Montrose Ringler, Portland's Jazz-Age dance hall king, launched his dance boat Blue Bird on July 28, 1920, in hopes of skirting around the scrutiny of Lola Baldwin, head of the city's Women's Protective Division, who for years had been severely restricting Ringler's public dances at the Crystal Ballroom and his other dance halls around the city.
"I have stood for clean entertainment and dancing and Mrs. Baldwin knows that I do, but she seems deliberately to have set out to interfere with my business." -Ringler
"Mr. Ringler has never cooperated with the dance inspector or the Women's Protective Division. He has always maintained the attitude that rules and regulations [do] not apply to him." -Lola
Ringler's majestic Blue Bird was 210 feet long - that's nearly three-quarters the length of a football field and 60 feet longer than today's Portland Spirit. The double-decked Blue Bird could (and often did) accommodate 1000 people for excursions and because it was indeed a dance boat, Ringler had it outfitted with floating dance floors of the same design as the Crystal's celebrated rocker-and-ball-bearing floor on each of its decks. Suspended between the decks was a stage from which one band could play for both dance floors!
"In spite of anything Mrs. Baldwin may do, I am going to continue these dances and not disappoint my patrons. If we can't get outside the city limits tonight, we'll dance anyway." -Ringler
"Mr. Ringler has failed to pay any heed to warnings from the department." -Lola
From the moment Blue Bird left the dock with its first passengers, Ringler and Baldwin waged a ferocious, three-year battle over its operation. Choosing to ignore all the headlines and city wrangling, thousands of Portlanders continued to board the so-called pleasure boat for countless river excursions and moonlit dances.
At first, Lola seemed perplexed about how best to counteract her archenemy's floating dance venture. Who had jurisdiction over the river-going craft? Ringler's Achilles heel was soon revealed, though, with reports surfacing of illicit conduct aboard Blue Bird and the presence of liquor during this Prohibition period. Lola dug in, and successfully swamped Ringler and his dance boat in red tape, violations and bad press.
"I am being persecuted because Mrs. Baldwin doesn't believe in dancing." -Ringler
"Mr. Ringler has been openly defiant." -Lola
Blue Bird's all-too-brief reign as "Queen of the Willamette" and the controversy it generated, ended in October 1923, when the boat rather mysteriously sank off the Milwaukie shoreline, just south of Portland.