Interior of the White House Restaurant c. 1905. WHC Collections 2013.013.0058 (Courtesy/ Willamette Heritage Center)

Editor's note: This column is part of a new effort from Salem Reporter to highlight local history in collaboration with area historians and historical organizations. If you have any feedback or would like to participate, please contact managing editor Rachel Alexander at [email protected]

Prisoners used to be held in the old Marion County Courthouse and original Salem City Hall. Lacking institutional kitchens and staff, the city and county relied upon local restaurants to help feed inmates. This tradition continued into the 1960s. Bruce Nopp of Nopp’s Golden Pheasant remembers delivering meals to the old City Hall.

The White House Restaurant (c.1896-1932) was an early Salem institution, located for most of its life on State Street, where Cooke Stationary is today. In addition to 24-hour meal service, the White House Restaurant offered a special ladies dining room. 

Working conditions at restaurants are often tough, but in the late 1890s they were extreme. When Charles A. Bear went to work at the White House Restaurant he had 13 hour shifts that ran midnight to 1 p.m. the next day. He was making $25 a month and had to commute on foot two miles each way to get to work and back. A family biographer also noted that “part of his work was taking a tray of food now and then to the red light district two 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.

Receipt for meals provided Sheriff Culver by the White House Restaurant, 1904. WHC Collections 94.56.23 (Courtesy/ Willamette Heritage Center)

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