Sunday, December 21, 2014

Weather Beacon

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This blog has visited downtown Portland's Standard Plaza a couple of times, once for Ring of Time, the Guardian-of-Forever sculpture in front of the bulding's 6th Ave entrance. The 5th Ave. entrance was briefly home to Tri-Met, a relocated piece of transit mall art that's since been relocated again, reportedly to MHCC in Gresham this time. Today we're visiting the building again, but this time we're interested in the roof of the building, home to a 50 foot tower with a weather beacon on top. The beacon is a multicolored light that gives a rough, low-bandwith idea of the current weather forecast: It's red if temperatures are increasing, white if decreasing, and green if staying the same. It blinks if precipitation is expected, otherwise it's on solidly. This being Portland, it spends most of its time green (90% of the time, according to a 2012 article), and usually blinking. You wouldn't know that from my photos. When I take a photo of it, inevitably either it's just blinked off, or it's impossible to tell whether it's lit or not due to the light & angle. Somehow I've never managed to take a photo of the beacon that I like, which is the main reason this post has been sitting around in drafts for ages. If I do get better photos at some point, I'll just add them to the set and delete all this griping about it.

Anyway, the beacon was added to the shiny new Standard Insurance building in 1963, and officially dedicated on July 24th by a former Miss Raindrop, whatever that is. The Standard building was already the tallest in town, and the beacon gave it a little extra height and put a landmark on top. An article about the new building notes that keeping the beacon up to date involved phoning the Weather Bureau three times a day for the latest forecast. Meanwhile the operators of the Weather Machine in Pioneer Courthouse Square rely on once-daily updates, the lazy schlubs.

The current beacon replaced a similar 1950 beacon (which used the same weather code) on the company's previous offices at SW 9th & Washington. The older building was sold to a medical group, and the new owners considered a few options for repurposing the old beacon, such as indicating births for the year, or traffic fatalities. (The giant Vulcan statue in Birmingham, AL served as a traffic fatality indicator for many years, which always sounded really creepy to me.) Eventually the doctors chose "none of the above" and dismantled the old beacon in 1965.

Unfortunately the beacon isn't quite the local landmark it once was, now that taller buildings have grown up all around the Standard building. (The linked article is from 1985, and matters haven't exactly improved since then.) You can still see it from selected locations around town. It's no substitute for checking your phone's weather app, but it's nice that it still exists. There's something sort of cozy and retro about it, and its Twitter account (because of course it has one) is kind of fun.

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