Woodstock stories reveal neighborhood changes

by: David F. Ashton, From left, Woodstock businesspeople Ann Steigerwald, Gretchen and Jerry Eichentopf, Don Garvin, and Gene Dieringer shared their memories of Woodstock gone by.

The history of the Woodstock neighborhood came alive on Saturday, March 15th, during the fourth annual Open House at the Woodstock Community Center.

This year's theme, 'Memories: Celebrating the Stories of Woodstock', was publicized as an afternoon for residents to bring old photos to be scanned and stories to tell. Lisa Kagan, Woodstock resident and professional artist specializing in heirloom art, was on hand all day to encourage residents to share their memories through conversation, writing and artwork. Meantime, Gina Ballard worked with neighborhood children to create colorful images celebrating their favorite Woodstock stories.

The celebration began at 1 pm with harp playing by Woodstock resident Florence Dezeix, and the mingling of neighbors enjoying displays of historic photos assembled and labeled by Terry Griffiths.

As they talked with each other about days past, visitors nibbled on tasty refreshments donated by neighborhood restaurants Toast, Otto's, Woodstock Deli, Laughing Planet, Papaccino's, and First Cup Coffee.

The sharing of neighborhood history began with a group of four businesspeople whose families have deep roots in the community. With Ann Steigerwald moderating, they talked about the origins of their businesses, and how things have changed on the boulevard.

Gene Dieringer took the lead by telling how his grandfather Frank and great uncle Norbert traded their house and acre of land on Duke Street in 1933 for the inventory and fixtures of a store on the south side of Woodstock Boulevard. Their store, D and D Grocery, was the sole food store in Woodstock for many years.

By 1953 the Dieringers were able to acquire land across the street, on the north side of the Woodstock Boulevard. They opened a grocery and variety store where the current Safeway store now stands. In 1965 they knocked down the wall between grocery and variety, creating the 'Woodstock Super Center'. A series of grocery stores occupied the north side. Across the aisle, on the south side, a variety section became well-known for its comprehensive inventory - including hardware, yardage, household goods and even jewelry.

Today, Dieringer's Properties, Inc., owns the two 'super blocks' between S.E. 43rd and 46th Avenues. The family business purchased the current BiMart block in 1995. In 1996 the Safeway store which had occupied that west block moved across 44th Avenue one block east to its current location. At that time, Gene Dieringer worked with the neighborhood to find a suitable tenant for the vacated Safeway building.

BiMart, a regional store with headquarters in Eugene, and now employee-owned, was Dieringer's choice to replace the much-loved Super Center variety store. Today, BiMart - with a pharmacy, photo developing, automotive supplies, housewares, electronics, hardware, stationery, grocery items, and garden supplies - rivals the product depth of the Super Center that closed thirteen years ago.

Next to describe their family business were Jerry and Gretchen Eichentopf, owners of Otto's Meat and Sausage Kitchen. Jerry's grandfather Otto Eichentopf owned a meat market in Arberdeen, Washington, and moved to Woodstock in 1920. At that time, many Germans and farms occupied the area. In 1928 Otto went back to Europe to learn how to make sausages, and opened the Sausage Kitchen when he returned.

Jerry took over the family business from his dad thirty years ago, and now Otto's is famous nationwide - due in part to a visit six years ago by Jane and Michael Stern, authors of 'Road Food'. The Sterns are heard regularly on the National Public Radio program 'The Splendid Table'. The program featured Otto's, and 'it has been snowballing ever since,' exclaims Gretchen. In recent years, all kinds of national celebrities have visited the store to try the famous wieners and assorted sausages.

Don Garvin, 90-year old Woodstock resident and a letter carrier from 1948-51, told of delivering mail to businesses along the boulevard. Now-gone businesses he recalls in his lifetime include Johnny's Service Station, a second-hand store, and Tucker's Ice Cream (now Washington Mutual Bank); as well as Akers Grocery and Smitty's Bakery (now Apple Crate Furniture Store), a service station, Sam's Shoe Repair, Hampton's Variety (now Hollywood Video), and the Dieringers' D and D Grocery and frozen food locker (now the Flower Shop and Radio Shack).

When Don was young, he recalled, home refrigerators were nonexistent, and Dieringer's frozen food lockers behind the grocery store were a lifesaver.

At 2:30 pm at the Open House, Lewis Childs, a Woodstock resident, musician and songwriter, sang and played guitar, featuring stories through song.

The afternoon was brought to a close with two long-time Woodstock residents telling stories of their own lives in the neighborhood. Jan Elliott was born in Woodstock in 1925, and attended Woodstock Elementary and Franklin High School, and then continued on to Reed College on a partial scholarship. She lived at home and walked from S.E. 58th and Ramona to the Reed campus. The semester tuition of $114.25 was difficult to manage, sending her to work for a time in the shipyards in Northeast Portland to defray her school expenses.

Gene Szekely, at 91 years old, still lives in the house his parents built for $2,000 in 1913 on Flavel Street, just east of S.E. 39th Avenue. He remembers the forty-acre parcel from S.E. 39th to 45th Avenue between Knapp to Lexington Streets as a farm where his family bought vegetables. He attended Duniway Elementary School, which at that time simply consisted of two portable buildings heated with a huge wood stove. Eventually Holy Family bought the two portables, put them together, and made their own school.

Gene recalled that he and his friends made all of their own toys, using brush from the fields to craft hockey sticks. They created skateboards from old-fashioned two-part key skates; horseshoe games were made from various 'found' materials as well.

Both Jan and Gene remembered the horse-drawn wagons that collected junk and sold vegetables and fish to Woodstock-area residents.

At the end of the day, Lonnie Port, chairperson of Friends of the Woodstock Community Center, commented that she was very pleased with the event. 'Everyone agreed that it was a wonderful way to celebrate the neighborhood and the Woodstock Community Center as a community gathering place,' she said.