In 1964, Carton Service purchased its first warehouse on the corner of N.W. 13th and Hoyt. This long vacant, neglected shell of a building was typical of the rundown warehouse district that ran along the avenue. Built in the boom years of 1909-1911 to support the new Hoyt Street Rail yards, the multi-story brick buildings were now out of favor as warehouse and distribution sites. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway system of the 1950s made transportation of freight by truck far more efficient than trains, and 13th Ave's narrow, unpaved railroad street was inhospitable to large-truck traffic.
Harold and Gerald Unkeles - twin brother owners of Carton Service - already recyclers of used boxes, decided to recycle this used-up building as well. Over the next twentysix years (during which time Harold's son, Ken Unkeles, joined the company) the Unkeles family bought and rented five more buildings in the neighborhood, mercilessly stuffing them full of boxes.
By 1990 this shabby street of warehouses was well into its rebirth as the Pearl District - a gentrifying area of restaurants, galleries, retail stores, lofts and offices. Gerald Unkeles had passed away in 1984, and Carton Service, hopelessly cramped for space, moved its operation a mile down the road to its present location on Front Ave. Here, they consolidated their entire inventory into the one larger complex.
The Front Ave. Building, similar in pedigree to Hoyt St. was also built in 1911 to take advantage of the same new Hoyt Street Rail yards. An early owner had been The Rosenberg Bros. & Co., which according to documents found at the Oregon Historical Society was, on October 2, 1927, the largest prune processing plant in the world. During World War II, the site was taken over by the U.S, Navy, who oddly operated a combination boat-building enterprise and naval hospital. Following a period of dormancy, the Standard Steel Co., owned by the Waltuck family, took over operations in 1960. Standard Steel installed three multi-ton overhead cranes in the former ship building bays and used the facility for selling used and recycled steel. By 1990 they had moved on, reforming themselves as The Steelyard, and Carton Service took over.
Now accustomed to renting out extra space to artists in the family's other buildings, Ken made the upper floors of the new building available for creative spaces. Built-out over a number of years, the filbert and prune sorting facilities and old hospital are now home to almost twenty studios. Below, Carton Service operates its business out of the 45,000 sq. ft. on the first floor. At least three of the artists in the upper studios, Dana Louis, David Airhart, and Kathryn Hathaway have been in their studios over twenty years.
Harold Unkeles actively worked in the business up to and including the day he died in February of 2003. In 2006, Mike Howell bought Carton Service and opened a retail box store and manufacturing facility to complement the existing wholesale business. Now, after 60 years, Carton Service continues to provide recycled and reusable packaging to both the artistic community and the Pacific Northwest region at large.
- Ken Unkeles