, which set off the biggest landslide in recorded history, spewed 3.7 billion cubic yards of molten rock, unleashed 24 megatons of thermal energy, and blew down enough trees to build 300,000 houses. So much debris fell that 31 ships were stranded in the Columbia River, and Portland was blanketed in a post-apocalyptic layer of gritty ash that puffed up from the ground with every step.

The ultimate policy wonk

He was an unlikely candidate-a lanky bundle of nerves who flunked the Oregon Bar exam three times. His major accomplishment: an initiative to slash the price of dentures. He'd never held an elective office. But in May, Ron Wyden, the 31-year-old co-founder of the Oregon Gray Panthers, a group that advocates for seniors, stuns the pollsters by burying incumbent Congressman Bob Duncan 60-40 in the Democratic primary for the 3rd District, which covers Portland's east side. This surprise victory marks the beginning of an extraordinary political career. Wyden goes on to trounce his Republican opponent in the general election, and represents the district in Congress until 1996, when he wins election to the U.S. Senate after Sen. Bob Packwood resigns in disgrace.

* Butyl nitrate hits Portland like a sack of wet cement. Head shops and record stores hawk amber bottles of Rush, Jock, Bolt and Bang for $5 a snort. To avoid federal regulators, the drug is peddled as "liquid incense," despite the fact that it smells like a rancid jockstrap.

* Nearly 400,000 Portlanders discover a new publication lurking in their mailboxes. This Week, a meretricious mix of ads and warmed-over copy, is "not a newspaper," explains publisher Richard Dickey. "It is a new advertising medium." Its editrix: the mawkish Maggi White.

* Business leaders in the Yamhill district try to move the Rose Festival Fun Center away from Waterfront Park. According to its detractors, the Fun Center draws "a bad element, most of whom are from out of town and do not care about the city."

* Two Canadian firms abandon major Portland development projects. First, the Daon Corp. scuttles a proposed $150 million office-retail complex in Old Town. Then Cadillac Fairview Corp. walks away from a $100 million plan to fill four downtown blocks with offices and skybridges. The big sticking point: Cadillac Fairview wanted $20 million in public investment.

* Portland writer Jean Auel publishes her first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, introducing readers to Ayla, the book's independent-minded, Cro-Mag hottie protagonist. Independent-minded writer-director John Sayles pens a screenplay for the story, and in 1986 the movie version is released starring Daryl Hannah.

* City Commissioner Frank Ivancie casts the lone vote against the city's home-weatherization program, warning that insulation might contain harmful chemicals. The answer to the nation's energy crisis is "between our ears," says Ivancie.

* Ivancie trounces incumbent Connie McCready by 10 percentage points in the mayoral election.

* The Ninth Street Exit, a legendary folk club and coffee house located in the basement of Centenary Wilbur Church, closes its doors, marking the end of an era for Portland's folk scene, which can no longer withstand the onslaught of punk and disco.

* WW introduces its first Restaurant Guide: 74 Places to Eat for Under $10. Included are the RingSide, Papa Haydn, Fuller's Coffee Shop, Monte Carlo, Abou Karim, Zen, Indigine, and one Vietnamese eatery, Thanh Truc. Among the listed culinary categories is "United States."

* Riding a wave of voter dissatisfaction-inflation stands at 18 percent-Ronald Reagan wallops Jimmy Carter in the presidential election. Portlanders are horrified. Goody Cable, proprietor of the inimitable Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, says she will not serve anyone who voted for the Gipper.

* Social worker Robert Skall comes up with a brilliant idea to use money from the federal Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (designed to help poor people heat their homes in winter) to buy jackets and sleeping bags for the homeless, on the theory that their bodies are their domiciles. To everyone's surprise, bureaucrats grant the Burnside Projects program $100,000, enough to help 1,000 campers get through the winter.

* By the early '80s, many folks are keen on better living through soy. Enter Paul Wenner and his magically unmeaty Gardenburger. Wenner feeds the public the beefless burger-made from a mash of whole grains and vegetables-at the Gardenhouse, his Gresham vegetarian restaurant. By 2004, Gardenburgers would be shipped to more than 30,000 restaurants and 24,000 stores in North America (though the burgers are no longer made in Portland).


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