After Tim Hills finished his masters degree in history, he contacted local companies to see if they wanted to hire him to compile a company history they could use in their marketing. He reached out to McMenamins, a local chain with breweries, music venues and hotels throughout Oregon and Washington. At the time, the company was just beginning its restoration of the Crystal Ballroom. The company took Hills on to help research the history of the place, which started as a dance hall in the jazz age, when jazz was still considered “dangerous.” Hills pored over historical records and interviewed people with a connection to the Crystal Ballroom. He says one of his favorite interviews was with the late James Brown. According to Hills, Brown had performed there decades earlier and had vivid memories of the staff and the ballroom’s trademark “floating” dance floor
Hills has been McMenamins’s in-house historian for 15 years. He says he could never have imagined this job for himself. He works closely with artists who use his research to create the decor for McMenamins’s buildings, incorporating historical events and people with a connection to the space. His research into the Hotel Oregon in McMinnville uncovered a 1950 headline about a flying saucer siting. That inspired the UFO Festival, which has grown into the second biggest event of its kind in the nation. (The biggest is in Roswell, New Mexico.)
Are you a historian? What is your job like? What would you like to ask Tim Hills?