Sunday, November 23, 2014

Essential Forces

Our next adventure takes us back to Portland's Rose Quarter, home to sports arenas, MAX trains, and very little else. I've done a few posts about the art scattered around the area, but I haven't yet done a post about Essential Forces, the signature fountain at the south end of the complex. This is because the fountain is almost never running, so it's nearly impossible to get photos of it doing its thing, and I usually feel like that's important when doing a post about a fountain. The fountain has 500 computer-controlled valves that spit out bursts of water on command, and two large pillars that can optionally spew fire. It all seems very Vegas and not very Portland, so it's not surprising that the fountain was created by LA-based WET Design, the company behind the world-famous Bellagio Fountain. The company created a few other fountains around Vegas that have appeared here too, like the Glacia, Halo, Lumia, and Focus fountains at CityCenter.

I gather that the fountain is so elusive in part because it's rather delicate. The Portland Tribune included it in a 2007 list of broken things around town:

Essential Forces, built in 1995, has 500 shooters or valves, and when one malfunctions they all have to be tested, like fixing old Christmas tree lights. There is no set date but he said it should be up and running again 'before the warm weather arrives.'

That list doesn't even mention the fire pillars, which were out of commission for close to a decade until they were repaired in 2014. Rose Quarter management started talking about bringing back the fire theatrics about a year ago, but only as a maybe-someday item. Then the whole Rose Quarter underwent major renovations over summer 2014, and they fixed the fountain as part of that effort. I'm told the arena food has improved, too.

The other part of the problem (at least for me) is that they appear to only run it for Trailblazers home games, and then only if the weather isn't too cold, which leaves brief windows in the fall and late spring when it might be operating, assuming it's in working order. I'm not really a big basketball fan, so it's never going when I'm there. I've lost track of how many times I've gone by to see if it's running, and it just never is. So I finally decided I'd just go with the photos I had; I've reached my limit for how much I'm willing to invest in this particular blog post. One of the photos shows a little water gurgling up through one of the valves, so I do technically have a photo of water coming out of it, and that's just going to have to be enough. Strangely enough, one time several years ago I did take a video clip of it running, but my phone's internal SD card promptly became corrupted before I could upload anything, so it's possible I've already squandered my one and only chance to see it in action. Unless maybe I happen into some free tickets somehow, and they're for an evening when I don't already have plans. In any case, I did find a short Instagram video clip from the official Moda Center account showing it running back in September. So at least I found some evidence that it operated for at least 10-15 seconds a few months ago, unless maybe they CGI'd the whole thing or something.

The fountain was unveiled as part of an exclusive VIP bash for the new arena in October 1995. Tickets cost $125 per person, but came with all sorts of goodies:

Comedian Dana Carvey will perform a stand-up routine to top the evening's program, which also includes an arena tour, live music, food from the arena restaurants, a chance to shoot baskets on the new basketball court and skate on the new ice surface. All that, and the debut of the fire-and-water fountain, Essential Forces. The program runs from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Recall that this was back during the Michael Jordan era, a time when basketball had a reasonable claim on being the country's real national pastime. Nike's basketball shoe business was booming. The movie Space Jam came out the next year, starring Jordan and various Warner Brothers characters. Off the top of my head I can't think of any contemporary athlete in any sport who would be a similar box office draw today. Things went south for the Blazers just a few years after this, culminating in the infamous "Jail Blazers" years. One local blogger recently suggested adding a Rasheed Wallace plaque to the fountain to commemorate his all-time record for technical fouls in a season, a record that may very well stand for all time.

I've mentioned the Essential Forces fountain in passing before, in a very early post from January 2006, back when I still had a fresh supply of snark. I was pretty thrilled when Alt.portland linked here. The fountain also got a brief (and unfavorable) mention in a Portland Public Art post, contrasting it with the Holladay Park sculptures & fountain. (If you ask me, a more striking contrast would be this fountain versus the World War II Memorial & Fountain next door at Memorial Coliseum). Portland Public Art went on hiatus in April 2009, and Alt.portland has been on "extended hiatus" since 2010, and somehow I'm still going. I'm not sure what to make of that.

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