“Big Bones” of Scowtown

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vic30002Yesterday I talked to Dick Moyer, a curator of the Crockett Museum. I had talked with his late father back in the 70s about my grandfather, Hugo Presco. He said he was a great man, known as a gambler. I asked Dick about the gambling in Crockett, but he knew very little. There were some raids during Prohibition, but Moyer had not read the article that I found in 1994 that said there were about sixty bordello and gambling houses in Crockett. My father had said the same thing. Rosemary said there were about five thousand people at Hugo’s funeral, including the Mayor of San Francisco. Was the funeral held in Crockett? According to my mother, Vic took the money collected for burial, and went and got drunk. Where Hugo is buried, is unknown.

Vic took us to see his father but one time. Hugo was living on a houseboat in Scowtown located in the shadow of the Carquinis Bridge. We had to walk along a maze of floating dock. A malato answered the door, then went and got The Gambler. In reading about gambling in Portland’s Scowtown, Hugo’s houseboat could have been the sight of a infamous poker game that was impossible to raid. You could see, and feel the cops coming as they rocked the dock.

Mr. Moyer told me he had a drawing of Scowtown on the wall in his office done by a Portuguese resident. I asked him if he would get it scanned and put on the museum webpage. I told him I was writing about my famous artistic sister. Dick didn’t get it. Royal Rosamond’s novel ‘Bound In the Clay’ was compared to ‘Tobacco Road’. consider John Steinbeck’s novel ‘Canary Row’.

Victor William Presco wanted to be a bigger man then his father. Above we see the captain with on e of his Chriscraft boats he had docked in Martinez, located about five miles from Crockett. In 1969 I took my father and his best friend and business partner, Ernie quinones, down to the estuary and showed them any empty plot of land. I told Vic he should get together some investors and build a commercial community here. Jack London Village was built several years later, and is now about to be torn down. How time flies. Mr. Moyer is kin to Jim Strehlow who owned Neptune Beach in Alameda. Bobby Jensen, the brother of the Yankee ball player, Jackie Jensen, did watercolors of the boats in Jack London Square, and was my teacher at McCheznie High.

I was living on my sailboat about a mile from the square when I had my brain-storm. In 1962 I did a watercolor of Oakland’s produce market where Vic operated Acer Produce in an old Victorian Warehouse located on 4th. Street and Webster. This painting was chosen to tour the world in a Red Cross show.

Ernie’s brother were the Mexican Mafia in San Quintin. Vic drank with Art who made Vic one with them. Above we see Ernie and Vic in Mexico investing in time-shares. Vic married a Mexican woman whom he smuggled across the border in a marijuana shipment. I took my friend Michael Harkins on a tour of the waterfront that took us deep into West Oakland. Mr. O’Harkins forbid me to blog about him. He likes to stay under the radar because he is a Private Investigator who is like Dashel Hammet’s ‘Continental Op’

Michael Harkins, and his family, have been close friends of mine, and other mutual friends, since 1965. Michael went to the California College of Arts and Crafts, and was good friends with the Stackpole family. Michael married the ex-wife of Bruce Perlowin who married a famous and dangerous Russian Spy while in the fed lock-up. A movie is being made about Bruce, the founder of Marijuana Inc, who lived in the Harkin’s basement for several month, and did business with Abbey Hoffman, there. Michael worked for Bruce who also founded a company called One World. Arround 1990 Michael and I went to lunch with William Linhart, the Private Investigator who Cayrl Chessman hired to keep him from going to the electric chair. We accompanied Bill to KTVU in Jack London Square where he was going to be interviewed.

Above is a painting of the duck hunting shacks located at the entrance of the Bay Bridge that Peter Stackpole photographed. Nick and Nora drive past these huts. The Thin Man movies are ‘Film Noir’. Nick had oddball friends. One of them was named ‘Meatball Murphy’. Sounds like Elmer ‘Big Bones’ Remmer the mafioso my mother worked for.

“Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood’s classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the last depression.

While fishing near the San Rafael Bridge, I an my friends were approached by three men who were unloading a freighter. They asked us what we are doing here. My Japanese drug dealer gave them a dirty look, and said;

“What does it look like we are doing?”

“Fishing?”

There was a Mexican Standoff. One of my friends is packing a piece. They thought we were cops posing as fishermen. We had stumbled on Perlowin’s smuggling operation we stumbled upon. Bruce had purchased equipment to spy on the Coast Guard. It was discovered that large vessels
went off radar when they went under the San Rafael Bridge. One could say we owned the waterfront as did the author Jack London. Royal Rosamond was a friend of Hammett, and taught Erl Stanley Gardener who to write.

After getting out of the Fed lock-up, Bruce was looking for a staight job. Vic interviewd ‘The King of Pot’ out at his Lafayette home where he ran a Loan business. In 1994, Captian Vic was convicted of loan sharking. The DA of Conra Costa wanted the names of his money men. The Cap told him to go fuck hiself.

Jon Presco

Copyright 2012

I Cover the Waterfront is a 1933 film, based on the book of the same name by Max Miller. The film was directed by James Cruze and stars Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrance, and Hobart Cavanaugh.
A reporter investigates a dockland smuggling operation, and, in the process, becomes romantically involved with the daughter of the man he is investigating.

CORRECTION: Michael Harkins just corrected me: Bruce was not married to Michael’s wife: I got Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin mixed up – as do many people when you recall them. Jerry Rubin used to visit Bruce Perlowin when he lived in the basement of my freind, Wanda Harkins, the mother of Jeff, James, and Michael.

In the 1980s, he embarked on a debating tour with Abbie Hoffman titled “Yippie versus Yuppie.” Rubin’s argument in the debates was that activism was hard work and that the abuse of drugs, sex, and private property had made the counterculture “a scary society in itself.” He maintained that “wealth creation is the real American revolution. What we need is an infusion of capital into the depressed areas of our country.” A later political cartoon portrayed Rubin as half-guerrilla and half-businessman.[8]

McClure would later court controversy as a playwright with his play The Beard. The play tells of a fictional encounter in the blue velvet of eternity between Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow and is a theatrical exploration of his “Meat Politics” theory, in which all human beings are “bags of meat.”

After the Vietnam War ended, Rubin became an entrepreneur and businessman. He was an early investor in Apple Computer.[7] During much of the 1970s and 1980s, he lived in Echo Park, California and ran a legal and civil rights office on the southwest corner of Echo Park Avenue and Sunset Blvd.
In the 1980s, he embarked on a debating tour with Abbie Hoffman titled “Yippie versus Yuppie.” Rubin’s argument in the debates was that activism was hard work and that the abuse of drugs, sex, and private property had made the counterculture “a scary society in itself.” He maintained that “wealth creation is the real American revolution. What we need is an infusion of capital into the depressed areas of our country.” A later political cartoon portrayed Rubin as half-guerrilla and half-businessman.[8]
Rubin’s differences with Hoffman were on principle rather than personal. When Hoffman died in 1989, Rubin attended his funeral.[9]

On November 14, 1994, Rubin jaywalked on Wilshire Boulevard, in front of his penthouse apartment [11] in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, California. It was a Monday evening and weekday traffic was heavy, with three lanes moving in each direction. A car swerved to miss Rubin but a second car, immediately behind the first, was unable to avoid him. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center, where he died two weeks later. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.City Streets is too early a movie to be labeled “film noir,” but with its focus on characters overwhelmed by fate and circumstance, and its strong mood of corruption and menace, it does emanate something of a noir attitude and can be seen as an important precursor to the style, along with such other films of its era as Underworld (1927), The Racket (1928), and Thunderbolt (1929).

The Continental Op is a fictional character created by Dashiell Hammett. A private investigator employed as an operative of the Continental Detective Agency’s San Francisco office, his name is never mentioned in any story.

Decades of witnessing human cruelty, misery, and ruin, as well as being instrumental in sending hundreds of people to jail, or to the gallows, have greatly weakened the Op’s natural sympathy with his fellow men. He fears becoming like his boss, “The Old Man”, whom he describes as “a shell, without any human feelings whatsoever”.


The home of the Bertram family in Scowtown on the Willamette river.  Illustration from the Sunday Oregonian, circa 1892
 
Scowtown

Life on the river, in the luxury of a modern houseboat, is the dream of many.  But in nineteenth century Portland, houseboat living was exclusively for the poorest of the poor.
    Imagine water lapping on the shore, ship’s bells ringing, an occasional seagull with the sound of footsteps crunching in the sand and gravel. 
     Now imagine that it’s eighteen ninety three Portland, and we’re walking the Western shore of the Willamette just North of today’s downtown, across the river from where the Memorial Coliseum now stands.  Seen over the bank to the west is the skeleton of Union Station, scheduled to be finished in eighteen ninety five.  To the South along the river where today a seawall stands are docks, piers and warehouses lining Southwest Front all the way to Jefferson Street.  In the mid-1890’s, many of these are abandoned, rat-filled ruins, un-approachable from the river due to a build up of silt and a lack of dredging.  North of us is the ballast pier, across from Swan Island. 
     Here, where we’re walking, are about twenty humble homes built on scows, or large, flat bottomed boats used in shallow water, or built on a raft of logs salvaged from the river. 
     Some are neatly painted and clean, others look like they would collapse in a light wind.  The whole settlement is dotted with the refuse of a nomadic existence. 
     On one particularly clean and orderly raft stands the neat, painted home of the Bertram family.  While some Scowtown residents resort to begging and petty crime for an income, here several Bertram men cut and split logs salvaged from the river which they sell to the wealthy homeowners along Northwest Seventeenth at two dollars, twenty five cents the cord for firewood, firewood that lines the streets and avenues of Portland in tall stacks on the parking strip. 
     Aboard the raft is Grandma Bertram, matriarch of the Bertram family, and several of girls of the family who tend their drying wash ashore or sweep the deck of their raft. 
     Next door is a particularly shabby residence inhabited by several Chinese Men.   Dressed in tradition silk knee length shirts, braided hair hanging in long queus, they labor with long oar-like sticks over a tub of steaming soapy water filled with the clothing of wealthier Portlanders.  Behind them along the shore are lines heavy with drying laundry, set up on driftwood poles. 
     A little girl of six or so, barefoot in a gingham dress lugs an oaken bucket heavy with drinking water from a well dug in the riverbank.  She struggles up a flimsy gangplank that threatens to break and toss her into the river at every step. 
     Scowtown settlements exist all up and down the Willamette, providing inexpensive housing with no rent for Portlanders of modest means.  And when one spot on the river becomes too crowded, noisy or polluted, it’s a simple matter to cast off from shore and to pole your raft to a new, fresh location, to start over.

For owners of brothels, gambling houses and other “colorful” businesses, it’s a well-known trick: When the police and city government start trying to run you out of town, you go — into a “whisky scow” anchored in the harbor.

In the rough and gamey frontier towns of 1870s Portland and East Portland, it was this last item that bothered the City Halls — not morals, but money. Both towns, at the time, were fairly friendly to prostitution; land-based brothels were operating highly successfully on both sides of the river. In fact, the city’s first police chief was part owner of a saloon that, some historians believe, dabbled discreetly in the trade as well. But these brothels paid liquor taxes. Nancy’s did not.
Several times throughout the 1870s, police from one side of the river or another tried to raid her boat. Nancy, tipped off by one satisfied customer or another, would simply hoist anchor and tow her bordello close to the shore of the city that was not conducting the raid. The towns were bitter rivals, and their police forces did not cooperate with each other, so this strategy was effective for many years. It’s also pretty likely that the cops on both sides of the river were sympathetic to her cause.

http://www.offbeatoregon.com/H1007d_floating-bordello-in-portland.html

Nan Cooley (Sylvia Sidney), the daughter of racketeer Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbee), is in love with The Kid (Gary Cooper), a shooting gallery showman. Cooley tries to urge him to join the gang, in order to earn enough money to support her in the lifestyle she is accustomed to, but The Kid refuses. Soon her father kills bootlegging chief Blackie (Stanley Fields), at the urging of Big Fella Maskal (Paul Lukas), because Blackie was against Maskal’s involvement with Blackie’s gun moll Aggie (Wynne Gibson).

City Streets is too early a movie to be labeled “film noir,” but with its focus on characters overwhelmed by fate and circumstance, and its strong mood of corruption and menace, it does emanate something of a noir attitude and can be seen as an important precursor to the style, along with such other films of its era as Underworld (1927), The Racket (1928), and Thunderbolt (1929).

The Continental Op is a fictional character created by Dashiell Hammett. A private investigator employed as an operative of the Continental Detective Agency’s San Francisco office, his name is never mentioned in any story.

Crockett (CA) (Images of America) [Paperback]

Shadow of the Thin Man is the fourth of the six The Thin Man films. It was released in 1941 and was directed by W. S. Van Dyke. It stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. Also, in this film their son Nick Jr. (Dickie Hall) is old enough to figure in the comic subplot. Other cast members include Donna Reed and Barry Nelson. This was one of three films in which Stella Adler appeared[1].

Nick and Nora Charles are looking forward to a relaxing day at a racetrack, but wThe explosion of resorts in Alameda also created a housing boom. Vacation rentals and cottages were built and advertised for rent furnished or unfurnished by the day, by the week, or by the month. San Franciscans escaping the fog sometimes rented cottages for an entire season.
In 1885 the Southern Pacific Coast Railroad cashed in on the resort boom in Alameda, and opened the renowned Neptune Gardens on the site of what would later be known as Neptune Beach.
In 1891 John G. Croll, a manager at Neptune Gardens, purchased what became known as the Croll’s Gardens and Hotel, but the hotel didn’t prosper until the opening of the Neptune Beach in 1917. The building, now a California Historical Landmark, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is home to Croll’s Pizza and the 1400 Bar and Grill Restaurant.
Surf Beach Park located at Sixth Street and Central Avenue opened on May 1, 1908. Unlike other Alameda resorts, Surf Beach offered rides and arcade games. An article in the Alameda Argus described the May 1st opening:

The opening of the Surf Beach baths on May 1 is to be an event of much local importance. The promoters of this enterprise have used every effort to construct a place adequate to accommodate thousands of people with concessions and amusements which will make it one of the greatest bathing resorts on the Pacific Coast north of Santa Monica.
The resort was later purchased by the Alameda Park Company and became part of Neptune Beach when Robert C. Strehlow and his partners opened it on March 17, 1917. The resort attracted thousands of tourists to Alameda and became widely known as the “Coney Island of the West.”
Neptune Beach closed in 1939, but fond memories of the attraction live on. A recent effort to revitalize Webster Street led residents and business owners to call for the replacement of the famous Neptune Beach tower that stood at the main entrance of Neptune Beach at the foot of Webster Street, as a monument to Alameda’s resort community past and the future that lies ahead.

Visitors then “hike” along a 95-ft. map of the Oakland/Alameda waterfronts. Points of interest are stories of the past from the Depression-era “Pipe City” at the end of 19th Avenue to the dredging of the tidal canal that turned Alameda from a peninsula into an island. Present points of interest are businesses lining the waterfront as well as parks and recreation sites that draw people to the water’s edge.

http://museumca.org/exhibit/exhi_walk_along_water.htmln

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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1 Response to “Big Bones” of Scowtown

  1. Reblogged this on rosamondpress and commented:

    Bohemian Artist and Writers hung/hang around whores, pimps, and gangsters

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