glory days

Leftbank holds formative history for Portland. I was reminded recently that among the mundane chapters, noble chapters, and glamorous chapters filled with wild nights and famous musicians – there are chapters of Leftbank’s history that hold precious personal significance for Portlanders still moving and shaking and shaping the City today. Pauline Bradford is one of those. Pauline and I are members of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee that has worked for more than a year now on how best to serve Leftbank’s neighborhood with freeway redesign and urban planning. At a recent meeting, Pauline brought a photo to share with the group. She graciously let me photograph her and share her story.

In the image above, Pauline holds a photo from 1945 that offers a peek inside the famous jazz club in Leftbank’s ballroom. At the Dude Ranch that night were Pauline Miller (center), her then fiancé John Bradford (R), and his brother Joe Bradford (L). Perhaps not done justice in this grainy cell phone shot, the original photograph of that night is gorgeous. Pauline is stunning and elegant, the uniformed men refined. Beyond them, we can see a “mixed” crowed – one that City officials found unsettling according to many accounts of how the Dude Ranch came to be shut down. In his book Jumptown Robert Dietsche talks about the integrated crowd at the Dude Ranch in our fair city that had been called the “most segregated north of the Mason-Dixon line.” People who remember and some who’ve studied that part of Portland’s history say that integrated audiences are what got the Dude Ranch shut down just a year into its operation.

But even my fascination with that black and white moment frozen in time is eclipsed by Pauline’s story. In 1945, Pauline worked in a restaurant in the neighborhood while her fiancé, John, served in the War. He was stationed in the south Pacific, as was his brother Joe – whom Pauline had never met. John was scheduled to return home soon, and Pauline was counting the days. She also knew that his brother was due to return, and she looked forward to meeting him. One afternoon at work, a young man in uniform caught her eye. She watched him for a while. He didn’t look like her fiancé, but he was the right age, he was a soldier returning, and she just couldn’t ignore the way he moved and spoke. She was sure she’d never seen him, yet he was so familiar. Finally, she asked if he was Joe Bradford. He was. She introduced herself, and relationship between brother and sister-in-law began in that neighborhood restaurant as Pauline waited for her fiancé to return from war.

A few days later, the brothers were reunited after their service overseas. On that first day together again, the brothers and Pauline wound up at the Dude Ranch, where a roving photographer caught this moment. Like a message in a bottle, it carried this history, public and personal, converging in the building we know and love now as Leftbank. Pauline shared it with me and I want to share it with you