The Turkey Of St. Johns Part 3: Here’s Looking For You

Last night I thought a great many things. Thanksgiving time always has me reflecting on an old memory. I’ve done the thinking for all of us. It adds up to one thing: Another year where I haven’t found the Turkey of St. Johns–that mysterious creature I spied years ago. The identity of this bird has eluded me year after year.

Now you’ve got to listen to me. If I keep searching every year I have a good idea of where I’m going to end up. Nine times out of ten I’ll end up in the looney bin because people will become concerned about a man stumbling around St. Johns mumbling about a turkey.

I’m saying it because it’s true. We all know this turkey, whether in legend or lore, it belongs to St. Johns. My outcry is for this gobbler’s whereabouts. It has become a part of my work and a reason to keep going. If I don’t find this turkey I’ll regret it, maybe not today or the day after Thanksgiving but soon and for the rest of my life.

We’ll always have the Turkey of St. Johns. That turkey will never leave us, that turkey is with us in spirit regardless of whether anyone has a recollection of this bird. I’ve got a job to do. I’ll continue my search. Where I’m going you won’t be able to follow. I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see the problem of trying to find a turkey I once spotted in someone’s front yard doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday we’ll all understand that. Now, now…Here’s looking for you Turkey of St. Johns.

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Previous Turkey posts:

The Portland Orbit returns December 9th with another edition of The Kennedy Files. 

The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia?

There’s a loneliness to the concrete bust in the front yard of a house on Columbia Boulevard across the street from the Humane Society. I’ve spent years driving past the sculpture that casts his gaze across the bustling four-lane roadway. I can’t remember the first time I got a good look at it but it was in a car going 40 miles an hour. I imagine I thought to myself when I spotted the bust, “that’s John F. Kennedy.” Every time since then I’ve looked for the concrete replica because of this resemblance. The Kennedy hair, the Kennedy face and the Kennedy torso, although I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the torso; it all seems a match. I have not confirmed whether it is Kennedy. There’s a tiny twinge of doubt that has me considering that the bust could represent an legendary Oregonian who happens to look a lot like our 35th president.

The bust sits in front of an old house, the kind of place suited to someone’s grandparents. I was motivated to finally take pictures when a for sale sign popped up in the area. It had me wondering if this section of Columbia Boulevard was going to be redeveloped. The house sits between a similar house and one with a garish paint job that once headquartered a private dancer club. It’s a safer bet that the club was targeted for sale and demolition with the two houses remaining in their awkward placement along this industrial thoroughfare. Update: I saw no evidence of a for sale sign on a recent visit.

At Halloween time I dropped by because the bust had been dressed in a costume. On that visit I noticed the base of the sculpture included elk carvings. This created my initial doubt. The appropriate images would have been a PT-109 boat or something symbolic of the Kennedy essence. Sure the Kennedy family has a compound in Maine but there was never a legend, that I heard, associating John Kennedy with an elk or even a moose.

Detail: bust base elk.

After my usual speculation I’m ready to make my case that the bust is Kennedy. Then I’ll make a case that the bust isn’t Kennedy. Of course this goes against everything Perry Mason stood for–I mean trying to argue both sides of the coin is a bit of a conflict unless we’re talking about a two-headed nickel which make no sense because Kennedy is on the 50 cent piece.

The most Kennedy aspect to the bust is the hairstyle. It’s exact. If that was a popular hairstyle at any point in time and for anyone else then I could see the statue being someone who was sporting the Kennedy hairdo back in the day. The hairstyle is singularly representative of one person and one person only: John F. Kennedy. Maybe, I want to believe it’s Kennedy because my roots are in the state of Massachusetts and I grew up on the Kennedy mystique.


As to why this may not be Kennedy lies in whether the face of the bust captures the JFK identity. It’s close enough for anyone taking artistic license but the shirt with the pockets threw me off. Any image of this president should depict him looking presidential–in a suit. Any other representation has the feel of the guy being out of uniform.

All of this has the Portland Orbit pledging a year-long investigation into this matter. There will be actual research, phone calls, letters and a door knock if necessary to find out the true identity of this bust. You’ll have to wait until the next anniversary of Kennedy’s passing for an answer. In the meantime the Kennedy Files will return next month to cover a bona fide Kennedy tribute.

The Foster Files: Can the Phoenix Pharmacy Rise Again?

I was walking down Foster Road during a house/dog sitting gig when I saw a large banner on the side of a store. What I could see as I approached read: Save Foster Road. The buildings in the area appeared run down so I assumed the sign was a plea to bring attention to the area. The structure I later learned was the Pharmacy building caught my eye. I admired the curve of the architecture and I could tell it was historical but it felt abandoned.

The Pharmacy building from the other side of the street.

When I reached the banner, I realized Save Foster Road was a different campaign than what I thought. While writing stories about this area I had forgotten about the building. I had been immersed in sidewalk paintings and art trees in the neighborhood but the Pharmacy came back into my consciousness when I saw a photograph posted on the Hidden Portland for the Curious group on Facebook. Jason Pedegana, an illustrator and designer who runs a Facebook site with tons of historical photos, swooped in with information and more photos. The building came alive in my imagination. I saw it in its heyday and sensed its place as the hub of the neighborhood. For a moment it wasn’t suspended in the stasis and decay that I had perceived from the other side of the street.

The Phoenix in its’ heyday.

At the risk of committing the ultimate sin of lazy journalism, I offer up some historical information that Jason posted  on Facebook:

“The roughly 7500 square foot building constructed in 1922, was once home to the Phoenix Pharmacy. Built, owned, and operated by John Leach who lived with his wife on what is now the Leach Botanical Gardens, the pharmacy was centered at the core of the community, considered a gem, and attracted many people to the area. It was actually RE-built by Leach, as the previous owner had tried to burn it down, twice. Hence the name “Phoenix”.

The glory days of VHS.

People chimed in with comments and a more complete story of the building formed through descriptions of past tenants, a doctor who had an office in the building, a video store that sold phones, which seemed to be one of the last tenants, and there was a mention of the second floor having two apartments. Other comments revealed that Buck Froman owns the building. If you ever need an in-person, oral history of the place you can talk to him at his stove shop a couple of buildings down.

Happy pharmacists!

I asked the person we were house sitting for about the Pharmacy building when he returned. He told me the building had been unoccupied since he moved to the area in 2004. I felt an emptiness hearing that. My hope is that cool buildings find new life even when circumstances make it challenging. It’s understandable that renovation costs for seismic upgrades, wiring and plumbing are potentially prohibitive to attract a tenant.

There is plenty of behind the scenes activity going on to preserve the building. A Facebook group, Foster the Phoenix, is devoted to these efforts. Someone associated with the group commented that the city has been involved in looking for ways to get the building back to it’s former glory. A mural was added to the first floor offering a sense that people are looking out for the building.

A ghost sign haunts back.

I admit I’m weirdly nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced in Portland, real street cars, old movie theaters and unique, classic buildings. These days most drug stores are part of a corporate chain so I appreciated the history of this pharmacy that thrived with a staff of happy pharmacists. The story goes beyond Leach’s successful business to the legacy he left behind with his botanical garden. I’m hoping his Phoenix Pharmacy rises again.

The photographs, with the exception of the first and last that appear in this post, are from the City of Portland Archive. Thanks goes to J. Pedegana for his historical input and for bringing photos and this subject matter to my attention. I would have sought more information from him but I ran out of time.






The Foster Files: The Super Hero Tree

Just a regular tree.

At first glance it looks like any other tree. People pass by every day and don’t notice a thing. Like other street trees in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this one on SE 64th Avenue has branches, a trunk and leaves. Within the canopy are objects that, with a bit of imagination, combine to create scenes that tell a story, albeit one that has the feel of a failed attempt at a DC or Marvel movie.  Perhaps the unread, failed screenplay for the project featured an evil Tree Lord but he’s no where to be seen. I may have arrived too late, with the Tree Lord having fled after leaving the remaining characters frozen and stuck in the tree.

This trunk contains visions of Dino Wars.

Scattered items allow a story to be pieced together, including relics of past Dino Wars, with Old Glory surviving the fray.

Blame it on the Gamma Rays.

Helplessness is not a trait I like to see in my Super Heroes. They’re strapped down by the decorative Christmas lights. While cheery and soothing at night and in season, they now appear menacing. Superman seems the most active as he thrashes away at unseen gamma rays in hopes of freeing himself.

Captain America gets fuzzy.

Captain America stands aimless on an old gray hoverboard. The string of lights remain tight around his chest offering him no chance for escape. Hovering in static perpetuity won’t allow him an opportunity to flee the tree.

Lot of good that hammer does you.

Thor seems the most burdened. A light cord binds his waist while his hammer hand is wrapped up at the wrist. This is a cliff hanger in suspended animation. I’d like to think that it won’t end but plastic weathers and Christmas lights break. Thor’s freedom might come as the result of a lost limb. Our Super Heroes play a waiting game.

Folk peacocks–the anti-super hero.

What I’m attempting here is an appreciation for anyone who wants to decorate anything. It’s not really a critique on drab neighborhoods where the lone decorated tree stands out. No one expects all the neighbors to be hard at work pouring every bit of creativity they can muster into yard art, tree art and pole art on the off chance that I might stroll by and see this brilliance through my bug eyed, quivering peepers but I will find these subtle explorations of found art camouflaged in street trees when they appear and sing their praises.