Honey Hollow Farm

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Jack and Mary Dant

At the time of the 1957 merger decision, Miss Catlin’s School had stood on Culpepper Terrace since 1917. Many long-time Portlanders can visualize the handsome, vaguely Tudor main building with narrow-paned bay windows and French doors. Inside, the venerated Senior Staircase led to the second floor and the studio, home to morning assemblies. Furnished with well-worn Oriental rugs and selected pieces from Ruth Catlin’s travels, the building exuded a certain faded elegance, fondly recalled by alumnae of the school.

In 1957, the Catlin-Hillside campus, saturated with groundwater springs and blessed with precious little sunlight, presented a cramped prospect for the 300 students of the newly combined schools. Worse yet, the stately main building tilted badly. The doors and windows were noticeably out of alignment. Students seated near these windows suffered fierce drafts, and the floors sloped alarmingly, especially on the third floor.

Living room at Miss Catlin's

The Gabel campus on Southwest 78th Avenue offered an appealing alternative for a growing school. It included the main buildings of the former Multnomah Gold Club and 36 rolling acres in a pastoral setting in sight of a dairy farm.

The club’s handsome dining room, with five pairs of French doors that opened on to a veranda, functioned as the school’s library, theater, and auditorium. Other rooms in the club house served as classrooms. Priscilla Gabel added an unheated gymnasium and secured permission to use the first fairway directly across the gravel road as an athletic playing field.

For the first year as a combined school, 1957–58, both campuses were used. Grades one through five were on the Gabel campus, and grades six through twelve were on the Catlin-Hillside campus. For the first time, boys were admitted to ninth and tenth grade on Culpepper Terrace, reinstating the coeducational Upper School Gabel Country Day had discontinued in 1945. Most people assumed that in the future the entire school, Catlin Gabel School, would be located on the Gabel campus.

No sooner had Catlin and Gabel merged in 1957 than Beaverton condemned the Gabel property to make way for Raleigh Park, a new public school that would serve the burgeoning community. The combined school now needed a new home.

The Gabel playground in the 1940s

Board president Henry Failing Cabell was relieved to learn that the Honey Hollow Farm on Barnes Road was empty and for sale. Jack Dant’s ship-building business forced him to relocate the family to San Francisco. As former Gabel School parents, Jack and Mary Dant were interested in helping the school.

Cabell realized that Catlin Gabel needed to fund the purchase of the Dant property and the necessary renovations. Cabell offered a $100,000 matching challenge grant to the school and enlisted Tom Malarkey and Alice “Binxy” Biddle Beebe ’35 to co-chair a successful campaign for the match.

In March of 1958, Jack and Mary Dant, then of Atherton, California, sold the 25 acres to Catlin Gabel School at a “good friend price.” (When asked in 1995 by a Catlin Gabel first grader why he thought his home would make a good school, Jack Dant candidly responded, “I didn’t.”)

The rambling farm house offered great possibilities for the Upper School. The handsome living room, with builtin bookcases, was a natural space for the library and study hall. The first-floor master bedroom created a good-sized classroom where new headmaster Kim MacColl could teach history. The smaller, paneled bedrooms upstairs made cozy classrooms for math and Latin. But the Dants’ farm still needed work for the 70 Upper School students arriving in the fall of 1958.

Henry Cabell asked George Moore to donate his construction company’s services to transform the Honey Hollow Farm. Moore entrusted the project to his foreman, Homer Cecil, with one caution: “Just don’t spend too much money!”

In what is now called the Dant House, Cecil expanded the breakfast room onto the west-facing porch and created Room #6, which served as the lunch room through the late 1950s. For science classrooms, Cecil’s crew enclosed the attached three-car garage to create a classroom for biology. At the same time, they also enclosed the long, open shed attached to the caretaker’s house and poured a concrete floor for the other science classrooms.

The sheep barn was the last project.

The campus near the time of the merger

Dant had used his knowledge of ship building to buttress the structure with an ingenious configuration of cables and turnbuckles. The feed stored on the upper level was passed through two large openings to the sheep pen and horse stalls below. Cecil covered these openings, laid a new floor, cut three new windows, and installed overhead lighting and protective grills for the windows.

In short order, the loft of the Dants’ sheep barn became the school’s physical education classroom, assembly room, theater, concert hall, and more. Audiences soon discovered that this large, open room with a new wooden floor and vaulted ceiling produced superb acoustics.

In addition to classes, concerts, and assemblies that first year, the Barn saw distinguished visitors such as James Reston, then the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, who addressed the Upper School about the Far East. The Barn was home to Antigone, directed by Vivian Johannes, and the 1959 senior prom, decorated with the Portland skyline.

Many, of course, were sad to leave the old campus. They knew they would miss English class with “Mrs. Jo” in the Attic. Some sensed the end of an era, the end of Miss Catlin’s School for Girls. After years on Culpepper Terrace, they felt a sense of loss, but going to that beautiful country home softened the sorrow.

“I thought it was paradise,” Susan Hendrix Green ’59 exclaims. “The house itself was wonderful. In the spring, with the flowers, it was just exquisite.”

The class of 1959 felt privileged. As Nancy Johnsrud Dudley ’59 recalls, “It was kind of an adventure. We had a sense of being part of the change. Being part of something new, being part of some pioneering.” Being crammed into a little bedroom for mathematics and hatching fruit fly eggs in a former garage were just part of the change. They also were the first class to graduate with a male head of the school. They revered Esther Strong, but they adored E. Kimbark MacColl. Just 33 years old, handsome, and very articulate, MacColl was, as one woman recalls, “the living end.”

Roger Bachman and Kim MacColl plan the new campus

Many students had cars, and the favorite off-campus spot was Skyline Burger, better known as “the Speck.” That first year on Barnes Road, students had to be on the faculty honor roll to leave campus during the day. For more than a few, “the Speck” was a great incentive to study hard.

In May of 1959, Catlin Gabel held its first graduation in the Barn, The seniors envisioned a traditional procession in white organdy dresses with blue sashes and bouquets of delphiniums. MacColl was horrified, calling the idea “archaic,” but the seniors prevailed. At graduation, MacColl proudly remarked that they all looked beautiful.

Over the next few years, Catlin Gabel School saw exciting developments: the first indoor tennis court west of the Mississippi was constructed, baseball great Jackie Robinson addressed the student body in the Barn, and Portland’s future mayor, Vera Katz, taught modern dance in the Barn.

By September of 1967, the seventh and eight grades had moved from the Culpepper Terrace campus to Honey Hollow. In 1968, Catlin Gabel completed the Lower School and sold the Catlin-Hillside buildings to the Portland Art Museum. Ten years after purchasing the Dant property, Catlin Gabel finally had just one home.

Generations of Catlin Gabel community members have worked to safeguard the pastoral atmosphere of the campus and the unique character of the Dant House. Even as great change occurs, great care is given to maintaining the farm 40 years after it became the Catlin Gabel campus.

Peter S. Eddy, PhD, is former alumni director at Catlin Gabel.