Posted on October 6, 2019
7. Old Town Pizza
Across the street from Old Town Pizza in Portland, Oregon
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Curious History of Old Town Pizza
Old Town Pizza has been a beacon for the Portlander community since it opened its doors in 1974. Located at 226 NW Davis St, it sits in the bustling heart of downtown Portland. The restaurant is famous for serving great pizza, but it is also a hub for supernatural activity. Reports of strange activity around the building have been circulating Portland for decades. But to better understand the strange activity you must learn about its history. The building wasn’t always a restaurant, it was once the Merchant Hotel. The hotel dates back to the 1800s, making it one of Portland’s oldest standing buildings. The Merchant Hotel was a hotspot for Portland high society in its day. Not only because of its luxurious accommodations but because it had one of the only hydraulic elevators in the city.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
During this time businesses were attempting to move away from steam-powered elevators. Because hydraulic elevators could lift more passengers and were the way of the future. Not only could they lift more, but they were also much safer. They also doubled as a curiosity to draw in more clientele for the Merchant Hotel. By 1889, the hotel grew to take up more than half a city block. Listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1975, it is one of the most historic places in Portland. The style of architecture of the building is also unique. It is one of the only buildings left in Portland to feature a Victorian Italianate cast iron style. Louis, Adolph, and Theodore Nicolai owned the hotel after it was completed in 1880. It took workers thousands of man hours and four years to complete. In 1884, builders added another larger section to the building. In the late 1890s, a famous musician named Eugene Stebinger purchased the hotel. Years later, Stebinger sold the building. It changed hands many times and had many uses over the years. The Merchant Hotel once housed a bar, saloon, billiards hall, cracker factory, and, most interestingly, a brothel. Eventually, no one wanted to buy the hotel for its original use.
Old Town Pizza in Portland, Oregon
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Merchant hotel closed its doors in the mid 1960s, ending its long run as a luxurious high class hotel. Skidmore Development Company purchased the building in the late 1960s when a grocery store owned the space. The company started a major renovation in 1968 hoping to rent the space out to high paying renters. Skidmore Development rented out one quarter of the space to a furniture store in 1969 and remodeled the upper floors soon afterward. Other companies bought up the newly remodeled office space and soon the building buzzed with activity. The building received a bright green coat of paint in 1971 and made The Oregonian’s front page. The paper hailed the former Merchant Hotel as a rags to riches story. Once abandoned, no one thought it would become anything. Luckily, the Skidmore Development Company turned that around for the better. As the years went by, many tenants came and went. Adam Milne, the current owner of Old Town Pizza, bought the restaurant in 2003 from the Accuardi family. In 2004, the building needed a seismic upgrade to protect the historic structure from any future earthquakes. In the early 2000s, the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, the Japanese American History Museum, and the Faux Museum became tenants. Today, the building is best known because of Old Town Pizza and it’s amazing food! Considering the building’s age, however, you can be sure it has some interesting stories to tell. Because of the building’s long history, it has a lot of skeletons in its closet. Many of the guests and renters, according to rumors, never left the building. Some still haunt the shops and restaurants that occupy the old hotel. This is where the story of Nina begins and, sadly, ends.
Nina and the Ghosts of Old Town Pizza
Photo by Callie Gibson
Image Source: Unsplash Free to Use
Local historians describe Nina’s life as one controlled by the ebb and flow of Portland’s underworld. Like many women during the time, she had nothing to her name and no power over her life. Nina worked as a prostitute in the basement of the Merchant Hotel. She made enough to feed and clothe her 12-year-old daughter but, eventually, she wanted a way out. Around that time, Christian missionaries came to Portland to stop prostitution. The upper class church going people of Portland wanted to rid the city of sin, prostitution became their pet project. One day, a missionary approached Nina at the hotel. The missionary told Nina that he would get her, and her daughter, out of Portland. All he wanted in return was information that would shut down the brothel. Nina agreed to help the missionary because she wanted a better life for her daughter. Nina saw what kind of life waited for her little girl and she feared it more than she feared anything else. Nina spent some time bringing the missionary information about her clients and the general goings on in the hotel. Unfortunately, very soon after she began her relationship with the missionaries the hotel staff found her body at the bottom of the elevator shaft. Rumors circulated that Nina’s pimp murdered her for disobeying him. Some people assumed it was an angry john or a jealous lover. Others thought one of the wealthy land owners might have killed her to keep his secret safe. During that time, many people in high ranking positions were trying to keep a lid on their private lives. Most people believed what they wanted to… never knowing the true story behind Nina’s death. The individual, or individuals, responsible for her death were never found. Nina’s daughter disappeared soon after and no records of her were ever found. The only record of Nina’s life is a brick at the bottom of the elevator shaft that bears her name.
It seems that even death could not free Nina from the building that she tried so hard to escape. Even though it is no longer the hotel from her life over a hundred years ago Nina is reluctant to leave. Maybe Nina still searches for her long lost daughter or maybe she searches for her killers. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that an entity haunts Old Town Pizza. Patrons and staff of Old Town Pizza report seeing a woman wandering the building. A woman who floats through the restaurant always wearing a long gown. Patrons, upon entering the building, report smelling a woman’s perfume. Staff members have reported hearing feminine whispers coming from the basement before closing time. Strange as they are, the whispers are usually low and soft. Sometimes they are shrill as if the woman lost someone whom she is still searching for even after death. A manager once reported hearing childlike laughter coming from behind the bar. When he went to investigate, no one was there.
Mike Watts, a staff member, reported someone “tapping him on his shoulder” during his shift. When he turned around there was no one there. Others have seen a woman in black going into the basement after closing time. When they attempt to approach her she vanishes into a wispy vapor. The woman in black is said to be a friendly ghost. Sometimes she plays with children or moves silverware from table to table. Other times you can find her circling the building late at night, peering into the darkness as if she is looking for someone or something. One of the most interesting cases happened during a delivery to Old Town Pizza. The delivery-man reported to the manager of Old Town Pizza that he got the scare of his life when a woman floated by him towards the stairs. He said that the woman was “made of smoke,” and dissipated in front of his eyes after going up the stairs. The delivery-man told the manager he had never been more scared in his life. Soon after people started to see Nina, another woman in a white dress began appearing. No one seems to know who she is, only that she has a “mischievous” presence. Guest report seeing the woman floating towards them as they enter the restaurant late at night. Sometimes she motions towards the basement, where the Shanghai tunnels are, and other times she rushes through the restaurant. Many people have reported strange happenings around the building and it doesn’t look like it is going to stop anytime soon. Luckily for visitors, none of the resident ghosts seem interested in anything other than being mischievous. Today, visitors embrace Nina’s presence as part of the Portland experience. Which is good because it doesn’t look like Nina will be leaving anytime soon!