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The Namesake of the New Holmes Hall

“Ye gads, a one-track town.”

Edna Levy Frank was underwhelmed. It was 1915 and the daughter of a successful San Francisco jeweler had just moved to Portland after marrying Lloyd Frank, a scion of the Meier & Frank department store family.

But she ultimately took the smaller town to heart and helped propel Portland—and an upstart college—onto a greater stage.

The public came to know her through Fir Acres, the grand estate that Lloyd and Edna built on 63 acres in the southwest hills in 1925. Instead of treating it as a private reserve for her family, she made it a welcoming place for Portlanders.

This open hospitality stood in contrast to the tenor of the times. There existed then, writes Stephen Dow Beckham, professor emeritus of history, “an atmosphere of discrimination against Jews. Although Portland’s clubs, golf courses, and social circles were barred to them, [the Franks] rose above the bigotry of the early 20th century and embraced the city and its civic organizations with grace and generosity. They used their home and its grounds to foster good works enjoyed by thousands.”

Those grounds and especially their beautiful flowers drew Edna’s personal attention, even prompting standoffs with the head gardener, who would not tolerate the estate’s mistress cutting her own blossoms.

In 1932, Edna and Lloyd separated and divorced. Edna and her children left Fir Acres in 1935, and she later married W.H. “Ted” Holmes, an importer and exporter.

In 1942, through a gift-sale made possible by Lloyd and Edna Frank and Lloyd’s brother, Aaron Frank, the trustees of Albany College acquired the Fir Acres estate. Edna Frank Holmes became a trustee of the now-renamed Lewis & Clark College in 1945, serving for more than three decades before becoming a life trustee. Over the years, she also remained active in Portland’s civic and cultural life. She died June 17, 1990.

Legally, ownership of Fir Acres Estate transferred on June 30, 1942, when the property deed was recorded at Multnomah County Courthouse. But symbolically, the transfer took place eight days later, when new president Morgan Odell and his family arrived after driving from Los Angeles to Portland in two days at 35 miles per hour. As a travel-weary Odell, his wife, and their two teenaged sons piled out of their old DeSoto, Edna came out of the manor house and welcomed these newest California transplants to Oregon and their new home.

The record doesn’t say, but surely she greeted the Odells with a bouquet of flowers—each one, no doubt, handpicked.

For information on Holmes Hall, Lewis & Clark’s newest residence hall, check out Holmes Sweet Home.

The Chronicle Magazine

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