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Portland’s largest amusement park was called Lotus Isle, the “Million-Dollar Pleasure Paradise.” Lotus Isle spread out over 128 acres east of Jantzen Beach and it officially opened June 28, 1930 with the fanfare that included an official welcome from the Governor. It was known as the Wonderland of the Pacific Northwest and you could take in over 40 rides at the amusement park. The park’s name was derived from the Lotus Water Lily, which was associated with euphoria and enlightenment in Oriental and Egyptian mythology.

The 100-foot neon Eiffel Tower sign at the entrance was visible from the West Hills to Vancouver. It was built on Tomahawk (Sand) Island, the site of the old Columbia Beach Amusement Park.

To get to Lotus Isle, you would drive out to the Interstate Bridge and look for the neon Eiffel Tower sign, which would direct you east to Faloma, where you crossed the wooden bridge to Tomahawk Island.

You could also take the Vancouver Street Car, which had a separate bridge and let passengers off at the Lotus Isle Depot, which was at the Park’s Main Entrance.

 

Newspaper Ad from June 27, 1930.

Known for its Peacock Ballroom and Egyptian style buildings, Lotus Isle boasted a 3/4-mile long Alpine Roller Coaster running through mountain-top landscapes of Mt. Hood and St. Helens.

 

Newspaper ad from May 16, 1931.

 

In 1931, Al Painter’s Walkathon Organization had live remotes on KEX Radio with Announcer Earl “Gabby” Fagan who was one of several Masters of Ceremonies.

 

Jell-O Week was held at Lotus Isle on August 1-9, 1931.

 

You could win this 1931 Chevrolet, a radio and many other prizes. Over $1500 in prizes was awarded. The Grand Ballroom which cost $60,000 had a wide veranda overhanging the lake.

You could buy tickets at the Jell-O Ticket Booth to win the prizes. Behind the Jell-O Tree is the Lotus Café.

Dorothy Boskill riding the Carousel at Lotus Isle on May 16, 1931.

The Bulldog housed the bumper cars. If you look closely, you will see a maintenance worker standing over the Bulldog’s left ear.

 

Ten-ton, 12-foot Tusko the Elephant with his owner, Al Painter.

The park’s mascot was Tusko the Magnificent, a 12-foot, ten ton Elephant. Billed as the meanest elephant, Tusko lived up to his billing. When the Famed Stunt Pilot Tex Rankin flew over Lotus Isle in a low flying airplane, Tusko got loose and went on a rampage, destroying several buildings.

Popular Master of Ceremonies for the famous Peacock Ballroom and its world-renowned Dance Marathons was Henry Shadder Polk. Each MC was given a new Auburn by owner Al Painter.

 

Couples would compete in Walkathons at the magnificent Peacock Ballroom for thousands in cash and prizes. Several faux weddings were held in the Peacock Ballroom which was large enough to hold over 6,600 people.

Evening dances held sway at the Peacock Ballroom from 9:00 pm to Midnight. You could dance to the orchestras of Herman Kenin and Archie Loveland and enjoy the stellar entertainer and banjoist Monte Ballou.” Couples at the Walkathons would see how long they could dance continuously, sometimes for several days at a time, taking a 10 minute break every hour. A state certified nurse was required at all such events.

The Bathhouse at Lotus Isle had facilities to hold several thousand people. Next to the beach were water slides, chutes and “water tops”.

 

View of the Midway from the Porch at the Ballroom Dance Pavilion.

 

 

Another couple, Bebe Severson & Jack Robertson.

Brother & sister team Will & Helen Roysum competed in Portland and Seattle.

 

 

MC Henry Shadder Polk started his career with Al Painter. Leo Seltzer employed him in Chicago. 

Thelma Hammond and Stanley Allen competed in several walkathons.

 

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This ad from February 18, 1931 included a free pass to the Walkathon beginning Feb. 19, 1931.

In the days before air conditioning, a dance hall or skating rink could get pretty warm on a hot summer night. I am told that the skating rink at Lotus Isle had “openings” (patrons didn't call them windows) with chicken wire across them for ventilation. Skaters learned in a hurry not to touch the wire as they would get a shock.

The Peacock Ballroom, which could hold 6,600 people, burned to the ground in 1931 and it is said the heat from the burning dance floor could be felt across the river in Vancouver. According to the newspaper, there was a second ballroom that was actually a skating rink. It was said the floor would have to be rebuilt to accommodate dancing. Dances were held the final season om the Blue Swan, a barge which was docked on the Columbia River.

According to the script for a 1931 radio advertisement for Lotus Isle, you could “ride the new $40,000 Merry-Go-Round or the $15,000 Ferris Wheel”. Rides only cost a nickel. You could see the Zoo with “rare Asian animals”, 15 acres of amusements, 27 acres of picnic grounds, English bowling greens, golf courses and horseshoe pitching areas. A new miniature train a mile long encircled the park.

Jantzen Beach had the Jantzen Girl and Lotus Isle featured girls in the rival Columbia Knit bathing suits.

Lotus Isle even held fashion shows for the Eastern Department Store.

 

In this ad from August 11, 1931, you can see the 100-foot dome of shimmering gold from St. Sofia in Constantinople.

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Concession stand at Lotus Isle.

 

This ad from August 14, 1931 tells of the Rolleos Log Rollers from Longview and the coronation of Miss Portland.

 

Ad in the Oregonian on May 28, 1932.

 

Ad from The Oregonian on July 15, 1930.

Had history taken a different path, Lotus Isle may not have been built. Its developers were just greedy and wanted to get the owners of Jantzen Beach to buy them out before they built the park. Their scheme backfired and Jantzen’s owners welcomed the competition. Lotus Isle was eventually built on a shoestring budget.

Red ink had plagued the builders, the Columbia Beach Development Corporation, from the beginning. One of the investors, Edwin Platt, had invested a sizable amount in the development. When the Development Corporation was ready to dump the idea, Platt offered to take the yet-to-be-built park off their hands.

Lotus Isle was the birthplace of the Dance Marathon circuit in the Northwest. Some of the organizers who got their start in Portland went on to fame and fortune in larger cities back east including Walter Tebbetts, who owned several Portland theatres including the very ornate Oriental Theatre; and Leo Seltzer, who went on to start Roller Derby in later years. There are newspaper accounts of Al Painter’s Walkathon Organization leaving a trail of debts from Oregon to Arkansas, Lousiana and Pennsylvania. Always looking for a hook or gimick, promoters would try anything to attract crowds and money. Painter is credited with first introducing vaudeville into the dance marathon performance.

One of the park’s later owners was said to have had gangland connections and a number of unfortunate happenings led to the park’s early downfall. An 11-year old boy drowned just before the opening season ended in 1930 and the next day, the President of Lotus Isle, Edwin F. Platt, committed suicide.

The Oregonian Newspaper from March 23, 1931 reported a plane crash at Lotus Isle when the pilot of a low-flying airplane that was experiencing turbulence crashed into the artificial mountain of the Scenic Railway at Lotus Isle. Three men escaped with minor bruises and lacerations. Buck Ambulance took the two passengers to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The pilot, Clarence Murray of Vancouver, Washington owned the biplane, and he crawled out from the wreckage with a scratch or two. After Tusko’s rampage, the buildings he destroyed were never rebuilt.

Lotus Isle never recovered and it closed after the 1932 season and its assets were sold in bankruptcy early the following year. A bonfire was set when the park closed to virtually destroy all memory of the park.

The 4-Row Herschell Spellman Carousel, which was made in 1914, is still operating at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The Spirit of the Alpine Coaster lives in the Playland Giant Dipper in Vancouver BC. The 75 hp motor, the switch panel, and much of the machinery, including the chain came from the Alpine Coaster that was built in the late twenties at Lotus Isle here in Portland.

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Today, much of this land is covered with exclusive living communities that are home to some of Portland’s most affluent. However, Tomahawk Island Drive takes you right to where the amusement park once stood.

There are moorages, houseboats, marinas and probably a hundred or more houses. There are several boat dealers and nautical supply shops and there is even a café. There are lots of sidewalks and jogging areas. New condominiums have risen in its place.

The City of Portland built and maintains a small park there, Lotus Isle Park. From the park, you can still see the pilings from the 700-foot trestle that once carried the streetcars that went on to Hayden Island and then to Vancouver, Washington. This is a little-known community that is basically open to the public, though it is posted Private in several places.

Tomahawk Island got its name in 1927 when Portland school children were asked to give Sand Island a new name. Apparently there was a Tomahawk in an exhibit at the Lewis & Clark Exposition in 1905. Legend has it that an Indian brave thought the Tomahawk shouldn’t be there and that he buried the Tomahawk on Sand Island.

Last updated 03-24-10

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