There are many web pages that cover the story of Elk Rock Island. The history of the island peaked our interest so we went over to the Milwaukie History Museum on Railroad Rd. and found some more interesting facts.
The Portland Rowing Club once owned Elk Rock Island and the dance hall located on the north shore, back in 1918, according to Clatsop County Court house records. The island was purchased from Peter Kerr for $16,000. The Oregonian published a news story on Nov. 23, 1916 which documents the huge fire that burnt the dance hall to the ground. The value of the dance hall was thought to be worth $32,000 and there was no insurance. The PRC leased it to a Mr. Smith at the time of the fire. Smith ran the dance hall and called it the Rock Island Club.
The building was originally built by Peter Kerr in 1902 or 03 and was called the Friar’s Club.
The date of the Oregonian article covering the fire is dated Nov. 23, 1916 and the purchase of the island in 1918 by the PRC do not line up so one of the two sources must have the wrong date. However, both the Oregonian news article and the county records mention Portland Rowing Club as the owner.
The PRC sold the island to Security Savings and Trust Co. for a non-disclosed amount in Oct. 1924.Eventually, Peter Kerr repurchased the island and gave it to the City of Portland in 1940.
Elk Rock Island is named after the rock formation on the west side of the Willamette River: Elk Rock proper. Elk Rock proper is named after the tradition of the local tribes who would harvest elk by herding them off the rock cliff and retrieve them from the river. Both the island and Elk Rock are thought to be formed from an ancient volcano and represents exposed 40 million year old rock, thought to be the oldest exposed rock in the Portland area. Geologists call the local rock formation the Waverly Heights Basalt formation.
In regards to the demolished Castle, Schlockstar asked me as an aside if I knew anything about a dance hall that used to be on Elk Rock Island. I didn’t know of any dance hall, but I have been to the island (which you can walk to in the summer, when the east channel dries up as the Willamette recedes) & noticed the concrete stairs & dock on the west side of the island & wondered at its purpose.
Turns out the dance hall was a Friar’s Club, & a notorious one at that, involving lots of booze, gambling, & police raids.1 Quite a large structure, too. For those not familiar w/ the area, that would be the modern-day Milwaukie waterfront park behind the island to the left.
Milwaukie residents steered clear of the hall of ill repute, but Portlanders came by the streetcar load, & then were ferried to the island – hence, presumably, the concrete landing on the west shore.2
I couldn’t figure out the duration of the club’s raucous operation. Grain export magnate Peter Kerr acquired the island in 1910, & Oregon went dry on January 1, 1916, & I doubt the establishment survived prohibition as a juice bar or somesuch.
Kerr donated the island to the city of Portland in 1940.
Get a history lesson on Elk Rock Island courtesy of a new radio show http://bit.ly/NNYkRS
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