One more for Billy Rowe

Like a giant postcard from 1946, the western wall of the former Billy Rowe’s Tavern reappeared yesterday at NE 29th and Alberta as workers removed shingle tiles during a major building renovation. When we visited yesterday morning, workers had exposed the vibrant colors of the Coca-Cola ad painted in 1946, but something more had yet to be revealed. Check it out:

The former Billy Rowe’s Tavern, in restoration November 25, 2020.

Naturally, we wondered about Billy.

William Chauncey Rowe and wife Doris Isabelle Rowe opened the tavern at 2904 NE Alberta in 1943. Billy was a commissioner in the Boy Scouts, a member of the Portland Elks lodge and an active member in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Doris was a member of the Elks Auxiliary. Before going into the tavern business, Billy was vice president of Ballif Distributing Company, a beer distributor based in southeast Portland.

Maybe he’s one of the overcoats here in this photo, from the incredible collection of Oregon Journal photos at the Oregon Historical Society. This photo is not specifically dated, but caption information indicates sometime between 1933-1941 (old car aficionados could probably pin that down, guessing late 1930s).

Photo credit: Oregon Journal Negative Collection; Org. Lot 1368; Box 372; 372A1164

After leaving Ballif Distributing, Billy and Doris operated the tavern until their sudden death on the night of January 2, 1951 in a road accident north of Klamath Falls while returning to Portland. Newspaper reports describe a head-on crash in icy conditions. They were survived by two sons, Earl and Calvin.

The tavern appears to have passed out of Rowe family hands after that, but the name stuck (perhaps because it was painted in three-foot letters across the side of the building…the place was a local institution). In 1957, new owner Joseph Hoover was arrested on charges of promoting gambling on the premises and having a horoscope machine that made small payoffs to customers. Later that year, Portland City Council refused to renew Hoover’s tavern license.

Sometime after that–perhaps when the shingles went up on that west wall covering up Billy Rowe’s name–the place transitioned to Duke’s. Any AH readers able to share a story from the Billy Rowe era?

Update: On December 6th, the owners let us know the mural wall will have to come down due to high levels of lead paint. Click here to read more.

6 responses

  1. My wife’s grandfather established Central Oregon Distributors, (beer) in 1933 ,following the repeal, in Bend Oregon. Funny how history connects us all. We purchased that business and later on sold it in 1988. Regards, Del

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. Wonderful nostalgia! I was born in 1941 and I’d like to go back in time and relish the now old things that we took for granite. Thank you for posting this it was very interesting. I live in the Irvington District and love it here.

  3. The new owner has purchased other old buildings and is respectful of it’s history. His representative says the Coke a Cola sign will be saved.
    The slats will probably be individually removed and put back together and displayed indoors.

  4. We moved a half-block away in 1978 and remember the Homestead Tavern occupied the spot then. Later it was Johnny’s Jar Room and the Chez What? There might have been more taverns in there but we can’t remember for sure. Too much beer down the hatch.

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