Pioneer Courthouse Square
The nominal center of downtown Portland is Pioneer Courthouse Square (SW 6th Ave. and Broadway at Morrison St.), a block-square redbrick plaza at the intersection of the city’s shopping, transportation, business, and cultural districts. In addition to serving as an urban park and entertainment venue, the square houses a ticket and information office for TriMet (503/238-7433, www.trimet.org, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.), which operates the city’s public transportation, and Travel Portland’s Visitor Information and Services Center (503/275-8355 or 877/678-5263, www.travelportland.com, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat.).
Always busy, in good weather the square is filled with brown-bag lunchers, Hacky Sack–kickers, chess players, political activists, and dozens of not easily characterized free spirits. The square is ringed by fanciful columns supporting nothing in particular, and a portion of the plaza is a hillside of steps that serve as seating or stairways, depending on your needs. A number of food carts line the south edge of the square, making this a good destination for an open-air lunch.
A whimsical “weather machine” predicts rain, sun, or clouds with a musical fanfare at noon. In summer, free midday concerts add to the zest; for information on square events, contact the Pioneer Courthouse Square office (503/223-1613). A waterfall fountain (not always working) flanks the doors to the TriMet and Travel Portland offices; through the same doors you’ll find access to public toilets.
Pioneer Courthouse Square wasn’t always thus: Portland’s grandest Victorian hotel once sat on this block. When it fell into disrepair, it was demolished and replaced by a parking structure. In the 1980s, when momentum gathered to replace the parking structure with a public square that would serve as Portland’s “living room,” downtown business interests took a dim view of losing parking spaces and blocked park funding.
Grassroots support for the square resulted in a program that encouraged citizens to buy and personalize the bricks that eventually built the square. As you walk across the square, look down to read the names of the people whose contributions made the park possible.
The “courthouse” alluded to in the square’s name is just east across 6th Avenue. Pioneer Courthouse (555 SW Yamhill St., no public facilities), is the oldest public building in the state, constructed between 1869 and 1873.
Pioneer Courthouse Square is also at ground zero for downtown shopping. Immediately west, across Broadway, is indigenous-to-the-Northwest clothier Nordstrom; across the corner at Morrison Street and 6th Avenue is Macy’s (formerly Meier & Frank); and one block east along Morrison or Yamhill Streets is Pioneer Place, a two-section upscale shopping development that is linked by a skywalk to Saks Fifth Avenue. The lower level of Pioneer Place features a vast food court with dozens of quality fast-food concessions.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel