A Heart Rekindled

Authored by Michael Larson

Refurbished Blue Garden Facade, 2016 ©TriffenDesign

Refurbished Blue Garden Facade, 2016 ©TriffenDesign

Whether it is from the big screen of American Graffiti, Grease or Jack Rabbit Slim’s from Pulp Fiction or the small screen in Happy Days or Scooby Doo, the malt shop is part of the American consciousness. Dallas, a small town of 14,000 in the heart of Oregon wine country, has a treasure in the Blue Garden Restaurant. After being closed for over a decade, Bob Collins, a Dallas resident, purchased the building and is restoring it to its former glory with the intention of reopening the landmark within the year.1

The Blue Garden, opened originally as a mercantile in 1890 by Charles Bilyeu and A. F. Gardner, was converted into a confectionery and restaurant and then sold to Bill and Elsie Sanders in 1938.2 Under their dedicated leadership it became a Dallas institution providing dancing, nightly music and a gathering spot for Dallas residents to discuss politics, the sports, and local gossip.3

The Blue Garden is more than a restaurant to those who have lived here – it was an institution that,
during its heyday, was the place to be and be seen. With its modern soda fountain, juke box, and bustling, social atmosphere, the Blue Garden was the place for teens to be seen after a game, the prom, or just hanging out.4

On February 15, 2016 when the blue glow of the refurbished façade’s neon lights blinked on for the first time, the illumination was visible on more than just the eyes of the people. The light ignited a passion through the town, as if Dallas has a heart again. It is easy to understand Dallas’s enthusiasm as the City Manager, Ron Foggin comments that “to have it sit there idle and looking so shabby is disconcerting to long‐time residents”5 The building’s structural problems mirrors Dallas’s confidence problems as the city sank into depression after losing industries, businesses, and, ultimately, heart.

The sign’s continuing illumination has brought a fervor and excitement to Dallas that has not been seen for some time. Sue Rohde commented that the Blue Garden is “something people definitely missed and [always] assumed it would start up again.”6 The corresponding Facebook site is accumulating followers, allowing people to talk and help each other relive and discover a lost past.7 Collins, with a great deal of his own money and his entire heart has given something back to the city of Dallas – hope for both the future of Dallas and the citizens who live there.


1Guzman, Jolene. “A Sign of What’s to Come.” Polk County Itemizer Observer (Dallas, OR), February 9, 2016.

1, 5—. “Downtown Eyesore Being Sold.” Polk County Itemizer‐Observer (Dallas, OR) Apr. 1, 2015.

2Itemizer‐Observer. “Blue Garden Restaurant & Garden Spot Lounge.” Itemizer‐Observer (Dallas, OR), Feb. 22, 1978.

7Parks, Geoff. “Bringing Back the Blue Garden of Dallas.” Statesman Journal (Salem, OR), July 29, 2015.

2, 3, 4, 6Sue Rohde, interview by Michael Larson, March 10, 2016.