Friday, October 31, 2014

Mercurial Sky

Here are a few photos of Mercurial Sky, the art installation / lightshow at downtown Portland's Director Park . This is by Seattle artist Dan Corson, who also created the Nepenthes (which are illuminated as well) along NW Davis in Old Town. Portland doesn't have a lot of public art that needs to be seen at night. Other than the two Corson pieces, there's More Everyday Sunshine along the NS streetcar line, and the untitled neon piece on the parking garage at NW 1st & Davis. There might be others, but these are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Anyway, the RACC page for Mercurial Sky describes the concept behind it in more detail. The digital video aspect wasn't obvious to me as I was watching it, but it's possible I was being impatient and didn't stay long enough. This might be a fun place to sneak in the occasional Rick Astley video without most viewers noticing.

Mercurial Sky is an ever-changing array of light played on LED tubes integrated into the Director Park Canopy. The digital video only emits from the lighted bars, and provides a sense of movement through an abstract tapestry of light and color. If you stand farther away, or look in nearby reflections, the images are compressed and give a clearer view of the video.

“ seemed like a natural idea to infuse the randomness of the movement of nature into [this hardscaped park]... The inspiration for the images came from my own personal interests and exploration in natural patterns of movement. You can see the natural elements of water, fire, and air expressed in the video. You can also catch movements from creatures under a microscope and worms crawling across fresh moss, jellyfish pulsating, birds flying, and strings of kelp swaying in the ocean current.”

Mt. Shasta Vista Point (on a cloudy day)

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So here are a couple of old photos from the Mt. Shasta Vista Point along I-5 in Northern California, a bit north of Yreka. As the name suggests, on a clear day you'd get a view of Mt. Shasta and the southern Cascades from here. Obviously it was not a clear day when I took these. It was still reasonably scenic, though; you can see a bunch of smaller mountains,, and you can sort of vaguely tell where the larger mountains are obscured by clouds.

It took me a while to figure out exactly where I took these photos. I wasn't being that meticulous about tracking locations, since I was kind of busy driving a Ryder truck across the country at the time. These were originally film photos, so they obviously weren't geotagged, so I didn't have that to go by either. So I looked at the state's list of highway rest areas and concluded it was probably the Randolph Collier rest area, by process of elimination since it's the only one in the rough vicinity. The viewpoint here apparently doesn't count as a rest area, per se, so it wasn't on that list.

I even had a fun naming situation to puzzle out about that other rest area. Sources including Google Maps insist it's spelled "Randolf", but the state DOT and Collier's Wikipedia bio insist it's the traditional spelling. I even did an image search and found a photo on Wikimapia that looks a lot of like mine, labeled "Randolph E. Collier Rest Area". Though other sources indicate Collier's middle initial was 'C', not 'E'. Guy sounds like a shady character to me. Anyway, I thought I had a definite match. But it turns out all of the other photos of the wayside look anything like this, and Yelp reviews explicitly say it doesn't have a view, so I'm pretty sure that one photo was actually taken at the Mt. Shasta Vista Point too, and someone labeled it wrong, and I almost propagated the mistake. I had an entire post written up and I was about to hit publish when I decided to double check the location and realized I had it all wrong. Posting that would have been really embarrassing.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Columbian Cemetery

Since it's late October now, here's a slideshow from NE Portland's Columbian Cemetery, which sits next to I-5, inside the curve of the northbound Columbia Blvd. offramp. It's bordered by noisy roads to the west and south, and industrial warehouses to the north and east, and it's maybe not the most idyllic and restful final resting place out there. As with the Powell Grove Cemetery out at NE 122nd, the cemetery was here first, and then roads and general development encroached from all sides. I haven't come across anything like the Powell Grove legal battle here; maybe the state and county learned their lesson from the earlier conflict and routed I-5 around one side, instead of trying to dig up anyone's ancestors.

It turns out the fancy fence and gate out front are quite new, added sometime after 2006 in conjunction with the widening of the I-5 Columbia Slough Bridge. An environmental assessment for the project described the fence upgrade:

The existing chain-link fencing along the front of the cemetery contains two brick pillars (at the entrance) and a modern metal pipe gate identifying the name and date of the cemetery. This fencing will be replaced with an iron-style fence designed to replicate the appearance of the historic fence. Fragments of the historic fence are available to use as a template. However, for security reasons, the new fence may be taller than the historic fence, which was approximately 3 feet high. A driveway gate that is in keeping with the historic fence design and incorporates the name and date of the cemetery will be installed at the entrance.

I actually dropped by to find an old city boundary marker that a helpful Gentle Reader had sent me a tip about. Unlike Lone Fir, or Greenwood Hills, or the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery, I gather that in general this spot is not the final resting place of prominent early pioneers or the rich and famous of any era. A chatty volunteer told me about a couple of interesting residents, including a former slave who had moved to Portland after the Civil War (who I was unable to locate), and a gentleman who held Portland Police badge #1 (and who, for some reason, was buried juuuust outside city limits).

I imagine he would have had additional stories to share, but the cemetery's equipment shed had been robbed a few days earlier, and he and another volunteer were busy figuring out the extent of the damage and how to secure the remaining equipment. I am not a superstitious person by any means, but the act of robbing a cemetery just calls out for some sort of nasty cosmic retribution. At minimum, it seems like the perpetrators ought to be cursed to wander the earth as tormented spirits, unable to enjoy a moment's peace until everything they stole is replaced. Even if that means chasing old tractor parts across the globe to a metal recycler in China or somewhere. That would be a good start, at least.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Oregon Historical Society Mural

Here's a slideshow of the trompe l'oeil mural on the Sovereign Hotel building, next to the bunker-like Oregon Historical Society complex. It was created for the historical society in 1989 by artist Richard Haas. One side depicts the Lewis & Clark expedition, while the other covers the pioneer period, with the various historical figures painted as if they were architectural features of the building. The fake 3D effect is surprisingly effective. To me, anyway. Maybe you aren't as easily fooled as I am. (If you like optical illusions, let me direct you to Akiyoshi's Illusion Pages. I don't get a lot of chances to link there on this humble blog, but it's worth a look. May cause motion sickness if you're really prone to it.)

A few items related to this mural from around the interwebs:

Embarcadero Freeway

October 17th, 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed 63 people and caused heavy damage across the Bay Area. One of the damaged structures was the old Embarcadero Freeway, an ugly double-deck elevated structure that ran across the San Francisco waterfront. The freeway was closed immediately after the quake, but sat around abandoned for a few years while the city tried to figure out what to do next. Eventually they demolished it, which was a hugely controversial step at the time. These photos were taken around 1991 before demolition began in earnest.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Snake Mural, SE 11th

Here's a slideshow of the new snake mural on a building on SW 11th between Stark & Oak, near St. Francis Park, and next to the ADX building (which has a mural of its own). The snake was created by artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham for the 2014 Forest for the Trees mural festival.

Somehow I ended up without a photo of the head of the snake (on the first visit). I'm not really sure how I managed that. The artist's Tumblr has a few photos of him painting it, including one of the head. A post at the festival's Tumblr has more photos of it; apparently the mural wraps around three sides of the building, not the two that I thought, and the head is on the side I didn't realize was there. I also didn't realize it was a snake, since without the head it kind of looks like an abstract design, like the orange ADX mural next door. So I didn't realize I ought to be looking for the head of a snake. That sounds kind of dumb in retrospect, but it's the only excuse I've got.

Updated: I went back and got proper photos of the head of the snake. It just didn't seem right, otherwise.

ADX Mural, SE 11th

Photos of the colorful abstract mural on the ADX building, at SE 11th & Oak, across the street from St. Francis Park. Painted by Japanese mural artist Mhak for the 2013 Forest for the Trees thing. The artist's Facebook page includes a photo showing more of the mural on the back side of the building, which I didn't realize was there and didn't notice when I visited (the first time around). A blog post by the artist includes more photos, and another post links to a short video of various Forest for the Trees artists busy doing their thing.

Updated: I felt bad about not covering the whole mural, so I went back and got photos of the part around the corner. Enjoy, or whatevs.

Hillside Park

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Here's a slideshow from Portland's Hillside Park, in the Hillside neighborhood just uphill from NW 23rd and the Nob Hill area. I was in the area looking for the kinda-sorta bridge structure at NW Melinda & Maywood, and it occurred to me that I'd never been to this park before, so I figured I'd take a look at it on the way.

In addition to the usual ball fields and play equipment, the park is home to the Hillside Community Center, a Pietro Belluschi building that once housed the original Catlin Gabel School gymnasium. The school moved to its current campus around 1968, and after a short-lived stint as an artists' cooperative the old school went back on the market. There was lobbying and fundraising and rich people nervously taking out second mortgages in order to help buy it, and eventually the finances worked out and the place was saved for posterity. Although the city actually demolished much of the school to make room for sports fields, only saving the gymnasium. And, famous architect or no, the remaining building just sort of looks like an old school gymnasium standing by itself.

The city's info page for the park has a long history section explaining its formative years in a lot more detail. I thought about quoting a big chunk of that instead of summarizing it, but honestly the origin story isn't that compelling, unless maybe you live nearby and want to know where your local park came from. I've covered several places with better origin stories, if you're interested in that sort of thing. Council Crest and Lotus Isle are former amusement parks. Duniway Park sits atop an early 20th century garbage dump, which filled a ravine that previously held a poor Italian immigrant neighborhood. Irving Park was once home to a racetrack where Barney Oldfield set a world land speed record. Waterfront Park was created by tearing out a freeway, and Piccolo Park is land left over from the canceled Mt. Hood Freeway. Kelly Butte was home to a jail and later the city's atomic doom bunker. Frank L. Knight Park was apparently donated by its namesake to protect the view of Mt. St. Helens from his house. And of course tiny Mill Ends Park originated as a running joke by a 1960s Oregon Journal columnist, which later took on a life of its own and became one of Portland's sillier tourist attractions.

Union Pacific Columbia Slough Bridge

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The next Columbia Slough bridge on our mini-tour is the Union Pacific railroad bridge, which crosses the slough and Wright Island just east of the new pedestrian bridge. I can't find much in the way of information to share about this one: How old it is, who designed it, the usual factoids. That's annoying but not uncommon with obscure railroad bridges. Looking at it, you can see the stubs of old pilings underneath the bridge, suggesting the current one replaced an earlier wooden trestle-type bridge. Not sure I would hazard a guess as to how old the current bridge is; a 2003 ODOT study on improving local rail access suggested replacing it with a new, higher bridge, but I don't know whether this was ever implemented. It looks older than 2003, though, or at least the portion south of the island does. The northern side looks like it might be newer, but it's hard to tell, and (as I said) I have no concrete information to pass along.

In lieu of that, all we've got are a few Panoramio photos, and photos on railfan sites (and they're mostly interested in bridges as places to photograph trains.) One such site points out that this train line is just north of a major rail junction, as well as the Union Pacific tunnel under North Portland, so apparently this area is kind of a big deal if you're into trains.

Santiam River Wayside

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A couple of years ago, I was on my way back from the McDowell Creek waterfalls near Lebanon, OR, and stopped at a highway rest area north of Albany, where Interstate 5 crosses the Santiam River. After using the facilities, it occurred to me that it was a fairly scenic spot by rest area standards and I figured I'd take a few photos while I was there. First order of business was the bridge, actually. It's a nondescript modern concrete bridge, but I was heavily into the ongoing bridge project at the time and felt I needed an example of the style, such as it is. I also ended up with a few assorted photos of the river, and a few of people boating and fishing, and it occurred to me there might be a second post in those photos. And behold, here they are.

This is not the beginning of a highway rest area project, just to be clear on that point. Creepy urban legends aside, it just seems like a weird and unrewarding undertaking. Which is saying a lot considering all the other weird projects I've gotten into over time. I might make an exception for the one just south of Wilsonville if I get around to it, since it has a weird bit of Cold War history to it. Apparently it was designed to double as a military staging area in case of emergency. Which I imagine means it would've been outside the presumable blast zone if the Rooskies had nuked downtown Portland. (Meanwhile, city officials and VIPs would have ridden out the attack in the city's old nuclear bunker at Kelly Butte.) Maybe the Santiam one was designed for a similar role, in case the Rooskies ran out of major cities to nuke and went after Albany instead. I have no actual information to that effect, but it's possible that's still classified or something.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

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So here are some old tourist photos of San Francisco's Lombard Street, taken sometime in the early 90s. To be more precise, these are of the famous steep one-block stretch of Lombard St. with the switchbacks. Tourists inexplicably come from far and wide to drive down this street, while other tourists gawk at them. This is possibly the world's most idiotic tourist attraction. It's a steep, narrow, windy street. Drivers often have to line up and wait to drive down it, and then they're too busy steering and riding the brakes to enjoy it, whatever enjoying it might entail. They do get to tell the folks back home they did it, though, for whatever that's worth. It's a cheesy tourist trap, and there isn't even a gift shop at the end that sells you "I Survived Lombard Street" t-shirts. Or at least there wasn't one the last time I was there. So it isn't even a tourist trap that makes money.

When I was a kid, we lived in the Bay Area for about a year, and I recall we made the trip into the city to drive down Lombard St. at least once. I went back as an adult I suppose just to confirm that it was what I remembered: Nothing but a steep windy street that people feel compelled to drive down for some reason. I also had the idea I was going to be all meta-ironic and get photos of the gawkers, because I was about 22 at the time and it seemed like an original idea that probably nobody had ever thought of before. As far as I know nobody was taking photos of me while I took these, but that possibility only occurred to me much later. There is probably a fun art project, or at least a Tumblr, in taking photos of smug hip people visiting Lombard St. ironically and thinking they're at the top of the meta-irony food chain.

Anyway, evidently I'm not the only person who thinks this is dumb. Due to complaints by area residents -- probably many decades' worth of complaints -- beginning in summer 2014 the city began closing the street on weekends as an experiment. If it's not too disruptive, they may eventually close the street on a permanent basis, or at least on a regular basis, and tourists will have to find something else dumb to do, like buying overpriced trinkets at Fisherman's Wharf, or taking selfies with a Haight-Ashbury intersection sign. Those two will probably never go away.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The "Keep Portland Weird" Mural

I grudgingly realized I couldn't do a project about Portland murals without touching on the big Keep Portland Weird sign at SW 3rd & Ankeny, across the street from that one donut shop all the tourists have to visit. You know the one I mean. I'm pretty sure this sign's for the benefit of tourists too. They can take selfies with it, and they love it because it confirms everything they saw on that one Portland-based IFC sketch comedy show. You know the one I mean.

The first thing to know about the whole keepin' it weird thing is that we stole it from Austin, Texas, and they came up with it as part of a "support local business" campaign. At least the local variant had the common decency to change the font, since Austin's seems to use Comic Sans, which is entirely the wrong kind of weird. Yech. I've never been to Austin, and all I know about the place comes from the movie Slacker. The movie certainly made it seem weird, but the movie's going on 25 years old now, and was made before many of today's hipsters were even born. So I can't venture an informed opinion about Austin's present-day weirdness. They have us beat in the bat colony department, but as far as I know hipsters had nothing to do with that.

The second thing to know is that apart from a few neighborhoods (you know the ones I mean) this is not a particularly weird city. The suburbs have the same suburban people and chain stores you'd find anywhere else around the country. The only clue to what city you're in would be the occasional "Keep Portland Weird" bumper sticker on a hulking Lexus SUV, put there without a trace of irony.

Washington Square, San Francisco

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Here are a couple of old tourist photos of San Francisco's Washington Square, a city park in North Beach, the city's historically Italian neighborhood. As a tourist, I didn't get beyond the standard shot of the Saints Peter & Paul Church with the park in the foreground. I seem to recall that at the time were actual old Italian guys there, smoking cigars and playing bocce. That was about 20 years ago, though. Today it's probably nothing but awful tech dudebros in polo shirts yapping on about their awful startups. It was obvious the city was changing the last time I was there, about 6 years ago, and I gather the demographic shift has really taken hold in the last 2-3 years, so now anyone who isn't backed by venture capital is rapidly being priced out of the city.

SE 3rd & Morrison Mural

The next mural on our tour is the new magic-snail-n-tentacles design near SE 3rd & Morrison, on the side of one of the City Liquidators buildings, across the street from the Montage. This was painted for the 2014 Forest for the Trees event by Philadelphia-based artist NoseGo. (Twitter: @nosego, Instagram: @nosego). An article at Bizarre Beyond Belief includes a bunch of photos of this mural, along with another NoseGo piece at Gigantic Brewing down near Reed College.

Maybe it's just that it's October right now, but I do like the part with the tentacles bursting through the wall, as if from another dimension. Contemporary public art in Portland is rather deficient in the eldritch horror department, and while this is a bit too cute and technicolor to qualify, it's at least a step in the right direction. Still, I know we can do better if we put our puny mortal minds to it. I'm pretty sure we could use a painting or a bust of Great Cthulhu for the library's rare and forbidden manuscript room, for one thing. Ok, technically it's just the "rare book and other special collections" room, but you know that's got to be a euphemism for forbidden manuscripts.

SE 9th & Oak Mural

The next mural on our tour is on the Willamette Plaza building at SE 9th & Oak, painted for last year's Forest for the Trees. Two of the artists (J. Shea and Yoskay Yamamoto) also worked on the nearby mural at 8th & Sandy, painted the same year.

You can clearly see where the mural replaced a large billboard. In fact there's still a ClearChannel logo on the building now. I don't know whether it's just left over from the billboard days, or they still have some sort of rights over this spot, and it could someday go back to being a Lexus ad or something.

The building itself is a cool mid-20th century modern design; it was built in 1960 and originally housed insurance company offices.

Clyde Drexler Mural, SE 9th & Clay

Here's a slideshow of the large mural of Clyde Drexler (the star Portland Trailblazers player in the late 1980s and early 1990s). It's located on SE 9th between Clay and Hawthorne (i.e. the south side of Hawthorne), on the back side of the same building that hosts the koi mural you might have seen here recently.

This was painted by artists Madsteez (who has a Wikipedia bio) and Oyama Enrico Isamu Letter, for the 2013 Forest for the Trees mural event. The festival's Vimeo channel has a time lapse video of the mural being painted, assuming you're in the mood for a Hall & Oates soundtrack. Going by other examples of the two artists' styles, I'm guessing Madsteez created the Drexler part, and Letter did the abstract sorta-lightning design that coils around Drexler.

SE 8th & Sandy Mural

The next mural on the agenda is this sorta-dream-nautical design on the Nu-Way Printing building at SE 8th & Sandy. This was painted by J.Shea & Yoskay Yamamoto for the 2013 Forest for the Trees festival. Shea also painted the mural at Kidd's Toy Museum during that year's event, and there's a clear family resemblance between the two, even apart from being all blue.

I ran across a post about this mural at Kay-Kay's Bird Club. It looks like she's been doing a mural project too, including several I'm not familiar with. I'm starting to get the impression this project is going to be even bigger than I thought.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Arch Angel

The next mural on our ongoing tour is Arch Angel, the large design on the Studio 3 building at SE 12th & Madison, behind the Jolly Roger tavern. It was created by artists Meggs and Kamea Hadar for the 2013 Forest for the Trees mural festival (and a time lapse video was filmed while they did it.) Meggs's description of the project:

The (approx) 100×20 ft mural, titled ‘Arch Angel’ reflects both my recent solo show and Kamea’s powerful portraiture work; using a composition that could stretch the full width of the space. As a homage to Portland we kept to a trailblazers colour palette and included Roses & tattoos – all things very identifiably P-town!
We were stoked that so many locals came by during the process and felt the mural really represented them and their town!

Apparently there's also a skull design on the Jolly Roger that was painted at the same time. I didn't notice it while I was there, but I made a little note to look for it next time I'm in the area.

Black Butte, Siskiyou County

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Just south of Weed, California, near Mt. Shasta, Interstate 5 passes right along the base of a big volcanic cinder cone called "Black Butte". Not to be confused with the one near Bend, OR (the one the beer's named after), or any of the others out there. The USGS geographic name database has 196 entries for things named "Black Butte", although some are rivers, schools, dams and so forth. Still, as a place name it's probably right up there with "Bald Peak", "Larch Mountain", and "Salmon Creek" in terms of unoriginal pioneer-era names.

The puzzling thing is why they ran the freeway right along the base of a volcano when they didn't have to. It's definitely scenic this way, but they've placed a pretty serious bet that the thing will never erupt again. It's only thought to be around 9-10k years old, which is less than a heartbeat in geological time. It was after the Bering Land Bridge era, so there could very well have been people around to witness it forming, hopefully from a safe distance. Undoubtedly there was a planning discussion about where to put the freeway, and I imagine it was all documented for posterity somewhere, but I have no idea where to look for that sort of thing.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Boston Common

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A couple of summers ago, I spent a week in Boston on a business trip, and managed to find a little time here and there to take some tourist photos. Actually a lot of tourist photos, such that I'm still slowly sorting through them and putting together new blog posts every so often. I walked through Boston Common a couple of times; it's a sprawling park in the middle of the city, across the street from the state capitol building, and I always seemed to end up back there after wandering around the city's mazelike streets. Which I suppose is better than running into the municipal minotaur or something.

Long story short, I was there and took a few photos. A few have showed up here previously, in posts about the Brewer Fountain near the eastern edge of the park, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on a high point toward the park's center, as well as the Boston Public Garden next door. I still had a bunch of photos from here and there around the park, so I figured another slideshow was in order. Et voilà.

For the Love of Cars Mural

I am beginning to sympathize with the city's handwringing over murals vs. billboards. I've covered a lot of cases where a local business painted the outside of their building, with a theme more or less related to the business, and went through the city's hoops in order to get it approved as "public art". On the other side of the grey area are things that are obviously advertising, but were painted as murals, or at least look like they were. Case in point, the big "For the Love of Cars" kinda-mural on a building at SW 2nd & Stark, which is an ad for the Ron Tonkin chain of car dealerships. The design you see here shows a nature scene full of cars, complete with spark plug butterflies. This was painted in 2009, replacing an earlier design with cherubs wielding car keys instead of bows and arrows. Anything promoting cars in Portland is bound to get some negative reactions, like this rant at that contrasts it with the "America's Bicycle Capital" mural that ran afoul of the city's byzantine sign code. And I get the frustration, but I can't come up a simple and precise dividing line between advertising and art, in order to treat the two differently. I'm not sure how you do that without lots of byzantine rules and special cases..

Unfortunately it's already too late to see this one. Shortly after I took these photos, workers began plastering over it, pasting up a giant generic Land Rover ad in its place. On the bright side, this preserves it for future archeologists as an artifact of the early 21st century, before we ran out of oil and melted the polar caps. I'm sure they'll be fascinated by us.

The Tiffany Weston Rose

Not far from the previous two rose murals I've covered here is another one, the Tiffany Weston Rose (1994), on a back wall of the Tiffany Center (previously the Neighbors of Woodcraft Building), at SW 14th & Yamhill. There's a rose here because this is yet another building owned by Joe Weston, the local real estate baron, and (as explained in a previous post) he just sort of likes murals of roses. This rose and the building it's on are named for his daughter, which I suppose is one of the little benefits of being a real estate baron.

The fraternal organization that built this tower had an odd taste in architecture. It's fortresslike on the outside, complete with Art Deco gargoyles. On the inside, it has a pair of fancy ballrooms, popular for weddings and other events. I've been to a number of company holiday parties there, and off the top of my head I can't think of any comparable event spaces around the city just in terms of sheer swankiness. It really makes me wonder what these Woodcraft people were up to. I do know it was a concert venue well before it became the Tiffany Center; for example, here's a blog post pointing out that Jerry Garcia played an acoustic show here on June 4th, 1982. Personally it's always reminded me of the 55 Central Park West tower in Manhattan, the building made famous in Ghostbusters as "Spook Central", built by an insane architect as a tool for summoning Gozer.

Swan Island Lagoon

Here are a few photos from the Swan Island Boat Ramp, at one corner of the Swan Island lagoon, in the midst of a shipping and industrial zone. I haven't actually taken up boating; it just seemed like an interesting spot to go and take some photos. Looking around, you'll see some more or less natural areas, as well as a bunch of ships and barges docked at the ship repair facility downriver. There's even one end of a Freightliner wind tunnel protruding out over the lagoon, which is not something you'll see every day. Unless you work there, obviously.

The land around the boat ramp is not quite a city park; for some reason it's owned by the city's Bureau of Environmental Services, the local stormwater and sewer agency. I'm not sure what their interest in the place might be, since it looks like it predates their Big Pipe project on the other side of Swan Island.

This area was actually once part of the Willamette River, back when Swan Island was still an island, before the channel was filled in during the early 20th Century. Swan Island then became home to Portland's municipal airport until the current one opened in 1940, and it quickly became a shipbuilding center during World War II, churning out the war's ubiquitous T2 tankers. After shipbuilding wound down, it eventually evolved into today's general industrial zone. It seems like an unlikely place to put a public boat ramp. There are very few river launch points along the lower Willamette, so I suppose the city saw a chance to add another and grabbed it, even though boaters may have to dodge tankers and grain ships and Coast Guard dredges in order to use it.

As with much of the lower Willamette, the river here is full of all sorts of icky stuff, and there are big signs here warning people to never, ever, ever eat any fish caught here. Fishing in the Willamette has become a popular activity among some local immigrant communities, so the signs are translated into several languages to make sure people get the memo.

In some of the photos you'll see a rather photogenic abandoned and half-sunken boat not far from the boat ramp. This has been there for several years, and it's part of a larger abandoned boat problem the state continues to wring its hands about. Apparently nobody has the legal authority or the funding to do anything about it, so abandoned boats in state rivers just continue to sit abandoned indefinitely while nature slowly takes its course.

A Vintage Portland photo from 1935 shows this area in its short-lived airport days. A comment on the article mentions that the Swan Island lagoon was a popular waterskiing spot in the 1950s and 1960s, back before the word "Superfund" was invented. Eew.

Black Canyon, Colorado River

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Here are a couple of old photos from the Colorado River's Black Canyon, downstream of Hoover Dam and a short drive from Las Vegas. I was on a group tour bus at the time and we had stopped at the Willow Beach marina (on the Arizona side of the river), where we rented motorboats and headed up the river toward the dam. In the photos of the canyon walls, I was actually trying to photograph some bighorn sheep high up in the canyon, despite only having a cheap point-n-shoot camera at my disposal. At one point I thought I could pick them out as tiny specks in the photos, but now I'm not so sure.

Vaillancourt Fountain

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Here's an old photo of San Francisco's modernist Vaillancourt Fountain, in a plaza along the Embarcadero across from the Ferry Building. You can tell this is an old photo because of the Embarcadero Freeway lurking in the background. This was taken a couple of years after the big Loma Prieta earthquake that damaged the old freeway, and the city was in the very early stages of tearing it out. If you look closely you can see construction equipment on the lower deck of the freeway.

The one thing everyone seems to know about this fountain is that it was vandalized by U2's Bono during a concert in 1987. I actually liked them at the time, but I still thought it was a dumb stunt. It looks even worse with a few decades of hindsight, as Bono's aged into a pretentious celebrity buffoon (who hasn't had a decent album since 1993's Zooropa). First he vandalizes a fountain, then he comes and dumps his new album on your iPod without even asking.

Kidd's Toy Museum Mural

Here's a slideshow of the new J.Shea mural on the Kidd's Toy Museum building at SE Grand & Main St., painted for this year's Forest for the Trees mural thing.

I've never actually been inside the museum. I'd vaguely heard of it before, but didn't know it was here until I came looking for the mural and realized what it was attached to. Other than the new mural, the building is almost comically nondescript on the outside. On the inside is a vast collection of vintage toys, focusing primarily those produced before 1940.

Accounts of visits to the museum often warn that some of these vintage toys are rather shockingly racist. The common argument made is that it's important to not whitewash the past and pretend this stuff didn't happen. I can see the logic of this argument; a significant number of people alive and voting today grew up playing with toys like this, and there's some value in understanding where your whackaloon Tea Party great uncle got his ideas. I suspect, however, that this is one of those things that's easy to say as a white person. I don't imagine the "important historical artifact" argument would feel terribly compelling if I was the one being targeted.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Koi Mural, SE Hawthorne

Here are a few photos of the koi mural along SE Hawthorne, between 9th & 10th. It's on a wall next to the historic Red Men Hall building (the weird name refers to the fraternal organization it was originally built for, a group allegedly descended from the Boston Tea Party guys, and later New York's Tammany Hall.)

The mural was created by Portland artist Blaine Fontana for the 2013 Forest for the Trees mural event. Apparently koi are a common theme of his.

The Greg Chaillé Rose

So the next rose mural on the list is the giant Greg Chaillé Rose, on the west side of the historic Art Deco Terminal Sales building at SW 13th & Morrison. (I explained the deal with these rose murals in a previous post about the Mary Lou Fendall Rose.) This rose honors the retired longtime head of the Oregon Community Foundation, who retired in 2011, the same year the rose went up.

The Mary Lou Fendall Rose

Like any good project here at this humble blog, the new mural thing I've been doing continues to evolve. I started out with the RACC list of murals in their public art mural program, and I somehow had the idea that those represented the full set, other than a few outliers that had been grandfathered in. I think I was hoping a complete list existed and I could just work off that list. The murals on the RACC list tend to fall into a couple of categories: Traditional community murals featuring local history or landmarks or whatnot, and others painted on (and sponsored by) local businesses that sort of relate to the business but don't quite count as advertising under the city sign code.

While tracking those down, I realized there was another population of murals around the city, an outgrowth of the street art/graffiti world. In particular, the annual Forest For the Trees festival results in a dozen or so new murals each year, many painted by international artists. Apparently it's pretty common to go on tour like a band would, painting a mural in each city you visit. As far as anyone knows we don't have a Banksy here yet, but if we did it would fall under this general category. The street art-style murals tend to be more varied and interesting (and, frankly, better) than the traditional community-type ones, so I started tracking these down too. A few have showed up here already, and there are more in my giant Drafts folder, and even more on my even-gianter todo list.

But while searching for those, I realized there was yet another type of mural out there that I'd been ignoring. Here and there around downtown and the inner Eastside you'll see commercial buildings with large roses painted on them, sometimes with a big US flag included as well, and an inscription dedicating the rose to someone. They're all over the place, and I'd never paid them any attention until now. There's nothing remotely hip or cutting edge about these roses, but seeking out uncool stuff is kind of a habit of mine, and it seemed like interspersing a few of them among the street art murals would make for an interesting contrast. I soon realized that someone else had taken a similar interest a few years ago, creating the Portland Roses Tumblr, complete with a Google map of known locations at that time. So a lot of the basic footwork had been done already. It doesn't have photos of all of them, but back in 2006 the Oregonian posted a collage of the ones that existed then. They aren't all still around, but it's still a helpful field guide.

I also ran across an explanation of the roses in a 2008 Stumptown Stumper in the Tribune. The buildings with roses are owned by Joe Weston, a prominent developer and real estate magnate. The article explains Weston simply likes roses and has been commissioning them for buildings he owns over the last 20 years or so, naming them in honor of colleagues, friends, and family. As a side benefit, the roses are thought to ward off taggers as well, on the theory that they won't touch a building that already has art on it. The article mentions that Jerry Harley, Weston's longtime rose painter, had passed away recently and new roses were on hiatus. At least a couple have been painted since then, but I'm not sure by who.

Now that we've got the explanation out of the way, the rose pictured above is the Mary Lou Fendall Rose (1995), on the Morrison Plaza building at SW 14th & Alder. In the Tribune article, Weston explains that she was his children's former nanny, and a family friend. If Google serves, she's also the sister of the late John Helmer, of the famous local haberdashery. The photo on the Portland Roses Tumblr shows the mural looking a bit faded, so apparently it's been repainted within the last few years.

DeSoto Building Mural

Here's a slideshow of the new mural on NW Portland's DeSoto Building, on the North Park Blocks between Couch & Davis. Portland's Contemporary Craft Museum, moved here in 2007, triggering a financial crisis that led to the museum's absorption by the local art college. Meanwhile the first floor has housed a series of short-lived fancy restaurants. The building's in a strange spot, neither Pearl District nor Old Town, and doesn't seem to get the foot traffic it would need for businesses to survive here. Apparently the building was originally a DeSoto car dealership. DeSoto was a division of Chrysler, defunct since 1960, and it in turn was named for the notorious Spanish conquistador pictured in the mural.

The mural was painted for this year's Forest for the Trees festival by Gage Hamilton, who's also director of the festival. I'm not sure what the other component of the mural is; to me it looks sort of like a black feather boa, but I'm not sure whether that was the intent or not.

Empress Mural

Our next stop on the big Portland mural tour is at the historic Empress building at NW 15th & Burnside. The mural includes a Portland skyline and logos of a couple of businesses in the building, and was painted by artist Joe Bass, who has a tattoo shop there. NW Portland's neighborhood association discussed the mural when it was proposed in 2011:

Empress Mural: Chad Albright is the current President of the Empress Condominium HOA. The building residents have approved the sketch for a mural to be painted on the west side of their building. The artist is Joe Bass who operates a tattoo parlor in the building one of three businesses on the first floor of the building. PDOT removed the trees to deter homeless from their ajoining lot but the site now looks sparse and uninviting to what residents describe as a mini-neighborhood. There would be no additional lighting. The mural as presented is just phase one of the visison that might someday link into the existing piping on the building. Mary C. expressed some concerns over the color pallet and the inclusion of Mt Hood. Tanya M. was concerned that there was a lot of open space that might attract taggers. Chad assured us that the artist is well known among the garfitti subculture and that his art will be safe and will be maintained by the HOA. Chad visions the mural as a mirror image of the western view hence Mt. Hood on the western façade works and the simplicity of the design messes well with the art deco lines of the building which pre dates the freeway.

I'm going to guess they really meant "meshes" in that last sentence.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Trees Mural, SE 10th & Ankeny

The next mural on our tour is one I bumped into while looking for an entirely different one. This nature scene is in a small alley on SE 10th between Ash & Ankeny. I haven't been able to find anything on who it's painted for or why, but I did recognize the signature on it: Larry Kangas was a prominent local mural artist, who also did the mural at the Vespa dealership on 23rd, among many other things. His website doesn't have anything about this particular mural, though. I suppose if someone just wants to brighten up the back wall and alley behind their building, they technically aren't obligated to broadcast it all over the internet if they don't want to.

Jose Rizal statue, Honolulu

The pedestrian mall along downtown Honolulu's Nu'uanu Stream has a number of statues, memorials, and sculptures along its length, including one of José Rizal, a Philippine national hero in the struggle against Spanish rule. We don't get a great deal of exposure to Philippine history on the US mainland, and I have to admit I didn't know who he was and had to google him.

Jose Rizal Statue, Honolulu

The city's page about the statue says of it:

Life-size standing figure of Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal, national hero of the Philipines against Spanish colonial rule who was executed at age 35 in 1896. The figure sits on a high pedestal in the style of monumental bronzes. There is a plaque in the center of the pedestal at the front, and two other plaques on the sides. Located on College Walk at North Beretania Street.

Mayas Taqueria Mural

The next mural on our tour is the one on Mayas Taqueria, at SW 10th. It's been there in various forms for a long time; at least 1990, maybe even earlier than that. A Google map someone created of Portland-area murals says it's titled Cultura Maya and was first painted in 1988, but it doesn't explain where this info comes from. As old as it is, it's grandfathered into the city's mural code and doesn't need the usual permits you'd need in order to paint a new one like this. It was repainted/restored in 2009 (and the restoration blog says it was painted in 1984 by Kuis Lopez), and it appeared on a now-defunct RACC-sponsored website about Portland murals [link goes to an copy].