Hal Pallay

Hal Pallay, 2011

Hal Pallay, 2011

My great-grandfather, Morris Pallay and my great-grandmother, Fannie, lived in Garden Home when I was a child. The house they lived in was built in 1915 on the south side of Garden Home Road between what is now SW 83nd and 84rd Avenues. Their neighbors across the street were the Kehrli family. My grandparents, Sam and Yetta Pallay, lived in the house next door that fronted onto 84rd Avenue. Sam was married several times and my dad had stepsisters and brothers who were my age so there were always lots of kids to play with.

Morris, Fanny and Samuel Pallay

Morris, Fanny and Samuel Pallay

Great-grandfather Morris was a businessman. He had been a tailor in Russia and when he came to America he brought with him a small child-sized Russian military uniform he had made. There was a picture of a child wearing the uniform that hung in the living room in the house in Garden Home. The younger children in our family would have their pictures taken in the uniform. My sister Frances had a picture of her dressed in it taken when she was small.

Great-grandfather Morris was a businessman. He had been a tailor in Russia and when he came to America he brought with him a small child-sized Russian military uniform he had made. There was a picture of a child wearing the uniform that hung in the living room in the house in Garden Home. The younger children in our family would have their pictures taken in the uniform. My sister Frances had a picture of her dressed in it taken when she was small.

When he arrived in Portland he continued in the tailoring business and at one time employed about 90 tailors in a business he had in the Goodenough Building in downtown Portland. The building was across the street from Meier and Franks’ and later became the home of the Journal Newspaper.  Later he would open one of the first movie theatres in Portland.

Between the two houses was a row of cherry trees. One of the stories I grew up hearing was of my day falling out of one of the cherry trees and hurting himself. He was helping pick the cherries and had climbed out on one of the limbs, which gave way under him. He was a grown man at the time and hurt himself badly. It took him 6 months to heal and he was never really able to do hard work after that.

When I visited I slept in a room over the front porch. There was no insulation between the floor of the room and the ceiling of the porch and it was very cold in the winter. To keep me warm great-grandmother Fannie would let me sleep in the feather beds she had brought with her from Russia. They really kept me cozy. I’ve never forgotten what a treat it was to sleep all wrapped up in the warm feather beds on cold winter nights.

As an adult I think of what it must have been like for her to travel all the way from Russia transporting the big feather beds with her while taking care of the younger children who traveled to America with her. What a trip!

The family owned several acres of land adjoining the houses. I can’t remember what animals they had but I do remember their dog, Mickie. And besides cherry trees great-grandfather Morris and great-grandmother Fannie grew grapes. They had two kinds, which grew over the front gate. There was a red variety and a green variety. Later I was told that if you grew one of each than you really had three options for making wine.

In those days houses had rain barrels near the down spouts to catch water draining off the roof. One year my great-grandfather raked up of the grapes that that fallen on the ground and put them in the rain barrel planning to do something else with them later. But he forgot. When he discovered the grapes he had put in the rain barrel had begun to ferment he decided to try making wine.  As Great-grandfather was always looking for something new to try this started him on a new project.

When Prohibition began the wine, along with other kinds of alcohol, was buried in the basement. Many years later when the house was sold, my father, Leo, found a bottle buried there and took it home. Once a year he and my mom would bring out the bottle and have one drink and talk about the old days. However, after several years it was decided that it maybe that wasn’t a good idea. They got rid of what was left.

Both of my parents attended Garden Home School. My uncle Clarence Pallay also attended there. My father, Leo Pallay, was born in 1900 and my mother, Florence Mostert, in 1904.

I don’t know a lot about my mother’s family. My mother used to say that she was born “somewhere” between Garden Home and Metzger.  Her father and an uncle worked for the Oregon Brass Works. Her father’s name was Henry and her mother was named Sarah.

Florence Mostert was the oldest girl in a family of 12 and always told her children she was born somewhere between Garden Home and Metzger!

Florence Mostert was the oldest girl in a family of 12 and always told her children she was born somewhere between Garden Home and Metzger!

Here is the story I heard of how my parents came to be married. My dad told me he used to spend a lot of time at the Mostert house playing cards with the Mostert brothers and Mr. Mostert. There were 12 Mostert children and my mother was the oldest girl. Dad didn’t seem to pay much attention to her when he visited, she was just around, but one day he took notice and told her he wanted to marry her.  She was only 14 at the time but she said that was OK with her. They waited until she was 17 and dad was 21 years old before they married!

Before they married Mom worked at Lipman Wolfe & Co. as an elevator operator. She was 15 and Lipman Wolfe & Co. had just had an elevator installed. The store had the distinction of being the first department store in Portland to have an elevator. Later she was asked if she would like to take the job of cashier for the main floor. But she declined. She was planning on getting married and didn’t think a married woman should work.

Dad was a musician.  He started high school at Benson High School, the year the school opened. While he was still a student he organized a band in Garden Home. One of his first jobs was playing for the silent films at the American theatre on SW 1st and Main St. in Portland. The theatre was owned by Morris Pallay. Great-grandfather was the first to exhibit movies in Portland. He took an interest in a new invention at that time, the Nickelodeon. Those were the days of silent screen greats such as Frances X. Bushman, Theda Bara, Charlie Chapman, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and my dad would be in charge of making sure there was background music for the films.

At first my dad worked part-time playing the piano at great-grandfather’s theatre. He once played 6 hours straight and ended up with bloody fingers. In the early days the movies were all accompanied by a piano but when later the photoplayer took the place of the piano.  If you’ve ever watched an old silent movie you’ve heard the photoplayer in the background.  The photoplayer was an instrument like a player piano that played music automatically by reading piano rolls.  But unlike the player piano, the photoplayer used two rolls and used sound effects, which included gunshots, bells and drums and was operated by pulling chains.

Dad opened the Jefferson Theatre in 1920, and when he did, he invested  $10,000 in having a photoplayer installed. This was quite an amount of money at the time as the price charged for a ticket was then just 20 cents!

Over the years the family owned a number of Portland Theatres. The early theatres were the American and the Jefferson. At one time great-grandfather Morris, in association with others, operated some 20 theaters in Portland.

My father owned the Cinema 21 theatre in northwest Portland, the Joy Theatre in Tigard and the Star Theatre off of west Burnside. In the 1940’s and 1950’s the Star was a burlesque theatre presenting live performances that featured such entertainers as Sammy Davis Jr., comedian Al Franks and singer Johnny Ray. The theatres are all still there but under different ownership.

Fannie and Morris celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary. Those seated in the middle of the picture are, from left to right: Clarence?, __________, Leo, Morris, Fannie, Florence and Hal Pallay

Fannie and Morris celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary. Those seated in the middle of the picture are, from left to right: Clarence?, __________, Leo, Morris, Fannie, Florence and Hal Pallay

While my parents left Garden Home to raise my sister and I in S.E. Portland, we continued to spend much of our childhood with our great-grandparents, our grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in Garden Home. My great grandparents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in the home on Garden Home Road. That must have been 1928 or 1929. I am in the picture taken that day and I look about 3 or 4 years old standing surrounded by all the family and guests. Those were good days.

Interview by Virginia Vanture, October 24, 2011

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