After nearly 60 years in Northeast Portland, the music is slowly winding down at Gordon’s Fireplace Shop in the Grant Park neighborhood. Gordon Malafouris, the shop’s owner since its early days as an original tenant at Lloyd Center when it opened in August of 1960, will be retiring this summer – for now.
Gordon’s doors will remain open until July 25 and everything in the store – fireplaces, clocks, chandeliers, furniture and even the fixtures embracing years of local history – is priced to sell before that date.
Gordon’s current space at 3300 N.E. Broadway is owned by the Jo-Ne Family Limited Partnership. Greg Arntson of Albina Fuel, a spokesman for the partnership, said that demolition of the building is very unlikely and that the family is exploring development options leaning more toward a renovation, with significant cleanup of the space on tap for the near future.
Gordon’s moved to the Broadway property in 1990 after 30 years on Lloyd Center’s main floor, leaving when the construction began that eventually covered the open-air mall. The Broadway building was previously used as warehouse space for Albina Fuel, when it was headquartered across the street. Before that, it was home to Tarlow’s Furniture and also has a history as an aircraft factory and a warehouse and workshop for the Oregon Home Builders company – which built several of the neighborhood’s many National Historic Register homes.
“Gordon is a very good businessman,” said Arntson. “Not many people know that he’s a ‘decorator to the stars.’ Quite a few celebrities own homes on the Oregon Coast and Gordon would handle both their decorating needs and provide whatever was needed for their projects out of his shop.”
Perhaps better known as an entertainer than as a retailer, Malafouris’ stately home on Blue Lake is a testament to the design skills he practiced throughout his career. Along with the playful knickknacks from his shop – a massive, brightly lit juke box, a grand playing piano – his walls are hung with dozens of photos of himself and his celebrity friends from years in the entertainment business: Ed Sullivan, Marilyn Monroe, George Bush, Telly Savalis, Bob Mackie, Debbie Reynolds, Oliver North and many others.
Malafouris grew up in Northeast Portland with brothers John and Dan and sister Frances. Brother John, who recently passed away, was also an early Lloyd Center tenant and owned Pepe’s Bottle Shop on the mall before becoming a manager at Gordon’s shop. Brother Dan “the Fireplace Man” was also in the fireplace business, as an engineer and manufacturer of a global line of products, with several factories throughout the western states.
The family attended Glenhaven elementary school across the street from their home in the Montavilla neighborhood. Malafouris demonstrated an early affinity for furniture, building a chair when he was about six years old that he still has in his basement somewhere. He skipped a grade and was always one of the youngest students in his classes. He graduated from Benson High School and, for one term, transferred to what was then Washington High School and is now Revolution Hall.
“I met a girl there, so I quit Benson for a term to chase after her,” said Malafouris. “Her folks didn’t like me and it didn’t work out, so I transferred back to Benson.”
After high school, Malafouris joined the Navy and worked as an international ski instructor before landing a job as a singer and dancer at NBC Studios in New York. While performing at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, Malafouris met Portland and Seattle entertainment legend Gracie Hansen, who was producing and starring in a burlesque show at the fair’s 700-seat “adult entertainment” complex, Gracie Hansen’s Paradise International. Hansen was impressed with Malafouris’ singing and lyrical ability and the two struck up a friendship that led to Malafouris becoming Hansen’s manager and the two producing now-legendary shows together during the late 1960s and early 1970s at the Roaring 20’s Room in Harvey Dick’s Hoyt Hotel. Malafouris was reluctant to work with Hansen at first, and turned down her offers to work together several times.
“I finally said ‘Okay, I’ll do it, but I want to have the last word on who’s going to be on stage and I want to choose the music,’” he said. Malafouris was Hansen’s campaign manager when she ran for governor of Oregon in 1970 and placed third in the state’s Democratic primary.
“I’ve had my eye on Tom McCall’s seat for a long time,” Hansen famously said at the time.
“There was a lot of fun in that,” said Malafouris. “I produced her radio and television spots and we’d travel the state and there would be parades everywhere we would go.”
“I worked the nightclub job and the Lloyd Center store at the same time for many years. It wasn’t easy, but it was a great deal of fun. The businesses overlapped quite a bit and I met customers at the shows who would come see me at the store. If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I got tangled up with quite a few wonderful people.”
“We had three junior high kids come into the store the other day and they all bought something,” said Steven Neubauer, a Malfafouris friend who worked for Gordon’s at Lloyd Center in the 1980s and has been helping out in the shop as it winds down. “One of them bought an old press-board sign. They all wanted to get a little piece of Gordon’s history before it closes. It was endearing, you know? They spent a few bucks and walked away with something. It’s been a real testament to Gordon’s iconic legacy. People have appreciated him in this town for a very, very long time. Gordon’s is the place where you’ll find everything you didn’t know you wanted.”
“I’ve spoken with many customers that have come in since we’ve announced the closing,” said Kathy Sorenson, Malafouris’ assistant. “They remember going to Gordon’s with their parents and how they would shop at Gordon’s in the way that people used to shop at a J.C. Penney’s or a Macy’s. They remember the experience of it and they’ve remembered it for years and years and years.”
“We hired performers from around the world to work at Gordon’s and it was quite special,” said Malafouris. “The store was like a show. We had something in there for everyone and we had the orchestra people working there and the show people and we kept the music playing. There isn’t another store like it anywhere in the world and I don’t think there will be again.”
For more information, call (503) 288-5436 or visit www.gordonsfireplaceshop.net before July 25.