Art Chenoweth

For a few brief hours last week, I saw my life exploding into a new era. Portland State appeared about to buy the Ione Plaza, my place of residence some past six years. The University intended to put it to much-needed use as additional student housing. What would happen to me if College Housing Northwest took over operation? Would I be able to afford CHNW rent? I visualized the potential trauma of moving out of an apartment bulging with accumulated stuff. Of going through all that nightmare of changing addresses, connecting to a new phone service, possibly having to sign onto a new television cable service, tracing out new routes to get from there to here and back.

George Pernsteiner, PSU vice-president for finance and administration, reassured me. No present resident of the Ione would be evicted. We could keep renewing our leases if we liked. But I still felt disturbed by doubts.

What would happen to our traditional landlord-financed summer barbecue on the patio? Would we still get a free gala dinner at the Christmas Holiday season? Even more crucial – would CHNW continue the Ione’s free coffee in the lobby? Probably not. Would the Multnomah County Library still bring its Bookmobile once a month? Would we still see the cheery Meals on Wheels volunteers every noontime, bearing their baskets of lunch for the mobility challenged? Perhaps not. Even if the Ione Plaza restaurant stayed, what would happen to the bar in the back room? Would PSU find itself for the first time housing a dispenser of alcohol? Would the high spirits of the students who now gather there on Thursday bargain drink nights be no longer heard?

As it turned out, my questions never needed answering. Soon after 8:30 a.m., the executive committee of the State Board of Higher Education gave PSU the OK to proceed with the purchase. By noon, the present owner had accepted a competing offer from another buyer. So, badly as PSU needs the housing, somebody else will take over ownership. The Ione will apparently continue to operate as is.

When I had been facing this potential end of one era and the beginning of another, I found memories stirring. Times do wreak their changes. The Ione’s long-time postal service letter carrier, John, retired last month. Even in the short six years I have lived at the venerable Ione, I have experienced amazing slices of life, covering the spectrum from low comedy to high drama. Leaving them behind would have felt like being fired from the cast of a television soap opera.

There were, and are, memorable characters at the Ione. There have been litle mysteries. Why did one tenant perpetually press an ice bag to his head? It would have been unkind to ask. Why were some of the older women tenants afraid to ride the freight elevator when a passenger elevator temporarily broke down? They never explained.

We have had fights in the hallways, generally fueled by alcohol. We have had fire alarms from people leaving pots on hot stoves. Several years ago, some tenants had a habit of leaving the fire escape doors ajar to improve ventilation. That ended after thieves reportedly gained entrance.

My first memorable character was Jerry. He practiced an unusual sideline. Jerry concocted crossword puzzles which he sold to various publications, apparently with considerable success. To accomplish this, he filled one bedroom with an assortment of computer hardware and software.

Probably the most memorable character was Charlie. I interviewed him when he reached the age of 100. He was actively alert and his mind seemed sharp. I had seen him walking around the place, aged and stiff but moving without a cane. Finally, at 99, he had to go to a walker. He suffered a crushed spine while in the army balloon forces in World War I, an injury that bothered him throughout his life. Yet at 100 he still maintained active membership in several organizations. His wife said he went to the gym every day until the age of 90. Charlie finally moved on to the next experience at the age of 102.

Read Art’s column tomorrow for more high drama and memorable characters of the Ione Plaza.