Pole Art or Not?: A Special Report

A recent mention on Reddit regarding some of my past Pole Art posts drew me back to noticing this kind of thing. I had written about one of the more perplexing styles of Pole Art because materials used appear less like art and more like something that could, with some explanation, be a functional part of the pole. The use of pieces that resemble bottle nipples, caps or other small leftover household gadgets screwed to poles have the makings of an unnamed subcategory of the Pole Art. A clue was provided by a glue cap I spotted attached to one of my neighborhood poles. Seeing something familiar in a different context made me realize this wasn’t a functional addition to the pole. This object was artistic in nature. It adhered to my belief that anything attached to a pole equals Pole Art. The what and the why is beyond even my imagination. My initial conclusion is that someone is creating what they think looks cool. There’s no shortage of available canvas which in this case is the many electrical poles around Portland.

Then more of these forms of Pole Art appeared, one right after another, on a recent dog walk. They’re small but usually placed at eye level so they aren’t hard to miss. Then again I’m one of the few who would look for them and spread the word of this Pole Art phenomenon to a slightly larger audience. With some thought, I could be inclined to come up with theories about what’s happening. Off the top of my head it feels like nods to forgotten industries, or trophies of dish soap tops, glue caps and drink tops. The mystery is overwhelming. I can’t claim to be the foremost authority on Portland Pole Art but I may be the only one who cares.

Tubular Swells

Tubing, some old Spirograph discs, a bottle cap, I’m not just creating an inventory of art parts, I’m listing the ingredients that have combined with an aura of colorful ridged textures to create a dashing piece of Pole Art.

Hands Across the Plastic

More than anything I had to consider the attachment going on between what looks like a bicyclist water bottle top and the plastic material above it. A close-up doesn’t help. It’s a jagged part that appears to be reaching out to connect the two pieces. Attempts at metaphors of human unity have never been replicated so well in other mediums.

Glue Screw

A glue cap can be a beautiful object to consider once it’s been screwed off of a bottle of glue. The  fact that this one is screwed into a blue cap with a plastic coated screw gives it additional panache. The screw is a fitting choice keeping in line with the overall plastic theme of the piece.

This Wheels on Fire

This is a hallmark of a great Pole Art. The black piece resembles either a pair of binoculars, a Polaroid camera or a VR gizmo. It’s smallness against the backdrop of the wooden expanse of the pole’s timber braces the viewer for ultimate impact.

The Endorsement Issue: Vote Early and as Often as You Wish

At primary election time I need to endorse something. An email tipped me off to the design contest for the Biketown rental bike system which became the thing that would allow me to sway people’s votes. I’m for any design that removes orange paint from those bikes. That color may offer visibility but my preference would be a shade of neon yellow or green. Now that I get to voice an opinion about what the bikes might look like there’s hope for an eye-catching design in the future.

Each quadrant of the city will have their own look which offers ample voting opportunities. My recommendation is solely focused on North Portland because it’s where I live and the area where I expect to encounter these bikes. After looking over the designs, I’ll admit to being impartial, but I liked those representing North Portland best. I must reiterate, any redesign of the bike’s appearance with multiple colors and patterns will be an improvement over the current orange standard. Now allow me to reveal that The Portland Orbit is whole heartedly in support of and thereby offering its endorsement of the design featuring the prominent use of the image of Paul Bunyan the adopted hometown hero of the Kenton neighborhood since he wandered by in 1959 and decided to stick around. From his head taking over the side of the bike basket, to his checkered shirt and blue painted pants around the seat area, there’s a playfulness that is sure to allow me some mild enjoyment from seeing people riding by on Biketown bikes.

Drawing borrowed for endorsement purposes.

I understand that a design could have represented the whole North Portland area but that probably proved too challenging. Paul is another kind of tourist attraction and for some reason I associate these bikes with tourists so why not let tourists ride on a tourist attraction inspired decorated bike. My impartiality stems from Paul Bunyan being my neighbor. He’s suffer through hard times and had his struggles with soot and peeling paint. Now he’s back, looking a tiny bit on the orange side (all shades of orange are disturbing to me these days) but I have more Paul pride than ever. It would be great to see this feelings reflected on a bike. In the winter when all the leaves have fallen off the trees I’m able to see Paul’s hat pom-pom from our house. That’s the one aspect of the design that may be flawed. I would have liked a pom-pom incorporated into the design but at this point it’s too much to ask the designer to go back to the drawing board.


A spin of the globe goes out to Josh G. for letting me know about the design competition.

I heard back from Josh G. that the winners have already been decided. You can find that information here.




The Art of Noise

Three esoteric reasons combined on April 11, to motivate me to go downtown. There was a Noise Review Board meeting, a PPS art celebration, that made me think I could score some grub to offset my Arts Tax, plus an afternoon protest over a shooting in a homeless shelter called Beds Not Bullets. The Orbit budget only covered a two and a half hour Trimet ticket. Time was tight. I started at City Hall expecting to run into protestors. If I could get through the crowds I would go to the Noise Review Board meeting then the Portland Art Museum. The tear gas and protestors had dissipated. I saw no evidence of a protest. I approached City Hall like I owned the place to find the doors locked. Discovering I was at the employee entrance I stood around until I noticed a sign directing me to the doors on SW 4th Avenue. There were no protesters around this side of City Hall. The early bird protest had me a bit dumbfounded.

I headed into City Hall catching up with two neighbors who were part of my neighborhood association. I sensed the solidarity but being a fair weather meeting attendee I didn’t get a chance to explain why I wouldn’t be there long. Entering City Hall was not as bad as expected. There was a pat down with a magic wand/metal detector but I didn’t have to remove my shoes or empty my pockets. Then we set off to find the Pettygrove Room. The quarters were cramped but it’s hard to imagine most meetings being standing room only like this one.

The Noise Review Board in action.

My interest in the meeting involved the sole agenda item concerning noise levels at the Portland International Raceway. I live near the track. For the most part it’s a live and let live kind of thing. The sounds don’t bother me. Race fans have that need for speed and the voice calling races through the P.A. system creates a feeling of an unknown nostalgia for me when I hear it at our garden plot. At this meeting representatives of an upcoming race were asking for a variance for noise levels. As explained on the City of Portland website, a variance is “for activities that make more noise than our Noise Code allows.” I had recently downloaded a decibel app on my phone which came with a handy chart. My curiosity piqued when I saw that the 115 decibel levels they were asking for are comparable to a rock concert. Beyond that I wanted to know who attends Noise Review Board meetings and see the board members. I imagined them wearing industrial headphones for some reason. None of them did. Other answers I sought related to finding out would happen if noise levels were exceeded and how the sound was measured. I caught the opening remarks of David Sweeney, representing the race promotions company and heard him talk about how excited people would be to have Indy car racing back in Portland and the boost the race would offer the local economy. He discussed how the noise levels would be controlled. Cars exceeding the levels would be taken off the track for adjustments. He explained that test days helped determine the types of tires that would be used in the races.

In the too small meeting room I detected an odor of cologne and Subway sandwiches eaten prior to the meeting. I noticed a photo exhibit in the room, shots of protestors, that were engaging images to mix into the proceedings. Deliberations might have been interesting along with a mix of different perspectives from the testimony but my time with the Noise Review Board was brief. These were a matter of fact bunch, who took on all variations of noise, the majority dealing with construction or race track. The board chairman mentioned people offering oft-repeated testimony could say something like, “it’s already been said,” to speed the meeting along. There was something about the formality that made me nervous. I had been there almost a half an hour and had already eyed the door knob and mentally rehearsed how I would make my exit. The sign on the door said pull but I reminded myself that I would need to pull the handle down first then open the door. Leaving the building, I remembered I wanted to ask the security guard about the protest but I had already gone through the turnstile. The guard was across the lobby talking to a coworker with his back turned. It was time to shift from politics to art.

Since the inception of the Arts Tax, it seemed like a burden to fork over additional money at income tax time. I learned from a crawl on the Channel 12 news that 92 art and music teachers in kindergarten through 5th grade schools were employed with the help of the tax. Working in an elementary school, it would be hard to imagine students without a music or art teacher. I’ve been slowly making my peace with the tax but the 70 bucks I pay for our household takes an annoying bite from our meager budget. This was the first I had heard of any events related to the Arts Tax so I had to check it out.

Arriving at the event space at the Portland Art Museum, I was surprised. The place was packed. Not expecting mobs of art enthusiasts, I weaved through the crowd as the school system Superintendent spoke in the museum’s third floor ball room. He sounded official, enthusiastic and supportive. I was inspired but not sure what to do about it. A video showing drama students going to Seattle to see Hamilton followed. Then more Hamilton. A student stood on a separate stage busting out a Hamilton-style Paul Revere rap. It was as educational as it was engaging but I was in Hamilton overload. Where was the food? This crowd, there were too many people to feed. Heading over to a side wall I spotted the spread on a small table with items covered in cellophane. There was not enough food to feed me much less the massive gathering. Once the food was ready I restrained myself. It wasn’t going to be fair to hog humus. I chewed and stewed then realized I needed to see the art–the fruit of the Arts Tax. The Grant High School Jazz band began. They were hopping. They played me off as I exited for art.

The ballroom crowd reminded me of how supportive people are for the arts in Portland. Having come from the Noise Review Board, I was also reminded that issues get people engaged in civic meetings too. I found the art on the first floor where it occurred to me that these young artists had ideas. There was a piece from each school with an art program. I ran into the art teacher from my school along with the artist and her family. I put the teacher on the spot by asking her if it was hard to choose a piece of art to represent the school. She emphasized the challenge of picking one creation from the work of all the students. The selected art work was neat and organized–a challenge when you’re creating your work in an hour of class time. It stood out from the other work displayed at the school. After a few minutes of trying to capture the image of a seagull sculpture I dashed off to catch the train before my ticket expired.

I arrived home with minutes to spare. After a bit of reflection, I reached two less than serious conclusions about that evening’s events. I doubted that the noise from the race track would ever bother me more than the noise in my own head and I realized that the Arts Tax is a necessary evil especially when it teaches kids about art and how to make it. This won’t stop me from complaining about it. Life will go on and next year I’ll grumble again about making the payment.

Post Script: For anyone wondering about the variance from the April 11, Noise Review Board meeting, I can report that it was approved. I would point you to the hearing’s minutes but they won’t be posted until the Board approves them at their next meeting.

Evelyn Collins: Portland’s Mrs. Doubtfire?

Years ago I was riding my bike up North Williams Avenue, at a red light I noticed a portrait of Evelyn Collins on the Urban League building. I didn’t know who she was but her name was under her image. To me, she was the spitting image of Mrs. Doubtfire, a character played by the late actor Robin Williams in a movie of the same name. I took a picture and I rode on. Since then I’ve waited for my schedule to clear so I could explore the Evelyn Collins/Mrs.Doubtfire connection.

Evelyn and Mrs. Doubtfire

Robin Williams made some good movies like The Fisher King. He did a good Oliver Sacks impression in the movie Awakenings. He was endearing in Good Will Hunting and creepy in One Hour Photo. There are others, I’m sure, but I’m forgetting. He had a personality to be reckoned with. He had a heck of a movie career for a stand up comic. I didn’t consult IMDB which will prove to be my downfall, but I’ve been under the impression that his 90’s movie output included some bad role choices or movies that weren’t good. I’m remembering a trio of consecutive films that may have started with Patch Adams followed by Mrs. Doubtfire, where he played a female nanny and Bicentennial Man where he was cast as a robot. I had even considered that a 24 hour Robin Williams film festival would have had me running from the theater if I had been forced to watch these movies in consecutive order. I don’t mean any disrespect. The loss of Robin Williams was tragic. With all the insanity going on in the world today it sure would be nice to see him cutting up on a lame talk show.

I don’t remember if I saw Mrs. Doubtfire. I remember it being a kid’s movie, a comedy of errors with Williams stumbling around in pancake make up and wig that I’ve since learned took four and a half hours to apply. It seems unlikely that Williams would have known anything about Evelyn Collins, certainly not enough to base a character on her. I’m sure he visited Portland but it’s doubtful that he would have run across her filing away her essence in his subconscious for the time his movie career would require him to play a middle-aged woman. It occurred to me that I could do some research on the computer in hopes of finding a Doubtfire/Collins link. Robin Williams was sure to have made promotional appearances for the movie. I stumbled upon an interview on The Actor’s Studio where William’s made a comparison between Mrs. Doubtfire’s breasts and his own then began riffing on the idea of God thinking out loud while designing the female body. A post about Mrs. Doubtfire on Mental Floss described the movie’s production team looking at photos of women from the 1940’s before finding the image of an English woman who resembled what they were looking for in Mrs. Doubtfire. Of course it couldn’t have been something like Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams going out to dinner at a restaurant to discuss the Good Will Hunting project while Evelyn Collins sat quietly in the background eating a bowl of soup only to find Robin Williams creating a mental character study for future reference of this interesting and vibrant woman on his way to the men’s room. This would have been impossible anyway because Mrs. Doubtfire was made well before Good Will Hunting.

I wanted to write about Evelyn Collins to learn about her connection to the Urban League and how she got her portrait hung on their building. While searching for information I learned from a blog post on the Eliot neighborhood website that Collins owned the building that has become Wonder Ballroom. There she ran a daycare facility and community center for minority children. It originally felt like I was onto something when I discovered that Collins worked in a profession similar to that of the fictional character that reminded me of her. This is only a coincidence. The Collins/Doubtfire connection has gone from a private in-joke between me and myself to a now, slightly public in-joke. I’ll still think of Mrs. Doubtfire every time I ride or drive up North Williams Avenue and look at the Urban League building but this feels unfair to the legacy of Evelyn Collins. She is known for far more than her slight resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire. In the Eliot neighborhood piece, she was described as “an angel in our midst,” someone who provided “affordable Christian daycare to help working mothers.” From the Urban League website, I’ve determined that the portrait of Evelyn Collins is there to honor her life as a pioneer “who made a difference for Portland’s black community.” At least most people could agree that Mrs. Doubtfire dressed like Evelyn Collins.


Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge: An Orbit Obit

Here we go again, another place, like the strip club Exotica I memorialized, that’s shrouded in mystery to me and yet I feel a sense of loss at the closing of another Portland business. Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge, a karaoke club on an industrial boulevard, never seemed like it was in the best location. I wondered about it as I drove by on Columbia Boulevard, never stopping, but always looking to spot cars in the parking lot while imagining what was going on there. It felt lonely, the idea of someone wandering into that karaoke bar in the afternoon for a happy hour priced beverage and the chance to sing a song to a sparse crowd. It’s hard to tell if happy songs would have sounded more or less joyful in that atmosphere. I’m overlooking the social aspects of karaoke. Groups of cooperative coworkers might have congregated, sung and celebrated. I’ll never know. Unable to satisfy my curiosity, I remain haunted by the realization that I live too much in my imagination.

I heard about the last bash that happened Saturday, March 18th. Rich Reece generously offered to describe his experience closing the place out on that final night. We got sidetracked by Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge history. I learned that Chopsticks III opened sometime in the mid-aughts. Rich was familiar with two of the other three locations. There was a crew of “good jocks” that rotated through all the locations. Rich worked the deep recesses of the Average White Band back catalog at the old location on Burnside which is also closed. He joked that Chow opened Chopsticks III on Columbia Boulevard for him personally because he was a North Portland resident. He thought his quitting drinking had something to do with the closing of the business. The spirit of Chopsticks continues on at its 3390 NE Sandy Boulevard location.

David & Scott

Rich got to know the owner of the Chopsticks franchise, David Chow, when he sold advertising for the clubs while working for the Portland Tribune. One great thing I learned about Chow were the origins of his catch phrase. I’m impressed that Chow had his own phrase and he wasn’t afraid to use it. It’s there on the bar’s sign, in his ads and on his website. Rich explained that “how can be,” is a phrase of broken English used by Chow to express feelings of incredulousness. Chow also loves to use his image, a close up of his face in his advertising. He has always wanted to be a respected businessman. Rich steered me to his inspiration, car sales tycoon Scott Thomason who used his face in his advertising and has since left Portland under a cloud of controversy.

Outside the lifeless club a week after it’s last night of operation, I was struck by how big the parking lot was. A tall chain link separated the ample parking lot from the neighboring trucking business. In the corner of the outside lobby area, I spotted what should have been the first thing packed up, a decorative “how can be” ash tray with Chinese characters.

While I was taking photos a pick-up truck drove unto the lot and headed behind the defunct bar. I grabbed a few more shots bracing myself for a confrontation. An older man approached. He couldn’t have been nicer, asking what I was up to. I stressed how I had missed the bar’s last night and that I wanted to check the place out. He told me he was the new owner. This surprised me. I assumed the place would be demolished for the parking spaces. He told me he was reopening the building as another bar. Noticing the sign, he wondered out loud why it hadn’t been taken down. I mentioned that I had questioned whether this location was ever suitable for a bar. This led him to explain that his new business was actually a strip club adding something to the effect of “that’s what I’m going after.”

His revelation of being a strip club owner made me comfortable to confess that I was a blogger writing an obituary for the previous business. He seemed bemused by this which gave me the sense that the idea wasn’t strange to him. This made me feel good. We had a nice chat about the Iron City Beer/Pittsburgh T-shirt he was wearing. He’s from Portland but had been to Pittsburgh a couple of times. After that he excused himself to work on getting his club ready.

As he was leaving I asked him the name of his club.

“Desire,” he responded. Then, he walked away.

Oregon Decal Obsession Part 3: State of the State

Please allow for a continutied dip into the pool of sticker insanity. We’ll get back to our regular scheduled blog posting soon but at this point we’re stuck, (brilliant pun acknowledged) in the world of Oregon Decals, not that I know the difference between decals and stickers. For the most part these seem to end up on the rear windows of people’s cars and not on the back of traffic signs.

This being the third installment of this series, I have to reiterate that my interest in the stickers is the homage to the Grand Daddy of all them all, the green heart with a white background surrounded by the state border. Until I am proven wrong I will always believe these stickers are making a homage to this idea, or is it outright theft? The designs continue to cropping up in inventive ways inspiring my need to collect these images.

Everything that’s special about Oregon or Portland seems to be announcing itself within the state’s outline. Most of these stickers could have considered a different design. I am insinuating that decal designers might be on the lazy side. In the end, it’s okay because of the local and state angle begs for border usage. As luck has it, the Oregon border is more interesting than other geometric shapes that could be considered for framing.

Attis Shrugged

The internet can make it easy to solve the mystery of what Attis is. It takes two seconds but I  procrastinate and still don’t know what an Attis is. This inverse use of the heart in Oregon design, white on a black border instead of green on white is a novel approach and Attis is where the heart is.

Mountain Sale

The Mountain Shop advertises itself with a bold gold outline,  blue background and a dynamic double mountain graphic that sneaks into an almost lightning bolt. It’s worthy of being paired with the Grand Daddy of all the Oregon border stickers

A Batch Of Bachelor

In my guesstimation, Mt Bachelor resides close to the middle of the state, or not. The sunny 70’s style logo and loopy, conjoined font, refer to the mountain that would then be appropriately centered in this state bordered design. It’s a pleasant thought to consider Oregon mountains having their own PR departments.

Dirty Old Town

Of course the reindeer, or stag, to be more specific, is making an effort to leap out of the sticker. This design captures the look of our iconic sign. I can’t tell if the sticker has an aged feel that puts the old in Old Town or if the effect is coming from my bad photography.

State Bird?

Here’s where I’m thrown for a loop even before I get loopy writing all this. I will say this is a fun design but I’m not sure if it’s trying to promote a type of bird that lives in the area because I don’t know enough about the region’s birds or if this is a cartoon bird. The leafy eyes seem to point to the latter.  Then again, this may be the state bird. The research department is not returning my calls.

Pip’s Peak

This design is just plain nice, like an old State Park poster. The color is serene and the images are scenic and rustic. It’s hard to imagine a sticker that could transport me into the world of a winter’s afternoon wilderness but this one has that effect. These folks do unique things with donuts so why should I expect anything less of their decal design.


A sticker like this, on a beat up bumper, seems ironic enough. I knew the message well enough to disregard the duct tape covering the first word “Die.” Then I started wondering if the tape was intentional. The sticker now reads like an embracement of the moniker. You are the label you adhere to.

Bigfoot Retriever

I’m big enough of a Bigfoot believer to consider that there has to be at least a few of these creatures running around the backwoods of Oregon making this decal honoring them all the more spot on.

Scary Face

This is one intense sticker. It image has little to do with Oregon but it does capture the vibe I sometimes get from the state. The reason for using the border design escapes me, but let me tell you it’s a free country and if you want to make a scary monster face shaped state of Oregon decal and put it on the back of a traffic sign, well, you go right ahead and do that.

Wandering Around

The charm and a cutesy message of this sticker are not lost on me and neither is its wandering border. It offers hope to all wanderers. It’s a subtle beer sales tactic or maybe not so subtle given that the brewery’s name is Vagabond.

Home Stuck Home

If you have homes all over the state you need this sticker. I know, this design points out how at home people feel in Oregon. I could go on and on with theories about what’s being said here with each theory becoming more farfetched then the next but I’ll just give this sticker props for its use of a distinctive, skinny font on a verdant background. Home is where the heart should be.


Sports team insignia? Tribal affiliation? I’m not familiar with the image that pops out from the red background. I would have spent weeks tweaking the angle. Here I can’t tell if the hawk is flying or if it really should be sitting up, ready to fly off toward its prey. Maybe it’s just me considering the use of all that space the state outline offers. This mysterious bird leaped off a totem pole and is now soaring through this sticker.

Property Tax

While I like the colors used to create the property tax message and the hostage communique lettering, it’s sad to say that I can’t tell if the design is pro or con on the property tax issue. This one screams out to have a Portland city boundary around it because the rest of the state seems wary of rising property taxes.

You’re Welcome California

Out in the Gorge last summer, I spotted this on the back of the laptop of an artist painting a landscape of the fantastic view from Crown Point. We had a bit of a laugh and while it’s not exactly true I appreciate any attempt at humor on an Oregon decal.

Santa Conned

A great event such as SantaCon deserves its own sticker. The design gets bonus points for “coloring outside the lines.” Like the Old Town sticker reindeer-like creatures are doggedly determined to jump out of decals.

Pacific Wonderland

This sticker can’t encourage enough people to relocate to Oregon and live in a steel box condo. With the promise of giant trees everywhere, people will expect them in areas of the state where they actually aren’t. No one will be able to resist a state full of beautiful trees. I’m not sure why this sticker revels in a falsely advertised version of wonderland but I already fell for it.

The Pursuit of Goo-Goo (Part One)

Goo-Goo won me over with prolific stickering, the use of a baby sound proclamation and an image that reminded me of KISS frontman Paul Stanley. Despite Goo-Goo stickers filling me with an unexplained irrational fear of the unknown, I still need to make sense of them. I turned to a valued resource in all things counter-culture my old friend Jeff Bagato who lives in the Washington D.C. area. As an avant-garde artist/musician and author of poetry books and science fiction novels, Jeff is a scholar of all forms of creative expression, a category that Goo-Goo stickers fall under. “I’m assuming that Goo-Goo is a tag, but it could just be a weird phrase; both would appear on stickers,” Jeff noted by email when I queried. “I see it all the time on IG feeds. There seem to be a million sticker artists in Portland and Seattle,” he added. “Tag” and “IG,” those references left me a bit mystified but I’m playing up my ignorance for dramatic effect.

The problem with getting to the bottom of a mystery means it will cease to be a mystery. Once explained my imagination won’t fill in the gaps and my interpretation will probably become invalid. I suppose that will only inspire me to search out other unexplained phenomena.

When thinking about the application of these stickers around town my mind conjures images of a shadowy figure in a Jack the Ripper cloak and wide brim hat. Why this guy, in my mind, is not trying to look less conspicuous is beyond me. I’m sure sticker art is not like that at all. The act of disobedience by decorating the backs of traffic signs is probably duller than I realize. People are sure to be casual and not mysterious about it.

The stickers caught my attention because of the variations of design, color, size and the subject matter. Their ubiquitousness helps. I’m partial to those in my neighborhood. When a Goo-Goo sticker appeared close to my house it led me to think the sticker artist was clairvoyant and had caught on to my Goo-Goo obsession.

Speculation on the meaning of Goo-Goo abounds. Jeff astutely commented that it’s unlikely a reference to the band the Goo Goo Dolls. To me it calls forth the beginnings of language itself, the first attempts a baby makes to speak. The great unknown is the combination of the letters and the face that I so want to believe is a homage to Paul Stanley. That the lead singer of KISS could end up as part of an underground sticker art project is something that has held my attention and kept me on the look out for more of these images. While some would could say Paul Stanley never wore his make up as it is on the sticker others might be quicker to ask: Who is Paul Stanley?

The first time I wrote about Goo-Goo was when a sticker was placed next to a piece of Bill Murray art. I used the power of my limited graphic arts abilities to remove the sticker from one of the images mainly because I didn’t like one piece of street art encroaching so hard on another.

When I reached out to my friend Jeff to help me sort this out he offered an online resource to assist me in my quest to understand Goo-Goo culture. Originally I was too naive, neurotic or nervous to dig into sticker art in a way that didn’t include some support. I was afraid my mind would be blown and I knew I’d need some help putting the pieces back together.

Keep Kicking it Old School, Please

Unsure window designs that work.

Sure there’s plenty to be concerned about with the future of education but I’ve been thinking about the schools of tomorrow and whether all the charm and cool characteristics of Portland’s old schools will one day be wiped out. My guess is that new schools built from scratch will reflect our current fast and cheap world of building practices. Schools are more likely to resemble big box stores than the traditional schools of yesteryear.

Maybe not even a real gargoyle.

Schools in Portland have decorative elements that are cool in their subtly. These are things that students might not notice for years until one day they begin to wonder about the concrete designs up near the roof line or they spot a lion head gargoyle and point it out to a classmate. I am no student of architecture. I’ve have seen enough schools in the district to have the opinion that when new schools are built an effort should be made to keep things interesting inside and out.


Mrs. Tom Jolly

I work with elementary school children which has had me wondering what the kids that surround me will remember about their school experience. There may not be much to recall about what their school looked like. This theory is based on my own murky memories of my first school, Jolly Elementary in Clarkson, Georgia. It was your basic, boxy, one story, red brick building. The only memorable thing was a large, framed photograph of Mrs. Tom Jolly, the school’s namesake sitting on an easel in the main lobby. I couldn’t have told you a thing about her then. No one at the school ever talked her up. I didn’t know her first name or why she was the school’s namesake. The picture of an ancient woman haunted me every time I saw it. It wasn’t until recently that I found out what she did to help educate children in her community and what made her worthy of having a school named after her. My point here is give kids something to remember about their school.

Brick brack

This really is one of those they don’t make ‘em like they used to pieces. Back in the day delicate design accents were included in schools. Souped up windows, columns, carvings, latin phrases inscribed in concrete and Roman numerals appeared on schools. You could almost imagine kids of that era speaking Latin as a second language and maybe knowing their Roman numerals. I appreciate subtle architecture elements in school’s exteriors knowing it creates a better educational environment, if only on a subconscious level, that might inspire students somehow. It’s the least the older schools in Portland have to offer.

Windows so beautiful.

Old schools with over the top window designs still look great. They might combine these looks with concrete doohickies (not an architectural term, I know) as well as cravings and fake columns that border huge windows. One day, while substitute teaching, I noticed a malt liquor can in the well of the faux balcony. I never did get around to letting the janitorial staff know but it seemed out of place. What about these faux balconies? Sadly I have no picture to illustrate this but when would you ever need a balcony at a school?

Roman scholars unite!

I always loved the entrance to Benson Polytechnic along with the name of the school as I’m a graduate of a Polytechnic Institute. The front doors seem epic with real looking columns. I was supposed to learn in school whether they’re doric or ionic but at times like these it’s of no significance and not even worth looking up. They are gorgeous. If I had gone to that school I would have worn a toga regardless of whether  it was allowed according to the school’s dress code. I would have been proud to enter that school every day but it’s more likely this facade would have been so distracting that I would have hung around the columns for much of my class time never learning the difference between doric and ionic columns.

This way to the auditorium.

The Kenton School, now De La Salle, was built over 100 years ago. It’s further proof of what was done right then. Concrete carvings, a nice entrance and the labeling of certain buildings like the auditorium are all admirable design offerings.

The old Kenton School with planters.

This school has nice concrete trim around the windows and roof along with it’s own school crest  and a mysterious lion gargoyle that proved challenging to photograph. Announcing to the world that the school was erected in 1913 probably opens itself up to a preponderance of sophomoric jokes and would not be the type of thing that would appear on a  school building these days.

Every school needs a crest.

One of the Kellogg School owls.

To anyone designing and building schools in Portland make the effort to create a bit of mystery and decorative work in schools that will help students thrive.  Keep alive the spirit of intrigue that still exists in Portland schools today through the use of artistic masonry. Something like the Kellogg School owls outside one of the doorways would might seem like something insignificant, but it has possibility of making kids feel special like their school is a unique and wondrous place.

Kenton School detail: Lined up to learn.

An Onion Dome of a Different Kind

The Pittsburgh Orbit has a legendary love for all things Onion Dome. It also happens to be located in a place with the right kind of orthodox religions that support this interest. Out here in Portland I’ve kept my eyes peeled for domes that might make a comparable piece to what Pittsburgh’s Orbit has come up with but I haven’t found any examples. I have yet to extend my search to outlying areas. Then it occurred to me that there is a dome. Whether this is onion enough to satisfy the Pittsburgh Orbit has yet to be determined but with such sparse pickings this is all the Portland Orbit can offer at this time.

The first time I saw this photo must have been soon after I moved to Portland ten years ago. I marveled at how cool this section of town looked. The dome was only part of what made it distinct. I wondered how I hadn’t seen it. All I could think was that I had to go there. Somehow I found out I had been looking at a place that was no longer there. I have a vague memory that my brother-in-law Paul may have broken the news. In his voice I can hear him saying with some resignation something like, “Yeah, they tore that part of town down” or maybe it was more like, “that’s no longer there, dude.”  This memory, as hazy as it is now, is tinged with a feeling of loss.

Seeing the building from a different angle in another photograph from that era brought back thoughts and imagings of what Portland, especially the North Williams corridor, was like a long time ago. It took me a while to make the connection that the old dome from the photos had been placed on top of the gazebo in Dawson’s Park.

My best attempts at research informed me that the tear down happened as part of the Emmanuel Hospital expansion that never went through as planned, a sad chapter in Portland history to say the least. I’ve read two accounts that both yielded the same result. There was one story explaining that surrounding houses and the Hill Block building were torn down due to expansion for the hospital but the planned funding did not become available while something else I read along the same lines mentioned that money for the project ran out after the land was cleared. In the end it doesn’t matter, a cool part of town was razed. It can only be experienced now by looking at old photographs. It’s a thoughtful memorial that’s bittersweet. As the plaque pointed out it was the citzen’s of the Eliot neighborhood and the City Of Portland who had the forethought to repurpose the dome that  allowing this area to hold on to a shred of history.

There was an amazing view when I drove past one recent February afternoon. I spotted the dome against the backdrop of a giant pink church. The dying light of that late afternoon sun lit up the background making the cupola look majestic. It highlighted how the dome keeps the spirit of the old neighborhood alive. There were guys playing dominoes and someone barbecuing. A community of people had gathered on a random Tuesday afternoon. The park has a long history from pasture land to a place circuses would perform. It was the place RFK gave his last speech before being shot a week later. The most recent celebrity stopover to the park was from Janelle Monae.

It wasn’t until I went for a visit did I realize how ornate the top of the dome was. There’s also a plaque in the middle of the gazebo that’s informative but hard to read. While I was in the area, I realized I needed to get a sense of where the actual dome had been. I’d read it was on the NW corner of N Williams and NE Russell. Being directionally challenged, I broke out the compass on my phone. As I walked down N. Williams toward the Urban League building where the streets cross I noticed I was walking past a big open field and then I arrived at the corner where the Hill Block building and its dome had been. There was something sad in that gray sky that hung over that emptiness where cool old buildings had once been.


Eliot Neighborhood News:


Dawson Park Info:




50 Years in the Making: the Portland Orbit Meets KBOO

I’ve always wondered about KBOO our local community radio station. Sure I knew what they did there, duh, make radio, but I’d only walked past the building and never had a reason to go inside. The colorful mural seems new to me since the last time I’d been by. When I heard the station was having an open house with food, drink and station tours, it felt like the time to visit.

I got a feel for the place as I walked through the door. I was greeted and told the party was in the backroom. “There is a party?” I asked, making sure I had the right day and time. “If you’re here it’s a party,” was the response.

The station has the energy and atmosphere of any college radio station you might have had a chance to walk through. Posters, photos, notices and stickers were on every available surface. There were shelved records and cds, overheard political talk and of course, audio and broadcasting gear. I was standing in a hallway digesting a ginger snap when I was approached by Erin Yanke KBOO’s program director. She was kind enough to offer a station tour and a chat. The open house was celebrating the station’s present location of 35 years in the Central Eastside Industrial area. With previous locations in Belmont and downtown since the station began in 1968, it made sense to find a place where a lease with the option to own could be signed. “The way we get to think is different,” Erin explained about the past decision to buy a building. While KBOO is free from the hassles of a landlord or worries about rising rents, money is always a concern with aging equipment, keeping up with technological changes and paying a staff of twelve people.

The staff’s job, in part, is about wrangling the 500 volunteers that are in and out of the station at any given time. This involves keeping them “trained up” and helping them find volunteer opportunities. Anyone looking for knowledge about broadcasting has come to the right place.

I appreciate KBOO for offering freeform radio along with good signal strength. Erin described the freeform aspect of the station by saying, “what we do is so varied.” The station, as she noted, really is one place that does many different things. Back when I had days off during the week, I could keep KBOO on all morning catching Noam Chomsky during one show and getting to hear the riffs of the Air Cascadia broadcast later in the morning. My hopes of meeting some on my KBOO heroes, most notably Abe and Joe were dashed when they hadn’t appeared while I was there. Then again there’s always that wariness about meeting one’s idols.

I had been wondering about the best way to sift through all the programming to discover new shows. I like being able to access the morning public affairs shows through iTunes. KBOO also streams live and archives shows so they can be listened to later. Erin mentioned volunteers promoting KBOO at street fairs who can recommend shows based on people’s interests. These days the website is the best resource. It has program information and schedules which helps in finding of what’s being broadcast.

I’ve realized that the station supports different communities within the larger community when Erin pointed that there were foreign language shows beyond Spanish language programming that airs. She told me about a long running Dutch show that ended when the host died and how it was replaced by a Slavic show. Being at KBOO gave me a sense of the kind of community the station attracts. I got a chance to talk to a freelance writer and  a songwriter in my brief time there. KBOO seemed like a hotbed for people with creative aspirations.

I ran out of time before I could get the tour but I wandered around enough to get a feel for the place. While there, I was reminded that KBOO is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to build a city of media makers. While I see myself as a media maker it seemed especially inspiring, after seeing the promotional video, to hear the call for funding go out so they can continue their mission to continue powering the voice of independent journalism. Listening Monday morning I heard in-depth conversations about environmental concerns and native american rights–important topics that are rarely explored on other stations in the amount of time KBOO offers.

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The station is celebrating its 50 year anniversary with an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society that runs until July 27, 2018.