Top 5 Portland Sights from a Remarkable Walking Tour & The View from Big Pink

As I said in the previous entry, a unique opportunity presented itself while I was in Portland.

A friend of a friend offered to spend an afternoon with me to give me a walking tour of downtown Portland. I jumped at the opportunity; and as it turned out, the walking tour gave me a greater appreciation for Portland than I could have ever guessed.

In retrospect, we seemed to come upon something “uniquely Portland” at nearly every turn. We saw so much on that day, so for this article I’ve decided to narrow it down to the very best. The following are my top 5 sights from the walking tour that day, including the final fantastic view from the Bancorp Tower. But before I could see this amazing view, I started the walking tour off by seeing…

1. The Car Wash Fountain

Car Wash Fountain (closeup)To call this fountain’s design playful might be an understatement. It’s fantastically odd; and, although it isn’t obvious from this photo, the design is such that if a breeze were to kick up at the wrong time, a good deal of water would be blown onto the nearby sidewalk. Thankfully, they installed a special sensor that shuts off the fountain if the wind goes beyond a breeze, but I can’t help but wonder if an unexpected zero-to-windy gust has ever had the chance to get someone wet before the sensor shut the fountain off.

Because what’s the point of having a fountain like that if no one gets wet, right?

We then wandered around Portland’s Chinatown where my guide told me all about how men were “Shanghaied” back in old Portland. Basically, they’d be drugged in taverns and smuggled to the docks using tunnels under the city. Apparently, the men would wake up in a stupor on a ship headed to China, which is where the phenomenon gets its name. I was even able to snap a photo of a small entrance to one of these tunnels. That photo is in the gallery, of course.

Although that was mere peanuts compared to…

2. The Stunning “Portlandia” & A Profusion of Pennies

Portlandia statue towering overheadAfter exploring Chinatown a bit, my guide led me down a side street. I had no idea where we were going; but he’d already demonstrated an excellent knowledge of Portland, so I went with it.

Then, I saw it.

High atop a building was Portlandia, a massive copper statue which I later found out was the 2nd largest copper repoussé state in the US, the first being the Statue of Liberty. (And just imagine how many pennies that could make.)

So what’s a repoussé?

Well, if something is a copper repoussé, it means it’s made of copper thats been shaped by hammering on it from the reverse side. In fact, repoussé is a french word that means “pushed up”; so it makes sense.

The technique worked magnificently for Portlandia, as she kneeled above the street level, seeming to reach out to the entire city of Portland all around her. The artist Raymond Kaskey did a remarkable job creating Portlandia, and unfortunately many people who visit Portland (and even some who live in Portland) have never seen Portlandia because it’s in a rather strange spot.

Because of this, you have to be looking for it (or otherwise accidently stumble upon it) to see it. It certainly doesn’t stick out like the Broadway Bridge does. There has even some been discussion to move it to a more visible position. But those discussions have amounted to nothing, and it appears that the statue will stay at its current location above the Michael Graves’ Portland Building on 5th avenue for years to come. And then again, perhaps it’s better that this statue remain a hidden gem anyway…

Next up was Pioneer Courthouse Square, which was the metaphorical “living room” of Portland itself.

3. An Unexpected Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Statue before sun and green leavesYet on our way to the square, we walked through Portland’s South Park Blocks. (Which I later learned are referred to as Portland’s “extended family room”, so it’s only appropriate that we would walk through them on our way to Pioneer Courthouse Square.)

In the South Park Blocks, we stumbled upon two terrific presidential statues: one of Abraham Lincoln (pictured here), and one of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse.

Was that guy always on a horse, or what? Between the paintings, that “Night at the Museum” movie, and now this. He seems never to be separate from his horse…

Could he have been a closet centaur?

In all seriousness though, the statues were masterfully done. Later, I found out that both statues (as well as two that I didn’t see that day) were commissioned and donated to the city of Portland by Henry Waldo Coe in the 1920s.

If you haven’t heard of him before (I hadn’t), Henry was one of the “who’s who” in Portland starting in the 1890s, not to mention a hunting buddy with Theodore Roosevelt himself. It’s too bad he died a year before his Lincoln statue was completed. That’s not to say he had much to regret though. He led a very successful life; and, after retiring in 1920, traveled extensively throughout 4 continents.

But let’s put our focus back on North America for now, because just after that I finally stepped right into…

4. Portland’s Living Room: Pioneer Courthouse Square

After walking for another 10 minutes or so, we arrived in what’s been called Portland’s “living room”: Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The Square takes up an entire city block and is laid out somewhat like amphitheater. And it really did have a bit of that “living room” vibe. Clearly it was a popular common area; and all around the square people were talking, relaxing, reading, or eating. On one side of the Square was the Pioneer Courthouse Square fountain, which added a good acoustic quality to the space.

But far more interesting was the figure standing in the square… motionless.

Allow Me statue by Johnson (closeup)For a brief moment, I thought it might be a real person holding an umbrella, merely trying to get my attention.

But of course it wasn’t a person at all. It was a statue!

From reading a plaque set into the brick beside it, I learned that the statue was a gift from Harry H. Schwartz that had been placed there in 1983 and was called simply “Allow Me”.

And from the look on the statue’s face, the name seemed appropriate.

Then, not 60 seconds later, something rather odd happened. A large flock of birds flew high over my head, around in a circle over the square. And then they landed very near where they started, basically going no where in the process. I scarcely had time to think, “Well, that’s new…”, before they suddenly took off and did the same thing again. They flew high over the heads of everyone at the Square and then landed again. They did this at least three times for reasons I cannot fathom.

5. The View from “Big Pink” (The Bancorp Tower)

To finish up our walking tour, we headed over to the US Bancorp Tower, a building that my guide said had a speculator view of the city. Only later did I find out that it was, at 163 meters (536 ft.) tall, the 2nd tallest building in the city. And in this case, 2nd place was fine because the tallest building (which was Wells Fargo Center) was only about 3 meters taller than the Bancorp Tower.

On our way there, he pointed it out to me it’s unique color. Depending on the angle and lighting, the skyscraper seemed to vary between hues of purple to pink and even hints of orange. Clearly, the Bancorp Tower got its nickname “Big Pink” for a good reason: it was one of the oddest-colored skyscrapers I’ve ever seen.

View of Portland  from US Bancorp Tower (looking down Burnside St)And so we took the elevator up to the 30th floor, home of the Portland City Grill which is often cited as the restaurant with the most amazing view in all of Portland. From there, the entire city of Portland stretched out before us. I could even see straight down Burnside Street (pictured here).

Out another window, I could see Morrison bridge and other bridges beyond as they spanned over the Willamette River. Looking south, I could see all the way down one of the avenues to the green hills in the distance. What I didn’t realize at the time was that on the following day, I would look back from those very same hills. When I visited the International Rose Test Gardens the following day, it was easy to see Big Pink in the distance, and I even captured a few photos from this reversed perspective.

Conclusion & Additional Gems

There’s so much that I wasn’t able to include in this article because I wanted to keep this article relatively concise. But if you haven’t gotten the picture by now, I’ll spell it out: merely walking around downtown Portland is a treat in and of itself.

Tons of extra high-rez photos, including much larger versions of the photos shown in this article, are all in the Portland Walking Tour album. And I hope they inspire you to go on your own Portland adventure. It’s quite a remarkable city, and if you have the means to visit, I highly recommend it.

Checkout the Portland Walking Tour album (and find Marco) →
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Next: Meeting the Bacon-Maple Doughnut

Coming up next: The strangest donuts you’ve never heard of. (You name it, they probably have it.) Will they turn you into a zombie? Only one way to find out…

Continue the journey →

All photos from this event are in the Portland Walking Tour album. All photos in the Gallery can be used as desktop wallpapers because they are high resolution (1920×1440).