Montgomery Ward Building, circa 1950

Aerial of the Northwest District and the Montgomery Ward building, circa 1950.

 

City of Portland (OR) Archives, Aerial of the Northwest District and the Montgomery Ward building, A2007-002, 1950.

 

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33 thoughts on “Montgomery Ward Building, circa 1950

  1. You can just barely see a part of the Forestry building there on the left. It burned down in 1964.

  2. The Montgomery Ward building is by far the largest retail building I’ve ever come across; so many floors. Wish I could have experienced it when it was in operation, then.
    I drive past every so often on my way to work at a ortho clinic in Scappoose and I stopped by to have a look one day to investigate the businesses in the building.
    It wasn’t a pleasurable experience at all. The security guards are unfriendly, the layout is disorientating and nutty. I’m glad the building still survives, but that’s pretty much it – I’ll just keep driving by and be happy to leave it at that.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed the Montgomery Ward/Park building and the American Can Company next to it. Something about daylight industrial designs. Both have the prominent administration wing in front with the American flag on top. In 1950, Montgomery Wards was flying high, however, American Can was already feeling the rumblings of future trouble. Opened in 1921, it would close in 1960, laying off 375 employees. Wards would last until 1982, when H Naito Properties would buy it and renovate the building. That’s when the sign was changed to Montgomery Park. The American Can building would become a parking garage. I’m not sure what it is today. I love how those RR tracks run straight into those 3 big entrances underneath and as Igor said, that steam locomotive is a bonus.

  4. Lou L-P The Montgomery Wards building on NW Vaughn had retail on the lower floors, and I believe the bulk of the building was warehouse to serve their mail order catalog dept. where my mother worked after WW 2. You think of it as a Amazon fulfillment center in today’s terms.

  5. Every year after Christmas, we would go shopping at “Monkey Wards” for new winter coats. Seemed just like any other huge department store. I remember that once I lost my Mom among all the racks of clothing — that was scary.

  6. That particular rail line was part of the Portland Terminal Railway which switched the Portland rail years on the west side. There are remnants of their rails still in various streets in the area.

  7. I worked on the remodel in the 80’s. The building was a U shaped plan originally. You can see how the freight trains entered on the east side of the building, on the west side the trucks would load for distribution of the products to be delivered. On the truck loading side the truck area was covered by a steel truss supported roof. That roof was removed and the trusses were stood on end, welded together and used a a landmark entrance to the parking lot on Nicolai St. They are still there today. A new glass roof was added at the roof and a sloping glass roof connects the roof to the level of the old loading dock. Every piece of single pane glazing was replaced by hand with double glazed panes in the factory sash steel window frames. Naito put a lot of time and money into the remodel and it has paid off handsomely.

  8. My mother worked in the Montomery Ward catalog deparment in the 1930s. Operated a comptometer. Was paid well. She’s still living.

  9. On the south side of the tracks is the J A Freeman & Son Hay baler plant that survived into the ’80’s. They marketed balers in the western states that had a good reputation with farmers for their durability in the day.

    Manta.com has this write up on what remains of the company today:
    Ja Freeman And Son Inc is a privately held company in Sherwood, OR and is a Single Location business.

    Categorized under Balers Manufacturers. Our records show it was established in 2004 and incorporated in Oregon. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of 98000 and employs a staff of approximately 1.

  10. While going to Portland State (called Extension Center then) I worked as the 7th Floor Head Stock Clerk at the Vaughn St Montgomery Wards building from mid ’55 thru mid ’58. My future wife to be was also employed there for a short period but in the general offices in late ’57 or early ’58.
    The lower first floor and a portion of the second floor were indeed dedicated to retail trade. There also was a large area on the 2nd floor of the retail part that was dedicated to the sale of returned mail order goods not restockable, goods which had been damaged or for some reason could not be sold as new or were discontinued.
    The larger remainder of the 2nd floor to the east at the upper ramp entrance were general offices and all employees entered through the upper ramp east doors.
    During this period the mail order stock employees were unionized under the ILWU (?), Local 201, with an office 1 block to the south. Still have that old union card someplace.
    As was pointed out earlier, the mail order trade was significant in those times and MW was indeed the Amazon of the 50’s. The discontinued mail order catalog was used in a variety of ways, from fire starter to door stops
    Employees in the mail order stock areas primarily used the freight elevators to get to the upper floors. I remember one day in ‘early 58 (not real sure about the date) that the brake on one of the freight elevators failed and it plummeted a few floors, resulting in a number of injuries to the employees on it. Made the news outlets and a large article in the paper. I was on that elevator and I still am uncomfortable in an elevator.
    I remember my Floor Manager, Mr DePape, typical ‘company’ man and as was the way back then not the kindest person to those who worked below him and certainly not a union fan!
    Wow, long time ago.

  11. I remember going in there in the sixties and you could make a catalog order by a phone that they had on the first floor and it would come down to you in a few minutes.

  12. I remember going down there sometimes. I used to love the Christmas catalog they sent out. The toy catalog was great. They eventually moved the store out to SW 110th in Beaverton. They took it over when Bazaar closed. Then the Home Depot replaced it when they tore down the Montgomery Wards.

  13. Don T. From the Oregonian March 20, 1958 ” Elevator Drop Injures Nine” Here are few highlights from the article. Wednesday morning (3/19/58) before the stored opened several passengers on a freight elevator were shaken as it eased to a sub-basement of the store, 9 employees were checked at the ER of Good Samaritan Hospital, and only Mrs. Florence Hood was hospitalized with a broken ankle and the others had cuts and bruises when jolted off balance, and most employees returned to work. Here is are quotes from a company spokesman “The elevator didn’t really fall at all. “It slid and gained a little momentum by the time it got down to the bottom.” “It was not a crash of an elevator and a number of employees on it didn’t even come up to the medical department, but went right back to work” I think it is safe to say if this person had been on board they would be singing a different tune.

  14. Wow, thanks for sharing that Dennis. I’ve got a copy the article (I think) buried in a box someplace, happened so long ago.
    Love the word ‘ease’. As the news item notes, the ‘ease’ down resulted in only ‘a broken ankle’ and some cuts and bruises!!
    The elevator was packed and my recollection is there were at least 20 or more (several) employees on it, was always packed at the morning work day start. it was a large open platform and old. Made a lot of noise when operating and the wooden floor was very chewed up from all the use and age. When it began ‘easing’ down, it was from about one floor or a bit more above the main level second floor’ so it ‘eased’ to a stop about 5 floor levels down. I know everyone ended up on the floor in a prone or near prone position. Some, who were only shaken, may well have gone back to work. Jobs were scarce at the time. I don’t recall what I did but I recall nursing a sore leg for a few days.

  15. This restaurant-loving guy’s eye goes straight to the building that would house L’auberge, 2061 Vaughn, and now Meriwether’s. Does anyone know what occupied that building in 1950?

  16. Dennis – If you have access to The Oregonian history can you determine if there was a later article on the elevator accident (investigation results), possibly May of ’58?

  17. According to my mother, Montgomery Ward closed in the spring of 1941 due to a union dispute and didn’t reopen until August. Does anyone know more about this?

  18. According to my mother, Montgomery Ward closed in the spring of 1941 due to a union dispute and didn’t reopen until August. Does anyone know more about this?

  19. Don T, the report you referenced above was written by John Tess who was a historian who owned his own company (Heritage Investment) that researched old buildings to satisfy the requirements for Federal and State Government funds designated to the preservation and remodeling of buildings nominated for Historical significance. He wrote the history of many of Portland’s building on the list of historical properties including many in Old Town such as The New Market Theater.

  20. Garey, if you look at the historical permits on portlandmaps.com, you’ll see that it was built for a restaurant and store in 1931, owner Frank Lawrence, with one soda fountain. In 1931, a beer box is added, and it also says there are “flats.” In 1940 it’s an “old restaurant.” In 1946 it was “Bungalow Lunch.” In 1946 it’s the Vaughn Street Coffee Shop. In 1950 it’s an “old commercial” building owned by Chinook Investment Co. In 1974 it’s the Woodstove Restaurant.

  21. Susan,

    Thank you for your research. I have used Portlandmaps since the day I first heard about it, years ago. I can see some historical data in the permits section, and in the tax (assessors) section, but only going back a decade or so.

    I’m very curious where you found the information that you uncovered. Specifically names of businesses that were housed in the buildings. All I see are owners.

    Again, thank you. I had forgotten about the Woodstove.

  22. OK thanks for looking. Went to the PDX Public Library site to look at The Oregonian history but I don’t have a library card that is valid any longer. Left PDX for the coast back in 2001.

  23. Garey, when you click on Permits, you then scroll down to Historical Permits, and will see a list. In this case there were 4 permits. As you click on each one in turn, the actual permit card will come up. On the bottom one, a bunch of plumbing permit cards came up, and some of them had the business name on the Owner or Type of Building line. It’s a really useful research tool for genealogy.

  24. Followups: I couldn’t find anything further on the 3/20/58 elevator incident story, but I did read that the union approved a new contract some months later—it was the Teamsters (not ILWU) getting a 17 1/2 cent raise over five years.

    BTW, thanks to the VP squad for local research tips. Renewing my MultCo library card was (tax) money well spent!

  25. Has anyone noticed the 1905 Lewis & Clark Fair trolley tracks, still visible at NW 27 AVE & Thurman – Upshur, still visible today

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