Featured Stories

David Hopkins - and memories of travels in Inner Southeast


COURTESY OF DAVID HOPKINS - This 1950s family photo shows David Hopkins taking a small break from his bike riding to pose for the photographer. David is on the left, his mom Mary in the middle, and stepdad Lloyd is on the right, on Sellwoods S.E. Tenino Street. All of us have fond memories of when we were young.

For David Hopkins, it was playing football, fishing along the river bank, and exploring the swamp at Reed College.

Born in Sellwood, but raised in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood, David – like many of us when we were young – spent time on most of his days on his light blue vintage Hercules bicycle, exploring the world.

The Hopkins family has a long and storied tradition in Sellwood, starting as early as 1905, when David’s great grandparents George Lyon and Flora first settled on Tenino Street, just shy of the commercial district of 13th Avenue.

Sellwood was in the early stages of a building boom, as workers were needed to fill positions on the interurban railway that was being constructed along Ochoco Street. Conductors, repairmen, linesmen, and general laborers were needed – to work on the Oregon Water Power and Railway, which ran south from Oaks Park and stopped at Golf Junction in Sellwood. From there, tracks extended south to Milwaukie and Oregon City and east to Damascus and Estacada in the Cascade Range.

Boarding houses and new homes were springing up in the neighborhood, in anticipation of the arrival of families and newcomers, and the Sellwood street car barn garages on 11th and S.E. Linn were completed in 1909.

Large craftsmen and four square houses were built so that grandparents and their children, and their children’s children, could all live together under one roof. Even relatives and inlaws were invited to share housing until they could afford to own their own residence and move on. It wouldn’t be unusual to see many people related to each other living within a few blocks, or right next door.

David Hopkins’s great grandparents, George Lyon and Flora Hopkins, were the ones who started it all when they first settled on Tenino Street. Next door to them was David’s grandparents Robert and Ruth Hopkins, and across the street was where David was born to his proud parents, George and Mary Hopkins. In fact, while the Sellwood Hospital just two blocks away on Harney Street could have easily delivered David in 1943, he recalls that his grandmother Ruth, Aunt Grace Hamlin, and Vera Scofield – the lady down the street – were called upon to do the honors in the family home.

Although David’s great-granddad died before he was born, he learned that George Lyon once worked as a helper and blacksmith with the streetcar railway company, and later spent time as a janitor – possibly at the nearest grade school. David still has the blacksmith tools that his great grandfather once owned. Flora continued to live on Tenino Street until her children Robert, Raymond, and Grace, were graduated from Sellwood School, married, and then chose to stay close to their mother in the neighborhood.

David’s granddad Robert married Ruth and began working as an operating engineer for the Oregon Electric Company, and later with the Portland Gas and Coke Company, after a brief stint as a chiropractor, which just didn’t bring in enough money to support his family.

According to David, his granddad was working for Froskist Ice Cream in the former, and now-vacant, Mt Hood Brewery Warehouse at 11th and S.E. Marion Street. Robert suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns when a pipe carrying ammonia, which he was painting near, burst and scalded him. Robert survived this ordeal.

David remembers the many shared stories of old-timer Sellwood neighbors, who were regularly awakened by the alarm from the Sellwood Fire Department just a few yards away, and the wafting smells of vanilla, cinnamon, and fresh baked bread from the Sellwood Bakery at the end of the block.

Fishing along the banks of the Willamette River was always a favorite pastime for the Hopkins men. On weekends granddad Robert Hopkins or David’s dad George would head down a path from the Sellwood bluff with fishing reels in hand, headed for their favorite spot in Oaks Bottom. David recalls that a small red shack, probably owned by the Portland Parks Bureau, was the secret place where the Hopkins men started their morning fishing tradition.

And of course there are many other strong memories of those day. “I remember that Oaks Bottom was used as a dump. Rubbish, waste and odds and ends were taken by truck just south of the Milwaukie offramp from McLoughlin Boulevard, and taken down a dirt road to the bottom of the slough. Trash could also be dropped off from the entrance to Oaks Park and placed in the landfill below Sellwood Park.”

During the 1950’s, new housing adjacent to older communities was opening up and offering new and modern homes for young couples and military personnel who used their G.I. benefits to purchase a house.

The Kenilworth and Creston neighborhood that David’s parents were looking at was built in the streetcar era. David’s parents decided it was a good time to move away from the old style houses of Sellwood into the newly-built housing along Cora Street.

The old rustic Waverly-Woodstock street car that once traveled from 28th and rounded the corner at 42nd and Gladstone Street heading over to Woodstock Boulevard had now been replaced by the trackless trolley, or the electrified bus coach that maneuvered easily around traffic. David could ride from 13th and Tacoma, east on Bybee Boulevard and then north past Eastmoreland and Reed College, and arrive at his new home on Cora Street in a matter of minutes.

Creston-Kenilworth residents had a host of retailers to patronize. Four grocery stores, two barbershops, a beauty shop, the Acme Bakery, the Gladstone Pharmacy and Market, a shoe repair business, a print shop, and a car garage were all available within a 15-block area.

The Kenilworth Presbyterian Church was built in 1909 for its congregation, and fire service was provided by the Francis Street Firehouse, just one block north on 33rd street. The Francis Street Firehouse was the last building constructed for horse-drawn firefighting equipment, and is home to the Community Music Center today.

Morley C. Huff opened one of earliest lunch counters along Gladstone Street, serving weekend drinks and light buffet meals for his patrons. By 1939 his sandwich shop had been purchased by J.M Dobyns, and locals today may recognize his new establishment as the Ship Ahoy Tavern, still a landmark along Gladstone Street.

Daniel Grout Elementary School was just a short walking distance down the road. Grout had two gyms – one for the boys and one for the girls – with a long hallway running the distance on both sides of the school. During lunchtime, David recalls that students had to walk downstairs to the cafeteria. “Some of the children that were crippled or handicapped entered the rear on the lower floor of the school,” added David, “We never knew why they were placed in there.” Some of the teachers during David’s years included Mrs. Denikee; Mrs. Hackworth, his 3rd grade teacher; and Mrs. Nigel, who he remembered as being thin but muscular.

Kenilworth Park on the east side of Grout Elementary was the center of kid action, being used as an afterschool playfield for football in the winter and for baseball in the summer. The park opened on September 27th, 1909; and, according to a report in the Oregonian of the time, a special ceremony was held, drawing over 2000 people. The park’s grounds were manicured, with an abundance of dogwoods, maple trees, and alders. Ice cream was served to the ladies and children, and free cigars handed out to the gents, while band music played and speeches were made.

David’s Kenilworth Park memories include a small building cut into the hillside containing the boys’ and girls’ restrooms on either side. A flat cement roof, level with the grounds, was called the “Lookout” by the local boys, who used this as a home base for hide and seek and other outdoor games. Football games were always David’s favorite, he told THE BEE: “The muddier it got, the more fun we had.”

After a long day exploring the Creston Gulch along 27th and Cora Street, playing games with the boys and racing bikes through the neighborhood, David’s favorite stop for candy and a soda was Farley’s Fountain and Remedies at the corner of 39th and Gladstone. Other memories of the area for David include visiting Geo Evans the Gladstone Barber, and stopping at the Signal Service Station to pump up a tire low on air, on the northeast corner of S.E. 39th (now Chavez Blvd) and Gladstone Street.

David fondly remembers that it was a simpler time for children; active kids ran through empty lots and through neighbor’s back yards without inhibition, since few fences existed to stop them. “Everyone knew each other on a first-name basis, and if an adult really trusted you, you were permitted to call them by their first name too,” David summed up.

The Anderson family was one of just a few African American families living in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood then, he recalls. Dan and Diane were the names of his young playmates from that family, and they lived near 39th and Holgate.

In the summertime extra money could be earned picking strawberries along the flourishing fruit fields of Reed College, in the area now used as an athletic field for college students. His grandmother took David along with her to pick berries when he was as young as seven years old. By the sixth and seventh grade David was packing a brown bag lunch and catching the early morning bus to pick raspberries in Milwaukie, blueberries in Gresham, and green beans at Blue Lake Park.

While the ripe berries grown at the Odd Fellows field at Holgate and 32nd proved tempting for an energetic 10-year-old boy, glaring looks from the groundskeeper at the Lodge discouraged the theft of any crops.

David Hopkins enjoyed the best of both worlds, inasmuch as on the weekends he would still pedal over to Sellwood, where his grandparents lived at 11th and S.E. Tenino. He was kept busy with errands for his relatives, mailing letters and picking up packages at the Sellwood Post Office – then located at Tenino and 13th – or visiting the Five and Dime run by Errol McNair and his wife, or perhaps the Morris Market and Grocery.

Denver and Hyde owned the Morris Market, which started out as a small meat shop in 1939. Few people had freezers to store fish and meat products, so often children or grandkids were sent to the store to get something every two or three days. David was on a first-name basis with the Morris Brothers, and whatever orders filled were billed to his relatives’ account and paid in full at the end of each month.

By his freshman year, David worked as a busboy at the Anchorage Restaurant, then located along the waterfront of Sellwood; and he also cleaned tables and counters at the Town Crier, a popular restaurant between the Woodstock and Creston-Kenilworth neighborhoods. David Hopkins continued his interest in graphic art, taking advanced classes at Benson Technical School from 1957 to 1961, and later at Clark College in Vancouver. He spent over thirty years working at Trade Litho, Inc., until his recent retirement.

At the age of 72, David traded in his old Hercules racing bike from his younger years for a 2008 Bonneville T100Triumph motorcycle, and he now spends his free time driving the back roads of America, hunting lost airfields – now hidden on farmland around the state.

He’s making new friends, and sharing memories about the streets of Inner Southeast. A boy and his bike…and his dreams never end.