A Seafaring Heritage
The sidewalk between 2nd and 3rd on Ankeny Street was stacked with boxes of live crabs. It was 1907, and Louis C. Wachsmuth was carting them inside to the big, briny crab pot. Oysters, shrimp, live lobsters from the East, and all kinds of fish were handled in carload lots. Dealing in seafood was nothing new for Louis. He grew up working with his father and brothers on the family oyster farm in Oysterville, Washington. Louis’ father, Meinert Wachsmuth, was born on the Isle of Sylt, off the coast of Denmark in 1842. At the age of 14, Meinert stowed away on an ocean-going vessel and wound up shipping before the mast for nearly ten years. He sailed around the Horn seven times before settling down to work the trade route between San Francisco, CA, and the oyster rich bays of Oregon and Washington. Meinert decided to end his maritime career when he was shipwrecked at Yaquina Bay, OR, aboard the schooner Annie Doyle in 1865. In 1869, Meinert married Elizabeth Sullivan and moved to Oysterville. He and his bride were blessed with three sons, Harry, Theodore, and Louis before they returned to San Francisco in 1881 to set up their own business. Louis learned to shuck oysters the next year at the age of five and developed a lifelong curiosity about the succulent bivalves while growing up along the shores of Shoalwater Bay.
Louis and the Oyster Bar
Meinert retired and sold his entire oyster holdings in 1903. Louis followed his older brothers Harry and Theodore to Portland, OR. He worked as a deliveryman, cook, and oyster shucker before opening a wholesale and retail seafood store called Oregon Oyster, serving oyster cocktails. In 1919, with advent of prohibition, Louis acquired the food bar from the famous Merchant’s Saloon formerly located on 1st and Ankeny. It was then he decided that a piping hot oyster stew would be a tasty addition to his tiny menu and the company name was changed to Louis’ Oyster Bar. Soon the old bar could not accommodate the growing number of hungry customers, and Louis built several small dining rooms adjacent to the bar. Seating for larger parties was provided when the “Main” dining room with its distinctive sailing ship interior was built in 1937. The opening of the “Reserve” dining room with the ship shaped kitchen “Star of Oregon” followed in 1940. In 2017, the fourth generations of Wachsmuths made some changes to the “Reserve”. The name was changed to the “Galley” and windows were added. The “Star of Oregon” was replaced with a larger kitchen and bar seating to view the cooks while they worked. The outside of the bar was covered with copper obtained from Berbati’s Pan Restaurant, a famous night club that was across the street from the Oyster Bar for many years.
A Family Tradition
Louis and his wife Elizabeth Sauer were married in 1908. Their children grew up with the business, but tragedy struck in February of 1938. After the family seemed to have recovered from a dangerous strain of influenza, Dan, the second eldest son, suddenly died from complications of the illness. He was 27 years old and an integral part of the family’s future plans. Dan’s name was added to “Louis’ Oyster Bar” as a memorial. The oldest son, Louis Arthur, worked long and hard to help fill the void left by the death of his brother. Younger son, Chester, was still in school and didn’t join the firm on a full-time basis until after his military service in 1945. Grandpa Louis died in 1957, and his sons Louis A. and Chester continued the family business until passing it on to their sons, Louis John and Doug, in 1977. In 1991, Doug became the sole owner of the business and operated it with the help of his wife, Joyce, his brother Tuck (Chester Jr), and his son Theodore. In 1997, Doug’s other son, Meinert (Keoni) and his wife, Michelle, joined the team to help run the family business. Tuck and Ted left the business to pursue other dreams, and in 2013, Doug passed the Oyster Bar on to Keoni and Michelle. Together they continue the tradition of family ownership, and hope to pass the Portland landmark on to their children, Louis Kai, Elizabeth Hana, and Dan Kaleo, in future years.
Oregon’s Famous Native Oysters Defy “R” Month Myth
JULY 3, 1939 — Under a new law passed by the last legislature, possession of fresh clams outside the limits of Oregon’s coast counties during the summer season is illegal. So Portland seafood addicts are doing without. But they can always fall back on the state’s famous native oysters, acclaimed by many connoisseurs as the peer of them all. To help the native industry, the state last week announced a $3000 project for work on the beds at Yaquina Bay under the joint efforts of the state fish commission and Oregon state college research experts. The beds are worked under the jurisdiction of the fish commission. Here is a round-the-clock story of the Oregon oyster, native only to Yaquina Bay.
First, shuckers open the firm white delicacies preparatory to serving it to a hungry Portlander at Dan & Louie’s. About 25,000 sacks a year are consumed. The shells are not thrown away or sold, although there is good demand for them as a base for chick feed. Instead, the Oregon Oyster Co. piles them up and allows them to dry, and clean for an entire year.
Then, the clean shells are taken back to Yaquina Bay, and at just the proper moment, learned by close study, they are dumped into the bay in time to catch the spawn of the mature oysters. Long study has shown that native shell is the substance to which the spawn will cling best. After the spawn attaches to the shell, it is called “spat” and is then beginning its four-year growth before it becomes mature enough for consumption.
The oysters are “tonged” up from the bottom by means of a long-handled shear-legged rake contraption. In the packing house the oysters are sorted, the mature ones kept and the young returned to complete their growth. The beds are worked much in the manner of a well-regulated farm, by sections. The completed cycle is the opening of the four-year-old oyster — probably, one which grew on a shell from an oyster cleaned at the same table five years earlier.
The old myth that oysters can’t be eaten in a month which has no “R” just doesn’t hold for the native Oregon — the clean, cold water of Yaquina Bay makes them good all around the year.
– News Telegram
BROTHER JONATHAN CAPTAIN’S WHEEL
S.S. Brother Jonathan Wheel
Sidewheeler Brother Jonathan Sinks Off Coast Of Crescent City
In July of 1865 the side wheeler steamship the S.S. Brother Jonathan sailed from the harbor in San Francisco overloaded with cargo. On board was a treasure chest of gold mined during the California Gold Rush Days. A gale kicked up shortly after Brother Jonathan left port and the storm worsened. Around one o’clock in the afternoon, the ill-fated steamer passed Crescent City, California hitting the Saint George Reef. The impact was so jarring that both passengers and crew were tossed overboard. A geyser immediately erupted inside the paddle wheeler and within 45 minutes the Brother Jonathan sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean as onlookers watched helplessly from the high bluffs of the town. Only 19 of the 223 passengers survived. Among the sunken items were personal belongings, china cups, porcelain, glass bottles and a group of “Rare Date” San Francisco Mint gold coins minted during the Civil War in 1865.
Rumors Abound Of Gold Treasures Among the Shipwreck
For some 131 years, rumors abounded about sunken treasure aboard the ship. Many thought there was a Civil War Army payroll on board. No one knew for sure where the shipwreck was since 1865, nor if any gold coins were really on board, or if they were preserved in recognizable condition. Thanks to modern deep sea technological developments, treasures from famous shipwrecks like the Titanic have been successfully saved in recent years.
In 1993, the S.S. Brother Jonathan shipwreck was discovered by scientists in search of the highly prized gold and other historical treasures. When news was released of the find, rare coin experts were amazed. On board were a variety of Pre-Civil War coins carried by the passengers. Among the shipwreck was a find of historic, $20 Liberty gold pieces dating 1865. The coins were placed in the hands of a numismatic team who carefully dissolved the adhered calcium and residue without using polish, abrasives, or any other substance which would be harmful to the coins. In this way the dirt was removed and the majority of the coins are no different in appearance than they might be if they were stored in a bank vault over the last century.
The resting place of the captain’s wheel from the Brother Jonathan is in the front lobby at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar in Portland, Oregon. The same city it had been destined for when it shipwrecked in 1865. That was the same year Meinert Wachsmuth shipwrecked on Yaquina Bay.
Back row: Michelle Wachsmuth, Dan (Kaleo) Wachsmuth, Chloe Wachsmuth, Theodore (Ted) Wachsmuth, Stephanie Wachsmuth, Jonathan Teran
Front row: Louis (Kai) Wachsmuth, Meinert (Keoni) Wachsmuth, Joyce Wachsmuth, Doug Wachsmuth, Elizabeth (Beth) Teran, Maila Teran
Kids on laps: Elizabeth (Hana) Wachsmuth, Caleb Wachsmuth, Kiana Teran, Joseph Douglas (J.D.) Teran
Photo by Lasting Expressions Photography