Newspaper in the Wall

We found a few pages from a newspaper in the wall during demolition. The date on the paper is April 8th 1983.

Tim told me that contractors will sometimes put something in the wall to date the construction work.  Based on this date, we know that the last major ‘down to the studs’ remodel was in 1983.

Tim said he likes to put a really good bottle of wine under the staircase and have all his guys sign it.  According to him, many years from now, when the next family remodels the home, they’ll find the bottle and appreciate it.

This seems like a bad idea to me.  It might work for a while, but let’s say Tim puts a 2017 Far Niente Cab under the stairs.  I’m going to know that’s there.  I like Far Niente.  A lot.  Let’s then say 8 years go by and I’m having dinner and I DON’T have any wine but I DO have a hammer.  I’m probably going to dig through the staircase to get at it.  An 8 year old Far Niente will make me go through the staircase.  And, it will be Tim’s fault.

1983 isn’t all that long ago so at first I thought we should just toss it.  Jenny and I ended up taking the newspaper back to our condo and putting it in the closet.  I made the entire closet stink so it’s sitting on my desk now and I have orders to throw it away.

Before I do, lets see what it says about Portland in 1983.

First, I found this public service announcement “F is for Fat People’ to be a little awkward.

Wow.  You write to this guy if you "need a rule" for something?  For an advice column, that is some shitty advice.  I think the writer believes himself to be sensitive and progressive.  In his effort to be enlightened and to enlighten others, he said "fat" a dozen times in that short column.  This is a prime example of retro-cringe. 

Reading this, I was reminded of this scene from 'Something About Mary' where Matt Dillon’s character is confident he’s being progressive and self-aware.  With the exception that the movie is satirical where this article is an attempt at sincerity. 

The author, Ron Abell, was an interesting guy.  I read his obituary and learned something important.  If your obituary contains the phrase "he made the mistake of ..."  then your life made a wrong turn somewhere.  I feel that if your obit calls out the mistakes you made then your mistakes were profound.  Ron was a prime mover in the James G Blaine Society which was founded to discourage people from moving to Oregon.  Their official motto was “Welcome to Oregon.  Enjoy your stay … .then go home”.  This resonates today with the on-going influx of people from other states "immigrating" to Oregon.  Mainly to Portland.  Often from California.  Like Jenny and I.

I wasn't aware of this sentiment until I moved here.  For the most part it's tongue-in-cheek but not always.  During our first month here, Jenny was making a right turn onto 9th from Naito Parkway and a bus driver stopped next to her, opened the door of the bus and yelled "THAT IS A BIKE LANE, NOT A TURN LANE YOU TRANSPLANT!"  The bus erupted in laughter.  We laughed too, although a bit uneasily.  There was an undertone of aggression.  We felt it a dozen times in the first year we were here.  We couldn't wait to get our Oregon ID cards and license plates so we could try to blend in a little better.

To state the obvious, rent and home prices go up because of a combination of decreasing supply and the increasingly willingness to pay more.  The paper from 1983 adds time into the equation and the price increases can be jarring.

For non-Portland based readers, I’ll add some context.  One of the ads above is offering a Colonial in the Laurelhurst neighborhood for 130K.  Laurelhurst is one of the more exclusive neighborhoods in Portland.  Here’s an example of a colonial home for sale today that is probably similar to what is being advertised.

Thats an 600% + increase.

In Portland today, it's difficult to use home prices to identify which neighborhoods are the "best" like Laurelhurst.  You could look in neighborhoods that in 1983 would have been considered the "worst" and find homes in the same price range as this beautiful colonial.  In some of those cases, you might see price increases of over 1000%.

You can also see an ad in the 1983 newspaper for a rental in a SE neighborhood for $185 a month.  Here are a couple places I found on craigslist today that are a few blocks from that address.  They have nearly the same percentage increase as the Laurelhurst home.

One of the reasons people are moving to Portland today is the increased demand for technology workers.  These can be high paying jobs, increasing disposable income, putting further upwards pressure on rents.  That is why Jenny and I came here.  We needed to hire software engineers and Portland is a place to do that.  Did you know Portland has 19 higher education institutions?  There are another 15 colleges that feed new graduates to the Portland area.  It also helps with recruiting.  We can hire from places like University of Idaho and University of Iowa and offer alumni how have taken their first jobs out of these schools with a local company, have a few years experience and are looking to move somewhere more desirable.  

This is one of the reasons your home prices and rents have been soaring: computers.

1983 was still early in personal computer revolution.  Apple was still one year away from it’s famous super bowl commercial where it announced the Macintosh.  A few years earlier, Steve Jobs had visited the famis Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (XEROX PARC) and walked out of there with (some say stole)  the idea for the Mac.  Xerox was a powerhouse.   At the time, they were the most innovative hardware company on the planet having invented the graphical user interface that we all use today, the computer mouse and the laser printer.  Getting trained to use a Xerox computer was a big deal.

The teenage boy in me wishes Wang still made computers.  I would totally use a Wang right now if I could.  I read their wikipedia page to get a handle on Wang.  I learned that Wang was in demand around the time this ad was printed.  It was hard to find someone that hadn’t used a Wang at work.   They even started making Wangs you could use as a tool at home.  A Wang could be challenging to use so it was best to have someone show you how to use your Wang first before you tried to just whip one out and go to work.  Eventually wang choked.  Sadly, demand for Wang started to soften and the company started to shrivel up and eventually became useless.

My apologies for that last paragraph.  If it helps, know that I can do that all day long yet I restrained myself.  Lets go to the movies to help us forget these puns.

1983 was an amazing year for movies.  I didn’t realize until I saw the movie listings in this newspaper what an epic time it was for film.  Some of the biggest blockbusters of all-time and some of the best movies of my blunder years are all running at the local theatre in April of '83.

Are you kidding me?  The original Mad Max?  ET?  Raiders of the Lost Ark!!!  48 hours.  The Outsiders.  Tootsie! (I bet if you watched it right now with your 2017 sensibilities you would cringe hard).  The list goes on.  Look at what is still coming out in 1983 after this newspaper was printed:

  • Scarface
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Big Chill
  • Flashdance
  • Risky Business
  • Valley Girl
  • War Games

War Games, LOL.  In an amazing bit of coincidence, 1983 was also the year that our planet was nearly annihilated by Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD.  Just four months after Matthew Broderick and Alley Sheedy saved the world from make-believe nuclear war in the summer blockbuster season release of War Games, it happened for real.  On September 23rd 1983, the very real Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was looking at the computer screen for the USSR early warning missile detection system and saw an incoming missile.  It was unambiguous.  The United States had launched a single nuclear missile at Mother Russia and his orders and training were clear.  He was to immediately initiate a nuclear counterstrike as specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.  Only he didn't.  This is what real bravery looks like.  He calmly and quickly decided to ignore his orders.  His own intuition told him that the detection system may be wrong.  He reasoned that if the US were to attack, it would be massive.  A single missile didn't make sense to him.

It turned out to be a false alarm caused sunlight reflecting off of high-altitude clouds.  The world didn't find out how close it came to annihilation until the 1990's, after The Berlin Wall came down and the breakup of the USSR, when Petrov wrote about it in his memoirs.  Chilling to think of how 1984 may not have ever come.

If not for Petrov,  these stock tips wouldn't have mattered.


Here are the hot tips:

  • First Connecticut
  • Farmers Insurance Group
  • Southeast Banking Corp
  • Restaurant Associates
  • Crocker National Bank

Uh oh, I see a few banks on this list.  It's 1983 and we are just a few years away from the Savings and Loan crisis.  Over 1,000 banks closed in the late '80s and early '90s.  This is going to get ugly.  At least we have a company that specializes in theme restaurants on that list.  That will go well, right, Y'all?  And a big insurance company!  That one should do fine.  Except for the fact that Farmer's is heavily represented in California which is about to see the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, 1991 Oakland Hills fire and the 1994 Northridge quake that will do about 1.3B dollars of insured damage.

Lets see how we do by putting a $10,000 investment into each of these 1983 companies.

First Connecticut bank trading under the symbol FCO on the American Stock Exchange can't be found.  The AMEX exchange merged with the NYSE so you'd have search for it's stock symbol there.  Nothing comes up.  Eventually, if you keep looking, you'll find some legal briefs referencing the company's legal “First Connecticut Small Business Investment Co.” documenting it's journey into Chapter 11 bankrupcy and being sued into oblivion.

Sorry, you lost $10,000 on this one.

Farmers Insurance Group was trading at $42.25 a share when you bought it.  Five years later, the once publicly traded stock went private.  A single investor bought all 68 million shares for 5.2B dollars.  Your buyout would have been $18,123.39.  You got out of this one just in time.  The next year things start shaking and burning all over California and Farmers takes a beating.

With that $8,100 gain, you've started to dig out of that hole you created by investing in a bank.  You are now down only $1,900 dollars.

The Southeast Banking Corp, started in 1902, was liquidated in 1991 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  Sorry, you lost all your money again.  Bad times for banks.  You are now down $11,900.  You are really bad at this.

Restaurant Associates was flying high for a while but after a failed employee buy back led them into financial troubles, they ended up being liquidated in an acquisition to a Japanese company in the early 90’s  (remember when Japan was buying up America LOL?).  Your stock dropped below $1 a share and the total value of your $10,000 fell to $1,200 by the time you were forced to sell to the Japanese.

You’ve now lost a net total of $20,700.

Crocker National Bank's theme song was "We've Only Just Begun".  This was re-recorded by the Carpenters and was a big hit for them.  This is the only time I've ever heard of a song used for advertising re-recorded as a pop-hit.  Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?  This is the same bank that Scott Adam's, creator of Dilbert, worked and used for his inspiration for the comic.  Crocker National was the evil institution that Dilbert works for.  None of that matters to you now because Crocker National Bank lost 324M dollars the year after you invested your $10,000.  Your stock suffered. Luckily, the bank was acquired by Wells Fargo in 1986 for 1B dollars.  At the time, this was the largest bank merger in US history.  At the time of the acquisition, the value of your stock was about on par with what you paid for it.  You broke even.

Congratulations, you turned $50,000 dollars into $30,000 dollars!

However, there is another version of this story.  If you took shares in Wells Fargo in lieu of a cash buyout as a part of the acquisition, and you held on to the shares, your fictional fortune would have been much different.  Wells Fargo was trading just above $1 at the time (reverse engineering value based on stock splits) and is now trading at $55 a share.  In that case, you made about $370,000 on this last investment.


That's what I got out of reading the 4 pages of newspaper stuffed in the wall.  It dated the Going Queen's last major remodel and it dated me a bit too.  The stinky rotted paper has been tossed.