This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published June 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.
“Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please. Right here from the frosty fingertips of Farrell’s fantastic fountain is the largest sundae in all the world. Now this sundae has 8 ½ pounds of ice cream, gobs and gobs of whip cream, bananas, nuts, and cherries. Why you name it, it’s got it in it. It’s called our Farrell’s Zoo and it takes two strong men to carry it. “ And off it raced, a giant stainless steel bowl of ice cream cradled in a wooden board balanced on the shoulders of two strong young men. Sirens blaring, bells clanging around and around the restaurant they went until finally it made it to the customer’s table.
Just in case you’re curious, the Farrell’s Zoo, or Portland Zoo as it was originally called, contained a giant scoop each of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip mint, peppermint, and spumone ice cream to make the first layer. Orange, raspberry and lemon sherbet alternated with scoops of vanilla to create the second layer. Poured over the entire bowl were the following toppings: strawberry, chocolate, pineapple, butterscotch and blackberry. Three bananas were cut crosswise and spaced evenly around the bowl. A stripe of whipped cream decorated the edge of the bowl between each banana slice. Then rosettes of whipped cream were sprayed on top of each banana and topped with a plastic toy animal. The crowning touch were the chopped toasted almonds and cherries sprinkled generously over the whole bowl.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour was founded in the Portland metro-area in 1963 by Bob Farrell and Ken McCarthy and it didn’t take long for Farrell’s to become a household word synonymous with entertainment, family fun, and birthday parties. At the height of its popularity, Farrell’s had 130 locations nationwide. Why, Farrell’s had it all, fantastic desserts, oversize portions, and a rowdy but fun party atmosphere that families absolutely loved.
Once the first parlour was established, interest began to be generated within the franchising community. On November 9, 1965, a second parlour and the first franchised location was opened in Salem in the Candelaria Shopping Center at 2605 Commercial St. SE, now occupied by a Party Mart store. The Salem shop was owned and operated by Harold M. “Dutch” Holland and his wife Shirley, residents of Lake Oswego.
The Salem restaurant was smaller than its Portland counterpart and did not have a separate party room, though the upper dining room could be cordoned off for private parties. The restaurant was a split level built into the hillside. The main restaurant dining area was 6-7 steps lower than the upper dining area which had a half wall so that the lower portion of the restaurant was still visible. It boasted red and white canopies over the food preparation and display areas, a coin operated player piano, black and white tiled floor, and the antique back bar where ice cream dishes were prepared dated back to 1865. It had originally been made in Chicago, shipped by wagon to Seattle, and then to the Klondike. The Hollands purchased it from the Pioneer Museum in Demming, Washington.
Plagued by what some would call misfortune or bad luck, the restaurant had a rough opening, enduring picketing by union members upset by the non-union subcontractors employed to build Candelaria Shopping Center and remodel the restaurant space. The picketing continued off and on for approximately a month and was followed by a boycott by AFL-CIO and fellow supportive unions.
According to the city directories, the restaurant was open for approximately 5 years. Then, according to one eye-witness account, it literally disappeared overnight. In an oral history interview with David Birch, millwright at the Willamette Heritage Center, we learned that the night it closed Farrell’s hosted the end-of-year staff party for the teachers from nearby Candelaria School. Around 8 p.m. that night, the owner stepped out from behind the back bar and announced, “Eat the house dry – free ice cream until it’s gone.” David’s mother, a teacher at Candelaria made a quick phonecall that brought neighbor friends and her family down to the restaurant to enjoy the free ice cream treats.
It was very memorable for David because it was the first and only time he would have a Portland Zoo Sundae because the price was right (free) and because the neighbor friend sitting with him bet $100 that he could not finish it all by himself. But he did, nearly 4 gallons worth of ice cream, all in 2 hours, earning himself Farrell’s button that said, “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s”. By 10:00 p.m. that night the restaurant was out of ice cream and the owner closed up the doors, never to open again. According to David by the next day the restaurant had been stripped of all furnishings, equipment, supplies. The owner had even paid extra to have the Farrell’s sign mounted on the outside removed. Everything loaded up in a truck and hauled back up to Portland, the home and parent company of the famous ice cream parlour.
What precipitated this quick, yet final closing night? Inquiring minds at the Willamette Heritage Center would definitely like to know. Do you have a Farrell’s memory you’d like to share?