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The long and distinguished service of Brooklyn Pharmacy


Photo Credit: COURTESY OF CITY OF PORTLAND ARCHIVES - The Brooklyn Pharmacy is shown here on the southeast corner of Milwaukie Avenue and Powell Boulevard, in a photo taken in 1936. The Atlantic Richfield Company bought the property in 1967, demolishing the building and replacing it with an Arco Service Station. In its 118 year history, the Brooklyn Pharmacy has had to survive several moves before reaching its current location on the west side of Milwaukie, a block south of Powell. The headline story in the December, 2013 issue of THE BEE was “Pharmacy Smashed”. It told how the driver of a pickup truck had managed to ram into the front of the Brooklyn Pharmacy, a block south of Powell Boulevard on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue – causing considerable damage to the “museum” of historic pharmaceuticals in the store. The damage has been repaired, and the historic pharmaceuticals display has been restored. And business continues as usual for the drug store that is the closest one to neighbors in Brooklyn, Westmoreland, and Sellwood. But the story of this business goes further back than that. Much further back.

For the past 118 years, the Brooklyn Pharmacy has been a cornerstone of its Southeast Portland neighborhood. Brooklyn at that time was a blue-collar working district. Germans and Italians emigrated from their homeland and settled into Brooklyn, hiring on at the Inman-Poulson Lumberyards, at the Southern Pacific Railroad, or finding work on the Eastside Streetcar that traveled down Milwaukie Avenue. As residents arrived and built their homes in Brooklyn, a new business district arose and expanded outward from the intersection of Milwaukie Avenue and Powell Boulevard. Bellarts Saloon, a country store, a French Cleaners, and a Furnishings Store all crowded the circular business district, and it was here that the Brooklyn Pharmacy was established. In 1897, Paul Brinkman and a Mr. Sieberts opened the store.

Brinkman immigrated to the United States from Erfurt, Germany, in 1872, when he was just 14 years old, and it was probably his German background that endeared him to the residents, and the pharmacy became successful.

The Brooklyn Pharmacy stood right where the road ended at Powell and Milwaukie, and a liquid-filled glass globe was suspended outside, announcing to the people passing by that their new pharmacy was open for business.

These “Show Globes” were universally displayed by pharmacists at the time, much as a striped barber’s pole advertised (and sometimes still does) the location of the local barbershop. These wonderfully-colored glass globes were filled with brightly-colored liquids that were mixed from chemicals by the local pharmacist – the exact mixture in each case being known only to the proprietors.

It was common practice in those days for two business owners to pool their money and partner-up when opening a drug store or some other shop. So, for the first few years, Paul Brinkman operated the Brooklyn pharmacy with the help of other pharmacists, like Sieberts, Williams, Froehlich, and Forbes.

Once enough capital had been raised from sales, and additional inventory collected, one of the partners would then most likely leave to start their own pharmacy – taking their half of the inventory, and opening their own store in a different part of town. Thus it was that by 1900, Paul Brinkman had become the sole proprietor of the Brooklyn Pharmacy – a distinction he would hold for the next 57 years.

Paul and his wife Amelia were married in the first German Baptist Church on July 16th of 1899. They settled in the Brooklyn neighborhood, just a few blocks from his pharmacy, where Paul had at one time regularly slept in the back room.

Most medical remedies were then compounded in a liquid form that a trained pharmacist like Brinkman would blend in the backroom of his business, before selling it to a patron in need. And – as the current historic pharmaceutical display in the store today makes clear – some of the accepted remedies of the time would horrify us today. Drugs such as Opium and Coca leaves were included in remedies for ailing stomachs and headaches. And even the poison strychnine could be found in ingredients on patent medicine labels.

Liver Salts were available as an effective laxative. During the early years, it was common for customers to purchase Lime Water for an upset stomach. Customers could order almost anything from Brinkman's Brooklyn Pharmacy – from Aqua Ammonia, Sweet Spirit Nitre, and Linseed and Olive Oil, to Epsom Salts, Glycerin, and Rose Water to be used for chapped hands and faces. Even Muriatic Acid Poison could be had.

The Prohibition era, 1920 to 1932, proved to be a difficult time for pharmacists and drug store owners. Alcohol, a major ingredient used in the mixture and preparation of many medicinal remedies was placed under strict government regulation. Prescriptions had to be written on government-issued paper, and pharmacists were required to keep detailed records that inspectors could review at any time during unscheduled visits.

Paul Brinkman kept his tally in a huge binder under the counter, logging all of the patrons who ordered prescriptions from his store, with details of their medical histories. After many years collecting names, addresses, and telephone numbers recording how to reach his clients, he had filled three huge volumes.

According to Brooklyn Pharmacist Mike Dardis, drugstores were still issuing liquid prescriptions until after World War II, when tablets were introduced – which changed the pharmacy business for good.

As the times changed so did the Pharmacists. Drug store owners couldn't rely on selling prescription drugs as a source of income. And it did not escape their notice that small eating establishments that served flavored carbonated water, and later ice cream, called “Soda Fountains”, had become fashionable with teenagers and college-bound students. Savvy proprietors observed that when housewives stopped by their pharmacy to pick up an order they were in the mood to shop for other household items. Even young children sent to the drugstore on an errand by their parents, hung around afterwards looking for extra treats to purchase Consequently, the old style pharmacies began to be phased out and renovated into brightly-colored soda fountains with long lunch counters, shiny chromed bar stools, picture length mirrors and checkered tiled floors.

Portland City Archives documents reveal that in 1936 there were over 250 full-service drug stores in Portland. As they began to convert to combination drug stores and soda fountains, a few also dispensed draft beer at the fountain, and the Coca Cola sold during this time had a much more generous component of the soft drink’s syrup in it than the more diluted soft drink that we consume today.

The soft drinks were allowed to stay, but it wasn't long before Oregon Liquor Control Ccommission officials stepped in and halted these fountains from profiting on alcoholic beverages.

When the Ross Island Bridge was completed in 1926, travel by auto from one side of the Willamette River became easy – and residential neighborhoods on the east side of Portland began to grow at an incredible rate – and that led the public to demand of the Portland City Council faster and more convenient roads.

Powell Boulevard was widened and completed westward to the Ross Island Bridge. Shops and houses that stood in the way of progress were removed, and Brooklyn's once-proud business district Center was dismantled – including the original Brooklyn Pharmacy structure – to make way for the Powell Boulevard extension.

A new two-story brick structure, complete with a soda fountain counter, was built on the southeast corner of Milwaukie and Powell, and the grand opening of this “new, modern” Brooklyn Pharmacy followed. In the years afterward, a larger ceramic Coca Cola sign was installed over outside marquee, and the Brooklyn Pharmacy continued to be a convenient place for neighbors to meet, and catch up on the latest gossip and family news.

Brinkman hired his daughters Adda and Elsie to wait on customers, while son Paul Brinkman Junior was assigned other tasks. Longtime local residents may recall that old man Brinkman often shooed children away from the magazine and comic book section, when they spent more time reading the merchandise than buying.

After serving the neighborhood as its pharmacist for nearly six decades, and waiting on numerous generations of clients, Paul Brinkman retired in 1956. Lawrence Wehrly replaced the renowned Brinkman behind the counter, while property owner Harold Rabbee continued to update the interior of the Brooklyn Pharmacy to attract new clientele.

One of those updates included the installation of an ornate copper drinking fountain on the corner of the block, just outside the store. Most Oregonians are familiar with the twenty bronze water fountains donated by Simon Benson (“Benson Bubblers”) that are situated in downtown Portland.

The drinking fountain placed out front of the Brooklyn Pharmacy by Rabbee was one of only a few such located on the east side of the river at the time. Today, Brooklyn Pharmacist Mike Dardis recalls that the fountain was damaged when an out of control auto ran into the structure.

City officials sympathized with the loss, but informed the owner Rabbee that they wouldn’t be able to replace the popular drinking fountain. The cost was too high, and work crews didn't have the materials to match the ornate design of that particular fountain.

Refusing to take no for an answer, Rabbe later told Mike Dardis that he confronted the city leaders: “I have a contract that you'll replace the fountain, and I will sue the city if it’s not repaired.”

It is not clear whether or not he had such a contract, but it is a matter of record that within the next few weeks the shiny copper fountain was back in service, and passing pedestrians and bus stop commuters were again able to enjoy a free drink before continuing on their way.

By 1964 Pharmacist Russ Miller had become the new owner of the Brooklyn Pharmacy, but he contacted his good friend Mike Dardis, a Portland native then living in Crescent City, California, offering him 40 percent ownership in the business. Mike and his wife Sadie were waiting for an opportunity to return to Portland to be closer to family and friends. This offer provided the opportunity, and they accepted.

A graduate of Oregon State University in 1964, with a Bachelor of Science Degree, Mike had begun his pharmaceutical career in Crescent City. “There was no work available in Portland at that time,” remarks Mike, and so he received his California Pharmaceutical License. Before their move back to Portland, Mike and Sadie were to witness one of the worst disasters ever to hit the Crescent City area, caused by the great Alaskan Earthquake off Prince William Sound in 1964.

On March 27th of that year, the big earthquake triggered an open-ocean tsunami that traveled down along the Oregon and California coast. “Crescent City juts out farther from the coastline than other towns along the way, and the town got hammered by three different waves,” recalls Mike “All of the people were running for safety inland, and I saw this photographer heading for the beach to take pictures. I had never seen a tsunami before, so I wanted to see what one looked like.”

Mike explains that most people assume that a tsunami is a big wave that just rolls in and destroys buildings in its path. But, watching from a cliff above the waterfront, Mike observed that the ocean waters would first recede quite a distance – perhaps two or three miles away from the mainland. The boats anchored around the harbor were left stranded on dry sand. Then, when the water reversed course, “All of the boats started blowing their horns, warning everyone of the immediate danger.”

People had ventured out in the emptied harbor, walking on the sand. “ It was like watching a huge bathtub fill with water, and just starts slowly to overflow,” recalls Mike, remembering the first of three waves rising and rolling into the tiny Northern California coastal town – until he finally realized that he, too, needed to seek safety on higher ground.

Crescent City was one of the hardest-hit towns by that tsunami event on the U.S. West Coast south of Alaska, and twelve people lost their lives in the community that day. After that, Mike says he was especially glad that he’d accepted the job at the Brooklyn Pharmacy!

Mike had been working at the Brooklyn Pharmacy for only three years when the property owner, Harold Rabbe, decided to sell the block to Atlantic Richfield Company (today, ARCO), instead of renewing the contract to Mike and his partner Russ.

Once again the Brooklyn Pharmacy was destined to be closed forever – until owner Earl Flatt allowed Mike to move the Pharmacy into a storefront residents know today as True Brew Coffee House at S.E. Pershing and Milwaukie.

When Russ Miller retired, Mike Dardis was given sole ownership of the Brooklyn Pharmacy. Finally, in 1992, the Brooklyn Pharmacy was forced to move one last time, and owner Paul Schuback welcomed Mike Dardis to set up his shop just south of the Aladdin Theater, where it still stands today.

Those who visit the Brooklyn Pharmacy today are, as previously mentioned, treated to a museum of pharmaceuticals, where patrons waiting for their prescriptions to be filled can view a variety of bottles, labels, journals, and pharmaceutical instruments and boxes that from a great many years ago. This display, protected in glass cases, is a project of Dardis’ fellow pharmacist and friend, John Kaegi.Those three large volumes recording minutiae about Paul Brinkman's customers, at one time assumed lost, were rediscovered by Mike and today are displayed on the bottom shelves of the three glass cases against the windows.

A certificate hangs on the south wall, presented to Mike Dardis by the Oregon Pharmaceutical Association in 2014 in appreciation of his 50 years in the Pharmacy Business – and his faithful service to the Brooklyn neighborhood and Inner Southeast Portland.

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