Mark and Leona Whitney and the Whitney Cannery, 1950-1976

[Update: Leona Whitney, 1920-2015. Read her obituary here.]

Historic Photos of Whitney’s Cannery

Thanks to Shelly Bigley, Old Market Pub and Brewery, for most of these photos collected from Leona Whitney. They help to tell the story of Whitney’s Cannery from 1950 to 1976. Most of the aerial photos are by Otto Arndt. Today, the cannery location is the Old Market Pub and Brewery.

Aerial photos of Whitney’s Cannery

Whitney’s Cannery at 6959 SW Garden Home Road, 1950 to 1976

Cannery operations

Church ladies

The “Helping Hands Circle” ladies from the Community Church made daily sandwiches to sell at the cannery to raise funds for a new church organ.

Building the apartment

Winter Christmas tree operations and 1969 big snow

What came after Whitney’s Cannery

Frank and Steve Comella opened Comella’s Produce and Flower Center in 1978. It later changed names to Comella & Son Produce and Flower Center, then Comella & Son & Daughter Produce and Flower Center, closing in 1992. Today, it is the Old Market Pub & Brewery.

Cannery to Pub Timeline

  • 1944: A Cooperative Cannery was being used in a building in the Progress area.
  • 1945: A new Garden Home Cooperative Cannery was built by community members in a more central location for Garden Home families and people from the whole southwest area. It was located at the junction of what would become Multnomah Boulevard and Garden Home Road.
  • 1950: Mark and Leona Whitney purchased the Cannery and continued the business, adding flowers and produce until 1976.
  • 1978: Frank Comella purchased the Whitney’s Cannery in 1978 labeling the store as “Comella & Son Produce and Flower Center” with a large sign over the top of the building. Later he added “& Daughter”. Frank had been the produce manager at Angelos grocery in Progress. He retired in 1992 and sold the building to Andy and Shelly Bigley.
  • April 13, 1994: Grand Opening of the Old Market Brew Pub! Building and remodeling to create a popular pizza and full service restaurant and brew pub in the building previously housing the Garden Home Cooperative Cannery, Whitney’s Cannery, and the Comella & Son & Daughter Produce and Flower Center.
  • April, 2020: Oregon public safety rules for the COVID-19 pandemic forces Old Market Pub to limit service to takeout and telephone orders until the number of cases decreases and the Governor opens such businesses to return to in-store service.

Leona’s memories of Whitney’s Cannery

By Virginia Vanture, November 28, 2010

The following is from a phone interview with Leona in March 2010.

Mark Whitney at the Co-op Cannery, 1950

Mark Whitney at the Co-op Cannery, 1950

Before coming to Oregon, Leona and Mark Whitney were living in Las Vegas.  Mark was working for the Union Pacific Railroad on the Streamliner, but the older son developed allergies and the family felt it would be better to move to another climate.  With this in mind Mark made a trip to Portland and was able to get a job with Portland General Electric. During this time he made a friend who worked for the American Can Company who had heard about a small cannery in Garden Home that was up for sale. This was 1950. He told Mark, “You may never get rich owning the cannery but you can make a good living at it.” Mark and Leona visited the Cannery and bought it not knowing much of anything about the business. Leona said she had to learn fast!

The Cannery was located on the north side of Garden Home Road at the junction with Multnomah Boulevard. The building subsequently housed Frank Comella’s fruit and vegetables, a forerunner of the current farmers’ markets. Old Market Pub is now in this location, a portion of which is the original cannery building.

Whitney's Cannery whole purple plums label

Whitney’s Cannery whole purple plums label

Aside from canning fruits and vegetables that were brought into the cannery, The Whitneys began selling preserves under their own label. It happened this way. Mark had picked up a load of apricots from The Dalles which looked pretty good as he examined the top layers of the boxes. But once back in Garden Home and getting a better look at them he discovered the lower layers in the boxes were all overripe. Needing to do something with the fruit and do it quickly before the apricots spoiled, Leona made up batches of apricot and pineapple preserves, which turned out to be a hit with the locals. They used the smallest cans they had on hand, those usually used for canning fish, and sold the jam for 19 cents a can. Consequently, what might have been a business setback became an opportunity.

Whitney's Cannery, 1950, Mark Whitney in foreground

Whitney’s Cannery, 1950, Mark Whitney in foreground

The Whitneys expanded that line of the business, canning every kind of fruit jam and selling it in gallon cans. The local schools operated their own cafeterias at that time and the Whitney Cannery built their year-round trade on providing canned jams and fruits to the schools.

Leona kept the books and was in charge of the payroll. Anywhere from eighteen to twenty women were hired to work full-time during the busiest periods. During peak canning time, late summer through fall, the employees worked nights canning the Whitney’s fruit while those in the area who wished to have their own produce canned were accommodated during the day. Produce would be brought in the morning and run through the canning process. Applesauce was made by first cleaning the apples, then steaming them in a 40-gallon vat and then putting them through a strainer. At this point, the owner of the apples could choose to add spices or flavoring as they wished. The applesauce was then placed in the cans, sealed and stamped with the owners stamp. Individuals were asked to pick up the canned items before closing that day otherwise they were taken to the warehouse and charged extra to keep until picked up. The warehouse was small so space was limited and rather than pay the extra cost for storage most people picked up their canning the same day.

Mark was in charge of just about everything including selling the canned goods to the schools during the winter months. But Leona admits that they all did a little of everything and there was seldom any down time for the family. This meant that the Whitney boys, Doug and Richard, who were still in school at this time also worked in the Cannery. Their job was to manage the warehouse where they did a lot of lifting and carrying!

The women in Garden Home that Leona knew best were those such as Mildred Stevens and Lois Day and Mrs. Singletary who worked in the cannery. Working gave her little time to engage in community activities but she did belong to the Garden Home Community Church’s “Helping Hands” committee, which is how sandwiches came to be sold at the Cannery.

Ad for Comella & Son Produce & Flower Center

Ad for Comella & Son Produce & Flower Center

Needing to raise money to buy a new organ for the church the group came up with the idea of selling sandwiches at the cannery. The Whitneys agreed. The “Helping Hands” women then began taking turns making 10 or 12 sandwiches each day and taking them to the cannery to be sold. And the idea caught on. Locals who came thinking they would be able to finish with their canning by lunch only to find they were running late provided a ready market for the project. The sandwich sales continued until enough were sold to pay for the new organ.

The Whitney family operated the Cannery for 26 years quitting business in 1976. The building was sold to Frank Comella, who operated a fruit stand there for many years. The building now houses the “OLD MARKET BREW PUB.” When I asked Leona why they sold the cannery she said, “Well, I guess we were just tired. It was a lot of work.”  Which I somehow felt, in listening to her, was an understatement. Leona now lives in Nevada with her son.

Leona Whitney’s Chalkboard

By Elaine Shreve, 2017

Oregonian April 28, 1972 article about Leona Whitney

Oregonian April 28, 1972 article about Leona Whitney

This unique Garden Home attraction was featured in an April 28, 1972 article in the Oregonian by Andrew Mershon.  The Whitney’s cannery, purchased in 1950, and plant nursery was located at the junction of Multnomah Blvd. and Garden Home Road.   As the article says (and is still true today): Mrs. Whitney has seen many accidents over the years. “Slow Down! You’re Making Me Nervous,” her chalkboard read one morning.  Next day, she followed the stick with a carrot, “You’re doing much better.  Thanks!”

People honked and waved as they drove by.  Salesman would try to sell Mrs. Whitney a modern reader board but she liked the charm of the simple old chalkboard. No one ever bothered the board.  She used quotes or commentaries on the weather, the traffic or current events.  “Caution, pheasants crossing” alerted the traffic and then followed by “Joggers crossing” for a group of neighborhood men.

Mrs. Whitney tried to put a different message on each side of the board in the early days but she was horrified to watch people crane their necks while driving to read both sides of the board.  For safety, she began putting the same message on both sides.  She felt that the chalkboard brought in lots of new customers.

Click here for more stories about the Old Cannery

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17 Responses to Mark and Leona Whitney and the Whitney Cannery, 1950-1976

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