White House Restaurant

White house restaurant staff outside the White House Restaurant. Photo Source: Willamette Heritage Center 1998.012.0063

White house restaurant staff outside the White House Restaurant.
Photo Source: Willamette Heritage Center 1998.012.0063

This article was published in the Statesman Journal Sunday, March 1, 2015.  It is reproduced here with citations for reference purposes. This coming summer (2015), the Willamette Heritage Center will be celebrate our history in an exhibit that explores the history of dining out and restaurants in Salem. We are currently looking for artifacts, photos, stories and to conduct interviews with people that have been involved in the restaurant business. Contact Kylie Pine, , 503-585-7012 for more information.

By Kylie Pine

The Place—For the best meals, the biggest meals, the best cooked and best served for 15 cents, go to the White House Restaurant of Kenworthy & George.[1]

1896 was an election year, and David E. Kenworthy and Jesse George used that to their advantage in advertising their new restaurant. These advertisements, the earliest records of the restaurant’s long run as an institution in downtown Salem, play up the pun on their name: “The White house—Whether Mr. Bryan or McKinley go there the meals at the White House Restaurant take the lead in Salem.”

As the 20th century dawned, restaurants played an important role in the community. In addition to 24-hour meal service, The White House Restaurant offered furnished rooms for guests— a place for travelers to rest—and also served contract meals for government institutions like the county jail.[2]

Soon after its inception, the White House Restaurant operations were taken over by the George brothers and moved to its long-time home on State Street, to the western-most half of the building occupied by Cooke Stationary today. It would remain as a staple institution downtown until it closed around 1932.

Working conditions at restaurants are often tough, but in the late 1890s they were extreme. As recalled in a biography of Charles A. Bear, when he went to work at the White House Restaurant he had 13 hour shifts that ran midnight to 1 pm the next day. He was making $25 a month and had to commute on foot 2 miles each way to get to work and back. The biographer also comments on the clientele for the restaurant: “Part of his [Bear’s] work was taking a tray of food now and then to the red light district 2 blocks away. He said he always wore his white work apron to identify that he was there from the restaurant and not a patron.” Bear found the work too taxing and quit after 13 weeks on the job.[3]

William McGilchrist had worked as a clerk for the George brothers in the restaurant as early as 1905. A few years later he and his son would take over the management of the restaurant. During their reign one newspaper article describes the restaurant and its mission: “From one border of the state to the other the White House Restaurant is favorably known as Salem’s popular eating house, for the traveler who happens in the city for a meal, for him who visits Salem regularly and often, and for hundreds of Salem people who are not fortunate enough to have tables of their own. The White House Restaurant is not operated as a high class grill, but it is a popular restaurant where splendid meals are served at popular prices, and where the hungry man or woman may be certain of a wholesome, clean and attractively served meal. To serve one thousand people is not an uncommon day’s business in busy times and thrice that number have been accommodated in one day. Besides the long lunch counter, in the center of which the waiters work and are thus able to give the quickest service possible, there is a ladies’ dining room adjoining and also a second floor dining room, making this by far the largest as well as most popular restaurant in the valley.”[4]

As this quote alludes to, food preparation was different for many people at the turn of the 20th century than it is today. You couldn’t just walk down to the grocery store and pick up a microwave dinner. Meal making was a production that took time, experience and a kitchen, to which many single workers in Salem didn’t have access. Restaurants like the White House, catered to these workers, providing a home cooked meal and many would eat there every day. This included holiday meals. One 1914 advertisement announced 50 cent Thanksgiving dinners, which included “your choice of turkey, goose, duck or chicken with your choice of pastry and plain pudding.”[5]

Kylie Pine is the curator at the Willamette Heritage Center, a 5-acre historical park and museum in dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

[1] Capital Journal October 27, 1896, page 1

[2] See Receipt for meals for prisoners in WHC collections dated December 10, 1904. WHC 1994.056.0023.

[3] Charles A. Bear Biography, Manuscript. WHC 1989.014.

[4] Oregon Statesman Sat Jan 1, 1910 “White House Restaurant” last page. WHC Collections 2012.032.0010

[5] Capital Journal, November 23, 1914 pg 2

See Also:

Oregon Statesman Sat Jan 1, 1910 “White House Restaurant” last page
Willamette Heritage Center collections (2012.032.0010)
The above illustration is an interior view of the most popular and widely known restaurant in the Willamette Valley. From one border of the state to the other the White House Restaurant is favorably known as Salem’s popular eating house, for the traveler who happens in the city for a meal, for him who visits Salem regularly and often, and for hundreds of Salem people who are not fortunate enough to have tables of their own. The White House Restaurant is not operated as a high class grill, but it is a popular restaurant where splendid meals are served at popular prices, and where the hungry man or woman may be certain of a wholesome, clean and attractively served meal. To serve one thousand people is not an uncommon day’s business in busy times and thrice that number have been accommodated in one day. Besides the long lunch counter, in the center of which the waiters work and are thus able to give the quickest service possible, there is a ladies’ dining room adjoining and also a second floor dining room, making this by far the largest as well as most popular restaurant in the valley.

The White House Restaurant is operated by Wim. McGilchrist & Son. They assumed the charge on November 7, a little over three years ago, and perhaps one of the best evidences of the growth of Salem, as well as popularity of the present management of the restaurant is shown in the fact that each year has shown an increase of 25 per cent in the receipts and number of people served. Mr. McGilchrist having steadfastly maintained low prices regardless of fluctuations in food values. One point in which he distinctly scores is in giving good service and maintaining the same prices during fair week, the Fourth of July, and other such rush seasons in which it might be possible to increase prices and diminish service.

The firm will be enlarged this morning by the addition of James McGilchrist, another son, and will in the future be known as Wm. McGilchrist & Sons. James is as popular with the public as his elder brother, and will undoubtedly be a considerable force in the future conduct of the White House Restaurant.

Captial journal October 22, 1896, Pg 4
“A Big Vote—If a popular vote were taken today, there is no possible doubt but four to one one stand up for the meals served at the White House restaurant of Kenworthy & George. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063955/1896-10-22/ed-1/seq-4/

Capital Journal October 24, 1896 pag 4
“The White house—Whether Mr. Bryan or McKinley go there the meals at the White House Restaurant take the lead in Salem. Kenworthy & George.
http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063955/1896-10-24/ed-1/seq-4/

Capital Journal October 27, 1896, page 1
The Place—For the best meals, the biggest meals, the best cooked and best served for 15 cents, go to the White House Restaurant of Kenworthy & George

Capital Journal October 28, 1896, page 1
Square Up—The best all-around, square-up bon-ton meals for everybody are served at the White House restaurant by Kenworthy & George.

Weekly Chemawa American May 9, 1902 page 7
http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/ca15001324/1902-05-09/ed-1/seq-7/
The White House Restaurant is the most popular eating house in Salem. 106 state Street.

Weekly Chemawa American Dec 11, 1903 pg 9
White House Restaurant 106 State ST N
Headquarters for Chemawa people when in Salem. Chicken Dinners. Every Sunday served in the most appetizing styles for the small price of an ordinary meal is a special feature. George Bros. Prorprieters.
http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/ca15001324/1903-12-11/ed-1/seq-9/

Capital Jouarnal, November 23, 1914 pg 2
Special 50 c Thanksgiving Dinner
Relishes
Soups
Fish
Your choice of Turkey, Goose, Duck or Chicken with your choice of Pastry and Plain Pudding. The White House Restaurant. “Quality and Service” 362 State Street.
http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063957/1914-11-23/ed-1/seq-2/

Capital Journal December 25, 1915 page 5
Thanking patrons advertisement
http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063957/1915-12-25/ed-1/seq-5/

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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