The Desert Room – Mystery Location

LIFE Magazine photographer NR Farbman took a series of photographs in 1957 labeled “Portland Vice.” This photo shows Portland’s infamous “Desert Room.” Apparently it was the social hub of Portland’s underworld. The building still stands and would be recognizable if you stood in this spot. Anyone?


12 thoughts on “The Desert Room – Mystery Location

  1. It’s definitely on Stark but a couple blocks up from the Ace Hotel, between 12th and 13th/Burnside, across from Jakes, and right next to the tiny McMenamins Ringler’s Annex.


  2. That’s the building that McMenamins is renovating to be another hotel, I do believe. Oh, for those crazy days in Portland when one of the major vices was pinball machines – seems so absurd in 2010, but was a very real part of the organized crime scene in 1950s Portland.

  3. It used to be the seedy Club Portland, and McMenamins is in fact making it into a hotel. They have replaced all the painted over windows and I am sure had to do a major cleaning/overhaul inside.

    Speaking of Portland and Vice, has anyone seen the B movie “Portland Expose”? Which is also from 1957, has a lot of good Portland scenes around W Burnside.

  4. Parker is right. Alyson, Club Portland was the on the East side of the building, off of 12th. This is the entrance to the old Silverado Bar.

  5. FABULOUS photo! (and great website, too!) Thanks for posting it. I’ve seen some of Life Magazine’s 1957 coverage of the Portland vice scandal, but never this one. Can you please pass along the source/citation? We would love to get a copy to include as part of the “gallery” of historic photos that will go up in the renovated hotel (by the way, we’re tentatively calling the old Desert Room space, Zeus’ Cafe, a tribute to Desert Room owner Nate Zusman and his wife Tillie. Nate always said his wife wore the pants in the family and he affectionately called her Zus (pr. “Zeus”).

    Can’t wait to see what the caption under the photo said! Who is that woman?

    McMenamins history guy

  6. My mom and dad went to the Desert Room to hear some hot local singer (I guess the Storm Large of that era), and dad said the vibe in the place was really weird, even though he’d never been before. He asked a waiter what was up, and was told that they were expecting a vice raid later that night.

    I later learned from Phil Stanford’s Portland Confidential that the clubs would regularly pay off the beat cops small amounts and the police commish and mayor a lot more to keep the cops out of their business. But they’d have to satisfy the public’s demand for clean-up with occasional raids, of which the clubs were warned in advance. So that’s what was going down that night!

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  8. This is on W. Burnside at around West Burnside and about 11 street on the South side of Burnside. It used to be called the Desert Room and is now a Gay hangout.

  9. As someone who’s worked across the street for 10 yrs. Its definitely what is now the McMinnimin hotel. The entrance was on stark between 12th and 13th. And yes, the building was the club portland after with the Silverado bar underneath (using the same entrance as the old desert room) Even cooler, way way back it was a Japanese family owned hardware/general store with a rooming house above.

  10. My Grandmother worked for Nate for over 18 years. (cocktail-waitress.) I have black/white photos of her with some Made Guys, at her table. Pretty cool history! She also had a small singing career at another Club

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