This piece was written by the late Keith Clark, long-time editor of the Deschutes County Historical Society’s Newsletter. At the time of this writing, Keith was a bellhop at the Pilot Butte Inn on Wall Street. What follows is a nostalgic look at downtown Bend and its people, mid-way through World War II.
It is September, 1943, Saturday afternoon, in downtown Bend. Through the swinging doors of the Pilot Butte Inn steps a uniformed figure, carrying a zipper case. The hotel is sending the afternoon mail to the post office under the pedestrian protection of a hotel bellman, wearing the worn and tarnished livery of the inn, itself worn and tarnished in this second year of World War II.
It is three long blocks down Wall Street to the Federal Building, a walk which carries the observer south along the business area. That area contains the nucleus of the small city by the river. It is relatively quiet despite the crowded sidewalks. There is little vehicular traffic on the two-way streets. Overheard there were none of the airplanes which are a novelty to the community. The noises are human, not mechanized.
In the second block the messenger notes the display in the S & N Men’s Shop window. Inside, Ray LeBlanc and Len Standifer wait on customers. Some soldiers wistfully eye the civilian clothes for sale.
Principal impediments to speed culmination of the messenger’s appointed rounds are several—the streets are crowded with the Army. Ahead, his favorite restaurant, Polly’s Café, is like all other restaurants, jammed with the military. Long lines wait before each door which opens only to allow hurried entry and exits here room allows. Similar lines congest pedestrian traffic at each of the theater locations. Shopping malls like decades
ahead; there are grouped six small grocery stores, including Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, and Erickson’s. Irl Wagner manages the Bond Street Food market one block east. Safeway is selling fresh king salmon for 37cents a pound, sirloin steak for 46 cents, 49 pounds of flour for $1.98 and Airway coffee for 21 cents a pound.
The slight figure in the ill-fitting uniform decides to make a detour to retrace his steps past Symons Brothers Jewelers, noting the time on the giant clock face which stands before the entrance. After crossing to the east side of Wall, passes the bank with the realization that he will still need to wind his way through the military crowds enjoying the USO facilities. He skirts the lines, ignoring the speculation from other informed figures about the army from which he is a refugee. There is a blare of music combined with laughter and conversation; but there are quiet ones, too.
At the corner of Franklin, the messenger crosses to his destination. Here he stuffs into the mail slots the contents of the zipper case for sorting, then with a special key unlocks the hotel box, packing the mail into the case. By the post office clock it is 3 p. m. ; he decides to detour to Bond to determine whether foot traffic there is any faster. Across the street is the Bend Bulletin office where Robert Sawyer sits as editor and publisher. Coming out of the door is bespectacled Phil Brogan. On the trail of a story, surmises the messenger, and he daydreams about the life of a reporter as he recrosses Franklin, nimbly dodging the Bend City Bus and some army vehicles. There are not many cars downtown. Most people
walk, saving the ration gallons available for emergencies or special events. Service stations are all feeling the pinch. There are few tires to sell. At Houk Motor Company, Otto Houk and Bill Van Allen have no new cars, only some used; Detroit is wary as well.
The messenger turns the corner and starts north. Across the street is George Child’s hardware with the fire station behind it and north is Anton Aune’s Bend Feed and Seed. But this west side of the street boasts a row of saloons and beer parlours, relics of frontier Bend, which are as crowded as the theaters and restaurants on Wall. Thetravel is no less difficult past the Pine Cone and The Palace to the corner of the O’Kane Building where Maurice Cashman has had his clothing store since 1916. Beyond the Bank of Bend, another line of soldiers waits outside Bill Baer’s Waldorf for the bar is full. There, too, uniformed military police patrol. At the head of Bond Street the messenger hurries by the Superior Café, trying to ignore the smell of meat frying inside. There is no room anyway. Inside, waitress Vi Wood is bustling from table to table, kidding the servicemen, telling offcolor jokes, placing orders in a voice strong enough to pierce the babel and be heard by the cook. Across the street at the bus depot, Myrl Hoover’s Mt. Hood Stages is crowded with soldiers and civilians. So is the Trailways Coffee shop on the corner. Down Greenwood to the east are more soldiers unloading from or loading onto GI buses from Camp Abbot. On Greenwood are the remnants of Bend’s red-light district, the few girls inadequate to the demand, their places of business off-limits to military personnel. Everywhere on the streets, Army men “eye” the girls. Girls also look for soldiers but circumspectly and usually in “approved” circumstances such as the chaperoned dances at the Eagles Hall on Bond.
West on Greenwood the messenger makes his way, running up the steps, stopping to hold the door for a lieutenant of Army Engineers and lady, moving across the lobby to lay the zipper case on the clerk’s desk, then to his location near the elevator. The lobby, too, is full of uniformed men. There is a lull in the hotel routine; the messenger turns his thoughts to the downtown area again, thinking how much the community depends upon people like Maren Gribskov of the Pine Tavern, Dick Brandis of Brandis Drug, Ben Whisenand of Bend Drug, Vance Coyner of the Owl Pharmacy; people like George Childs, Anton Aune, Charlie Silvis, John Wetle, Frank Inabnit, and Bob Hemingway carrying the load of a community deprived by war of half of its physicians. There is Andrew Neibergall, jeweler, whose wartime efforts underlie War Bond sales, and who serves as Air Corps procurement chairman. And there are the people of Bend, in all occupations: the nurses at St. Charles, the housewives saving animal fats for explosives, the children engaged in scrap dries. War Savings Stamp promotions, and in the 1943 Victory Gardens, postal workers carry increased loads of mail as residents send letters and packages to family members in the service.
Somehow it all comes together on Saturday afternoon in downtown wartime Bend, where summer uniformed soldiers walk four and five abreast in constant circulation down Wall to Franklin, east to Bond, up Bond to Greenwood, west to Wall.