Mystery Businesses

Where's the sign?

Where’s the sign?

There are secret businesses operating all over Portland. I know, I know that has the sound of the beginnings of a weird conspiritorial rant but it’s probably not that big a deal. These operations do their thing in nondescript buildings that fit the description that the phrase undisclosed location brings to mind. There’s no prominent identification, no signs so it’s hard to tell what’s going on behind closed doors. My assumption is that the businesses have a name but for whatever reason they’re not telling and I don’t get it.

A lack of signage creates an air of mystery around businesses. You’d think any establishment would want to shout out it’s name to excite the world and get people interested in what they do. My limited business sense tells me signage is important. Is this post a cry for appropriate signage or for any at all? That’s part of my complaint. Come on! Opportunities for graphic art designs to come to life are being thwarted here.

Planning this blog post had me curious about the goings on of these places and their low profile. Sometimes it’s a challenge to determine what happens on the inside of a building. There might be clues but that doesn’t confirm anything.

Everything seems to be about name recognition but these places aren’t playing by these rules. I’m not saying the mystery is bad, it’s more perplexing as to why these places don’t introduce themselves. It keeps me wondering. I may also just be curious or nosy but I feel excluded like these businesses are telling me it’s none of my business.

Food Factory?

Good enough to eat.

Good enough to eat.

It wasn’t a rumor but more of a vague memory mentioned in some Kenton neighborhood news release that a bagel company was moving into our area. It’s still hard to tell. I’ve never smelled bagels baking. I do see kitchen equipment on warm nights when they leave the doors open in the back. Still, why not hang an oversized rendering of the food item being manufactured along with the name of the company? Are the people who work there worried that other people would line up outside the building entrance looking to buy the food product being manufactured. Bagels would be popular so a low profile prevents long lines of unsatisfiable bagel shoppers.

I do have to say this is a great neighbor. They are quiet, they keep their odors to a minimum and if they make bagels, I love them and maybe I’ve had eaten their product somewhere in town.

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Image borrowed from the internet.

The building used to be the home of Branom Instruments. The old sign never shed any light on the mystery of what a Branom instrument is. Despite all this being left in the dark stuff, I’m at least glad to see the building back in action.

Warehouse Stories

Tracks of my tears

Tracks of my tears

This is another one of those locations where I’m relieved to have any business there at all, even if I have no idea what it is. The building, on Interstate Ave, was dormant for too long. When we moved here over eight years ago the previous tenant had something to do with car repair from what I recall. It looked like a cool building and I hated to see it vacant. During those empty years there were exterior paint jobs and graffiti attacks and signs advertising for an occupant. After a few too many years, a crew spruced up the space and cars filled the parking lot along with a shed and a canopy. A mural was added, a nice touch, but it offered nary a clue as to what goes on in the building. I spotted large ceramic jars through a window in the back which might be my best guess as to what they produce.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

This place can do what they want as long as they keep the cool 3D mural around.

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Bring your 3D glasses over!

Mystery Body Shop

Irregular hours for side jobs.

Irregular hours for side jobs, I think.

It’s not much of a mystery because it’s clearly an auto mechanic/body shop that faces Interstate Ave in our Kenton neighborhood. It doubles as a junkyard due to the bumpers and other car parts piled high behind a tall chain link fence. I’m going to bemoan, once again and ad nauseum, the lack of signage but why not display a spiffy name even if it is a laisser-faire operation. There’s something shady about a place that can’t tell you who they are or bother to come up with a name. That has to be the fun part of starting a business. Their anonymity is part of the deal of living in a neighborhood where we’re surrounded by plenty of other nameless neighbors.

Glass Works?

How to succeed in business,

How to succeed in business.

The industrial gray paint job stands out. It appears fresh amidst drab surroundings on Fessenden Ave. Upon closer inspection I could see it wasn’t a shop. The lack of any sign on the building and the blocked off windows revealed nothing. So, here’s a pro tip. If you want to know something you hang around. I kept walking by at lunchtime and one day noticed some glass blowing happening through on open door. This explained the pile of broken glass outside the side of the building.

That's a pile of glass shards.

That’s a pile of glass shards.

Mystery Biz

No sign of business.

No sign of business.

This was another business I noticed that didn’t identify itself. I took the picture in passing so I didn’t spend any time to figure it out. There could be a sign around the corner but there’s nothing obvious to me. It’s also an odd mix of architecture that might make more sense based on the tenant.

So you may have already asked yourself why this blogger hasn’t gotten off his duff (that’s an old fashioned word for keister) and done some research or reporting, you know like knock on a few doors. Well, I would do that but I’m leaving said door open for a part two to this post. In time I will find out something that takes the mystery out of these operations and I’ll pass on my findings.

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Art on the Blvd

It was a gradual thing, a minimal cultural renaissance that I noticed happening outside a trio of buildings along North Columbia Blvd., an industrial collection of warehouses and blue collar businesses. I want to imagine the art in this area springing up from the businesses trying to one up each other. That would explain the three pieces of roadside art in close proximity to one another. Regardless of the how and the why, without this art work, there would only be views of parking lots, weeds, railroad tracks and corrugated steel walls.

Art Flag 2 (1)

The exploding American flag has always been hard to miss. Bright, bold and a tad fuzzy, the flag reveals a stylish patriotism. What the initials SMF on the building stand for is still a mystery as Google searches would only direct me to information about the Sacramento airport so it’s anyone’s guess how the flag relates to the business. This just in: I caught a glimpse of the sign on the other side of the building. SMF stands for Specialty Metal Fabricators, not as much of a mystery as I thought.

Art Flag 1

Art Flag 3 detail

Trying to write about the flag painting technique only makes me feel like an art critic or art historian, something I’m not qualified to be. I appreciate the ragged stripes, star bursts and the 3D aspect of the waving flag revealed when I got up close and personal with this piece. There’s an energy, pizazz even (probably not an art critic word) although it wouldn’t take much to brighten up the gray skies and grimy surroundings of the Columbia Blvd industrial district.

Mural on Columbia wide (1)

A couple of buildings down, I noticed a mural. From a distance, I suspected it was making a statement about or depicting the realities homelessness. I like the train-car graffiti style and political feel.

Mural on Columbia close up

The imagery communicates the idea of humans being put out with the trash. Up close, the human is not fully detailed. I was thinking, “hotdog in a bun.”  I enjoy how the painting is framed in a starry-sky dream-world. It’s also a great addition to a bland cement wall.

Mantis wide (1)

The mantis appears to be more of a legitimate art piece. It may relate to the nondescript business inside. It reminds me of how cool praying mantises are. As a kid, I saw them as unusual, rare and exciting. They still seem exotic and more fascinating than gross. So a giant mantis is a good choice to break up a monotonous wall.

mantis close up (1)

This mantis seems to be peeling off his black background – artistic effect or a cause for concern?  We don’t know. The subtle red outline also adds  dimension. I’ve always been happy to look across the road and see this particular praying mantis. It’s art where it’s sorely needed.

You can take this art walk on Columbia Blvd off of N. Argyle anytime. You don’t need a First Friday, Third or Last Thursday to have a look.  You may have to dodge trains or stumble over weeds, but the tour potential is there. These works also have drive-by possibility. See the art while driving on Columbia Blvd heading towards St. Johns.

 

Many thanks to the blog Stag Beetle Power for listing us in their favorites column. Their latest post has a great list of upcoming events so be sure to check that out.

Displays Of Place

Tee Pee

My dog walking routine has changed since I’ve acquired a more anti-social dog. I had a regular route that would take me past the window of Kenton Antiques most days. There were times when I would stop and study everything on display. I appreciated that the displays would change or evolve, sometimes even an additional item would be added and I’d notice. I’m not walking by the store as much. Our current dog encounters more dogs in downtown Kenton than anywhere else in the neighborhood and it can be harder to maneuver him around so rather than face a vicious muzzle to muzzle encounter we take alternative routes. I still get by the store plenty and always appreciate a wave from the owner Mo Bachmann. Stuff from the store is always displayed in the front window with some displays being more random and others fitting themes centered around holidays or going back to school.

I appreciate the Kenton Antique store because it was under different ownership when I first moved to Kenton. The owner then was nice enough. Sometimes there was coffee brewing in the store and candy and I had more time to kill then. I’ve seen a difference in the level of interest Mo has in her customers since she’s taken over the store. She’s also shares her interests in collectibles and antiques in an enthusiastic and infectious way.

I’m familiar with her window display work because I made a short film about a particular display she made. It’s been years, but when Mo broke out the 80’s figurines and pitted them against a brigade of plastic army soldiers and staged it around a scale model battleship my mind was blown. I used to work in a group home and late one Monday evening coming back from work, I was riding my bike through Kenton when I saw the display. I was impressed that rather than display objects from the store the scene in the window was a multilayered narrative. It stirred my imagination and inspired me to get back into making short films. I knew Mo a bit at that time and felt comfortable asking her to sit for an interview. She was also generous in allowing me to run around the store crouching and crawling through her window display to get footage.

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Detail from the film The Battleship Battle.

Tee Pee (1)

Which brings me to why I’m writing this in the first place. Sometimes with window displays it’s one item in particular that I relate to without knowing why. I remember seeing a teepee in the window, a strange one-off item and it was hard to tell if it was something decorative or a child’s toy. It seemed like that dug into my subconscious on some level because when the book The American Indian and the Occult appeared in the corner of the window I had to have it.

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It might have been the title, the subject matter or the design of the book or all three that captured my attention. Most things I can pass on but this book, I was worried someone else was going to snatch it up. It turned out to be a book that I would have appreciated more while serving detention in middle school, but it is a good book full of strange stories. It’s probably not the type of book you’re going to find anywhere else but at Kenton Antiques. The sad story of the Tukudeka Indians also known as the Sheepeaters who lived in the rugged mountain ranges of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho was especially poignant–a whole tribe of Indians wiped out by small pox.

.Chief Joseph

Not only did Mo’s teepee in the window sway me, but I’ve had a sense of NW Indian culture around me since moving out here. It’s resonated in various ways from hearing the history of the people who lived here and seeing images like the one at the local elementary school named after Chief Joseph that I used to pass on my way to work. All this has combined to create a magical vibe that now has me studying the psychic secrets of ancient people.

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See the re-edit of the video The Battleship Battle. I’ve posted this before but I really felt the need to fix one particular shot.

Wildlife of Killingsworth

How wild are things going to get on a street that runs through the campus of a community college? There’s a pho place we like and I’m in awe of the Florida Room with the cryptic messages they leave on their marquee and that one bar, Ducketts Public House, looks like a place for an intense experience. We’re talking a completely different kind of wildlife. It may just be a coincidence and not a homage to any real animals that roam up and down Killingsworth St. because I have never seen any. I noticed a theme of sorts on Killingsworth that has to be more accidental than planned. It first became apparent with  Elk Cleaners & Laundry.

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The business is named for animals that haven’t roamed this part of town for hundreds of years, if they ever did, and has a mural advertising what is now a defunct dry cleaners and laundry operation featuring the portrait of an Elk trophy head.  More evidence of demise is the obscured phone number at the bottom of the sign. I’m glad to see the mural/signage remains.

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On the same block, a mature buck deer graces the sign of the Saraveza Bottle Shop and Pasty Tavern. The sign is a beautiful thing, majestic in it’s animal choice, portraiture and woodsy feel from the background design. How the deer works with the bar known to be a Packer fan hang out, I’m not sure, but it fits in well with the remains of the Elk Cleaners a few steps away.  It does prove that a handsome animal will improve any sign.

My favorite wildlife sighting, and the last one on this tour, remains up the road around 42nd Ave.

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It’s a cement deer with wide antlers and a beat up face that I’ve always appreciated for it’s folk art and outsider art appearance. My assumption had been that the fountain design was made from white shells, but it’s only rocks that look like shells from a distance.

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All the times I drove past the deer’s habitat, I never realized he was posing next to a fountain until I got close enough to take his picture. Sadly it was not operational at the time of my visit.

So there you have many a wildlife tribute on the not so wild street of Killingsworth. Then again it’s not such a dull street. It did have a Minus 5 album named after it.

Cosmic Bowling

The center of every neighborhood should revolve around a bowling alley. It’s a place where people meet, chat, catch up and then throw heavy balls at wooden pins and listen to the sound they make as they hit the polished floor that adds spin to the bowling balls that are hurled down the long alley towards the pins. The cycle would repeat itself until the bowling alley was closed for the night and everyone would go home to get ready for the next day’s work and the following evening’s bowling and visiting with neighbors. But bowling is not such a neighborly activity anymore. It may be a dying sport. I’ve yet to read the book Bowling Alone. It’s an older book that, as I recall, summed up the underlying story of what’s going with humanity and bowling. The Kenton neighborhood used to have a bowling alley that now houses the Disjecta Arts Center. We lost our lanes when they moved up the street to new digs and became Interstate Lanes.

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I’ve long admired the simple yet cosmically inspired, with a slight psychedelic twist, external decoration that can be seen in a mural on the building, the sign post, entryway paint job and strips of neon. Sure the paint may be peeling off the outside walls and I’ve heard a rumor that the bowling alley may close but I’m hopeful it will stay open if only because there are now too few places to bowl left in the area.

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The entry way has a multicolored picture of what looks like the evolutionary stages of upright bowling. It could also be seen as group of bowlers who like to bowl together–especially close.

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The sign post does it right. Somehow a conglomeration of metal stripes and shields supports a sign that creates a visual pun by replacing letters with bowling equipment. Regardless of how aged it looks, it all seems so classy, clever and cool.

closeup

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The coup de grace, pardon my French, is the giant mural on the side of the bowling alley that hasn’t totally succumbed to vandals. It’s where things get cosmic. I see intergalactic bowling in space. This occurred to me because the round object at the lower edge of the picture looks like a planet. I image Aliens being the ones to keep the sport of bowling popular. This would probably be because they would enjoy smoking and drinking PBR which seems as much a part of the game as the game itself. The mural is a thing of beauty with a slight marring from an errant spray can nozzle. I can only suggest a double dose of cosmic bowling which would entail staring at the mural and then actually doing some actual cosmic bowling resulting in more of a trip than just going to Interstate Lanes.

This is Not a Motel

This is Not a Motel 2

Surely not a nod to Magritte, but a sign letting people know that what looks like a motel is now no longer a motel. The Comfy Inn has been a short-term housing center run by Emmanuel Community Services for close to two years.

comfy inn est

While it might be confusing, it is cool to see the motel’s “motel” characteristics left intact. The sign and the mural around back, as well as the neon arrow pointing to the motel’s check-in office remain. The unspectacular sign serves as a reminder of the other motels and motel signs up and down Interstate Ave. The neon message that says sorry at the bottom of the sign is as good an apology as can be offered to someone who reads the words “this is not a motel” taped to the old office window and then has to head down Interstate Ave looking for other accommodations.

comfy inn sign

neon sorry

comfy inn mural 2

I don’t know if the sign will always be around but the mural has survived a recent paint job.

I miss the days when the motel was a motel. The biggest excitement then was when the motel would fill up with people coming from all over to attend the Portland International Raceway Auto Swap Meet. These days my inner curmudgeon gets inflamed by noisy kids playing in the motel parking lot when I’m trying to write. I was also irritated about a construction trailer for 6 months after our new neighbors arrived but one construction trailer became two smaller ones and they seem to have blended into the background. Sure the motel was once a quieter place but I can’t deny kids the right to make their joyous sounds. Besides it drowns out the hammering from the condo project across the street and the neighborhood’s many barking dogs as we all strive to live together in perfect harmony.

Read a Willamette Week blog post about this very topic:

http://www.wweek.com/portland/mobile/blogs/blogView/id:32901

Assigned reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Magritte

Western 2

One of my favorite motel signs on Interstate Ave.

Owls Take Over

mural Owl

My first thought when eyeing this owl mural while riding my bike up North Vancouver Avenue had me concerned with the resale value of this property. As a homeowner this seemed a pressing issue. Would the future homebuyer have to be an owl aficionado? With the house not being for sale this line of thought is null and void so it’s best just to enjoy the view. As I begin to notice my own interior landscape giving way to owls, it makes this home’s owl exterior seem part of an infectious owl takeover.

interior owlsOwls on mantle

Mural Mayhem: When Rabbits Attack

My expose on the cancellation of Perry Mason is a bit more involved than I realized.

In the meantime I bring you this:

Mural Rabbit Attack

It appeared on a wall on Alberta Street that once had a white movie screen painted on it so the bar could use the patio area to screen movies.  Subject matter aside, it’s colorful, dynamic, but still, somehow, deep down, disconcerting.  The movie screen seemed like a cool idea that didn’t work out.