Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Three Abe Weinsteins

      While researching the early days of Organized Crime in Portland for my upcoming book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 I came across this weird episode in Portland history. Hope you enjoy it...

     Since Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May opened their general merchandise store in 1849 Jews have made their mark on every area of Portland society, culture and history. From Bernard Goldsmith (1869) to Vera Katz (1993) the city has had five Jewish mayors. The state has had two Jewish governors and three Jewish Senators, most of them from Portland. Jewish Portlanders have made major contributions in business (Julius Meier and Aaron Frank), philanthropy (Ben Selling), medicine (Dr. Albert Starr), law (Gus Solomon and Irvin Goodman), literature (Bernard Malamud and Phillip Margolin), art (Mark Rothko), music (Ernest Bloch and David Schiff) and entertainment (Mel Blanc). Polina Olsen does a wonderful job of telling the story of Portland’s Jewish community in her book Stories of Jewish Portland (2011). Since Portland’s Jews have been involved in such a wide range of the city’s life it is no surprise that they have made their mark on crime as well. One of the earliest, and most violent, figures of organized crime in Portland was a Russian-Jewish immigrant named Abe Weinstein; but who would have thought that his name was so common?
            The first generation of Jewish Portlanders came from Germany and found good opportunities for business as they followed Gold Rush miners north into the new state of Oregon.  Anti-Semitism was always a problem for Oregon Jews, but it rarely became violent and in Portland it remained subtle and polite.  By the beginning of the Twentieth Century a small, prosperous and influential Jewish community was established in the city.  It was around this time that the second wave of Jewish immigration, from Russia, began to enter Portland.  Between 1900 and 1920 the city’s Jewish population more than doubled. The new immigrants settled in the neighborhood known as South Portland, about a mile south of downtown. They were attracted by the settled Jewish community with its six synagogues, kosher stores, Jewish community center and soon a Jane Adams-style settlement house, the Neighborhood House. The Russian Jews, with their foreign ways, dominant Yiddish language and generally lower economic condition faced intense discrimination from the community and sometimes oppressive classism from the more established German-Jewish community.  The experience of three men who shared the same name gives an illustration of what these new Portlanders faced.
Boys' Government candidates at Neighborhood House in 1914. The "good" Abe Weinstein is second from the right; the "bad" Abe Weinstein is the first on the left.

Abe Weinstein, the gangster, was born in Russia around 1899. His father, Max came to Portland in 1903 and his wife Etta followed with the children in 1905. Young Abe found work early as a Newsboy, selling papers on the streets. He became an active member of the Portland Newsboys’ Association (PNA) that met regularly at the Neighborhood House and eventually bought a clubhouse of their own through their creative fundraisers. One of the PNA’s fundraisers was the election of Boy Mayor to preside over the Rose Festival. In 1912 Abe Weinstein finished fourth in the race for mayor, at a penny a vote. The Oregonian made lots of jokes about “repeat voting” among the newsboys; edging into social commentary during the reign of the political machine dominated by Mayor Joseph Simon and the heirs of Larry Sullivan.
            In 1914 Weinstein ran for district attorney in an expanded Boys’ Government election in conjunction with the Rose Festival. It was an interesting choice of office for him to run for, since later that year he would face his first arrest for a gambling offense. Weinstein obviously had charisma and leadership skills, because he always attracted attention from the press and usually had a posse of other young men who followed his lead. He distinguished himself athletically; playing handball, basketball and boxing with Newsboy teams at Neighborhood House. By the age of 20, in 1919 Weinstein had established a gang of robbers and burglars who used his Junk Shop in northeast Portland as headquarters. Abe’s brother, Hyman, had a mercantile store in Burns, OR, which helped move stolen goods away from Portland. Hyman Weinstein had already set himself up as the “vice lord” of Eastern Oregon. He was the man to see for gambling, bootlegging, prostitution and drugs among several lightly populated rural counties. Abe followed his brother’s example of diversifying into the vice fields.
In 1932 the "bad" Abe Weinstein was involved in a bombing campaign against rival gambling and prostitution joints in the closest Portland ever came to gangland warfare before the 1990s.
 Weinstein’s victorious opponent for district attorney in the 1914 election was sometimes referred to as Abraham T. Weinstein, but I like to think of him as the “good” Abe Weinstein. He was also born in Russia around 1899 and he came to Portland with his family in 1906. Growing up in the same neighborhood with the “bad” Abe Weinstein, the two young men must have encountered each other at the Neighborhood House and other places in the tight-knit ethnic community. The “good” Abe Weinstein was limited athletically by very poor eye-sight. At the age of nine he was injured when he apparently walked full tilt into a parked automobile. His eyesight didn’t limit his academic ability as he excelled at Failing School and Lincoln High School. By 1947 he was a respected criminal defense attorney and a trustee of Congregation Linath Hazedek. The two young men also shared a name with an older Portlander as well. Abe Weinstein was born in Russia around 1860 and came to Portland in 1903. He went into business with his two brothers in the ownership of a river steamer, “Matinee Girl” and became a fixture of Portland’s waterfront.  The original Weinstein Brothers became fathers to a second generation of Weinstein Brothers who dominated Portland’s garment industry, through a variety of business names and partnerships well into the 1960s.
             After being defeated for boy district attorney the young athletic Abe Weinstein followed the family business. In October 1914 he and two other boys were arrested for running a small casino, with adult clients, at a little place near SW 2nd and Yamhill. The “Newsboy’s” club might even have featured slot machines provided by Portland’s first slot machine king, S. Morton Cohn, through an ambitious young employee named Royden H. Enloe. Enloe would become Portland's second “slot machine king,” when Cohn moved into the more respectable career of real estate developer during the Great War. Enloe employed brutal methods to extend domination over slot machines, juke boxes and pinball machines all over the city. He also pioneered in the field of “labor slugging”, hiring out anti-labor goon squads during the 1922 Waterfront Strike that destroyed the American Federation of Labor International Longshoremens’ Association (ILA). The relationship between Enloe, and other gangsters, with Mayor George Baker’s administration, most likely mediated by “Matchmaker Bobby Evans” aka Augustine C. Ardiss, carried on a long tradition of corruption in Portland’s city government. Ardiss, who had a long career as boxer, boxing manager and boxing commissioner in Portland, always denied any connection to organized crime or any other unethical behavior. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his typical response to those charges or questions. Enloe and Ardiss would both be fixtures of organized crime in Portland, buying their slot machines from Al Capone’s “Chicago Outfit,” until the 1930s when a new generation took over. Men like James Elkins, who put Enloe out of business, and Al Winter, who came to dominate bookmaking and gambling in place of Evans, are much better remembered than their predecessors.
Abe Weinstein allied with the notorious DePinto Brothers in their 1932 campaign to control vice in Portland. Nick DePinto, the eldest, ran the gang under the leadership of Matchmaker Bobby Evans.
            The “bad” Abe Weinstein is another one of Portland’s most forgotten sons, but in the 1920s and 30s he was one of Portland’s “usual suspects.” Involved with several high profile thefts and gambling operations in the 1920s Weinstein allied himself with the DePinto Brothers gang, led by elder brother, Nick, in their bid to take over bootlegging, prostitution and gambling in 1932. Finally sent to prison for the violent campaign that involved at least four bombings and an unknown number of deaths, Weinstein eventually retired in Las Vegas. Al Winter and Milton Hyatt ran the Hotel Sahara there and old partners in crime Mike DePinto and Jack Minsky were regular visitors.
An Extra Bonus
            In 1970 Abe Weinstein of Cleveland, OH came to Portland and joined the Portland Symphony Orchestra as lead clarinetist; leaving his mark on Portland music and carrying on the proud tradition of his name. Which leads to the question: Who’s Abe Weinstein now?

     If you enjoyed this story I hope you will visit the website for my new book Portland Into the Vice Age 1934-1953 and support this exciting new project.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Austin, TX v. Portland, OR

            Some weird new friends from Austin, TX have thrown down the gantlet; challenging Portland for the crown of weirdness.  Now I haven’t been to Austin in quite a while, but I must say that I’ve never had a bad time in Austin, TX. The beer is good, although it’s Texas Style. They know how to make music and the food is pretty good. I even like their movies – Slackers (1991) is my favorite. They invented the slogan "Keep Austin Weird," but hey, we stole it fair and square. And they are in Texas; which is pretty weird…but to challenge the queen city of weirdness, Portland, OR for the title.  Come on you silly Texans.

            Well the results are in…from our new friends at  I think they are from Austin so the results speak for themselves.
Portland vs. Austin weird

Like I said, the results speak for themselves. Better luck next time, Texas, although they certainly have their good points and a vacation in Austin, TX sounds pretty good right now…before it gets too hot.  Who’s next? Missoula, MT?