Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My!
It's been quiet for many years, but Estacada's Safari Club once buzzed with activity.
Perhaps the town's most storied structure, the a legendary green building at Fourth Avenue and Broadway Street was once home to more than 100 taxidermied animals from around the world. A nightclub that was open 24 hours a day during its glory years, the Safari Club offered patrons drinks, live music and colorful company while sitting next to animals from around the world that founder Glen Park hunted and then taxidermied.
The place engaged locals and visitors alike. Legend has it, even Elvis Presley visited at one point.
The club — which also featured a restaurant and coffee bar — saw its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, but has been closed since 2013.
Soon, the famous building at 116 S.E. Fourth Ave. will cease to exist when it is demolished to make way for a new Dollar General Store. Officials from Embree Asset Group, Dollar General's real estate company, estimated that the demolition will be complete in several weeks and that the store will open sometime this fall after a new building is constructed.
Though the building will soon be gone, the Safari Club's legacy still stands strong.
"It put Estacada on the map," said local historian Kathryn Hurd. "People had never heard of any place like this. As a customer, one was forever imprinted with the experience. It stayed with you. You talked about it, and you might even dream about it."
In 1970, Park — who had at one time owned Estacada's Park Lumber Mill, a major source of commerce in the area — decided he wanted a home for his collection of animals from a series of big game hunting trips. Park's son, Mike, estimated that his father traveled around the world more than 20 times.
Park purchased a sportsmen's club and a neighboring building in downtown Estacada. He combined and remodeled the buildings to create the Safari Club. Hundreds of life-sized animals now had a new home, complete with scenes recreated from their native lands.
From the club's earliest days, the animals dominated the atmosphere and set it apart from other destinations. As soon as they entered the club, visitors felt like they were in another land.
"You felt like you were in the jungle, and you could see what was happening," Hurd recalled. "The scenes were beautifully done. They were well lit, and you could sit right next to them."
There was nothing quite like seeing Park's animals.
"You could see movies and pictures, but you had no idea what these animals were really like until you saw them in the flesh," Hurd said. "Or in this case, the dead flesh."
Complementing Park's nature scenes were items like an elephant foot that had been hollowed out to hold matches and a giant polar bear that greeted patrons as they stepped inside the club.
The splendor of the establishment during its heyday still stands out to many people.
"Everything was first class," said Sharon Kiggins, who was the night manager of the club's bar from the 1970s through the 1990s. "I had never been in a nightclub that beautiful before."
Park was dedicated to keeping the club clean, and Kiggins recalled him vacuuming every day without fail.
"One day, the vacuum broke down and he asked me if I had one at home," she said. "Glen put his best work into (the Safari Club). He said, 'When they tear this building down, I don't want them to find sawdust or dirt. I want them to know it was built with good intent.'"
Though the club would eventually become a favorite haunt among Estacada residents, it didn't start out that way.
"At first, locals didn't come," Kiggins recalled. "Glen asked me why, and I told him it was because we were too fancy."
Upon hearing this, he journeyed across the street to the Trails Inn and Timber Room Cafe — a hot spot among local loggers — and addressed its occupants.
"He said, 'Listen loggers, I built this place for you and I want you to come enjoy it,'" Kiggins recounted. "'If you're wearing your calk boots, come anyway.'"
"The happening place" of the 1970s and 1980s
After Park's speech, the establishment was visited by both locals and visitors — including, legend has it, the King of Rock and Roll himself.
The visit might have been annecdotal, but most people thought it was true.
The story said that Presley, while performing in Portland during the earlier part of the decade, stopped by the establishment to see Park's animal collection.
The story continued that the waitress who had served Presley coffee saved his cup without washing it.
In addition to its unique decor, the club also featured live music most nights during its early days, making it a big draw for many. Visitors ranged from "people dressed up for the evening to loggers just off work in their short jeans and calk boots," recalled Sherril Osborn, who frequented the Safari Club in the late 1970s.
Mike Park also noted the numerous people who visited the club.
"(In the 1970s and 1980s) it was the happening place," he said. "There was a lot of activity."
In many instances, local musicians were invited to play with the club's house band. Guitarist Dan Richardson often did this, playing with the house band Vanilla Vanilla in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Richardson later formed his own groups, Fire Break and the Richardson Brothers, who began playing at the club in the mid 1980s through the late 1990s.
"Playing with Vanilla Vanilla, the place was packed. It was like a carnival," Richardson said, noting that the animal collection made the place a one-of-a-kind venue.
Because of its unique atmosphere, many people had adventures at the Safari Club.
"On the weekends if you were stout of heart, you could dance till the bar closed and then adjourn to the coffee shop for breakfast before heading home," said Osborn.
The club featured many events over the years, such as the "Cat's Meow Fashion Show," and a Halloween party and costume contest.
Jim Styles recalled an instance in the 1970s in which the club heated up — literally.
"I was drinking hot buttered rums, and the bartender would take a teaspoon of (Bacardi) 151 and light it, and once it was flaming, would stir it into the cup," Styles said.
Deciding he wanted something a bit stronger, Styles asked the bartender for "a whole drink of 151."
But as Styles was walking back to his table from the bar, "flames engulfed the top of the entire drink."
"The drink slushed onto both of my hands, and then they were on fire, and the flames were spreading to the sleeves of my wool sweater," he recounted. "I was just coming off the dance floor, and there was no table, so I started to set the drink on the floor. I dropped it onto the carpet and stuck my hands in my armpits to smother the flames."
Upon realizing what had happened, Styles' friends ran over to stomp out the carpet fire and dumped ice from empty drinks on his hands. Once the bartender realized that Styles was OK, he offered to fix him another drink — and bring it to his table, this time.
"I used to joke, if it hadn't been for my friends, I would have burnt the club down and a lot of memories wouldn't have happened," Styles said good-naturedly.
Richardson noted that although "there were usually fights (at the club) ... they weren't that bad."
"It was awesome playing there," he said. "It was a nice place."
In addition to offering lively nightlife, the Safari Club engaged people of all ages during the daytime. Hurd remembers Girl Scout Troops visiting and then-governor of Oregon Mark Hatfield bringing groups of people to the club.
Additionally, "for Mother's Day brunch, the lines would wrap around the corner," Kiggins recalled.
Though the Safari Club was a popular hangout for many, not everything always ran smoothly.
One New Year's Eve sometime in the 1970s, someone set off tear gas on the club's dance floor.
"We had to evacuate," Mike Park recalled, noting that the person who did it was caught. "I thought someone was trying to rob the place."
Additionally, once social gambling rose in popularity during the late 1980s, there were also questions about what role it should play at the Safari Club and other Estacada establishments. Though some residents were concerned that it would be a morally corrupting influence, others believed it would be beneficial to tourism.
In March 1989, the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, the Clackamas County Sheriff's office and the Multnomah and Washington County Sheriff's Offices joined forces to conduct a raid on the Safari Club and other local establishments where gambling took place. The raid resulted in racketeering charges against Safari Club owners Ronald and Maggie Broersma and the club's game room managers, as well as management at the Cazadero Inn and Trails Inn. The establishments were temporarily closed.
"The games here were clearly illegal under Oregon law, which only allows games among equal participants where there is no house involvement or profit from the games," said Marla Raye, a spokesperson for Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer. "Games in Estacada have attracted professional gambling promoters whose only interest was gambling for profit."
During the raid, police entered the establishments and asked those playing cards to fill out questionnaires while evidence was collected, including a safe with $11,000 in cash.
"Why did they come in here like the roaring 20s?" one safari club waitress complained.
While covering a trial related to the raids several months later, the Clackamas County News (predecessor to the Estacada News), published an article titled "Gambling experiment sort of stupid, D.A. suggests" that outlined Chief Deputy District Attorney Dennis Miller's frustrations pertaining to the local gambling situation.
"Every time I talk with someone in Estacada, I'm overwhelmed at how little they know," he said. "Nobody except those people playing cards can make money. If you do, you're committing a crime."
He added that professional gamblers, who came from out of town, were "like a big hypodermic needle stuck in Estacada's arm. They were sucking the money out and leaving."
The Parks sold the Safari Club in the mid 1980s, and there have been several different owners since that time. In the 1990s and early 2000s, owners began serving Chinese food, and the club was known as the Jen Jen Safari Club and later Hong's Restaurant.
After a period of closure, it reopened once again as the Legendary Safari Club in 2011. Then-owners Betsy Miller and Cindy Smith remembered the place from their childhoods and hoped to restore it to its former glory. They planned to switch from Chinese cuisine to a menu that included burgers, steak, chicken, pork and sliders.
The place would be a family oriented restaurant during the daytime and focus on events with DJs and live music at night.
However, the Safari Club closed its doors once again two years later — this time, for good.
Many people, both from Estacada and other locations, still remember the Safari Club. Though the majority of Park's animals have since been donated to a museum in Tillamook, they are often associated with the town along the Clackamas River.
"Even today if I say I'm from Estacada, people say, 'Oh yeah, the Safari Club," Hurd said. "(Because of the Safari Club), people remember Estacada as an interesting place to come to."
Richardson also recalled the number of people enthralled by the establishment.
"It was quite the thing in its day," Richardson. "A lot of people would come to take photos of the animals."
Hurd doesn't believe an establishment like the Safari Club would be created today, which makes it even more special.
"It was a different time," she said. "The generation Glen Park grew up in was the he-man generation, with hunting, gambling and showmanship, and that's passed also. In today's world, things have changed with technology, and everything is always fast and overwhelming. For its time, the Safari Club was like that."
Osborn remembers the Safari Club fondly. She thinks it brought something special to Estacada, and not just because of its famous animals.
"I would have to call it an amazing place, not only because of its location in what was then a small logging community, but also because that before the days of video poker and people texting throughout their social gatherings, it was quite simply, as I recall, a lot of fun," she said. "I don't know if places like this still exist, and for a place like this to have existed in Estacada in those days made it even more special."
Osborn hopes that the iconic Safari Club sign is saved during the demolition of the building. City leaders said they plan to salvage both the sign and the club's front door if the demolition allows.
"Many may not know why the sign is iconic, but many do," Osborn said.