Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Weird Portland Wednesday: Darcelle XV

Darcelle XV

Every city has a welcome wagon to greet newcomers to their little town.  I remember when I moved to Grants Pass, I was brought this big basket of goodies to welcome us into the town.  The Willamette Week has claimed that here in Portland, Oregon, our "unofficial welcome wagon" is the delightful Darcelle.

Darcelle has done much for our city and in 2011 became the Grand Marshall of the Portland Rose Festival's Starlight Parade.  It was the same year that she was awarded the city's Spirit of Portland Award.

Darcelle was born in November 1930, as Walter Cole. He grew up in Portland, joined the military to serve in the Korean War, was married and has two children.  With his money upon leaving the military, Walter opened a coffee shop downtown.  He then moved it to southeast Portland and opened a little jazz club in the basement.  He sold this spot when Urban Renewal came alone and with that money, he bought a tavern on northwest Third and Davis in Portland.  Walter then came out as gay, left his wife and met his lifelong partner, Roxy Neuhardt.  His tavern later became the Darcelle XV Showplace and an iconic drag queen was born: Darcelle.

With the closing of San Francisco's drag venue Finocchio's in 1999, our beloved Darcelle became the oldest female impersonator on the West Coast, and Darcelle XV Showplace was then recognized as the oldest continuously running cabaret in the United States.

Willamette Week's Kelly Clarke described Walter Cole/Darcelle as "an energetic businessman whose desire for a life less ordinary catapulted him from a job at Fred Meyer to become the proprietor of a counterculture coffee shop, an after-hours jazz club, a rough-'n'-ready 'dyke bar' and, finally, a nationally known drag revue, without ever leaving Portland."

We love ya Baby!  Just keeping Portland Weird.


1 comment:

Lynn W. said...

I probably saw her at Finochio's in the early 90's. I was in San Francisco for a board meeting and the ladies decided we should all go there. And we did. And stayed for 2 shows. I think she came around to our table and wondered where we were from -- obviously "out of towners."