They say that baseball is America’s pastime. Getting “taken out to the ballgame” is somewhat of a childhood obligation in this country, which I am certainly proud to be a part of, nonetheless, we enthusiastically stroll out in mass numbers to watch nine players on each side, stride and slide, gallantly in a baseball uniform, that has remained virtually unchanged for over a hundred years (A few innovations granted). If you were a Portlander back in 1901, and you were interested in an outdoor extravaganza, or you just wanted some good old-fashioned community involvement, chances are, you went to go see the Vaughn Street Baseball Stadium open up it’s gates on NW 24th and Vaughn Street. Fans even had the opportunity to observe the commencement in the outfield grass! Decades of lead-offs, steals, bunts, and balks, with the occasional Joe Dimaggio out of the park homerun, ensued, giving Portland an athletic identity, right up until the park was demolished in the mid nineteen-fifties. How do I know this? A man named Mike Ryerson, that’s how.
Mike Ryerson, or for the sake of this article, Mike Rye, “The Portland Guy”, is a forth-generational inhabitant of the Slabtown area of Norwest Portland. If you are familiar with the grid of Northwest Portland, Slabtown is the neighborhood that runs north of Lovejoy Street, while Nob Hill provides the landscape south of Lovejoy Street. He has been collecting data, archives, publications, and photographs for over four decades, and will gladly teach you anything you want to learn about any building on NW 23rd (A fervent tourist destination for both Out-of -Towners and Portlanders alike), and is always open for discussions over “Yellow” beers (He likes his yellow beers). For example, when I first met him, he displayed to me via pictures, archives, and anecdotes, everything I would want to know about the building I call home. This is exactly what he did last Friday at the Mission Theater. An eclectic audience of buffs and learners alike filled this old fashioned, yet very appropriate for the occasion, theater, to see Mike give his slideshow presentation on the history of NW 23rd Ave. He takes you on a highly imaginative, well thought out, and truly magnificent journey down the history of a street many cherish and hold dear, right past the old Gambrinus Brewery, once located where World Market stands today, all the way down to where Besaws once stood, still stands, and hopefully for the sake of my Sunday appetite, will continue to serve, delicious breakfast burgers (I’ve heard things). What is really special about a journey with Mike Ryerson is his familiarity with the people, the actual life-blood, the personages, who once ran this area, in fact they MADE this area. He puts faces to your footsteps, which cultivates an appreciation to where we live, do business, and carelessly mosey. After all, history is merely the appreciation of where we come from, and nobody knows that better than Mike. The presentation last Friday is living proof that communities are built and not made. They are built through hard work, through our interests and through our traditions; right down to the fresh cakes that Rose’s used to serve daily. We are all in this together, and it is very rewarding to notice the assembly of people still out there, still passionate, about the preservation of our history.Interested? You should be. Don’t be dull. Live with wisdom. Learn from Mike. Mike offers walking tours of 23rd Avenue, as well as historical housing tours, which will give you a living appreciation of the northwest neighborhood. It will even get you out of the house for a couple of hours, and into the crisp outdoor air that Oregon thoughtfully provides. In fact, teaching people about the neighborhood’s historical significance is what Mike enjoys most about his job. He, like me, your enthusiastic moderator, believes that “History should be shared”, and that “Anything with a colorful history has more value”. Essentially, that is what Mike, and many of us judging by the attendance of last Friday’s presentation, is trying to accomplish. Mike is even fighting to change the name of the locality to “The Historic Nob Hill”. I completely agree with this notion, and am publically advocating it, as with that powerful adjective placed properly in the title, it would be much harder to tear down the old, character-bearing establishments, and would be even harder to replace them with tacky apartment complexes. So, developers who get joy out of tearing down community history, “Get OFF MY Lawn”! I choose to go with team Mike, team history, team characters, team pastimes, team preservation, etc. In conclusion, if you are in the mood for a life-enriching afternoon, look no further, as Mike Ryerson is here, just as he always has been, since 1981, to give you a walking tour of a beautiful story, a story still in the process of being written, and you, a significant player towards its fulfillment.For more information check out: www.mikeshistorytours.com.