PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The future of the beloved Alpenrose Dairy in Southwest Portland is back in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Members of the family that started the dairy and family entertainment complex have filed a lawsuit to prevent an older generation of family members from selling it for potential redevelopment.
The suit claims the older members of the family turned down a $7 million offer from the younger generation, and instead intend to sell it to an out-of-state company, which allegedly would close the dairy and halt its community-oriented activities.
Family members filing the Aug. 16 suit include Carl Cadonau III, Cary Cadonau and Tracey Cadonau McKinnon. They are suing older family members who constitute the dairy’s board as well as Smith Brothers Farms, the company based in Washington state that allegedly has agreed to buy the dairy.
The younger family members had filed an earlier suit to block a previous attempt to sell the dairy earlier this year, which — as the Tribune first reported in March — also involved Smith Brothers Farms.
The news of a potential sale sparked a community outcry due to an array of facilities built for the community’s use, including ball fields, a midget car-racing track, a bike-racing track, an 600-seat opera house, and a western-themed Dairyville Village used for holiday family entertainment.
According to the new suit, the parties had been negotiating the sale of the dairy to the younger family members, but the board members abruptly agreed to sell it to the Smith Brothers Farms instead.
The suit claims the younger family members are offering more money, but that the older generation wants the dairy to shut down so the land can be sold. The legal action asks the court to block the sale of the dairy to Smith Brothers, and to force board members to sell to the younger family members instead.
The suit has its roots in Alpenrose’s long family history.
In 1891, Florian Cadonau began delivering milk to downtown Portland. His son, Henry, opened Alpenrose in 1916 with his wife, Rosina; it was named for a Swiss flower to honor their heritage. Their kids, Carl and Anita, expanded the dairy, with Anita marrying into the Birkland family.
In the 1950s, according to family lore, Carl built the ball fields to keep his own kids out of Rosina’s rose gardens. He built Dairyville, too, offering family activities and fun that continue today, including the opera house used by local schools and theater companies, model railroad clubs and other features. The midget race track and bike track, or velodrome, followed.
Carl’s son, Carl Jr., ran the business for a while, and Rod Birkland took over after him.
For a time it was profitable, but in recent years the economics of dairy have changed, observers told the Tribune in March. Once a full-fledged dairy farm, Alpenrose now strictly processes milk that’s brought in via tanker truck from other farms, turning it into homogenized products in cartons, or making cottage cheese, sour cream or seasonal eggnog.
With large customers gaining clout in the dairy market, many of Alpenrose’s local competitors are gone. Instead, chains like Walmart and Albertson’s have their own dairies supplying the store brand.
Meanwhile, things changed for the Cadonau and Birkland families as well. Several years ago, an arrangement franchising and supplying Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores in the Pacific Northwest ended, cutting into profits and trimming the dividends received by family members.
As the number of Cadonau and Birkland descendants has grown, the number among them with strong ties to the dairy has shrunk. Only a few family members today work on the farm.
The new lawsuit filed by family members names board members Rod Birkland, his brother Wendell, and the plaintiff’s aunts, Barbara Deeming and Anita Cadonau-Huseby.
It also names Smith Brothers Farms, which in March declined to confirm or deny the Tribune’s report that it was moving to purchase Alpenrose.
Earlier this month, responding to the new suit, Smith Brothers CEO Dustin Highland issued a statement denying that the company would shut down Alpenrose’s milk processing operation.
“There are no plans to shutter their current facilities,” Highland said, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The terms of the agreement include a lease of the existing dairy operating facilities.”
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