By Gerry Frank, 2010
Our family home was in southwest Portland on the corner of St. Clair Street and Kings Court near the Council Crest Bridge. I attended Ainsworth Elementary and Lincoln High School, but we spent our summers in Garden Home.
Oregon has been home to seven generations of the Frank family. The farm home was built sometime in the 1920’s, open all year, but we lived there only in the summer months until the mid-fifties, when it became our full-time residence. Sunset Magazine wrote about the house; the article was titled “A Little Gray House in the West.” (Sunset Magazine, February 1929. “A Grey-Shingled Home in the West” by Naomi Swett-Sommers.)
My father, Aaron, bought the property because he wanted a place for his show horses. It was a perfect location since the land was adjacent to the Nicol Riding Academy and the Portland Hunt Club; and the Oregon Electric railroad came directly from Portland to Firlock Station where we could load and unload the horses from the estate.
I remember many people who worked for my parents. Caroline Millet was the housekeeper for years; she lived at Garden Home year-round. Jack Sullivan was in charge of the horses. Jack Whitehead was head gardener, and when Jack left, Burt Waller had the position. The Waller’s daughter, Burtine, and I were friends; Burtine’s married name was Johnson. Mrs. Waller was an elevator operator in the downtown Meier and Frank store for many years, operating the No.1 elevator.
My parents were very different from one another. My father was a very tough, no-nonsense guy who made Meier and Frank into a leading store in the Northwest. He was Portland’s First Citizen, very business oriented, and a tough patriarch.
On one occasion, a friend visiting me at Garden Home decided to climb onto the roof of the building to dive into the pool. Dad was really (really) angry, knowing my friend could have been killed or crippled.
What Dad enjoyed most was work; he went to the Store every day. In the summer he would drive from Garden Home and back each night, which, in those days was quite a journey.
My mother, Ruth, was a lovely, very sweet and generous lady. She adored living at the farm, the surrounding rolling hills and flowers, and would roller skate on the tennis court.
My father had a large stable of horses that he showed all over the country, which, as I said, was why he built the farm. We had both indoor and outdoor tracks and two stables. Horses were the love of his life.
Mother would sometimes ride, sometimes drive an English Houghton, but she mostly loved gardening and having friends visit the farm. My mother loved entertaining and my brother and I always had friends there. She made it an inviting, warm home for her friends and her kids.
Mother passed away suddenly in 1942 while sitting in the yard at the farm. Dad could not bring himself to have the funeral in a mortuary so we had the service at Garden Home. I remember looking out and the whole place was covered with flowers, the most gorgeous sight you’ve ever seen. I was in college at the time; she was quite young, in her late 40’s. It was a tragic loss for our family.
Going back a bit, my Dad lost all of the horses in the 1930’s. There were two bad accidents just a few months apart. The first tragedy occurred when the horses my father was showing in California were caught in a stable fire. Just a few months later, a train wreck took most of the other horses while being shipped to Madison Square Garden for a show. After those events, my father lost interest in horses. It was very hard on him. He told me once that he was “not meant to have horses.”
I had a horse, though, and rode just about every summer day. Trails were all over the area so I had lots of choice riding places. There were paper chases and we used to ride where Washington Square now stands or I would go next door to the Nicol Riding Academy.
Besides my older brother, Dick (Richard), I had another brother (Howard) who died at around two years old of some kind of ailment related to unpasteurized milk. He was the middle child between Dick and me. I never knew him.
Dick was 6 years older than me, very sweet and athletic. As an adult, he managed the sporting goods department at the Store. He and his wife, Paula, had five children before he passed away in 1962 when he was only 45 years old.
I regret not attending Garden Home School. I would have loved going there. It was a small school, smaller than Ainsworth, and I thought it would be fun attending here since I loved living in Garden Home. I was always happy there.
I remember baseball games in the athletic field next to the Garden Home School. Each of the nearby small communities had teams of young men and competed here when the rotation came to play Garden Home. I also recall the Elco Dairy that operated on Shattuck Road where Alpenrose Dairy is now.
I especially loved riding my motor scooter around the farm and sometimes I took a spin up and down Garden Home Road or to the Red and White store to pick up the mail and maybe get an ice cream. Margaret Smith was the Postmistress.
You asked if I had any special memories of living in Garden Home. One thing I remember well is being allowed to organize a horse show with a group of friends. We were just school kids, and thrilled when my Dad gave his permission. It was held in our indoor ring and turned into a really a big event as an early WWII benefit for the Save the Children Fund. We made a lot of money with hundreds of people in attendance. It was really something and perhaps the nucleus of my personal civic awareness and the realization of what satisfaction there is in doing for others.
The other people I remember from Garden Home are the families that lived up the road. There was Earle Bernard and his family. Mr. Bernard was a well-known attorney in Portland with three children: Peggy, Jean and Bill. The Freck and Kerron families also lived nearby.
Editor’s Note: Gerry Frank spent the summers of his childhood in Garden Home at the Frank farm built by his father in the 1920’s. During our interview he often expressed how much he enjoyed those years and looked forward to each summer when the family would return to what they considered their summer home. Gerry referred to the house and property as “the Farm” though those living in Garden Home now refer to the property as the Frank Estate. The property was sold sometime in the 1970’s by the Frank Family and developed into a condominium community. The original house, as well as several of the out buildings, still exist though the stable and track are no longer there. The rail line, which once was used to load the horses as they were transported throughout the country for showing, is now the Fanno Creek Trail, a walking and bicycling trail through the neighborhood.
Gerry lives an active and generous life with his involvement in many community organizations. He serves as Oregon’s Honorary Oregon State Police Superintendent and chairs the Oregon State Police Foundation, as well as being named Salem’s Honorary Fire Chief. He was Senator Mark Hatfield’s Chief of Staff for many years. He publishes a weekly Oregon travel column in The Oregonian. In addition, he is an expert on New York City and has authored a number of very popular editions (16) of “Gerry Frank’s Where to Find It, Buy It, Eat It in New York.”
Interview by Elaine Shreve and Virginia Vanture in Gerry Frank’s Salem Office, April 5, 2010
Response from Warren Cook, 2010:
Aaron Frank was involved in the community, as he welcomed the youth in the late 50’s to come to his estate and swim in the pool and sometimes have ice cream in their house. It should be noted that he was a very kind and social man, with the highest of customer standards. When you went to the downtown Meier and Frank store, he was always walking the floor to ensure that the customer were getting the best treatment, and if he saw a staff member verbally abusive or mistreating a customers, they were ‘fired’ on the spot.
(Ed: The Meier & Frank store was the major downtown store, became Macy’s and now slated to close in 2017.)