Friday, October 3, 2008
Chapter 2 -- How Dad treated the Farley Hotel in his small town paper
District Attorney Plans
Abatement of Houses
Abatement proceedings will be instituted against Farewell Bend’s houses of prostitution, District Attorney E. Otis Smith said this morning.
“I’m going to do all I can to abate these places,” he said. “I want to close them up. The girls may be out of town by now, and I don’t know what effect that will have on the evidence. But I think we’ve got good evidence.”
This official reaction followed raids early Friday evening on Farewell Bend’s historic bawdy house, the Farley hotel, and the Snake River Hotel on the East Side.
The raids were conducted by Sheriff John Elfering with the assistance of Farewell Bend city police who helped in booking the girls and the operators of the establishments.
Two special investigators from Portland were brought to Malheur County by Sheriff Elfering to obtain the actual evidence for the arrests. They were officers from the force of Terry Schrunk, sheriff of Multnomah County.
Posing as hunters, they entered the hotels and secured the evidence needed, then made the arrests for the Malheur sheriff’s office.
Helen Guyer, proprietor of the Farley hotel, was charged with “keeping a bawdy house,” as was Sue Morgan, operator of the East Side establishment.
The maid at the Farley was also arrested and charged with vagrancy. Five girls from the Snake River Hotel, allegedly prostitutes, were arrested on a charge of vagrancy. The girls were booked on “Jane Doe” warrants and did not themselves appear in court.
The two proprietors posted $150 bail each and the girls posted $100 bail each, for a total of $900 of bail money posted in the justice court of Judge Thos. Jones.
Mayor Frank Popper said this morning that he was “shocked” to learn that houses of prostitution have been operating in Farewell Bend. He went on to add that prostitution has been a recurrent problem.
His reaction sketched the nature of the task that faces District Attorney Smith. Farewell Bend was widely known as a center of prostitution before World War II. During the war the illicit industry was closed for a time. In the decade since the war, there has been intermittent operation except for one year when organized, commercial prostitution was stamped out by abatement proceedings.
Such proceedings are brought against the property instead of individuals, making it possible to padlock the property, taking it out of use for a year.
In former years, this has been the only effective method of restricting prostitution here.
–—From The Argus-Observer Oct. 17, 1954
“You didn’t tell me about closing down the Farley,” I yelled from the couch where I was reading that day’s issue of The Argus-Observer. I spoke as my father headed out the door for his usual Monday night turn at the office, preparing fresh layouts to take to the street on Tuesday to sell for Thursday’s publication.
Dad would not want to talk about the Farley Hotel with my mother listening, but I wanted to see how he would respond.
The bounce in his step slowed for a moment as he turned his rounded shoulders in my direction and made his dark brown eyes look vague behind rimless glasses.
I did not understand why women liked him as much as they did. He could be a great listener, but his looks were ordinary middle-aged except that his right cheek was slimmer than the left, from a bout of polio he had as a child. He’d been skinny as a young man and now carried what he called a “small tire” around his middle. His best feature was a full head of black wavy hair that, at forty, was lightly sprinkled with grey.
From a half-open front door, with the cold night air rushing in, he stared over my head.
“Not now, Jack,” he said. “Have you checked the stoker to be sure there’s enough coal? It’s getting real cold these nights.” He tried to smile, though it came out looking like a grimace.
“You really ought to be doing the dishes. You can read about the Farley later,” he said.
“How late are you going to be, James?” my mother yelled from the kitchen.
“The usual. Nine or nine-thirty.”
Dad quickly closed the door, slamming it to get on his way.
I rolled off the couch and groaned. My brother, Kevin, was in his room downstairs. He said he was studying. I was puzzled by how much time he spent studying. I couldn’t remember that I’d had much homework in seventh grade. I didn’t know then that Kevin was paying close attention to our parent’s debating my chances of getting into Stanford with my lackluster grades. He was making sure he avoided that problem, and from the vantage of fifty years later, it’s clear that he succeeded.
I wandered into the kitchen. My mother was still wearing a black skirt and ruffled white blouse from her Soroptimist meeting that afternoon, but she’d slipped a slightly spattered pink apron over the top and shed her hose. In flat slippers, her ankles always looked thick to me, but that evening she had not yet removed her makeup and her brown curls were neatly combed out. With her delicate jaw line and small nose, she looked like the “so pretty” mother my friends complimented me about.
“What do you think?” I asked. “About the Farley?”
“I don’t care what they do with the Farley. I’m worried about what your father does when he goes down to that office on Monday nights.”
“He’s working ads.”
She nodded at me like she wanted me to go check.
“You go,” I said.
“Call Pete and get him to go with you. Develop some of those photos you said he’s shooting to impress your dad,” she ordered.
That was not a bad idea. I would not report to her if my father wasn’t in the office, but she didn’t need to know that.
“And remember to tell Pete you’re going with us on Sunday. No going hunting,” she shouted after me as I headed to the phone.
I didn’t argue. That fall, I was sixteen and preferred to spend Sunday morning crashing through thickets behind The Butte with my friend Pete Sanger. Instead, I would ride along on the hour drive to Caldwell that next Sunday to make sure Mom and Dad did not have the final, big fight Kevin and I worried about. Mother had taken to staying away from home one or two nights every couple of months. She would never tell me or Kevin where she went. Each time, we worried she was not coming back.
Our parents were engaged in a running argument over whether Dad would bring her into the office to work as the bookkeeper, replacing the woman who was leaving. He resisted her effort to take over the job. The memory of her first attempt, two years earlier, was discouragingly fresh. For weeks at a stretch, she had failed to make the books balance at month’s end. Everyone around her, including the staff, suffered through her frustrated blow-ups. She also bossed the employees if she saw one do anything she didn’t like. It could be a task they had been doing their way for years. I saw their faces go tense, and they shook their heads when she turned her back.
My father knew better than to bring up any of that. Instead, he said he wanted to take one thing at a time. He was afraid he’d have to fire the news editor for drinking on the job and for being late all the time.
Dad had been running the Farewell Bend paper for eight years and similar arguments were becoming frequent. As Kevin grew older – he was twelve the summer I turned sixteen – my mother became more and more bored hanging out at home. She was angered at her failure to be elected president of the Soroptimists. After that, she decided that the action that interested her was downtown at our family’s newspaper.
And she had trouble conceding that was my father’s domain.
My parents had met at the College of Idaho in Caldwell and married in 1937 after my mother, Anna Larsen, graduated and taught school for a year. My father, James Kavanagh, started out the marriage recruiting for a Boise business school, got involved with the woman who owned it, and gave up the job. He tried moving our family to San Francisco, where he sold classified ads on commission for The Chronicle. That was too much of a struggle, and we returned to Idaho. Dad managed to stay out of uniform during the war because of two sons and bad eyesight while he tried meter reading and teaching school. None of it fit. Then in 1944, with the help of a friend who was leaving The Nampa Free Press for Field and Stream magazine in New York, he took over his friend’s job as a combination ad salesman and sports writer for the small Nampa, Idaho daily. He liked the work. He’d been a student politician in college and found that he’d learned some lessons which could be applied to small town ad sales. He and Mortimer Longshire, the Nampa publisher, got along well because Dad catered to Longshire’s superior intelligence. After two years in the Nampa job, Longshire staked him to part ownership of The Argus, one of two weeklies in Farewell Bend. The Nampa publisher was hoping to grow his business interests, betting that the southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon economies were starting to come back from the wartime doldrums.
When we moved to Farewell Bend, I paid little attention to the newspaper. I was trying to fit into a new school. But I couldn’t help but sense, even as young as eight, that those first months running The Argus were tough on my father.
I did not know why. I guessed later that it was partly because he had no role model for such an endeavor. His father was a musically inclined schoolmaster who came to Idaho from the Mississippi border country. Granddad Kavanagh lost a small investment in an ill-advised high desert development venture, then turned to teaching in a one room school house that my father attended. Granddad did not spare the rod, at school or at home. As a result, the two were never close. But my father blossomed under the tutelage of his mother, a striking, large-boned woman descended from Irish scholars and successful soldiers.
Mother’s parents were hard-scrabble farmers. Her father’s father came to America as a Norwegian cabin boy who jumped ship in Boston, married a girl he picked up there and headed cross country in a covered wagon in the 1870s. They could not afford train fare. One of their five sons, my mother’s father, O.J., became the man in my life I most admired. He bought a farm as a young man, lost it, tenant farmed for a while, then acquired his own dairy farm and found a way to raise a smart, strong daughter and send her to four years of college. Mom’s mom, Clara, was of French stock and as tough as O.J. She labored day in and day out over her small share of the farm devoted to her chickens. And the huge meals she put out for the neighbors on hay-stacking day were prepared with gusto despite a foot sore that would never heal. From her, I remember no complaints, ever, until O.J.’s funeral when the minister said, “No one who is with God ever dies alone.” At that my mother’s mother set up a wailing cry that still rings in my ears, for she and O.J. never went to church. I don’t think he was the kind to make an artificial peace with God.
Grandmother’s crying was so loud that I couldn’t ride to the cemetery alongside her in the hearse. I convinced my mother to let me ride with Uncle Jim. But Kevin, Mom, and Dad went with Grandmother Larsen. Kevin told me later he calmed her down by joking about how she used to scare him when she turned headless chickens loose to flop around on the back porch of her farmhouse. Kevin at twelve was developing some skills at handling family life, ignoring it or joking about it as long as the problems didn’t involve our mother. He never joked about her. He was definitely not the same kid at twelve as the one who threw a pocket knife at me at four. Nor the one whose neighborhood wrestling matches I managed when he was five and six, shortly after we moved to Farewell Bend. By age twelve he’d given up collecting a huge sack of all the marbles he won from his pals and had begun instead to relieve them of their spare change in poker games.
As the year 1946 came to a close, these changes were yet to evolve.
That December my father came to the purchase of the Farewell Bend Argus with a strong wife, a combination of sales expertise and some of the skills of a politician, and a determination to make his mark on the world. But he had limited business skills. Those he learned at the elbow of Longshire, who contributed deep pockets and a gambler’s leap of faith.
Years later, Dad would tell me that before he and Longshire took over, the flow of business at The Argus was so slow the phone never rang once as they sat in the weekly’s office haggling over the details of the purchase for two hours. That bothered Longshire, but it didn’t scare him off.
The day my father became publisher, he asked one of his three printers why the paper’s storefront entrance at the slow end of Oregon Street was not locked overnight.
“Why lock the door? There’s nothing here worth stealing,” the printer answered.
“And he was right,” Dad later recalled. “There it was. My world. A jerky little press that would only print two pages at a time, an old, old Model 5 Linotype used for setting news text and legal notices, a rickety folder, two California type-cases for hand setting headlines and the large type used in ads, a lead pot, a composition stone, a work bench, and a Wing mailer. It all had a wonderful, dirty smell of ink, hot lead, burnt paper, and grease.”
I liked the smell. But I hated the racket the machinery produced late on the evening of publication day, pounding my ears as I waited with my four-year-old brother while our parents struggled to get that day’s issue in the mail.
A decade after his purchase of The Argus, my father knew that the process of producing a newspaper would soon change dramatically. The photographic production of newspapers by the offset process was getting started in a few community newspaper operations. But during his years in Farewell Bend, he failed to foresee anything like the computer-based production of newspapers that requires minimal human intervention as stories move from reporter’s terminal through computer-operated editing and composition to the high speed presses of today.
In the crowded old Argus plant, a printer hand fed a small press with a huge roller. To get four pages the operator turned the sheets over and sent them through a second time. That old press roared as it spun on its axis, then groaned when it was stopped or restarted. When the folder was fired up, it added exponentially to the cacophony, clanging away, folding and stuffing the printed sheets into something that resembled a newspaper – when it didn’t shred them. A printer stood on a platform at the side of the press, feeding huge sheets of paper into place, and I can still see my father’s nervous gratitude when some copies actually emerged intact from the folder. In the front office, Kevin and I entertained ourselves running around the dirty counter facing the front door. Or we looked for whatever mysterious gadget we could dig out of the desk drawer inside Dad’s crowded publisher’s cubicle next to the stacks of back issues that lined a dirty green walkway heading into the back shop.
From the outset, the new partners planned to buy out the small town’s competing weekly, the Eastern Oregon Observer. Longshire put up money for my father to undercut the competition’s ad sales. The two of them practically gave away ad space in The Argus. They also arranged for their newspaper to be delivered to everyone in town, whether paid for or not. Their final commitment came in June of 1947, less than six months after they took over, when they followed the lead of The Observer by beginning to publish twice a week, a move that my father questioned later and sometimes regretted. But he never backed away from it.
Elmo Smith, who ran that competing weekly, was someone my father had known growing up in Caldwell. By the time Dad and Longshire took over The Argus, Smith was looking for a way out of town. He had started The Observer just before World War II, made a success of it, and then sold it in 1945 to a woman named Louisa Henderson who aimed to build up a chain of weekly papers across the West. Smith had agreed to stay on at The Observer for her for a time, but he was anxious to move on, and it turned out he would soon buy a community newspaper in the central part of the state.
For her part, Henderson decided the best way to compete with the new publishers of The Argus was to hire my dad away from Longshire. She sent Smith to make the pitch and offered my father whatever it would take to get him to quit Longshire.
Dad was proud of the answer he gave: “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me quit Longshire.”
As my father told the story, Smith smiled and said, “That’s exactly what I expected to hear.”
Shortly after that, Longshire offered Henderson more money than The Observer was worth. She agreed to sell.
Within a few months, our family’s day-to-day financial situation improved. Longshire arranged for a local businessman to put up a new building to house The Argus-Observer. Dad bought a better car, trading in our ’42 Ford on a nearly new Pontiac sedan. And fewer of my jeans had patches sewn on the knees.
My father could finally enjoy his ad calls up and down main street. He was the publisher of the only paper in town. He had the final say as to what was news. But his business headaches – mostly involving how to keep a back shop running with country printers and unreliable equipment – always were a nagging presence.
At least once a month, we would climb into the Pontiac and head to Nampa for Sunday dinner with the Longshires. He was a large man with a barrel chest and the biggest bald head I’d ever seen. His family lived in a well-crafted, aging Nampa home with a wide front porch and big rooms full of dark cabinets and over-stuffed chairs. At those dinners, Longshire dominated the conversation. He had no interest in a comment from anyone but my father. When my mother offered up a business suggestion, he always ignored her. She swallowed her anger and kept quiet, but on the drive home she’d chew on my father for ten minutes. “How can you let that man show no courtesy to me? I’m your wife, for God’s sake.”
During these front-seat fights, Kevin and I would stop punching each other and watch from behind as our father quietly fumed. We couldn’t relax and start pestering each other again until Mom fell silent and Dad managed to change the subject.
I began working at the paper when I was ten, hauling a few bundles of freshly inked newspapers to the bus depot and to neighborhood groceries, drug stores, and coffee shops. Downtown I covered on foot. I would gather up an order or two and head out of the back door of the plant past a one-room jail that sat behind city hall. Occasionally, I stopped to jaw with a drunk who was still stuck inside come late afternoon. By the time I was in junior high, I used to pick up an extra dollar now and then by making a cigarette run for the guys drying out in the old jail. One day a printer saw me making the exchange, and my father put a stop to the cigarette runs with a threat to bar me from playing on the junior high basketball team.
The next jobs my father assigned me proved harder: painting the back shop, pouring castings of hot lead in the stereotype room, stuffing papers.
In 1952, things changed at the newspaper. Longshire sold his interest in The Argus-Observer to my parents to help finance his purchase of an interest in a major Willamette Valley daily. And that was the year my father hired Hugh Storm as news editor. At the outset, Hugh’s work ethic was good enough that it gave my dad the freedom to do what he’d only dreamed of when Longshire was looking over his shoulder. He began writing a front-page column. It gave him a place to publish observations that ranged well beyond what he felt belonged in an editorial. That was his excuse, at least, for his column, which he called “The Argus Observes” and which he continued to produce off and on for five years.
By the time Hugh Storm had been news editor for more than a year, he was easily my favorite employee at the paper. To function well as a country editor, my dad liked to say, it was necessary to have not only a little flair but also to be a bit independent of what people thought of you. The most independent – certainly the most addicted to hanging out in the local bars – was Hugh, a short, beet-shaped man with nicotine stained fingers, a plump but beak-nosed face, and a rarely employed ability to charm most anyone with a gruff compliment.
When Hugh arrived, the women in the front office learned that he was married but had left his wife in Yakima, Washington, where he lived before he came to Farewell Bend. They soon began asking when she would arrive in town. Hugh’s response was that his wife was a “very, very large woman.” He said he doubted that people in Farewell Bend would accept her.
It turned out, as my father liked to tell the story, that was pure fantasy. When she finally came to town, she was petite and beautiful, my dad said, adding, “I’m really not sure how a guy who looks like Hugh and drinks like a fish ever got such an attractive woman to live with him.”