QBARS - v10n3 The Exhibition Coolhouse Story

The Exhibition Coolhouse Story
By Ruth M. Hansen

It all started during the 1953 A.R.S. Annual Show when a group of members began talking over the possibility of a greenhouse. It had been dreamily thought of before, but at this particular time things were different for among those taking part in this discussion were Mr. & Mrs. D. W. James and Dr. Carl Phetteplace of Eugene, Ore.
These members were not just idle enthusiasts but men and women with years of rhododendron culture and experience in back of them, and having such a background, it was only natural they should have small greenhouses of their own for the growing of certain tender varieties. But now it seemed that some of these plants had outgrown their usefulness and it became either a matter of losing these choice plants or finding a home large enough to house them. The question arose in our discussion, Why shouldn't the Test Garden have its own greenhouse for the growing of these same tender varieties? So an idea was born and in the next instant the society was offered part of these large collections. From that time there was no doubt but that someday the garden would have a greenhouse.
Since the Test Garden is for an educational purpose, as well as a testing ground, every type of rhododendron possible should be represented here, for where else can the public see such plants? The genus rhododendron represents one of the finest groups of plants in existence with the widest range of growing sizes found in any plant family. All sizes and shapes can be grown successfully out of doors in our climate with the exception of certain members of the Maddenii and Boothii series; therefore we had a challenge to build a greenhouse for these tender varieties, and also to make this Test Garden a Rhododendron Botanical Garden.
A meeting of the Test Garden Committee was held later in the Summer and it was decided that we should proceed with our plans towards a Coolhouse. Then in September a truck load of these tender varieties from Mr. & Mrs. James and Dr. Carl Phetteplace were brought up from Eugene and farmed out to the greenhouses of two of our staunch members, John G. Bacher and Joe Klupenger. Each was told that his care of these plants would be for only a matter of a few months, but the months rolled into almost three years.
Later in October a committee was formed to work out a system for the financing of this project and early in November a circular letter was mailed out requesting donations. About $670. was realized from this first endeavor. The next big move was the placing of donation barrels in the Test Garden during the 1954 Spring Show. This, however, was an embarrassing venture for the total contributions amounted to about seven cents per person. A mere $400.00 was realized from the two day show. Things didn't look too good but we continued to talk Coolhouse, provide interest, and hold plant sales. By December the fund contained a little over $2000.00. One of the encouraging factors during all our fund raising was the way the various local Garden Clubs responded. They were wonderful!
January 9th was a bitterly cold day but the Test Garden Committee met at the Gardens with the Superintendent of Parks, Mr. Henry B. Buckley and Mr. Nussbaumer to select a site for the building. After much consideration it was decided that the present location of our shows would be the most suitable even though it meant falling several 100 foot Douglas Firs, a large Western Red Ceder, a Sycamore and two large holly trees.
The 1955 Show was a pay to enter affair which netted over $1000.00. The sale of a Test Garden Booklet which listed all the hybrids and species giving their color and blooming dates added an additional sum to the building fund. The entire gate receipts from the Show were transferred from the Portland Chapter account to the Test Garden Fund by approval of the Board of Directors and the actual expenses of the Show were personally absorbed by the various members of the Show Committee. Needless to say in July another appeal was made for contributions.
As plans for the Coolhouse progressed we realized not only the necessity for this Coolhouse but also the dire need for an Exhibition house; furthermore we were aware that this building must be covered with a plastic material which would offset any damage from falling branches from the large trees during winter storms. C. T. Hansen, Chairman of the Test Garden Committee investigated the possible use of "Quonset" type construction for the Coolhouse. From this idea came many hours in the designing of the building. Final plans were presented to the Directors in September 1955. The central structure, a steel frame Quonset Hut 40' x 40' and 21' high covered with corrugated plastic to serve as the Coolhouse, across the front and half way down each side a porch-like unit 17' wide which would serve for Exhibition and Show purposes. A canvas drop would be used around the outer walls of this show area until such time that we could afford to enclose it with glass or plastic. The cost estimate proposed by the Merrill Steel Co. was $6250.00 exclusive of the foundation, heating and ventilating system. As the Building Fund contained $7093.00, the Directors gave approval for its construction.
Due to the very wet and cold Winter it was impossible to begin construction work until February, when members, in an effort to cut costs braved the chilling wind, rain, snow, hail and mud while digging and building for forms for the footings. At last the trenches were dug and Mr. George Grace of the Grace Construction Co. graciously supplied his Foreman and a helper to give professional help in the framing of the forms. The concrete footings for the main building were poured March 19th, and in the words of our President, "the baby is born."

Steel framework erected on the Society Coolhouse.
Fig. 26  Steel framework erected in early April on the Society cool house.
Grossman photo
Workmen erecting the exhibition section of the cool house.
Fig. 27.  Workmen erecting the exhibition section of the cool house.
Oregon Journal photo

Again more rain, but finally the Merrill Steel Co. began its job of erecting the steel framework. The job was completed by the end of April. After that came the black-topping for the floor of the Exhibition unit. This was completed just a week before the Show. Though the building is up and was used for the Show, it is still not yet completed. The Ventilating and Heating system are not installed.
All the plants previously donated to the Society are now planted in tubs outside the Coolhouse for the Summer, along with another large donation recently received from Mr. & Mrs. D. W. James. These plants will spend the summer outside and will be moved into the Coolhouse along in September.

Coolhouse at Crystal Springs Lake Island
Fig. 28.  The completed exhibition cool house just before show
time at Crystal Springs Lake Island. ( Oregon Journal photo )

So, the big job is over. The building is up and every member of our Society can be proud of it and proud that he belongs to The American Rhododendron Society, the only single plant society we know of that has undertaken such a project. This is a National Test Garden and the Exhibition-Coolhouse is for the use and enjoyment of all who are interested in furthering their knowledge of the Genus rhododendron.

Varieties of Rhododendrons which will be seen in the Coolhouse are:

aureum iteophyllum
boothii johnstoneanum
bullatum kyawii
burmanicum 'Lady Alice Fitzwilliams'
crassum lindleyi
carneum maddenii (Rock)
ciliicalyx maddenii (Kingdon-ward)
'Countess of Haddington' megacalyx
'Countess of Sefton' nuttallii
dalhousiae polyandrum
edgeworthii rhabdotum
'Exoniense' scottianum
formosum taggianum
'Forsterianum' 'Victorianum'
'Fragrantissimum' veitchianum