Monday, December 01, 2008

Skidmore Fountain

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Here are a few photos of Skidmore Fountain, yet another of our local icons here in Portland. Like most local icons, the fountain has a quirky legend about it. As the story goes, when the fountain went in, Henry Weinhard offered to run a pipe down from his brewery, so the fountain could run with beer instead of water. The city fathers turned him down, to our eternal sorrow.

That's the story, at least. I've long suspected it was a publicity stunt, not a serious proposal to actually do it. I mean, we're talking a half-mile long, unrefrigerated, underground beer line. There's no way you could keep the thing sanitized properly. Sure, you could do a fountain full of beer, but it'd be sour, flat, spoiled, unpalatable beer. But then, maybe people's quality standards were lower at the time. Maybe it came out of the brewery already sour and flat, for all we know.

When the fountain was renovated a few years ago, the powers that be got everyone's hopes up briefly, implying that the fountain might run with beer for real for the grand reopening. Well, it turned out that, like the original proposal, this was just hyperbole and PR, and they actually gave out free beer next to the fountain. Now, I realize one should never whine about free beer, I mean, it's freakin' free beer, you know? But still, they got people's hopes up and then sort of dashed them, the bastards.

While I've never heard of anyone else doing a beer fountain similar to this, I understand that once upon a time, the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki sported a pineapple juice fountain. Pineapple juice is very sweet and acidic, so if anything it's probably a lot harder on pipes and plumbing than beer would be. My mother stayed there once back in the 60's, and she insists that they had pineapple juice piped into every room, but I find that kind of hard to believe.

detail, skidmore fountain

One other thing to point out -- people love this story because the idea of a beer fountain seems patently ridiculous, and everybody gets a nice giggle out of it. But it's not as absurd as you might think. For most of recorded history, up until the advent of chlorine and modern water treatment, it was a lot safer to drink beer than water, especially in cities. Beer can certainly go sour, but it's not going to give you cholera. Water from the local well? That's a roll of the dice every time.


So, well, that's about all I've got. I don't have a lot of photos of the fountain, and they're a bit repetitive, as you might've noticed. For some reason, I have trouble getting a handle on the thing, photo-wise. There've got to be other angles to take, but I always end up with statue, statue, spouting lion, spouting lion. I suppose I just need to slow down and stare at it a bit more, but in that part of town if you stop and stare for too long, someone will come along and want to sell drugs, or buy drugs, or just babble insanely, or try to steal your camera. Officer Friendly might get suspicious and want to search a few body cavities. Or maybe a MAX train will come along and hit you. There are a number of complicating factors, I guess that's what I'm trying to say here.

So mostly I'm not posting this to show off my cool, original photos of the fountain. Mostly I'm posting this as an excuse to talk (and think) about beer.

Mmmmmmm.... beeeerr....

detail, skidmore fountain

skidmore fountain

1 comment :

Unknown said...

The deal with Weinhard's offer to pump beer through the fountain is mostly true - it was C.E.S. Wood that Weinhard supposedly came to about it, and it was also Wood that would propagate the story. The actual deal is that Weinhard wanted to run the beer down firehoses to the fountain for the grand opening of the thing, so it was never meant to be a sort of permanent fixture. If I remember correctly, Wood "politely deferred the offer". I'm sure the prohibitionists would have gone nuts about it.