Thursday, April 3, 2014

D is for downtown (Portlandia A to Z)

When I was growing up in suburban Portland, we rarely ventured downtown. We had everything we needed in Beaverton, and downtown had no redeeming features to draw us was a downtown in decay. No one went downtown after office hours.
Downtown in 1970s

Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square
Downtown Portland finally started growing up right around the time I was passing through puberty. The late 1970s saw development of a downtown transit mall and a new waterfront park--which our Governor Tom McCall lobbied for in place of a freeway. In the 1980s, the city decided to invest in "Portland's living room," Pioneer Courthouse Square, in lieu of building more parking lots. The square hosts concerts, gatherings, a sand castle building contest, a flower show, a Christmas tree, and a menorah. It's a wonderful gathering place for Portlanders!

A light rail line to Gresham also opened. By the time Pioneer Place Mall opened in 1990, people were being lured to shop downtown and the city's core vitalization was complete.

By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed driving into the city with my best friend (a guy named Ken) and watching the people cruising Broadway. In later years, my brother went through a wearing-makeup-loitering-in-Pioneer-Square phase. You'll still find young teens hanging about trying to look cool.

When I first began working at my company in 1990, I worked with the man who led the revitalization of downtown Portland: Dick Ivey. By the time I knew him, he spent most of his hours holed up in his office, smoking like a chimney (in those days, people were allowed to smoke in their offices). Dick initiated the goals and guidelines for Portland's Downtown Plan and established the company's planning practice. He's known in Portland as the driving force behind the city's downtown revitalization. He also conducted transit mall planning for the city. From 1975 until recently, you could ride the bus anywhere in the main downtown area for free--it was called "Fareless Square." Sadly, the transit authority ended the free rides a few years ago because of a $12 million budget shortfall.

Mike visiting me in Portland in 1988
 (before we were married)
Portland is sometimes known as "Bridgetown," because eight bridges enter downtown, in addition to two more on the outskirts. In addition to countless restaurants, performing arts venues, offices, and shops, downtown also has a concert hall, the Portland Art Museum, Portland State University, Oregon Historical Society, and a multitude of parks and fountains. The downtown area also has an abundance of statues! During the last holiday season, Portlanders were encouraged to knit ugly sweaters for the statues!

This is my favorite statue downtown--Portlandia.
More on her later!
I work near Portland State, and one of my favorite things to do is walk downtown on my lunch hour. Haven't times changed since the 1970s, when I rarely set foot downtown? Now I love this city! Here are some photos I took today when I walked downtown with my hubby for lunch:

Having lunch today at Koji's
Nordstrom, Starbucks, and the musical weather machine 

Umbrella man

Where shall I go?
(Pioneer Courthouse in the background)

Old Meier & Frank building (now Macy's)

With one of the statues, in front of the Hilton
And some more photos I've taken on my walks and visits downtown:

One of our many cool buildings

Downtown from the river on a sunny day

My favorite bridge--the Hawthorne
The harbor

Keller Fountain--a very popular spot during the summer!

View at night
Thank you, Dick Ivey! We have a happening, vibrant downtown! Read this article in Portland Monthly to learn how the city will continue to expand and grow up.

Read my other A to Z posts here, and stay tuned for tomorrow: endless free or cheap entertainment!


  1. Nice collection of memories you have

  2. Love these photos and learning about a place I know nothing about. Ask me about Massachusetts and I could share some stuff. :)

  3. I love downtown Portland! I used to live right on the edge of the Pearl and Alphabet districts and did a lot of walking around downtown. Thanks for the historical perspective and background! :o)