History of The Frank Estate

Originally purchased in the 1920s by Aaron Meier Frank, nephew of former Oregon Governor Julius Meier, and grandson of Meier & Frank founder, Aaron Meier, The Frank Estate is a living tribute to the deep seeded history of one of Oregon’s most famous families.

Humble Beginnings

First partnered in 1857, Aaron Meier and Emil Frank opened the first Meier & Frank on Front Street in what is now Downtown Portland in a humble 25’ x 100’ storefront. Emil’s brother, Sigmund, was hired only two years later and would eventually replace Emil as Aaron’s business partner. The two families were officially joined in 1885 when Sigmund married Aaron’s only daughter, Fannie.

Through the turn of the century, Meier & Frank would continue to expand, eventually settling in an expansive five-story building on Fifth Avenue in 1898. Considered one of the first true department stores, the 200’ x 100’ building featured modern amenities unheard of at the time, including two elevators. Later expansions, including a ten-story tall annex cemented Meier & Frank into Portland history as the first “skyscraper” in the region.

Courtesy of Gerry Frank

In 1915, the store’s original five-story building was demolished to make room for a bold new sixteen-story store that provided shoppers with eleven-acres of total retail space. Now being led by Abe & Julius Meier (sons of Aaron Meier), Meier & Frank expanded its influence with a dedicated New York buying office and a radio broadcaster centered atop its new Highrise. In 1931, Julius Meier was elected as governor of Oregon where he established the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the Oregon State Police, and paved the way for the development of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams.

In 1937, Julius Meier died, leaving Aaron Meier Frank (son of Sigmund & Fannie) as president of the store. For nearly three decades, he successfully led Meier & Frank through the challenges of World War II and the industrial surge of the 50s and 60s.

A Family Home

Originally used as a summer home, Aaron M. Frank bought the thirty-five-acre plot of land in Garden Home for its ample acreage for his true passion: horses. Located near both the Portland and Nicol riding academies, the property featured an impressive main stable – boasting fourteen stalls, a carriage floor, and chambers for grooms. An additional barn dedicated for brood mares was also constructed, but the centerpiece of this equestrian haven was the 1/8-mile oval track and indoor ring capable of seating hundreds of guests. The estate also featured a well manicured rock garden, a tennis court, a 5-hole golf course, and Oregon’s first Olympic-sized pool, offering a local training area for Olympic hopefuls.

Courtesy of The Washington County Historical Society, Portland, OR

The family home, which resides on a rise looking over the track, features five bedrooms, six bathrooms on the main level, with an additional bathroom, bedroom, and wine cellar on the lower level. The main living room fireplace is massive, even by traditional standards, and provided an amazing backdrop for the lavish parties often hosted at the venue.

With deep connections to the spheres of both politics and entertainment, including Amelia Earhart who had a featured label with Meier &Frank, and Clark Gable who once sold ties at the store, the Frank Family reveled in luxurious company. Frank’s grandmother, Jeanette Hirsch Meier, of the Hirsch family bolstered those connections. The Hirsch family was one of the founders of the White Stag Sportswear company, which installed the iconically bright White Stag sign in downtown Portland in 1940 (the sign was later purchased by the city and updated to feature its name).

From One Family to Many

In 1989, the estate was sold, and construction began on a collection of townhome and apartment buildings to surround the main house. Segmented with well-manicured hedges and rose gardens, The Frank Estate still features the iconic landmarks built by the Frank family, including the 1/8-mile horse track.

Courtesy of The Washington County Historical Society, Portland, OR

The family home is now used as the main leasing office and still features nearly all the original features (residents often enjoy morning coffee in front of the oversized fireplace). Though officially part of Portland, The Frank Estate feels a thousand miles away and isolated from the busy lifestyle we’ve all become so accustom to. Walking paths, including the Fanno Creek trail, crisscross across the property and provide residents a relaxing escape.

Just as it did for Aaron Meier Frank and his family, The Frank Estate continues to provide a peaceful home for its residents to pursue their passions and enjoy the unmatched tranquility of the Pacific Northwest.

A special thank you to Gerry Frank, The Garden Home History Project, and The Washington County Historical Society for reference material and images.