Summer Teeth Part Three: The Magic in Arthur Water’s Teeth

End of the road?

Working the margins of speculation made the payoff of actually corroborating a local legend much sweeter. I was already feeling good about doing some “boots on the ground” investigative reporting but I was still mystified by a section of town I had never been to, a bicycle map that made me wonder if I’d reach the possible denture burial sites I’d heard about and that my pursuit of looking for fake teeth in concrete was making me  the Mayor of Crazy Town. There was research. I credit that to Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit. He’d been giving me gentle, long distance nudges to get out of the house. I had to act before he offered up shoves. Will put an announcement on Reddit asking about the teeth legend/denture art installation project and he’d gotten a few responses along with some positive rating points, whatever those mean. With concrete (pun intended and beautifully executed) intel, I set out to verify if there were any planted teeth left. I’d poured through a South Portland history book from the library that I’d heard mentioned a teeth installation but I couldn’t find it. How about including dentures in the index Laflar?

The site!

With my map confusion, I was surprised to find that the streets mentioned intersected. I was able to visit cross streets identifiable by street signs and hunt down dental evidence. In a correspondence, Will had made an an amusing cavity reference. At the very least I was hoping to see a hole or broken section of curb where the teeth had once been. I was getting the feeling that I was writing another post about my being a schlub blogger in search of a legend turning up empty. The Arthur/Water intersection seemed the most promising. A legend had already sprung up about  “Arthur Water’s teeth” and although there was no famous Portlander named Arthur Water related to the story the nickname stuck. I went to the four corners of this intersection looking for clues and wondering what sidewalk planted teeth would look like when I noticed a neighbor down the street beyond a sidewalk closed sign.

Concrete cavity from industrial dentistry.

Approaching the neighbor, I had concerns about how I’d be perceived. It’s odd enough to be approached by anyone. It usually has me reaching for my wallet. My opening was something about whether the man had lived in the neighborhood for a while and if he had heard the legend of buried teeth. He didn’t skip a beat pointing out that they had been underneath the street sign. “They’re gone. Somebody dug ‘em up,” he said. The use of the word somebody may explain why I didn’t ask who dug them up. That didn’t matter because I was hearing they had existed. He explained that they’d been gone over ten years and had looked like a jaw bone. I mentioned what I’d heard, that the teeth had been planted fifty years ago, I realized I was off by some number of years. He responded  that the dark gray sidewalk had looked like they’d been there since the 30’s.


The Teeth!

My journalist skills, having eroded, made me realized I had neglected to ask the man his name. I later learned it was Jesse. I asked him about the neighborhood being tucked away between Naito and I-5. He voiced a legitimate gripe about the condo building that had replaced the green house, next door to his, where there had been a stage for house parties. It was rumored that the Dead Kennedys had played there. Jesse revealed he had an old cell phone image of the teeth that he promised to hunt down and send me. (See above!) I left thanking him for being willing to talk to me when I had felt like I was creeping around the neighborhood asking about teeth. He responded, “And then you’re like he’s actually seen them, that’s crazy.”

I headed off to locate the other sites. The intersection of what I thought was Corbett and Sheridan (actually Water and Sheridan) lined up in an industrial way station surrounded by fences tucked under highway overpasses. It looked like an area stray teeth could be found. The street post was surrounded by dirt and gravel with little concrete, besides the curb, that would have secured teeth for any time. I could have searched more but I had already gotten lucky enough to discover one good denture story and there was no one in the vicinity to offer another.

How many buried teeth?

I walked past the west side of the Ross Island bridge, another possible location. There was no indication besides slabs of concrete in line for an upgrade. I noticed possible cavity fill from whatever industrial dentistry may have been performed to remove dentures that may have been there. As I walked down SW Kelly Street past signs posted about a missing cat named Dexter, I reached the last location, the intersection of SW Water Street and SW Abernathy near Barbur Boulevard. The area was over grown, with sidewalk moss that would have a required a giant toothbrush to clear it away. There seemed to be little chance to spot teeth in this concrete.

SW Abernathy and SW Water

Anything to unearth?

I’d already accomplished more than I thought I would. With my brain full of images of broken down sidewalks, my ears full of the traffic swishing sounds, I caught the last glimpses of the setting sun’s splashes of autumnal hues cast against a late afternoon sky while walking through the shadows of the urban neighborhood to my car.

Planted rocks, not teeth on Kelly St.

I still had questions. I never had a sense of how many dentures were planted. While wandering around it occurred to me that I would have planted hundreds of dentures as a spider unleashes hundreds of babies onto the world hoping that like the spiders some of the installed teeth would survive. I thought about how the teeth were placed in the sidewalk. It couldn’t have been easy to chop up concrete and then seal up the dentures. One answered question took the sting out of the remaining mysteries. A day later Jesse sent an email that included the promised photograph. I saw it the morning after he sent it and it made my day. Something felt magical when I received that evidence along with experiencing a Portland neighborhood I’d never seen, meeting a receptive neighbor and hearing a story of a long ago punk rock show. I had a boost of civic pride. There could have been magic in those teeth. They gave me hope that Portland will always have pockets of weirdness to be discovered.

Pop Art Dentistry

Interstate Dental Clinic

Would you rather go to an ice cream parlor or the dentist? That question is preposterous, rhetorical and easily answered but it does seem that a colorful, cheery building exterior that feels more ice cream shop than dentist office might take the sting or even tooth pain out of having to have your teeth worked on. At least on a subconscious level.

Pop Art Dentistry 1

The Interstate Dental Clinic located on its namesake Interstate Avenue makes it potentially easier to visit the dentist, especially one that practices sedation dentistry, by offering up an exterior office design of bright colors, a glossy lip plaque, candy stripped awnings, prevent snoring signs and pop art bike racks that combine to create a pleasant atmosphere and ease the intimidation factor out of those who need to sleep through their dental procedures.

And I am not trying to make light of sedation dentistry. As much as my teeth seem to be falling apart in my advancing years, I’ve managed to make it through appointments on anxiety and terror. I tried nitrous once when I had a deep cavity and while it was a gas it was a bit of a bad trip as well.

Pop Art Dentistry 2

The Interstate Dental Clinic further accents it’s exterior design with these whimsical, sculptural bike racks. I’ve noticed several other designs in the nearby area so I’m planning expanded coverage plus some insightful commentary. For now these decorative elements are above and beyond anything any of the other dental clinics are using to entice customers and they make this an inviting place to have to go see a dentist.

Pop Art Dentistry 3

Pop Art Dentistry 4

Pop Art Dentistry 5

All apologies go to Mrs. Yuchmow. I know you taught Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit that you should never start a sentence with the word “and,” but it just felt right.


Need more dentistry art?


The Golden Tooth of Hollywood

Golden Tooth 3

This golden tooth caught my eye in the Hollywood District of Portland.  I appreciated the weather vane but it wasn’t until later that I realized the molar was surfing on a golden toothbrush.  I had a minute before I had to be at the nearby Hollywood Theatre so I was only able to take one picture to treasure. I’m also an admirer of the fancy font used to describe this place of business.

My concern is whether the dentist or dentists from this office are more focused on the design elements of the exterior of their facility. Could this possible distract them from bicuspids, molars and cavities? It feels wrong headed to question professionals in the field of dentistry. How much focus is really necessary on design elements once they’re chosen and affixed to a building? Unless they’re falling over, it’s probably easy to go back to thinking about what you have to think about when you deal with teeth, gums and gingivitis all day. Maybe this is more of a subconscious worry about the possibility of encountering a distracted dentist.

Right now it might be better to sit back and admire the striking elements that make up this unusual weather vane and marvel at the swirling font selection of the sign.

Golden Tooth 4


A couple of weeks later I grabbed this not so great shot from the car that proves that the vane rotates!

Sign says…#2

It’s nice to consider a dentist with a sense of humor. Sometimes dentists only seem funny when nitrous oxide is involved. And pain associated with the television show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is the operative word. When you watch it you wonder what you’re watching and how it could possibly be on TV. Then you have to consider why you can’t stop watching it. It’s like channel surfing in a cable television tsunami.

dental marquee

This sign is outside a new dental office on North Lombard Street.  With multiple dental offices up and down Lombard, I consider North Portland, with great pride, to be the dental capital of the whole city.