In 1903 Richard See, age 19, came to America from Frankfurt, settling in New York, where he became a hat buyer for a large department store. Three years later a Russian emigrant arrived in Portland to pursue the American dream. He took the surname of “Gold,” though not because of the legend that American streets were paved with gold. In 1908 his wife Rose and their four small children joined him. A fifth child was born here in 1910 in a house on now-vanished SW Baker Street. Joe and Rose Gold gave their children plain American names – Jack, Paul, Sam, Sarah, and Dave – and raised them in the Jewish and Italian quarter of South Portland, where Joe Gold was a junk dealer.
In 1921 Meier & Frank lured Richard See to leave New York for Portland, and placed him in charge of the millinery department. Meier & Frank’s hat sales soared when Mr. See carried out his promise to, in his words, “make at least ten trips a year to New York, to give the women of Portland the new styles as fast as they originate.”
Around 1927 Paul Gold opened his first millinery store with his younger brother Dave. A gregarious man, Paul readily accumulated friends in Portland’s retail community, including Richard See, who was still buying and selling hats at Meier & Frank. In 1941 another friend, a shopkeeper in the Goodnaugh Building at 5th and Yamhill, told Paul that his landlord was raising the rent and he didn’t know if he and the other Goodnaugh tenants could pay the increase. By coincidence, at about the same time Mr. See, who was planning for retirement, told Mr. Gold that he had saved some money and didn’t think that government bonds paid a high enough return. Perhaps, if Paul invested some of his money for him, Paul could do better?
Mr. Gold did do better. “Paul made things grow,” his rabbi said when Mr. Gold died in 1981, and so he did, starting with the Goodnough. According to legend, Mr. Gold (pictured at right, foreground) approached the worried Goodnough tenants and promised that if they would pay him three months’ rent in advance, he would buy the building and not raise their rent for two years. The tenants pungled up, Mr. See wrote a check, and soon the Goodnough Building had become the first acquisition of the new firm of See, Gold & Associates. A few months later they bought a second building, the Kraemer Building at SW 2nd and Washington.
Pleased with their purchases, Messrs. See and Gold gave up the hat business to focus on buying downtown property. In 1944 they were able to buy the Hotel Oregon, at Broadway and Stark, for the amount of the unpaid property taxes. In 1945 they bought the Portland Garage, a parking structure at 5th and Taylor, later acquiring the rest of the block. They acquired so much real estate that by 1956 the society page of the Palm Springs newspaper could describe them as “realtors from Portland, Oregon.”
They became famous for never making counteroffers. If you quoted them a price for your building, they would say only “yes” or “no.” Would-be sellers learned to name their best price first. See, Gold & Associates continued to buy downtown property – like potato chips, no one can stop with just one – sometimes trading up, rarely selling. One exception was when they sold the block at 5th and Taylor to Georgia-Pacific for an office tower, a deviation that Mr. Gold rationalized to his partners by pointing out that the property across the street that See, Gold & Associates owned would go up in value when G-P built its skyscraper.
Messrs. See and Gold transacted their business from offices in the New Fliedner Building at 10th and Washington. (It was called the New Fliedner Building because it had replaced the original Fliedner Building in 1907.) Mr. Gold could often be found at a corner table at Danny’s Delicatessen at 5th and Yamhill across from the Farmers Market, where thick pastrami sandwiches fueled negotiations. In between acquiring buildings See, Gold & Associates found time for other ventures, including buying and operating the Pacific Department Store and Powers Furniture Company. Mr. Gold also flirted with the restaurant business, investing in one of Portland’s first Japanese restaurants and operating a downtown bar called the Harvester.
Richard See died in 1979 and Paul Gold died in 1981. In their 40 years in business, they had owned buildings, separately or together, on every downtown avenue from 1st to 11th and on every downtown street from Salmon to Stark. Last week the final property was sold, bringing to a quiet close a remarkable 75-year story of Portland real estate history.
Messrs. See and Gold owed their success to Portland’s postwar growth – the streets of downtown Portland turned out to be paved with gold after all – but also to the happy accident of both being in the hat business. Had Mr. See bought shoes, or had Mr. Gold sold suits, they might never have joined forces to become rich together. Sometimes clothes really do make the man.