The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia





There’s a loneliness to the concrete bust in the front yard of a house on Columbia Boulevard across the street from the Humane Society. I’ve spent years driving past the sculpture that casts his gaze across the bustling four-lane roadway. I can’t remember the first time I got a good look at it but it was in a car going 40 miles an hour. I imagine I thought to myself when I spotted the bust, “that’s John F. Kennedy.” Every time since then I’ve looked for the concrete replica because of this resemblance. The Kennedy hair, the Kennedy face and the Kennedy torso, although I can’t say I’m all that familiar with the torso; it all seems a match. I have not confirmed whether it is Kennedy. There’s a tiny twinge of doubt that has me considering that the bust could represent an legendary Oregonian who happens to look a lot like our 35th president.

The bust sits in front of an old house, the kind of place suited to someone’s grandparents. I was motivated to finally take pictures when a for sale sign popped up in the area. It had me wondering if this section of Columbia Boulevard was going to be redeveloped. The house sits between a similar house and one with a garish paint job that once headquartered a private dancer club. It’s a safer bet that the club was targeted for sale and demolition with the two houses remaining in their awkward placement along this industrial thoroughfare. Update: I saw no evidence of a for sale sign on a recent visit.

At Halloween time I dropped by because the bust had been dressed in a costume. On that visit I noticed the base of the sculpture included elk carvings. This created my initial doubt. The appropriate images would have been a PT-109 boat or something symbolic of the Kennedy essence. Sure the Kennedy family has a compound in Maine but there was never a legend, that I heard, associating John Kennedy with an elk or even a moose.

Detail: bust base elk.

After my usual speculation I’m ready to make my case that the bust is Kennedy. Then I’ll make a case that the bust isn’t Kennedy. Of course this goes against everything Perry Mason stood for–I mean trying to argue both sides of the coin is a bit of a conflict unless we’re talking about a two-headed nickel which make no sense because Kennedy is on the 50 cent piece.

The most Kennedy aspect to the bust is the hairstyle. It’s exact. If that was a popular hairstyle at any point in time and for anyone else then I could see the statue being someone who was sporting the Kennedy hairdo back in the day. The hairstyle is singularly representative of one person and one person only: John F. Kennedy. Maybe, I want to believe it’s Kennedy because my roots are in the state of Massachusetts and I grew up on the Kennedy mystique.

As to why this may not be Kennedy lies in whether the face of the bust captures the JFK identity. It’s close enough for anyone taking artistic license but the shirt with the pockets threw me off. Any image of this president should depict him looking presidential–in a suit. Any other representation has the feel of the guy being out of uniform.

All of this has the Portland Orbit pledging a year-long investigation into this matter. There will be actual research, phone calls, letters and a door knock if necessary to find out the true identity of this bust. You’ll have to wait until the next anniversary of Kennedy’s passing for an answer. In the meantime the Kennedy Files will return next month to cover a bona fide Kennedy tribute.

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4 thoughts on “The Kennedy Files: Kennedy on Columbia

  1. AMY MILBURN says:

    I did a little research…here is what I found:

    “Ngo Dinh Diem on Columbia Blvd
    Posted by pdxart under sculpture

    A home on Northeast Columbia Boulevard has kept a concrete monument of the former president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem (1901-1963, in office 1955-1963) in it’s front yard overseeing thousands of trucks and trains each day, for the past 20+ years.

    Diem’s amazing, corrupt, and dynamic career set the stage for the US defeat in Southeast Asia. For some Vietnamese who profited greatly in the early years of the wars may consider Diem to be an modern leader for a tiny weak nation stuck between two superpowers. For the rest of the world he was a petty dictator propped up by the French and the US. History hasn’t been kind to Diem or his supporters, so it’s interesting to find this sculpture and note it’s duration in one place.

    The features show a young Diem, heroic and masculine. The pedestal has a picture of elks – the sculpture doesn’t fit it correctly. It’s a mash up.

    The sculpture is about two-times life size, and I estimate it’s weight at over 800 pounds. I doubt it was cast around here, so it must have been transported, by truck, from where it was cast – probably a community with a large number of Vietnamese in the 1970s, Seattle or San Jose – and the set in position using some sort of crane or hoist. Quite a complicated arrangement.”

    It shows the picture you have of the bust, and the link to the information is here: https://portlandpublicart.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/ngo-dinh-diem-on-columbia-blvd/

    Not sure if that helps, or just leads the mind wondering further. I also think, since the base doesn’t match the bust well, that the base may have been another statue representing David P Thompson who was a Portland Mayor in 1881-1885, and was the President of the Oregon Humane Society. He felt Elks were regal and strong, and had the famous Thompson Elk statue on Southwest Main Street built. Perhaps the owner that made the bust used a base or something from the humane society to place his work upon??? Quite a fun little mystery there!

    Amy Milburn

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    • davidc5033 says:

      Amazing! I got a comment on Facebook that mentioned the bust was of a Vietnamese leader but I was lost as to who it could be. That’s an amazing amount of research and much appreciated and yes it helps. I’ll be sure to give you a shout out when I reopen the Kennedy Files. The mystery does now seem to be about how the bust and base got together.

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