Background photo: A hand-tinted linen postcard view of Three Sisters from Scott Lake, circa 1920.
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“The commission has full power to revoke licenses for enticing sailors to desert or charging unlawful exactions,” he said. “If the present commissioners feel powerless, perhaps others can be appointed to enforce the law.”
“One set of crimps is no better than another, (so) why grant one set a monopoly?” he continued. “If one set struts in immaculate linen and fine clothes and lends its presence to the state Legislature, that does not prove superiority. In fact, it doesn’t make any difference so far as I can see.”
Ah, but it made all the difference in the world, as Laidlaw surely knew well. (The reference to fine clothes and the state Legislature was an obvious shot at the always-spiffy and politically active Larry Sullivan.) Certainly Laidlaw can’t have been much surprised when the boardinghouse commission, shorn of the one power which likely constituted its entire reason for existing, retired from the scene.
Plus, Portland was gearing up for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, and had elected a new mayor, Harry Lane, who was on a crusade against the squalor and vice that characterized the North End. Not coincidentally, the train station in which all the crowds of visitors to the Expo would be arriving — the Union Station — was literally at the north end of the North End. Visitors would have to travel all the way through Portland’s worst neighborhood immediately upon arrival. If things were not cleaned up, their first impression of Portland would likely be one of seedy saloons, drunk sailors, and winking prostitutes.
Sullivan, sensing the shift in political winds, made a last-ditch attempt to get himself elected to the city council. When, in spite of his considerable voter-fraud resources, he lost, he left Portland for Goldfield, Nev., where he promptly involved himself in what historian Barney Blalock calls “one of the greatest bunco schemes ever perpetrated — a multi-million-dollar banking and mining concern that bore the name ‘Sullivan Trust Company.’” (The full story of Larry’s adventures in Nevada is the topic of this later column. )
Billy, though, stuck around. The White brothers stuck around too, taking care of the dwindling business in tall-ship sailors clear into the 1920s. Jim, after serving a one-year prison stretch for shanghaiing a sailor, decided the job was too rich for his blood and quit, but Harry carried on. In the 1920s, after all risk of non-homeless men actually being shanghaied was gone and it was “safe” to joke about such things, he adopted the nickname “Shanghai White” and continued serving the dwindling grain fleet through at least 1928, possibly later.
Billy remained a colorful Portland character. In 1910, he was in the news for socking a socialist agitator in the kisser during an argument over politics. The following year, his ex-wife’s new husband emptied a five-shot revolver at him, hitting him four times and nearly killing him; he survived, though, apparently without permanent injury.
I haven’t been able to learn what Mysterious Billy did during Prohibition, but all things considered it’s a pretty safe bet that it involved moonshine in some way.
After Prohibition ended, he opened a new saloon, a beer joint this time, at 15th and Wheeler in Albina; he called it The Champion’s Rest, and that’s exactly what it was. The onetime slugger, shanghaier, and bar fighter finished his days pouring beer and reminiscing with his customers as the host of one of pre-war Portland’s favorite watering holes. He died in 1937.