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Playing with history

Familiar faces from around the community perform original production about Tualatins growth


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Norm Parker, left, and Lloyd Gooding play local drunks in the Tualatin Historical Societys celebration of the citys beginning.The Grange Hall was packed Sunday as local historians, descendants of some of Tualatin’s oldest families and other familiar faces took to the stage to re-enact a century-old story.

The Historical Society’s production “You are There! A Celebration of the City of Tualatin’s Centennial Year” dramatized the scandals and setbacks around Tualatin’s decision to become an incorporated city. Although Tualatin was in the throes of forging its identity as an agricultural city on the river with two railroad lines running through it, the controversy centered primarily around a particular vice (or commodity, depending on who you ask): alcohol.

“By 1913, the state had passed a law that no alcohol could be served anywhere unless it was in an incorporated area,” historian Loyce Martinazzi said, adding that each county had the power to decide whether it would be “wet” or “dry.” Washington County had elected to serve alcohol.

“So that closed down the two saloons in Tualatin that were in town,” Martinazzi said. “And the people got together, decided, well, you know, we should incorporate so that we can have the saloons open again. And then of course there was a (strong) anti-alcohol surge going on with the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League because alcohol had been a real problem in the families.”

Martinazzi and Sandra Lafky Carlson penned the script, largely drawn from historic newspaper clippings and the book "Tualatin…from the Beginning," which Martinazzi co-authored with Karen Lafky Nygaard.

Martinazzi described the production as a musical “docu-drama,” with characters named after actual Tualatin residents. Although Martinazzi admits they took some artistic license with the staging, lines were written to reflect the beliefs and personalities of each character.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cast members of the Tualatin Historical Societys play You Are There! take a bow after covering the incorporation of Tualatin as a city in 1913.As the Time Traveler in the production, Pat Romans of the Lumiere Players served as a modern guide, taking the audience back to Aug. 18, 1913, the day of the big vote on whether to incorporate. Romans broke the fourth wall as she spoke with residents of 1913 Tualatin split on the issue of whether Tualatin should stay dry or become a wet town once again.

Both sides were represented through music, with Martinazzi and “Banjo” Bill James stage right strumming traditional drinking songs in the vein of “Little Brown Jug.” At the other side of the orchestra pit were members of Mask and Mirror Community Theatre performing rich choral arrangements of familiar Prohibition tunes, many of them favored by the Salvation Army.

There were some fun casting choices at play, with Country Inn owner Dave Phillips in the role of saloon owner Fred Wesch, who was adamantly pro-incorporation. Another featured player was Daniel Nyberg, great-grandson of John Nyberg , who as a then-county commissioner voted in 1913 to allow the upcoming election to move forward in spite of the sudden disappearance of the petition that placed incorporation on the ballot. Caleb Rygh played his own great-great-grandfather Nyberg, while Daniel convincingly played a member of another early Tualatin family: paperboy Art Martinazzi.

Art Sasaki, a second-generation Tualatin native, portrayed eccentric Tualatin fixture “Old Hing” Lee, one of few Chinese immigrants to remain in the area after the completion of the railroad. Although Sasaki is of Japanese heritage, he had something of an outsider experience in common with Lee: Sasaki was born in a Japanese internment camp during World War I. But once in Tualatin, Sasaki said the city’s agricultural industry actually promoted acceptance among the many Asian and European families in the area.

As Sasaki told The Times in an interview last December, “You know that dash between the year you’re born and the year you die? That dash is a repeat. Because history repeats itself, the human experience is the same thing over and over.”

City Manager Sherilyn Lombos made a cameo, her son Canon in tow, as Ladies Aid President Rosie Casteel. The fiery incorporation opponent is given to proclaiming “Lips that touch the bottle will never touch mine!” Casteel was then briefly embarrassed by Lee’s claim that he used to see her husband frequent a local watering hole. It was a moment of comic relief that hinted at a darker reality motivating much of the Temperance Movement: Seven years before women secured the right to vote, much of the population felt doubly helpless.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Richard Hager, left, playing Rev. Henry Blake, and Caleb Rygh, playing former County Commissioner John Nyberg, argue the merits of incorporating Tualatin into a city for the purpose of legalizing alcohol sales. "They stayed home when their husbands drank up the house's income, and they didn't have a vote" on whether to incorporate, or on anything else, Martinazzi said.

Ultimately, those in favor of incorporation persuasively argued their case based largely on economics, with the hope that liquor could be taxed to fund Tualatin’s infrastructure. After Tualatin Library Manager Abigail Elder as schoolteacher Ann Thompson cautiously spoke up for incorporation, Tualatin Community Services Director Paul Hennon took center stage as Thaddeus Sweek. Hennon played Sweek with a shy charm, coyly throwing his cap in the ring for mayor as he discussed how the new city should be organized.

“You are Here!” ran for a single performance. Because the Historical Society aimed to include so many community figures, there were only two rehearsals and, Martinazzi admits, not every actor was able to go off-book before the curtain rose.

With so much of Tualatin, both past and present, represented, and with such infectious enthusiasm both on stage and in the audience, no one noticed.



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