A brief history of Multnomah Athletic Club
In February 1891, members of the Portland Football and Cricket Team invited anyone interested in forming a permanent athletic club to attend a special meeting. In short order, the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club was born. The members rented space on the third floor of the Willamette Block on Second Street where they installed a gymnasium to facilitate their physical conditioning. By November, membership totaled more than 300. The club soon embraced track and field, football, and other sports, and the MAAC became a major player in athletic contests across the Northwest. Local and regional newspapers gave the club teams heavy coverage, reflecting the era’s intense interest in sports.
With team victories came increased membership and the need for larger athletic and social facilities. In 1893, the club moved to a specially built clubhouse at 10th and Yamhill, the site of today’s downtown public library, where it remained until a new and much larger facility was built on Chapman Street in 1900. That structure, located at the northeast corner of the club’s playing fields (today’s JELD-WEN Park), was completely destroyed in a massive fire in July 1910 that leveled several blocks of buildings. The club then built an even larger facility on Salmon Street designed by noted architect and club member Morris Whitehouse. In 1911, former President Theodore Roosevelt participated in the dedication of the building, and it opened for use at the annual meeting of 1912.
By the early 1920s, it had become clear that the existing playing fields and grandstands were inadequate for major sporting events. To resolve the problem, the club created a separate association to finance and construct a large stadium on the club’s property. The stadium opened in 1926, hosted many sports events over the decades, including football, baseball, and dog racing, and eventually passed into public ownership when the club sold the structure and land to the City of Portland in 1966.
In 1960, the club launched an ambitious facilities expansion program that proceeded in phases over the next fifteen years. Phase I was the construction of the east portion of the present building; Phase II, was the controversial demolition of the 1912 clubhouse and construction of much larger western portion; and Phase III was the construction of a major parking facility with tennis courts and gymnastics rooms on the upper levels. A subsequent addition to the west end of the facility greatly expanded the ahtletic facilities and is named for MAC's longtime trainer, Joe Loprinzi. The new MAC, with three pools, an indoor track, expanded court capacity, multiple restaurants, and meeting rooms covered 550,000 square feet on seven levels.
The club’s history has mirrored the nation’s and the region’s in various ways. Team sports came and went, with football, baseball, track and field, boxing, and wrestling finding early favor. Some sports and sources of exercise gradually lost favor; for example, boxing, bowling, and pool and billiard playing; and others grew steadily, such as swimming, court sports, skiing, gymnastics, jogging, and walking. Economically, the club fell on hard times during the Depression, experiencing a drop in membership, multiple layoffs of staff, problems of deferred maintenance, and difficulties in making construction bond payments. But, the club persevered and, like the nation itself, prospered in the postwar years as membership once again soared.
Today’s Multnomah Athletic Club—the word “Amateur” was dropped from the name in 1936--is significantly different from the club of the 1891-1920 period. In the early years, the club welcomed women for social events, and, eventually, many women became non-voting members under family memberships. In 1977, the board recognized the need for equality and conferred full member privileges upon the club’s women. Since then, three women have served the club as its president. Perhaps the most significant change has been a steady shift in emphasis from MAC-sponsored teams, as in the early decades, to a strong emphasis on physical conditioning for the entire family and a diverse menu of activities (travel, education, entertainment, etc.) and steadily expanded athletic and social facilities, including excellent restaurants and meeting spaces. As one member stated, the emphasis has changed from “winning to participating.” The club continues to host regional and national tournaments in various sports, and it makes its excellent facilities available to sport teams from local schools. Today, the Multnomah Athletic Club serves more than 22,000 members.
If members of the public are interested in an extensive history of MAC, the club suggests the Legacy of the Twenty Six: A Celebration of the First 100 Years of the Multnomah Athletic Club by Joel D. Freeman, Kristyn McIvor, and Luanna Hellman Hill. It is a thorough, well-researched, and visually supplemented history of the club from its founding through to its 100th anniversary in 1991.
Copies of this out-of-print, limited-edition book may be available at:
This book is available at the central branch of Multnomah County Library: For in-library reference only
An overview of the MAC’s archives
In 2011, the club established an archival program to organize the historical holdings, provide support for various history projects, develop changing exhibits with historical content, and build the collections.
The MAC archives includes paper records, club publications, photographs in various formats, and an extensive collection of three-dimensional artifacts, including medals, trophies, team sportswear, and other memorabilia covering the period 1891 to the present.
Among the earliest records are a ledger of life members, various annually printed lists of members and bylaws, programs for MAAC-sponsored sports competitions, and copies of newspaper articles charting the founding and early history of the club. Board minutes are complete for the period December 1893 through February 1895 and 1901 to the present. Particularly notable are the photographic resources, including football team photos of the 1890s, photographs of theatrical productions, and a volume of photographs of early members. A. B. McAlpin, a professional photographer and a founder and president of the club, made many of these photographs.
For the years beginning in 1901, the archives holds more extensive documentation of club activities, particularly Board of Directors meeting minutes and, with some gaps in early years of the Chat and Bulletin, a bound set of the club’s publications: The Winged M Chat (February 1907 to January 1908), The Winged M Bulletin (weekly, 1915 to 1938), and the monthly magazine The Winged M (1938 to the present). Photographic resources are extensive but are for the most part undocumented and undated. An exception is the collection of early team photographs (1891-1910). Good photographic documentation exists of the demolition and construction work for the various building phases of the current facility. Much better documented is the extensive collection of slides and negatives housed in the Communications Department, which is well described and indexed in a textual computer database. The Communications Department collection is strongest for later years but includes many copy photographs of early images that were made for use in publications and exhibits.
The Archives includes a large collection of medals, trophies, and memorabilia, some of which are usually displayed in first floor exhibit cases and in the Sports Pub. Included are items from some of the earliest MAAC-sponsored athletic competitions.
Additional archival resources are located in the collections of the Oregon Historical Society, notably, a nearly complete set of The Winged M, nineteen scrapbooks (including rare materials from the 1890s), Morris Whitehouse’s architectural files for the design of the 1915 clubhouse and the 1925 stadium, some photographic materials, and a few items in the museum collection. The Multnomah County Library holds some early publications.
Access to club archives
There are no scheduled hours of access.
Access to the archives is by application to the club archivist, George Vogt who can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prospective users should be aware that portions of the records are restricted and unavailable for use. All materials must be examined under supervision on the premises and may not be removed from the building by a researcher.
MAC will make copies of documents and photographs for a fee. Use of images in publications of any type or for commercial purposes requires advance negotiation, permission of the club, and payment of separate use fees that vary with function and audience. Prospective users of images should consult the club archivist at the earliest opportunity.