Machete-wielding squatters invade $1.8M building that was home to iconic Portland strip club

Mary’s Club in Portland isn’t just a strip club, it is an institution — a place where Courtney Love danced before she became Kurt Cobain’s controversial wife and the lead singer for the alternative rock band, Hole.

But now the building that was the home of the iconic club has been taken over by a new group, squatters who reportedly use power tools to gain access to the closed-off property.

The club began on Southwest Broadway in the 1930s as a piano bar and evolved into the city’s first topless bar in 1955. When the Oregan Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that all-nude stripping was protected by the First Amendment, the dancers ditched their remaining clothes, and Mary’s Club became the city’s top spot for adult entertainment.

(Video: YouTube)

Two years ago, Mary’s moved from the ground-floor location it called home for nearly a century, upgrading from its “divey retro vibe ” to less “dingy” digs, the Willamette Week reported in December 2021.

Now, the $1.8 million building — the former Stewart Hotel it used to occupy — is hosting an unwelcome group of machete-wielding squatters, “compounding the plight of an area already wrestling with street crime, drug use and vandalism,” according to Oregon Live.

The building still boasts running electricity, and the squatters are using a fire escape to move in space heaters and mini-fridges through the second-floor windows.

“One man who carries a machete and ushers women in and out of the building at all hours has had food delivered to him at his new ‘home,'” Oregon Live reports. “And just days ago, a red electric doorbell appeared outside a sidewalk entrance on Southwest Eighth Avenue, apparently to alert those living inside to visitors.”

The “insane” situation is the result of a failure on the part of Portland officials to “hold property owners to account for derelict and often dangerous sites while nearby residents and businesses bear the brunt of the fallout,” writes Shane Dixon Kavanaugh.

Cedric Berry opened a State Farm Insurance business next door to the building in 2021, as Mary’s Club was exiting stage right. Every morning he arrives at work an hour early to clean up the alleyway that separates his company from the squatters.

“It’s been absolute insanity,” he told Oregon Live.

“It’s pretty much a cat and mouse game,” said Bassel Ayoub, who owns the building in question. “We don’t like this any more than the neighbors do. I don’t know what else to do at this point.”

He’s tried repeatedly to get Pacific Power to cut the electricity to the building, but, despite the appliances being pulled through the windows, the utility company claims there’s no juice running to the flophouse.

“I haven’t paid a single bill,” Ayoub said. “That’s still a mystery to me.”

Up until “several years ago,” the Stewart Hotel offered 55 single-room-occupancy apartments that, according to a lawsuit filed in 2020 by a group of tenants, provided “a host of squalid conditions including dangerous mold, busted plumbing and appliances and no heat.”

(Video: YouTube)

“I’ve toured a lot of slums and it was the worst place I’ve ever set foot in,” said Michael Fuller, an attorney for the former tenants. “Simply put, it was not safe.”

Ayoub and his business partner, Hadi Nouredine, purchased the rundown building for $1.8 million, a price that reflects the value of the land on which it stands.

To date, the property has a host of outstanding building code violations dating back to 2017, including electrical problems that inspectors say are fire hazards. The building is slated for demolition, and city officials have granted Ayoub and Nouredine two special waivers allowing them to skip addressing the violations as long as the site is kept secure.

“We did not enforce on the fixing of the fire life safety violations,” Ken Ray, a Bureau of Development Services spokesperson, said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense if the building is to be demolished soon.”

Meanwhile, Ayoub said he’s done his best to kick his unwanted guests out, locked up the fire escape ladders, and fitted the sidewalk entrance with metal latches, but those measures haven’t slowed the squatters down. Witnesses and video reveal that they are using extension ladders and power tools to break back in.

“They keep putting up metal strips but one of the guys has a drill gun or screw gun and just opens up the building,” said Frank Corrado, who lives in the adjoining sober-living apartments run by Central City Concern.

After Oregon Live began reaching out to city officials about the property, Ayoub brought a team of contractors to the building to remove what witnesses assumed was stolen property and cover up the Eighth Avenue entrance with a thick slab of plywood.

“It will only take a crowbar to pry that off,” Corrado smirked.

“These guys are relentless,” Berry said. “I’m praying that the owners and the city get this figured out.”

Melissa Fine


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