Buzzing into an auction preview to take pictures with a camera phone at 10 percent battery is not a best journalism practice, but I had come to pay my respects. The auction would be selling off the antiques, signs, Christmas decorations, theater seats, musical instruments, milk wagons, stage coaches and other memorabilia from Dairyville, the frontier village on the property of the Alpenrose Dairy that’s slated to be razed for a housing development. This post is loaded with subconscious thoughts about a vague and sinister corporate takeover that I don’t fully understand. I do know it’s sad to lose a long running, local tourist attraction under any circumstances. I had related the closure to the pandemic. Some places were closed for so long they weren’t able to reopen but this isn’t the case here. Off I went on a manic, yet technically low energy stroll to get the photos for this post.
I owe Nerdletta Erdlettanay for posting information on the Stop Demolishing Portland Facebook page that alerted me to the auction preview. I had been to Alpenrose, seen the Velodrome, watched the Little League Softball World Championship tournament and stumbled around a closed Dairyville. I peeked through windows imagining what it would be like when it was open. I didn’t grow up in the area so I didn’t visit as a kid. By the time I moved to SW the pandemic was keeping people away. The auction preview was my first and last opportunity to enter buildings.
My initial stop was the Opera House. It was bigger and more ornate than I expected. Inside were piles of dismantled seats, Christmas decorations, furniture and wooden character cut-outs. My wife, Ronna, and I, joked about the lot system with a woman also looking around. We determined someone would have to buy all the cut-outs, not just the ones they liked. She told us she would not want to end up with Humpty-Dumpty and I didn’t blame her a bit.
I wasn’t in a shopping mood, despite being fascinated by the characters. The arrangement of a girl sandwiched between an elf and a short eared rabbit propped up against a wall seemed more menacing than fun. The Opera House had a balcony and boxes where my wife pointed out the grouchy, old Muppet Show characters would sit. A dusty, pneumatic percussion instrument sat on the stage and the phrase “everything must go,” entered my head. The finality hit me. It would all be gone soon. Until then I could only laugh about a sign telling people not to touch elves.
The magic of a Dairyville Christmas is lost on me. A tour of Storybook Land, a village within a village, featured plaster mountains, houses, stores, story books on podiums and a church. This was the kitsch fix I needed. I couldn’t focus on the story, choosing to work extra hard to get a decent shot of Mr. and Mrs. Claus without catching too much window glare. The scenes within the buildings drew me in while signs demanded we stay behind the fences. Ronna pointed out that she would have liked to have seen the display’s water features but they had been drained.
Reflecting on the Stop Demolishing Portland post, Nerdetta’s words stung:
“I’m pretty sure that even though there’s so many fascinating pieces of history up for sale, many generations of folks in the Portland area and beyond feel just as sad, especially that the world we live in today is saturated with snake-oil salesmen and neoliberal shills who characterize all our memories and social gathering places – the sentimentality that roots us to place, time, and one another – as weakness. Everything and everyone gaslit by the false-narrative of cognitive dissonance – that in order to save the planet we must destroy it by sacrificing to the bulldozer. And all that does is create endless amounts of expensive empty artifacts needed to trade interest-bearing / debt-backed securities on Wall Street so that the .1% speculative investor class can extract, conjure, and hoard even more trillions to build unsustainable luxury hotels just beyond the atmosphere of the planet they are rapidly destroying.”
The loss of all that Alpenrose offered seemed pointless. I thought about the plight of the bicyclists who used the Velodrome and wondered where they would play the Little League World Softball Championship. I couldn’t think of another local frontier village that would fill this void. A commenter pointed out that the sell off occurred due to family in-fighting. I read about a divided family battling in court to keep Dairyville open. I also read that the buildings were considered structurally unsafe. In the end, I consider how words fail me in trying to sort out my feelings about what feels like an injustice that can’t be stopped.
I picked up a couple of giveaway calendars from 1968 and 1973 filled with images of bygone days. They offered a combination of history, pride and nostalgia. Henry Cadonau, the son of the man who started the dairy and his wife Rosina were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary back in 1968. The place has a long history that’s hard to let go. Photos brought the old days to life. Bike racing, Little League sports, Easter egg hunts, Quarter-Midget racing, the Shetland Shodeo, goats and milk advertisements (5% Guernsey Milk anyone?) were prominently featured. I got my clown jollies seeing more pictures of Rusty Nails and discovering Guppo, part-time clown/full-time principal. I felt the graciousness of the notice at the bottom of each page that stated, “visitors always welcome at Alpenrose Dairyland.” Something had me wanting to believe the end of Dairyville was a simple matter of family vs corporation.
Somewhere I get mixed up thinking Dairyville is being referred to as Dairyland in some of the older publications. I begin to wonder if I’d been referring to it wrong the whole time. More research reveals Dairyville to be a subset of Dairyland known by its official title as Dairyville Western Village. My confusion wanes.
My battery dies in a warehouse full of vehicles, a Christmas sleigh decked out with a tree, buggies, stage coaches, something labeled the original milk wagon and what appears to be the crown jewel, a 1930’s milk delivery truck that you have to stand up in to drive. I found out later from a KGW report that this vehicle sold for $30,000. There wasn’t much I could do then but head out. I took one brief look at a man sitting in a chair on the Dairyville gazebo and I went to find Ronna. A man on a porch thanked me for coming, which seemed nice but I would have hated to miss it.
On the way home, my wife described to me about how she overheard the man on the porch telling people that housing all around the property once belonged to Alpenrose Dairy Farm. Progress somehow means the Dairy is sure to be swallowed up by housing. I feel bad about the Northwest Senior Theatre losing the Opera House as a performance space and how the train club won’t be able to meet in Dairyville any more. I was struck by the stunned look someone gave me when I told them Dairyville was closing and I’m saddened by the loss of community this place supported. It feels like the end of a kind of generosity that Dairyland brought to the area for so long. I’ll miss the Little League World Series and live with regret for not catching bike racing at the Velodrome. For me, one last chance to combine an Opera House visit with a dash through Storybook Lane while seeing some old modes of transportation and milk distribution vehicles was the best I could do.