Like Toys On Christmas Morning: A Visit to Kidd’s Toy Museum

“Nobody knows about us,” was one of the last things we heard as we were leaving the Kidd Toy Museum at 1301 SE Grand Avenue. I had gone there with Will Simmons from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who’s famous for his Pittsburgh Orbit blog. The comment wasn’t made to elicit sympathy, it was a statement that had to do with the museum’s no advertising policy.

It may have been the ninth time I’d heard about it, more on that later, but the tip that got me through the door came from writer Chuck Palahniuk. I had heard rumblings about the place and read about it in Palahniuk’s book “Fugitives and Refugees,” but my preconceived notions of a what a toy museum could be may have kept me away. I imagined being herded into an annoying gift shop filled with precious toys for sale, but no, Kidd’s Toy Museum is nothing like that–a characteristic that cements its low-key charm. Palahniuk recommended the place in a list of Portland must-sees in one of the weekly newspapers making it an opportune place to visit with an out-of-town guest.

photo by Will Simmons

In all my overstimulation resulting from looking through rooms of old toys, I overlooked getting the name of the woman Will and I spoke with as we were headed out the door. She was informative and gracious looking up at us from where she sat in a cluttered office area. I missed the origins of Kidd’s toy collecting mania as it was described because I was slow to turn on my phone’s voice recorder. I recall that Frank Kidd’s collecting bug started with finding and buying a toy on a business trip.

Regardless of the genesis, the museum holds quite the collection of banks, dolls, cars, trains and other odd genres. The collection is grouped by category, housed in glass enclosed cases and lit by fluorescent lighting. We were told that the museum exists in part because an inheritance tax that might have required parts of the collection be sold off. Kidd created a nonprofit to keep the collection together, a nonprofit status that requires the toys be made available to the public.

Kidd owned the museum’s building where there had been a fire from a former tenant’s restaurant. At that point the decision was made to remodel the space for the toy displays. The museum opened fifteen years ago. As crammed full objects as the museum is, it houses only one-third of the collection. Kidd shares the toys he likes the most. Part of the museum’s inclusion of multiple versions of the same of item made sense when we were told that Kidd bought the best examples of what he could. This had Will chiming in, “sometimes three or four.” Many of the banks, are duplicated. Sometimes it’s different paint jobs or different castings that are hard to tell a part. The collection was described as being “generally pre-World War 2.”

photo by Will Simmons

One feature of the museum is how unlike a museum it is. It’s an opportunity to see a well-curated antique toy collection. The displays offer little information like brand names or dates. This minimalism is due, we were told, to the notion that signs would take up valuable display space. Seeing the objects as they are offers visitors a to experience the toys and form their own interpretations.

Word about the museum doesn’t get out due to that lack of advertising. It was explained that, “people locally don’t tend to know we’re here. People from out-of-town look for things to do.” Word of mouth comes from a woman who runs a North Portland candy store who recommends that people visit the museum. People are sure to mention when the “Candy Lady” sent them.

As we were running out of conversation we were given a quick lesson in advertising. Our museum contact told us what she’d learned in an advertising class. She explained that you have to see something three times before you actually see it and three more times before you act on it. The math means you have to see something nine times before you do anything about it. The number nine stuck in my mind. It seemed as good an explanation as any as to why I had lived in Portland for nine years before l made it to Kidd’s Toy Museum. Don’t let it take you that long.

I received a comment that made a good point. It should be noted that the museum is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm. It has no weekend hours.

Note: There are items on display at the museum that some might find controversial. At a time when we’re offering wishes of good will to all mankind I made a decision not to delve into this aspect of the collection. I may visit it at a later time.

The Foster Files: Some Not So Subtle Pleas to Save Foster Road

While house sitting in the Foster-Powell neighborhood this summer I became fascinated with what looks like a grass-roots campaign spearheaded by a local business taking on the mighty City of Portland. The store caught my interest when I was walking toward it on Foster Road. I was experiencing the neighborhood for the first time. As I walked, I soaked in the area’s atmosphere, looking over the businesses, the side-streets, walking past restaurants and then I saw a building with murals. These were sure to be scenes of old Portland, I thought. When I was close enough I saw that the murals were of a tower and castle which made sense given the business name EuroClassic Furniture. I presented information about my confusion for the Save Foster Road campaign a couple of posts ago. I was concerned about the area with some of the buildings appearing shabby even as I noticed new life in the places I’d passed. The subtitle of the banner declared the cause:  SAVE FOSTER and Keep 4 Driving Lanes.

I have no say in this battle. I don’t know the area but I can sense how change feels threatening and the powerlessness people experience when city leaders make decisions. I understand the side of those responsible for the banner and the signs in the furniture store windows. This is a business that represents itself on-line as a proud family owned establishment that celebrating 80 years in Portland. The window signs reveals as much of the story as any homemade posters can. Their handwritten script with thick and thin lettering has a folk art feel. Capitalized words blare their rally cry. A message addressing councilman Dan Saltzman as “Uncle Dan” urges street plan opponents to call him and it includes a phone number. Another sign expresses the desires of a mysterious Mr. Magoo who “wants Foster to stay just the way it is.” The sign says “we all agree with him!”

Window posters explain that the project is a waste of gas tax money and will “mess up” Foster Road requiring more fuel for cars stuck in traffic back ups while increasing pollution in the area. Another poster warns how jammed traffic will get. Cars will be “backed up for many blocks,” it says. More signs beg for a compromise asking the city to make Foster Road safe without inconveniencing the people who drive on it.

To offer background information let me refer you to information gleaned from a news broadcast that aired May 3, 2016. The project involves reducing Foster Road from four lanes to two with a center turn lane and wide bike lanes. The reporter, speaking in front of EuroClassic Furniture for the late night broadcast, explained that people were, “speaking out and making signs” in protest. With emphasis he pointed to the EuroClassic Furniture window signs noting they were “Bright Neon Green Signs.” I was struck that these signs were written in a block letter style–different from the ones in the windows as of early September of this year. More facts included a mention of 1200 accidents resulting in 8 deaths in the past decade. The Portland Bureau of Transportation estimated that the lane reductions would only increase commute times by three minutes. As a sidenote, I’d be curious to know what physics equation allowed them to make that estimate. The report ended with a quote from then Commissioner Steve Novick who said, “The city is doing it because we want more parts of Portland to be places where it’s safe for kids to walk and bike to school.”

Construction was scheduled to happen way back in 2016 but hasn’t happened yet. It looks like it’s now scheduled for the spring of 2018. It’s not too late to call Uncle Dan.




The Kennedy File: A Mysterious Memorial Not So Hidden in a Hedge

I was trying to remember how I saw the plaque dedicated to John F. Kennedy. From what I recalled it had been in the middle of a hedge. This made no sense because I don’t make a habit of looking into hedges to find hidden plaques.

I had been looking for a place to park in SW Portland around 19th Avenue last June while taking a picture of an overpass for my much maligned and ill-fated blog post titled “Walls and Bridges.” I took two pictures that day, a close up of the plaque and another of the street sign on the corner so I could remember the location which is the corner of SW Spring Garden Street and SW 19th Avenue. Being on another assignment didn’t leave me time to linger. In the months since I’d seen the plaque, my memory was murky as to how I spotted it.

Returning for more photos four months later, it was obvious. I didn’t happen upon the plaque. I couldn’t have missed it due to a section of the bush having been cut away to reveal the minimal memorial attached to a moss-covered rock. There isn’t much to the engraving but it make its Kennedy tribute honorably. It lists his name, his year of birth and death and includes the St. Clare Boy’s Club–no doubt the group involved in creating the memorial.

It’s interesting to be reminded that Kennedy was born just over a hundred years ago. The plaque too seems like it’s been around a while with its chipped upper right corner. It soldiers on as a longstanding tribute to our fallen president.

I spoke with Laurie at the church office by phone. She wanted to help but the plaque was a mystery to her. She brainstormed about finding a parishioner who has been around long enough know the story of this Kennedy memorial. She thought there might be information in the office that she would pass on. At press time I hadn’t heard back which doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

I can’t promise an exciting story. It seems basic. The St. Clare Boy’s Club was looking for a way to honor John F. Kennedy. It’s a safe bet that this took place soon after he was assassinated. I could only imagine what it would have been like to experience a president being killed in office. The idea of it happening so close to the Thanksgiving holiday seems to amplify the emotional impact. This plaque must have been a way to begin the healing process.

So there you have it—another cliffhanger. Online research also revealed a Kennedy memorial at the Grotto. Investigation into all of these Kennedy related matters will continue into next year when we reopen the Kennedy Files and solve all the Portland area Kennedy mysteries.