The Places

Aside from the raid on Ruth Barnett’s clinic and her subsequent trial, the scenes in Girl in the River are products of my imagination. But many of them are set in well-known and beloved Portland places. Nearly all have vanished into history. The venerable Broadway Building still stands. Below are some of the settings, accompanied by excerpts from the novel.

The past leads to us if we force it to.
Otherwise it contains us
in its asylum with no gates.
~ Marge Piercy

The Narrows at Niagara Park on the North Santiam

The Narrows at Niagara Park on the North Santiam

But out there, where the water turns white, the river will take you all the way to the sea and I would miss you something terrible.

(photo courtesy of Scott Cook, author of Bend, Overall)







Portland Public Market on SW Front

Portland Public Market on SW Front


Inside was like a thousand Mill City General Stores crammed together. The two-story-high ceiling overlooked narrow aisles between stalls crowded with bags, boxes, bins and bottles, more kinds of foodstuff than Mae thought could possibly exist, things she didn’t even recognize as something you could eat.





Hooverville Shacks in Sullivan's Gulch

Hooverville Shacks in Sullivan’s Gulch

Where she was sleeping was on a length of cardboard in the corner of the old man’s lean-to in Sullivan’s Gulch. The nights blew cold and damp over the mound of newspapers—what the old fellow called a Hoover blanket—that she layered over her own thin blanket.

(Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives, a2009-009-156 )




Rocky Butte Jail

Rocky Butte Jail

She couldn’t figure the ages [of her cellmates], their faces were so pinched, their hair like brooms and ten shades of dull, their skin leathery, like creatures forced out too long under a punishing sun. They moved in slack ways that Mae might have taken for laziness except for the tension that rippled beneath, as if they didn’t expect much good to come of anything, but they’d defend to hell what little they had.

(Photo courtesy of Portland City Archives)



Al Winter, kingpin of the Portland rackets, owned the Pago Pago on SW Fifth and Stark

Al Winter, kingpin of the Portland rackets, owned the Pago Pago on SW Fifth and Stark


Their Manhattans had come with maraschino cherries pierced by tiny umbrellas. Stauper had a stash of Jim Beam checked in behind the bar and the barkeep had a long pour.







Hotel Portland

Hotel Portland on SW Sixth


They scoffed at names of lipsticks like Simply Sweet and Peach Glow. Giggling behind their white-gloved hands, they made up their own names—If Only His Wife Knew, Before He Spurts, Boner Red. Afterwards they went to the Palm Room at Hotel Portland and ordered pound cake topped with poached pears and smothered in caramel sauce.




The Broadway Building, SW Broadway and Morrison

The Broadway Building, SW Broadway and Morrison


At street level in the Broadway a well-heeled fellow could buy his girl a diamond ring at Zell’s or, next door, the girl could pick out her trousseau at Ungar’s. Upstairs, those with enough cash could purchase the services of Portland’s finest attorneys, real estate and tax advisors and on the eighth floor, a girl who unhappily found herself in a family way could get that problem fixed, too.

(Photo courtesy of Eaaumi (





Jolly Joan's famous cup of coffee on Broadway at night

Jolly Joan’s famous cup of coffee on SW Broadway at night

Stretched out inside were four rows of high backed, wood paneled booths, stuffed with more toadies and bootlickers than a serious man should have been forced to contemplate at one time. At the far end of the sprawling main floor stood an elevated oval bar, where a patron in need of extra exposure could be seen by damn near every diner in the place.

(photo courtesy of Stumptown Blogger)




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