Friday, December 19, 2014

Pioneer Courthouse Square expedition

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Several months ago, I had what I thought was a great idea. I was nose-down in work projects and didn't have a lot of free time to go take photos, so I was looking at what else I could do with photos I already had. I did a bit of digging out old film photos and scanning them, and that was kind of fun, but I also realized I had a lot of photos from places that weren't obscure enough to merit posts here, including Multnomah Falls, Chapman & Lownsdale Squares, and the subject of today's adventure, Pioneer Courthouse Square. So I gathered existing photos into Flickr photosets, created draft posts, and... promptly moved on to more compelling topics, by which I mean places and things that haven't already been written up in every single Portland tourist guide ever written. So these posts all lingered around in my Drafts folder until now, and I'm dealing with them now because I'm trying to get to zero drafts by the end of the year.

So with that not-very-inspiring introduction, let me tell you a couple of things about Pioneer Courthouse Square. Some people (myself not included) call it "Portland's Living Room". It's a brick plaza in the heart of downtown Portland, across the street from the historic federal Pioneer Courthouse, hence the name. It hosts concerts and farmers markets all summer, and the city's official nonsectarian Holiday Tree (as well as the Holiday Ale Festival) each winter, and some Rose Festival flower displays each spring. When there isn't an event going on, it's kind of a weird empty space, and people tend not to linger in the flat, open part of the square. That's the big defect of the place, and a major reason it's not my favorite public space in the city. The other sorta-defect is that the restaurant space in the NW corner of the square has been occupied by a Starbucks for nearly the entire lifetime of the square. If I recall correctly it was the first Starbucks in Portland, dating back to the late 1980s, so it's technically a historic Starbucks, but it's still just a Starbucks.

Every Portland history book will tell you the story of how, back in the mid-1980s, today's square replaced an ugly surface parking lot. Which in turn replaced the Victorian-era Hotel Portland, an ornate Second Empire structure that was either amazingly beautiful or a haunted Gothic horror, depending on your aesthetic preferences. The hotel in turn displaced the city's New England-esque Central School Building, because tearing down a school to make room for a swanky hotel is an entirely reasonable and legitimate thing to do. I have yet to learn what (if anything) was here before the school went in. I thought about digging in and researching it, but given the prominence of the square I assume someone has already done the research, and the reason I don't already know the answer is that the answer isn't very interesting. It was probably just wooden pioneer shacks. Saloons and a general store, most likely. Possibly some farm supplies or something.

Anyway, the reason I already had photos of the square is that I've covered some individual features of the square in previous posts. Somehow they seemed sufficiently obscure on their own, while the square as a whole didn't. Anyway, the previous posts include:

Also potentially of interest: Running Horses, a sculpture that used to be located in the square. It was moved to the Transit Mall several years ago, I think in conjunction with the new MAX tracks along 5th & 6th Avenues. Oh, and I have a few photos of that time in 2011 when the Stanley Cup visited Portland and made an appearance here. So yeah.

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