Crystal Hotel History

The deeper we dig into the history of this wedge-shaped block,the more incredible it gets! We thought the unorthodox characters and events populating the past of the neighboring Crystal Ballroom were something special but...

It's becoming clear that the Crystal Ballroom has a towering companion in the realm of the unconventional. During its various incarnations, this hotel site has been a point of confluence for pioneer city builders, underworld kingpins, musicians, drag queens, head shop patrons, artists, bathhouse denizens and internment camp survivors. McMenamins is thrilled with the opportunity to document and celebrate these experiences through artwork, historic photographs, events and articles.

Below are highlights of what we've learned so far, but the story is far from complete.

photoIn the 1850s, this hilltop was known as Smith Ranch, a bit of a misnomer since the land was thick with trees. For years, it was the scene of a large timber-felling and woodcutting operation. But once the acreage was cleared, a suburban neighborhood sprouted, with Hannah and Hiram Smith building the first home (left) at present-day SW 12th & Stark.

photoThe hotel building, constructed in 1911, initially housed auto parts stores on the ground floor and residential lodgings above. In 1946, the Zakoji family (right) took over management of the hotel, renamed The Majestic. After having spent the previous several years in an internment camp, here the Zakojis cultivated a homelike atmosphere for a quarter century, attracting many long-term residents who became their friends.

The ground floor, however, was a different story. After WWII, when the former tire shops gave way to a raucous night club, inhibitions were dropped and a new attitude of "anything goes" reigned.

photoDuring a 25-year run as Club Mecca and then the Desert Room, it was a wide-open gambling, dancing, drinking, hook-up joint. People from all walks came to indulge and have fun. Its notoriety peaked in 1957 during a federal investigation of  racketeering in Portland. Back in Washington, D.C., the wisecracking, elusive testimony of club owner Nate Zusman (left) to lead counsel Robert F. Kennedy amused the nation.

photoMore recently, this block emerged as the Gay Triangle, the heart of the city's queer scene. The Majestic Hotel took on a new persona in 1971 as The Club Baths. Its creatively themed facilities were named "Best Playground of the Year." Meanwhile the old first-floor nightclub became a popular gay-owned gathering spot. First called Kuchina's, it transitioned through a number of owners and names, ending with Silverado, which closed in 2007. Throughout, Stephen J. Boden, better known as Flossie (right), remained an iconic and unifying figure.

Do you have stories to share about this block?
We're interested in your recollections and photos!
Contact McMenamins Historian Tim Hills
at past@mcmenamins.com or (503) 223-0109.


 

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Related content (tags):

History Joint > Crystal Hotel Home Property > Crystal Hotel Type > History