If it’s Wednesday, this must be Portland, right?
Actually, this week just hasn’t been ideal for a Rose City Wednesday post—the last few days have been a bit soggy for outings, & while the weekend was splendid, it found me much occupied with various errands—& I suspect that most people aren’t all that interested in reading about shopping trips to Interstate Fred Meyer or Hollywood Trader Joe’s—as absorbing as such expeditions can be for me. Since I do everything by public transit & foot, shopping trips can indeed be adventures.
But I’m saved by the plethora of photos I took during my recent walk on the Burnside Bridge, & by my reflection that all cities have a defining structure: my hometown during the late 80s-late 90s, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge; Chicago has the Sears Tower (or Wrigley Field, if you wish!); Seattle has the Space Needle; New York has the Empire State Building—& Portland has “the Portland Sign.”
Now that fits Portland’s self-image as a quirky place indeed! But it must be admitted that the Portland skyline, while certainly decidedly urban & including some interesting high-rise structures, is not itself iconic. An argument could be made for the bridges—the majority of the bridges are indeed interesting structures, but perhaps because there are so many of them, it’s hard to choose just one.
Now the Portland Sign, which is best viewed along the Burnside corridor right at the very center of town, didn’t actually start out as an advertisement for the city itself. It began life in 1940 as a sign advertising White Satin Sugar (see pic above); according to Wikipedia (whence the historical info in this post derives), in 1950 this sign was “animated to show the state filling with sugar.”
However, the sign was re-lettered in 1959 as an advertisement for White Stag sportwear (as illustratedbelow.) This—along with the current “Portland sign”—is the sign’s best-known incarnation, as it remained in existence as such for almost 40 years, & continued to be lit even after the White Stag Sportswear Company moved out of Oregon entirely in the 1980s. One of the very popular features of the White Stag sign was the “Rudolph nose”—every Christmas season the stag transmogrified to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with the addition of red lighting.
In 1997, the sign was again re-lettered to read “Made in Oregon/Old Town,” & that’s how it looked the first time I saw it on a visit to Portland in 1999. In 2010, the sign was again re-designed to read “Portland, Oregon.” This followed a year of the sign going dark, with the possibility of it being dismantled looming not far in the background. The University of Oregon, which is located in Eugene, not Portland, had acquired the sign & had negotiated with the city an agreement to change the lettering to “University of Oregon,” & also proposed adding the school’s distinctive “O” logo to the almost equally iconic “Old Town” water tower that stands beside the sign. Eventually, negotiations between the city & the University fell apart, resulting in the "blacked-out" year; but after the school decided to drop its lease, the City took steps to acquire the sign, with the result that the lettering is now as you see in the lead-off photo. & yes, the stag’s nose still glows in the Yuletide—in fact, the sign was re-lit first on November 26, 2010 just in time for the holiday season.
The lead-off & final photos are by yours truly. All other photos link back to their source. The White Satin Sugar photo links back to pdxretro.com, while the White Stag & Made in Oregon photos link back to Wiki Commons. The White Stag sign is by Steve Morgan, & is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; the Made in Oregon sign is by Wiki User Cacophony & is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.