Portland Public Art and Architecture
Portland Public Art
Downtown Portland is filled with public art, including sculptures, fountains, murals, paintings, photography, and other public expressions of creativity. The Regional Arts and Culture Council offers a free Public Art Walking Tour Map, available from Public Art Gallery on the second floor of the Portland Building.
The Public Art Gallery is an excellent place to start your tour as it displays a number of paintings and photographs by top regional artists, all part of the city’s collection of art. There’s more of the city’s public art collection on display in City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave.), the Justice Center (1120 SW 3rd Ave.), and the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.
For outdoor sculpture and installations, check out the following areas: If you start your public art tour at the Portland Building, you can’t miss Portlandia, the enormous hammered-copper statue that presides over the main entrance. The South Park Blocks have a number of public statues, including an equestrian bronze of Teddy Roosevelt as a Rough Rider, a brooding statue of Abraham Lincoln, and Rebecca at the Well (also called the Shemanski Fountain), a 1920s gift to the city from a Polish immigrant that depicts the biblical Rebecca fetching water.
Also on the South Park Blocks, the Memorial Sculpture Mall at the Portland Art Museum features a number of outdoor sculptures, including Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein.
Pioneer Courthouse Square is another focus for public art. A whimsical “Weather Machine” in the Square’s northwest corner puts on a show of predicting the weather each day at noon, with mist, music, and the cuckoo clock–like emergence of a symbol to forecast the weather. The lifelike statue Allow Me portrays a businessman hailing a cab; it’s so realistic that you’ll look twice. On the next block, along SW Yamhill and SW Morrison Streets, are fountains that feature bronze bears, ducks, deer, and beavers cavorting in the water.
Two of Portland’s fountains are worth a detour. In Waterfront Park, the Salmon Street Springs is a large fountain that recycles 4,924 gallons of water per minute in a changing display of patterns. Ira’s Fountain, in the forecourt of Keller Auditorium (SW 3rd Ave. and Clay St.) is a terraced fountain that resembles an enormous waterfall. About 13,000 gallons of water per minute cascade through this fountain. It’s especially lovely when it’s lit from below on evenings when there are performances at Keller Auditorium.
Portland has many notable buildings, both old and new. From its beginnings in the 1840s to the 1870s, Portland was built mostly of wood. However, after a series of fires in the 1870s, which together burned much of the original downtown, Portland was rebuilt in brick and stone. By this time the merchant kings of Portland felt like displaying their affluence, and a brand-new and very glamorous city was built between 1880 and 1915. A contemporary traveler commented in the 1890s that Portland had the “finest commercial street west of St. Louis.” At the time, the center of the city was along SW Front Avenue (now SW Naito Parkway).
However, little of this area’s very ornate architecture survives except in photos, having been leveled in the 1940s and 1950s to build freeways along the Willamette River (now Waterfront Park).
However, many examples of beautiful historic — and modern — architecture remain in Portland. From Pioneer Courthouse Square you can see a number of notable buildings. On SW Morrison Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway is the American Bank Building, built in 1913 from a design by famed architect A. W. Doyle. Doyle is also responsible for the design of the building just to the east, the block-square Meier and Frank Building (now Macy’s and the Nines Hotel), built in 1909.
Both these buildings (and the Jackson Tower/Oregon Journal Building, across the Square at Broadway and SW Yamhill Street, 1912) are faced in white-glazed terra-cotta tile. These massive gleaming white buildings were responsible for Portland’s onetime moniker “the White City.”
Immediately east of the Square is the Pioneer Courthouse itself. Begun in 1869, it’s the oldest public building in Oregon and the second oldest west of the Mississippi. Kitty-corner to the square to the southwest is one of Portland’s most pleasing modern buildings, the 27-story Fox Tower, built in 2000 with a curving facade that looks like a cruise ship.
North on Broadway are two other very handsome historic structures. At SW Washington Street and Broadway is the Vintage Plaza Hotel, a marvelous example of late Victorian (1894) Romanesque, built of local basalt and red brick. The U.S. National Bank Building (1917), at SW Broadway and Stark Street (main entrance on SW 6th Ave.), is a grand neoclassical structure faced with 54-foot Corinthian columns.
Just around the corner, at SW 6th Avenue and Burnside Street, is U.S. Bankcorp Tower, at 43 stories the city’s second-tallest building. Commonly called “Big Pink” for its pink granite and rose glass facade, it’s one of Portland’s most distinctive buildings.
A stroll through Portland’s Old Town reveals a number of significant historic structures, including lots of redbrick warehouses, cast-iron facades, handsome storefronts in terra-cotta tile, and buildings made from locally quarried stone. The Dekum Building (SW 3rd Ave. and Washington St.), with its massive basalt columns, arches, and gargoyles, is a prime example of Richardson Romanesque from 1891. The striking Haseltine Building (1893) at 133 SW 2nd Avenue was once a hansom cab stable, its arches open for the to-ing and fro-ing of carriages.
A showcase of historic renovation (it had better be!) is the three-building home of the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture, between West Burnside Street and SW Couch Street between SW Naito Parkway and SW 1st Avenue. When workers removed the structure’s faux brick facade, they uncovered an elaborate cast-iron structure that had been hidden from view since a 1950s-era makeover.
Portland has the second-largest inventory of cast-iron-fronted buildings (a popular building style in the 1880s) in the country.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel